As I’ve noted repeatedly, when independent tests first publicized that decisions made by Governor Snyder’s hand-picked Emergency Manager were poisoning Flint’s children last October, he made a show of response, but it wasn’t until the Task Force he appointed laid into his Department of Environmental Quality and Detroit’s US Attorney revealed it was investigating the problem that Snyder ratcheted up his effort to appear to be responding.
But his actions since then have largely been an attempt to stall for time, presumably a hope that anti-corrosives in Flint’s pipes will bring lead levels down so that we can all move on and forget about it. True, he did get the state legislature to cough up $28 million, which will go to ramping up state agency involvement. He has asked for $30 million to alleviate some, but not all, of Flint residents water bills so they’re not paying for water they can’t use, but it’s not clear the legislature will fund it (and it’s just partial relief in any case).
But at the same time, he has asked for bigger funding chunks from the Federal government: $96 million under disaster funding for things including replacing a fraction of the lead pipes in the city, and the expansion of funding for WIC funding for Flint’s children until they’re 10 (which would have improved nutritional support for kids at risk of lead poisoning). The Feds denied both those requests. Snyder and the Republicans are now blaming Obama for denying these requests. Understand: Obama’s administration could only had approved them by violating the terms of these programs set by Congress. Snyder asked for something that, under the law, Obama could not give, and now Snyder is using that denial to try to pawn off responsibility onto Obama, rather than the appointed managers who created this mess and ignored it for over a year.
That leaves the lead pipes in the ground, still leaching toxic levels of lead four months after anti-corrosives were first added to the water to try to reverse the corrosion. Some houses in Flint still have so much lead in the water that filters cannot be trusted to remove the poison.
Michigan’s Senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, tried to get $600 million added to a bipartisan energy bill to start the work of actually replacing those pipes. But even revising that request down to $200 million didn’t work, so Democrats filibustered the bill.
That was Thursday.
Hours later, during the debate, Hillary announced she’d do an appearance in Flint today, which ended a few hours ago.
I will be in Flint at the Mayor’s invitation on Sunday to get an in depth briefing about what is, and is not happening.
This is an emergency. Everyday that goes by that these people, particularly the children, are not tested so we can know what steps must be taken to try to remediate the effects of the poisoning that they have been living with is a day lost in a child’s life. I know from the work that I’ve done over so many years, lead, the toxic nature of lead can affect you brain development, your body development, your behavior.
I absolutely believe that what is being done is not sufficient. We need to be absolutely clear about everything that should be done from today to tomorrow, into the future to try to remedy the terrible burden that the people of Flint are bearing. That includes fixing their pipes, it includes guaranteeing whatever healthcare and educational embellishments they may need going forward, and I think the federal government has way where it can bill the state of Michigan. If Michigan won’t do it, there have to be ways that we can begin to move, and then make them pay for it, and hold them accountable.
Her appearance (which drew no national coverage) had some strong points: She reminded she had worked on lead (paint) issues in New York, she noted that many other cities are suffering from similar problems, she called to get Flint people working to replace the pipes.
She brought up the $200 million Democratic Senators are currently demanding.
Therein lies the rub.
I’m completely agnostic about whether this particular trip will hurt or help (it’s very clear that Hillary’s focus on Flint two debates ago helped draw attention, though of course that came months after the lead poisoning was first revealed in October).
It could be that next week Democrats in the Senate will be able to get Republicans to relent to their demand for Flint funding. But it could also be that Republicans will dig in, given that denying Flint funding becomes a way to deprive the presumptive Democratic nominee a win. That’s true, especially since John Cornyn already accused Democrats of trying to embarrass Republicans on this issue.
Republican Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas called the Democrats’ sudden rejection of what had been bipartisan support for the energy bill “gamesmanship” and an effort to “embarrass Republicans” by making it seem they did not care about Flint.
He said state officials are trying to figure out how much a full infrastructure repair program in the city might cost — an estimate is expected next week — and to authorize full funding before that was “putting the cart before the horse.”
“The State of Michigan and the City of Flint don’t know what they need to do to fix the problem or how much it will cost,” Cornyn said. “The senators form Michigan come in here and say we don’t need to know … we want cash.”
It seems Republicans are stalling, hoping this will fade from view before some Republican legislature — either Federal or state — ends up funding a needed infrastructure program which will not only fix the water problem, but provide a Keynesian boost to a city Republicans would like to cure with more austerity. As months go on, this year’s Presidential and next year’s gubernatorial election will exert pressure of some sort. It may well be that Hillary can use her focus on Flint to showcase a call for more infrastructure funding that will tip some elections. It may also be that the prospect of Hillary on the ballot in November exerts pressure downticket on Republicans.
But for the moment, this seems like uncertain political gamesmanship that could leave Flint residents drinking from plastic bottles for months to come.
Update: I meant to include this quote from a Flint resident, which encapsulates my concern.
“It’s bad news to me,” said Arthur Woodson, a 46-year-old Army veteran who runs New Beginnings, a Flint-based nonprofit aimed at helping soldiers return to the community. “She’s turning it into a political football. The GOP won’t ever do anything now. They’re going to turn it into a partisan thing.”
“This is a water issue,” he continued. “It’s not a political issue. We got kids who are suffering. We don’t have time for this partisan stuff.”
Update: MI Republican Chair and Mitt Romney niece Ronna Romney McDaniel is out complaining about this “calculated campaign tactic.”
Families and residents in Flint deserve better than being used as political pawns by a Presidential candidate. This visit is not an act of benevolence; it is a calculated campaign tactic – an attempt to grab headlines by a struggling campaign.
It is time to focus on solutions. As a candidate who proclaimed that the enemies she is most proud of are Republicans, I doubt that Hillary Clinton is here to contribute to the bipartisan effort to fix this crisis. The families in Flint deserve solutions, not a stunt that does nothing to help the city or the people who call it home.
On August 11, Mitt Romney announced his pick of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. A few days later, CrazyPete Hoekstra renewed his earlier call for the repeal of the 17th Amendment in the name of state’s rights. More recently, a poll based on off-year turnout model reported Mitt and Hoekstra would win MI. And seemingly in response to that poll, Mitt came to MI to race bait about how he was born in MI, unlike that brown fella.
It all sort of makes you believe MI’s Republicans don’t plan on running a fair election this November.
All of which makes me grateful that Nate Silver just called out both that earlier poll and an even crazier one that came out yesterday. As he notes, yesterday’s poll–showing a tie in the Presidential and, even more improbably, a one point CrazyPete lead over Debbie Stabenow–assumed that African Americans would not be voting in November.
The head of Mitchell Research, Steve Mitchell, wrote a long memo accompanying his poll release on Monday. In that poll, he weighted the survey to assume that African-Americans would make up only 8 percent of Michigan’s turnout. By contrast, black voters represented 12 percent of the turnout in Michigan in 2008 according to exit polls, and 14 percent according to another source, the Current Population Survey. Blacks also made up 13 percent of Michigan’s vote in 2004 and 11 percent in 2000, according to exit polls. Continue reading
First there’s the drought. Last week’s heat wave and the last month’s dry weather hit just as much of America’s corn crop was set to pollinate. And if the corn doesn’t pollinate, it never grows kernels. Even as I’ve been writing this post, USDA sharply cut forecasts for the corn harvest.
As a result, corn prices (soy prices too) are rising sharply. Which will, for better and worse, have repercussions on all the aspects of our super-processed life that relies on corn.
“The drought of 2012 will be one for the records,” said Peter Meyer, the senior director for agricultural commodities at PIRA Energy Group in New York, who forecasts a drop in output to 11 billion bushels if the hot, dry spell lasts another three weeks. “Whether it’s ethanol or livestock, no one is immune from this impending disaster. The ramifications will be widespread, affecting everything from your food to your gasoline.”
And all that’s before any follow-on effects, if the drought continues. Even in Grand Rapids, we’ve had some unusual fires. Rivers that were experiencing historic floods last year are approaching record lows this year; traffic on the Mississippi has already slowed.
Yet all that–even with our country’s industrialized reliance on corn–might be no more concerning than other droughts, such last year’s drought in Texas.
Meanwhile, banksters keep stealing farmers’ money–first via MF Global and now with Peregrine.
The U.S. futures industry reeled as regulators accused Iowa-based PFGBest of misappropriating more than $200 million in customer funds for more than two years, a new blow to trader trust just months after MF Global’s collapse.
Curiously, in his chronology of the talking point, “the War on Women,” Dave Weigel doesn’t mention the actual terrorist attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic a few weeks back. Nor does Marc Ambinder in his thoughtful piece on the outrage mobilized by the term. And these men commenting on the Democratic Party’s effort to mobilize its tribes by raising outrage over the GOP’s treatment of women are right, up to a point. In DC, that metaphor, “War on Women,” has been cognitively divorced from what happens when a man conducts a terrorist attack (one not treated as a terrorist attack, mind you) on a clinic designed to help women access the same life choices men get by default.
In their review of the outraged response to Hillary Rosen’s suggestion that Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life, neither Weigel nor Ambinder nor just about anyone else noted the unspoken implication of Mitt Romney’s defense of his wife that raising their five children (with help, mind you) was a full time job. Mitt effectively admitted that he wasn’t doing the child-rearing–still a common gender assumption among men of Mitt’s age, but nevertheless stunning in the way no one noticed that Mitt admitted his role as father involves outsourcing all the child-rearing to the mother. The true scandal of the Hillary Rosen poutrage, IMO, is that no one considered the flip side of Ann’s full-time job as mother: Mitt’s abdication of child-rearing as a father. Sure. When his boys were little, he was a busy man and all that–he had people to fire and jobs to outsource. But he was able to focus so closely on those things because Ann did the parenting work for the two of them.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are still going to use GOP attacks on women as a political stunt. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz tweeted or re-tweeted 7 comments about women’s issues yesterday, in addition to the seemingly mandatory condemnation of Rosen.
I was particularly amused by this DWS tweet:
Bottom line: Choice, affordable contraception, and Planned Parenthood are at stake in this election. http://j.mp/I6A8c0
As it happened, a few hours after DWS sent that tweet, I went to a Debbie Stabenow event hosted by a local women’s group. As we were waiting for the Senator to speak, a top county Democrat was sitting several rows behind me trying to convince some of the women not to support Trevor Thomas. “There is absolutely no way he can win,” the guy said (the polling says he’s wrong, and I suspect he knows that). In addition to saying a gay man can’t win, he also said a pro-choice person can’t win in the district (his listeners pointed out that Stabenow herself had won the district; so have at least two other pro-choice candidates). Then he described Steven Pestka, using the line Michigan Democrats used to defend Bart Stupak as he was rolling back access to choice for women across the country.
He’s with us on everything else.
First, we might finally have exciting news in my congressional district, where the party has thus far failed to recruit anyone to run against the unpopular Justin Amash even after his own party put a target on his back by making the district more Democratic. One of the key players in the successful DADT fight, Trevor Thomas, is thinking of challenging Amash. Now, local Dems are worried about an out gay and pro-choice man carrying the Democratic banner. Even aside from the bigotry implied by that worry, they don’t seem to be thinking about the benefit of having such a proven campaign winner carrying the banner of working people. Don’t our working men and women deserve the same kind of successful advocate that our gay service members got? (Trevor was also involved in Jennifer Granholm’s thumping of Dick DeVos in 2006, so he knows how to win locally, too.)
Trevor is reportedly going to make his decision in the next few days. If and when he announces, you can expect to hear more from me about him, because I’d be genuinely excited about this race.
Meanwhile, speaking of bigots, here’s the stupid, racist ad I’m going to be treated to during the Super Bowl. Continue reading
“Who will be the last senator to not want to end a mistake? Me.” – John Kerry
That’s the way MightyOCD interpreted John Kerry’s vote–along with 66 of his colleagues–not to repeal the Iraq war that is ending whether they like it or not next month.
The vote was on a Rand Paul amendment to repeal the 2002 Iraq War AUMF.
Along with Paul, DeMint, Heller, and Snowe, a bunch of liberals and Blue Dogs like Bad Nelson and Manchin voted to end the Iraq mistake.
Yet liberals like Levin, Stabenow, Reed, and Whitehouse voted to continue the war that is ending.
By my count, something like 25 men and women who weren’t around to vote for the AUMF when it first passed in 2002 voted in favor of continuing this infernal war–and that’s not counting people like Levin and Stabenow who voted against it the first time.
So we’re going to have all these AUMFs lying around on the books. authorizing secret powers we’re not allowed to know, rather than simply and cleanly declaring a war over. Done.
In the good old days, you’d declare victory and give the men and women who served a big parade. How I’d love a parade about now.
Economists at the New York Federal Reserve have concluded that a controversial 2005 law backed by banks and credit card companies pushed more than 200,000 people into foreclosure and exacerbated the subprime mortgage crisis.
In a paper released Tuesday, New York Fed researchers Donald P. Morgan, Benjamin Iverson and Matthew Botsch determined that the law sparked about 116,000 additional subprime mortgage foreclosures a year after going into effect.What’s more, they note, these foreclosures pushed home prices down, which may have lead to additional foreclosures. When the value of a home drops below what a borrower owes on the mortgage, it becomes nearly impossible to get out of the loan by selling the house or refinancing, making foreclosure more likely if they become unable to afford the monthly payment.
“By making it harder for borrowers to avoid paying credit card debt, [the 2005 bankruptcy law] made it more difficult for them to pay their mortgages, so foreclosure rates rose,” the economists wrote.
Which I guess means it’s time again to recall what Chuck Schumer responded to me on January 28, 2008, when I pointed out that the bankruptcy bill was going to exacerbate the financial crisis that was about to hit. Schumer, Byron Dorgan, and Sherrod Brown all agreed the law was a problem. (Schumer and Dorgan voted against the bill, though Debbie Stabenow, pictured in my post, voted for it.) But, Schumer said, we couldn’t just fix the obvious problems with it in 2008 because (you guessed it) we needed a bigger majority.
Senator Schumer explained that he didn’t want to pick around the edges, he wanted to make a real fix, and we’re not going to be able to do that until we get a bigger majority.
That was, of course, in 2008. That November, the Democrats would win solid majorities in both houses, as big a majority as you’re ever going to get. Yet the Democrats never found time to get around to fixing the Bankruptcy bill.
I’m going to have a few follow-up posts about Steven Rattner’s Overhaul generally and Saturday’s book salon on it. But for the moment, I wanted to add something to two excellent reviews of it by Malcom Gladwell and Felix Salmon. Together, they both distinguish between the product GM makes and the debt it had. Here’s Salmon:
That Rattner’s team managed not one but two insanely complex bankruptcies in a hitherto unimaginably short timeframe is a real and noteworthy achievement of the Obama administration. Rattner is right about that. But Gladwell’s got a good point too. This kind of biz-school restructuring is easy to show off about. What’s hard is making millions of cars which are so good that the picky US consumer will buy them rather than the incredibly well-made competition — and making a profit by doing so. Eliminating GM’s monstrous debt burden by sending it through bankruptcy was a necessary step in getting there. But it’s not at heart what managing a company like GM is or should be about.
And here’s Gladwell making a point bmaz and I argued, that Rick Wagoner, whatever his faults, had done significant work to fix GM before the overhaul.
Wagoner was not a perfect manager, by any means. Unlike Alan Mulally, the C.E.O. at Ford, he failed to build up cash reserves in anticipation of the economic downturn, which might have kept his company out of bankruptcy. He can be faulted for riding the S.U.V. wave too long, and for being too slow to develop a credible small-car alternative. But, especially given the mess that Wagoner inherited when he took over, in 2000—and the inherent difficulty of running a company that had to pay pension and medical benefits to half a million retirees—he accomplished a tremendous amount during his eight-year tenure. He cut the workforce from three hundred and ninety thousand to two hundred and seventeen thousand. He built a hugely profitable business in China almost from scratch: a G.M. joint venture is the leading automaker in what is now the world’s largest automobile market. In 1995, it took forty-six man-hours to build the typical G.M. car, versus twenty-nine hours for the typical Toyota. Under Wagoner’s watch, the productivity gap closed almost entirely.
Most important, Wagoner—along with his counterparts at Ford and Chrysler—was responsible for a historic agreement with the United Auto Workers. Under that contract, which was concluded in 2007, new hires at G.M. receive between fourteen and seventeen dollars an hour—instead of the twenty-eight to thirty-three dollars an hour that preëxisting employees get—and give up all rights to the traditional retiree benefit package. The 2007 deal also transferred all responsibility for paying for the health care of G.M.’s retirees to a special fund, administered by the U.A.W. It is hard to overstate the importance of that second provision. G.M. has five hundred and seventeen thousand retirees. Between 1993 and 2007, the company paid out a hundred and three billion dollars to those former workers—a burden unimaginable to its foreign competitors. In the 2007 deal, G.M. agreed to make a series of lump-sum payments to the U.A.W. over ten years, worth some thirty-two billion dollars—at which point the company would be free of its outsized retiree health-care burden. It is estimated that, within a few years, G.M.’s labor costs—which were once almost fifty per cent higher than the domestic operations of Toyota, Nissan, and Honda—will be lower than its competitors’.
In the same period, G.M.’s product line was transformed. In 1989, to give one example, Chevrolet’s main midsize sedan had something like twice as many reported defects as its competitors at Honda and Toyota, according to the J. D. Power “initial quality” metrics. Those differences no longer exist. The first major new car built on Wagoner’s watch—the midsize Chevy Malibu—scores equal to or better than the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. G.M. earned more than a billion dollars in profits in the last quarter because American consumers have started to buy the cars that Wagoner brought to market—the Buick Regal and LaCrosse, the Envoy, the Cadillac CTS, the Chevy Malibu and Cruze, and others. They represent the most competitive lineup that G.M. has fielded since the nineteen-sixties. (Both the CTS and the Malibu have been named to Car and Driver’s annual “10 Best Cars” list.)
What Wagoner meant in his testimony before the Senate, in other words, was something like this: “At G.M., we are finally producing world-class cars. We have brought our costs, quality, and productivity into line with those of our competitors. We have finally disposed of the crippling burden of our legacy retiree costs. We have expanded into the world’s fastest-growing markets more effectively than any other company in the United States. But the effort required to bring about that transformation has left our balance sheet thin—and, at the very moment that we need a couple of years of normal economic activity to refill our coffers, auto sales have fallen off a cliff. Do you mind giving us a hand until things get back to normal?” [my emphasis)
Now, FWIW, I’m agnostic about keeping Wagoner on as CEO. Gladwell makes the same points bmaz and I were making. But I am utterly sympathetic to the notion that any CEO getting a bailout should be fired as part of the deal. The best solution, IMO, would have been to keep Fritz Henderson on as CEO. That’s partly based on my impression–developed during my visit to GM’s Tech Center just a few weeks after Fritz took over as CEO–that he had begun to implement the same kind of cultural change that I saw very quickly at Ford after Alan Mulally took over.
But neither Salmon’s nor Gladwell’s review mention two key details that I think are important to this debate. The first is Rattner’s description of learning about the dire straits of the auto finance companies on April 1, 2009.
I entered the byzantine world of the fincos the very next day, April Fool’s Day, as it happened. We faced off in a Treasury Department conference room against an imposing lineup of businesspeople: the top management from Chrysler Financial, GMAC, and Chrysler, plus Steve Feinberg and the guys from Cerberus. They all knew more about automotive finance than we did. We were trying to fly solo without having taken flying lessons, and I hoped we wouldn’t crash and burn.
Pretty quickly I discovered that the fincos posed a bigger problem than I’d imagined. Auto finance companise are a lot like banks, but there is one crucial distinction: Banks rely on deposits form consumers and businesses for most of the money they use for loans. Finance companies have no such depositors unless they happen to own a bank: instead they must depend on larger borrowings from banks and investors for the cash that they lend to car buyers (known as the retail trade) and auto daelers (known as the wholesale or floor-plan borrowers).
I began to understand how the collapse of the financial markets had created havoc for automakers. As a result of the credit crunch, both GMAC and Chrysler Financial had seen their ability to borrow form banks severely curtailed. Continue reading
As of his last calculation, Nate Silver gives the Democrats an 84% chance of keeping the Senate. But they’ll keep it without Blanche Lincoln, whom Nate gives a 100% chance of losing to John Boozman. And that’ll open up the Chairmanship on Ag.
The Politico reports that, in spite of the fact that four people have more seniority on the committee, Stabenow stands a decent chance of getting the post, though Bad Nelson might demand it as his reward for staying in the caucus.
Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow is seen as the front-runner to replace Lincoln, but that’s not a given. Nebraska moderate Ben Nelson might win the post as a consolation prize for staying in the Democratic Party, or Kent Conrad of North Dakota could abandon his budget chairmanship to take the helm.
“Everybody in town seems to think that she is most likely going to be the next chairman,” said one lobbyist who tracks the committee.
Sources close to the panel say the Michigan Democrat is well-liked by her colleagues and earned their respect during the last round of farm bill negotiations by bridging the interests of states with commodity crops and those with specialty fruit and vegetables.
But because Michigan isn’t your typical Big Ag state, some observers say Stabenow might face opposition from powerful industry lobbies. “There would probably be fear among some of the industry leaders of the cotton people and the wheat people and the barley people if they saw Stabenow take the helm,” said an industry source close to the committee.
Now, Stabenow isn’t always the most hardnosed leader. And on occasions (notably, the bankruptcy bill) she has put corporate interests ahead of her constituents.
But as the Politico article suggests, she would make a very interesting Ag Chair because of the nature of our Ag industry in MI. That’s because MI’s Ag industry has a diversity second only to CA, but (because of the scale) much less dominated by big players. Here’s a snapshot:
nation in terms of inventory.
(Somehow, that list neglected to mention blueberries, where we also lead the nation). MI farms are, on average, smaller than the national average, though they are more profitable per acre. There’s a very healthy farmers market culture here, and also some proactive efforts to develop locally-branded processed food from our harvest, such as the soy processing plant 10 miles from here that offers a non-GMO soy oil. Our local big grocery chains do a pretty good job of promoting locally produced products.
And then there’s Tony the Tiger, which is about as Big Ag culture as we get.
In other words, if Stabenow gets the Chair it’ll put someone who is not beholden to Big Ag the way the Ag Chairmen typically are. At a time when the local Ag movement is picking up steam, we might have someone whose constituency would support such an effort.
Compare that with the most likely alternative: Ben Nelson. Who represents, among other corporations, Con Agra. As big as Big Ag gets.
Mind you, the decision may be made by the margin with which the Democrats keep the Senate. If we keep it by just two votes, I imagine we’ll see Con Agra continue to rule. But if we can eke out a few more seats, it’ll give Bad Nelson much less leverage to demand this Chairmanship.
(Cherry Orchard image by jsorbieus)
I just got this email:
President Obama recorded a video to speak directly to you about his economic recovery plan.
America is facing an urgent and unprecedented challenge. The economic crisis requires bold and immediate action.
And I’ve also gotten friends inviting me in the last week to watch some other Obama videos together–that is, I’ve been invited to House Parties to discuss this. That means people are doing just as Obama (or David Plouffe) asks in their email alerts.
But I still haven’t been invited to call my Senators or Congressman (all of whom, granted, have voted for stimulus, but Debbie Stabenow voted for a stupid Tom Coburn amendment forbidding any stimulus money being used for musems and parks–I do plan on chatting with her about that and if you’re a Michigander, you should too!). Nor have I been invited by Barack Obama to call Sanctimonious Joe’s latest gang–Joe, Haggis, the Bad Nelson, and Susan Collins–to ask why they’re opposed to funds that will help states avoid cutting back necessary services, or why they’re opposed to constructing schools.
Mobilizing the millions of people on Obama’s email list is great. But isn’t it better to mobilize them to do the same thing the wingnuts are mobilizing their people to do–talk to members of Congress? Wouldn’t it be better to use that list to press for a more progressive (and effective) stimulus package?