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Monday: Gotta’ Catch ‘Em All

[NB: Embedded video contains adult language NSFW]

I had a very disturbing conversation with some 18-to-20-somethings this weekend about privacy and networked communications. I can’t decide if I’m pissed off or terrified that these particular youngsters believed:

  • Most young people their age don’t care if their privacy has been compromised;
  • If they care at all, they believe it’s not a big deal, there’s little danger because they can just shut off the GPS/location and voice features on their phones;
  • This is the way it is with technology and there’s no way to change the status quo.

I know for certain not all youngsters in this age group feel this way, but what set this particular group apart is their privilege. They are going to school in business and education at some of the best schools in the country. Their educations are paid for in full and they know they have jobs waiting for them. Their political heritage is conservative — anti-tax, pro-business, with a Christian fundamentalist spin. They are the next generation of elected officials because they can afford to run for office.

They are what a well-to-do public school district created, and what will come out of a top ten business school: people who don’t give a shit about anybody else’s needs for privacy, because they simply don’t see any risks to their way of life.

The entire conversation began because they were questioning my opsec habit of covering my cellphone camera lenses. When I pushed back about their habit of waving their phones around without any respect for others’ privacy, the topic rapidly went south. It didn’t matter, nobody was following them, they didn’t need to worry; whoever wanted to track them already had all their information anyhow. And still not a lick of concern about anybody else’s privacy, safety and security, free speech, freedom from unwarranted seizure…

And now comes Pokémon Go, the augmented reality mobile device game which this particular cohort had yet to play with on their cellphones. I’m sure they’ve since loaded on their phones without a second thought about the gross failure of Pokémon Go’s privacy policy let alone its ridiculously broad request for device permissions.

Stay away from me, kids. Far, far away. Go ahead and give me a hard time again about protecting privacy rights. Treat me like an old lady yelling at you to stay off my lawn, and I’ll find somebody to tell your super-conservative mother what kind of porn you’ve surfed while you claim you’re at the library studying on her dime. I’m sure I can get somebody to do it for the price of a Pokéstop lure and a Clefairy water Pokémon.

Meanwhile, protesters documenting civil rights abuses by hyper-militarized police have risked their freedom and lives doing so. Like the protesters and reporters seen in the short video taken of Baton Rouge Police arresting protesters gathered peacefully on private property yesterday, forcing their way into a private home and pushing around its residents. Or Ramsey Orta, who videoed the chokehold death of Eric Garner, harassed repeatedly by NYPD since then and jailed, or Chris LeDay’s suspicious arrest after he posted video of Alton Sterling’s murder by Baton Rouge police. These citizens and the journalists who covered them are surely concerned about their privacy and the chilling effect on their free speech a lack of privacy protections will cause for them as individuals and as activist groups and news outlets.

And it’s these people those privileged 18-to-20-somethings I spoke with will never consider as they navigate their way through the rest of college and into the business world. It’s no wonder they believe there’s no way to change the status quo; they aren’t taught to think outside the tight confines of their safe little world nor do they face any threats inside their narrow groove.

I grieve for the future.

FIVE DAYS
That’s all that’s left for in-session days on the U.S. House calendar for July. I see nothing in the remaining schedule directly related to the Flint Water Crisis. Only California’s ongoing water shortage will have a hearing. While the House fiddles, Flint area nonprofits continue to raise money to buy bottled water for city residents. The city water system is allegedly safe, but we all know the entire city is riddled with damaged pipe causing one Boil Water Notice so far this summer. Lead pipes continue to service homes. The roughly 8000 children poisoned so far don’t need even a smidgen more lead from those water lines. But All Lives Matter, right?

I hope every journalist covering an incumbent’s House or Senate campaign will ask what the candidate has done while in office to address both Flint’s GOP-inflicted man-made catastrophe and future crises of a similar nature given underfunded EPA mandates for clean drinking water and equally underfunded infrastructure replacement.

Don’t even get me started on Congress’ weak gestures on Zika, especially after the first Zika-related death in the U.S. this past week and ~1133 patients who’ve tested positive for Zika, including ~320 pregnant women. Zero effort to encourage birth control among at-risk population, let alone adequate warning to the public that unprotected sex as well as mosquitoes spread the disease.

Po po no no

  • Suspect fires on Houston police during 7-hour showdown; SWAT team subdues him using gas (KTRK) — Look, ma, no deadly force! Gee, I wonder what the suspect’s race/ethnicity is?
  • Tiny study without peer review based on unreliable data claims whites shot as often as blacks by police (NYT) — Harvard researcher looked at 1,332 shootings by 10 police departments in Florida, Texas, and California across fifteen years to come up with this swagged conclusion. There was so much wrong with this I don’t even know where to begin. Even the lead researcher’s personal experience suggests there’s a problem with the data. The New York Times simply regurgitates this without any push back. After all the video evidence we’ve seen since Ferguson, should we really believe police-supplied data from such a small sample of nearly 18,000 police departments? We really need a mandatory collection of data from all police departments based on standardized methods combined with an audit. There’s more accountability in banking than there is in police use of force — and we all know how that turned out after 2008’s crash.
  • Dallas shooter was ‘changed’ by military service (The Blaze) — Once interested in becoming a police officer, formerly happy extrovert Micah Johnson became withdrawn, disappointed during his military service. Wonder if he suffered from untreated PTSD and depression after leaving the military? Wonder how many law enforcement officers likewise were former military who sublimated their post-service frustrations? Are we doing enough to help former service persons ease back into civilian life?

Enough. I’m already wishing for Tuesday.

#FlintWaterCrisis: I Don’t Think That Report Said What You Think It Said, Gov

Today’s House Oversight Committee hearing into the Flint Water Crisis was a joke. It was partisan — more so than the previous two hearings — because Republicans finally clued in that a Republican state governor’s crisis doesn’t make them look good if they don’t kick up a stink and draw fire away from their role in the mess.

And yes, Congress’ GOP members are directly responsible for what happened in Flint, because they are also responsible for neutering the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress is the one entity which failed to take any responsibility for what happened in Flint — and what happened in Flint had already happened in Washington DC. Congress ensured that the EPA would be subordinate to the states, relying on states to act with inadequate recourse to step in and intervene. See Primacy Enforcement Responsibility for Public Water Systems (pdf) and note the obligations the states have to ensure safe drinking water under these laws:

  • Safe Drinking Water Act, 1974, as amended in 1986 and 1996
  • Primacy Regulations 40 CFR Part 142, Subpart B, 1976, as amended in 1986
  • Revisions to Primacy Requirements (1998), 63 FR 23362 codified at 40 CFR Part 142

These are Congress’ purview; as part of the Executive Branch, the EPA does not make law. Only Congress does.

Equally annoying today is the tendency by the Republican representatives to go easy on Michigan’s Governor Snyder, who tried to make it sound like he was doing everything he could to fix Flint and be open and transparent. You know this is bull hockey if you’ve looked at batches of emails released to date.

You know it’s also nonsense if you look at documents produced by the Snyder administration, intended to assist the public with understanding what happened.

One example is a timeline of the Flint water crisis laid out in a two-page presentation, with bubbles containing descriptions of events. A bubble marking March 12, 2015, appears in the upper right of the first page, denoting the submission of a report by Veolia Water. The firm had been hired by Flint’s emergency manager as water quality consultant to review and evaluate the water treatment process and distribution system.

Veolia completed and submitted their report to the city on March 12, but the report does not actually say what the state’s timeline document says. Veolia wrote,

“Although a review of water quality records for the time period under our study indicates compliance with State and Federal water quality regulations, Veolia, as an operator and manager of comparable utilities, recommends a variety of actions to address improvements in water quality and related aesthetics including: operational changes and improvements; changes in water treatment processes, procedures and chemical dosing; adjustments in how current technologies are being used; increased maintenance and capital program activities; increased training; and, an enhanced customer communications program.”

Veolia relied on what previous water quality records said; they did not actually conduct tests themselves, or audit how the previous records and reports were prepared.

But the timeline published by the governor’s office reads,

“Flint water consultant Veolia, issues report that water meets state and federal standards. Does not report specifically on lead.”

The second sentence is correct, the first a misrepresentation. That’s not what Veolia’s report said.

The second sentence may be factually correct, but the company was not hired by Flint’s emergency manager to evaluate lead levels specifically, based on the supporting documentation accompanying the resolution authorizing the contract with Veolia.

If one entry on the timeline prepared by the state is this iffy, what about the rest of the timeline?

If this timeline is this iffy, what about everything else generated by officials from the governor’s office on down?

Thursday Morning: A Little Green Around The Gills

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those of you who observe this opportunity to drink beer (tinted green or otherwise) and eat boiled dinner and wear green! We’ll know the hardcore among you tomorrow by your hangovers.

Folks overseas don’t understand how St. Patrick’s Day blew up to the same proportions as other holidays like Halloween, blaming it on American commercialization. But the holiday as observed in the U.S., like Halloween, has roots in immigration. Four to five million Irish immigrated to the U.S.; their descendants here are nearly 40 million today, roughly seven times the number of actual Irish in Ireland now. With this many Irish-Americans, even a tepid observation of St. Patrick’s Day here would be visible abroad.

In addition to all things green, we’ll be watching this week’s second #FlintWaterCrisis hearing. Representatives Chaffetz and Cummings can go all shouty on Michigan’s OneLawyeredUpNerd Governor Rick Snyder and EPA’s Gina McCarthy though I have my doubts anything new will emerge. (And you’ll see me get really angry if Rep. SlackerForMichigan Tim Walberg shows up to merely make face on camera. Useless helicoptering.)

Unlike Tuesday, I hope like hell somebody brings up Legionnaire’s cases and deaths in Flint after the cut-over of Flint’s water to Flint River. Thousands of children may have been permanently poisoned by lead, but people sickened and died because of this complete failure of government-as-a-business.

I can’t stress this enough: There were fatalities in Flint because of the water.

Hearing details – set a reminder now:

Thursday 17-MAR — 9:00 AM — Gov. Snyder (R-MI) & EPA Head McCarthy: House Hearing on Flint, MI Water Crisis (est 3 hours, on C-SPAN3)   Link to House Oversight Committee calendar entry

You can find my timeline on Flint’s water here — as noted Tuesday, it’s a work in progress and still needs more entries.

Moving on…

Apple leaves Amazon for Google’s cloud service
Wait, what?! File under ‘Wow, I didn’t know!’ because I really though Apple housed all its cloud services under its own roof. I mean, I’ve written about data farms before, pointed to a new Apple location. I didn’t know Apple had outsourced some of its iCloud to Amazon.

Which makes Senator Ron Wyden’s remarks about asking the NSA with regard to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone even more interesting.

No wonder Apple is moving to Google, considering Amazon’s relationship with certain government agencies as a cloud service provider. Some of Apple’s data will remain with Amazon for now; we might wonder if this is content like iTunes versus users’ data. Keep your eyes open for future Apple cloud migrations.

US Navy sailors’ electronic devices combed for data by Iran
Gee, encrypted devices and communications sure are handy when members of the military are taken into custody by other countries. Too bad the Navy’s devices weren’t as secure as desired when Iran’s navy detained an American vessel in January this year. To be fair, we don’t know what all was obtained, if any of the data was usable. But if the devices were fully encrypted, Iran probably wouldn’t have said anything.

American Express’ customers’ data breached — in 2013
Looks like a select number of AmEx customers will receive a data breach notice with this explanation:

We became aware that a third party service provider engaged by numerous merchants experienced unauthorized access to its system. Account information of some of our Card Members, including some of your account information, may have been involved. It is important to note that American Express owned or controlled systems were not compromised by this incident, and we are providing this notice to you as a precautionary measure.

The breach happened on December 7, 2013, well into the Christmas shopping season, but we’re just finding out now? “Third party service” means “not our fault” — which may explain why AmEx shareholders (NASDAQ:AXP) haven’t been notified of a potential risk to stock value as yet. Who/what was the third party service? Where’s their notification to public and shareholders?

I need to brew some coffee and limber up before the hearing on Flint, track down my foam footballs and baseballs to throw at the TV while Gov. Snyder goes on about how sorry he is and how he’s going to fix Flint’s water crisis. Oh, and find an emesis basin. See you here tomorrow morning!

Monday Morning: Put Your Pom-poms Down

A certain state governor (or his PR team) tweeted a bunch of smack last night during the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate. Like this:

RSnyder_tweet_06MAR2016

It is to laugh. Every decision made by this administration about Flint has been about money, not about the right thing, and not even about the legal thing.

He put his pom-poms down last week long enough to lawyer up, though. Mm-hmm.

By the way, that’s the NSFW version – here’s the language-sanitized clean version of that video for your office space. Crank the volume and bring it.

All around Apple town

  • Email provider Lavabit filed an amicus brief in #AppleVsFBI, arguing the FBI’s demands could have adverse affects on businesses:

    Such precedence would likely result in many businesses moving their operations offshore, therefore, making it more difficult for law enforcement to obtain even ordinary assistance from such companies…

    Wow, sounds familiar, huh? Brief’s worth a read (pdf).

  • Apple VP of software engineering Craig Federighi wrote an op-ed for yesterday’s WaPo, restating an opinion Apple and many of its supporters already expressed:

    “…it’s so disappointing that the FBI, Justice Department and others in law enforcement are pressing us to turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies. …”

  • The stakes get higher in #AppleVsFBI as Apple prepares to launch several new iPhones and an iPad on March 21. We all know a decision by Judge Pym will affect these devices in the future, not just the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone 5C.
  • And just to keep Apple users even more on their toes, there’s now Apple ransomware on the loose. So far only Mac devices have been targeted, but it’s only a matter of time before other Apple devices are similarly affected. I’d put my money on higher profile users or those using iPhones to remotely control costly systems.

Quickety-lickety

And on this day in 1876, U.S. Patent 174,465 for Improvement in Telegraphy was granted to Alexander Graham Bell.

What will they write about this day in another 140 years? Do something worth writing about.

Friday Morning: Afro-Cuban Coffee

I should just dedicate Fridays to different genres of jazz. Today feels like a good day for Afro-Cuban jazz.

This chap, Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, who performed under the name Machito with his Afro-Cubans, was an incredibly important innovator shaping Afro-Cuban jazz as well as modern American music. He was important to race in the music industry as well, as his Afro-Cubans may have been the first multi-racial band.

I’m brewing some Café Bustelo before I bust out my dancing shoes. ¡Vamonos!

Judge applies ‘Parkinson’s Law’ to VW emissions cheat case
You know the adage, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”? U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer gave Volkswagen 30 days to come up with a fix* for all the emissions standards cheating passenger diesel engine cars in the class action lawsuits he oversees in San Francisco. Gotta’ love this:

“It’s an ongoing harm that has to be addressed … I’ve found the process is a function of how much time people have available to fill. The story about lawyers is that that if you give them a year to do something, it will take them a year to do something. If you give them 30 days to do something, they’ll do something in 30 days.”

As time passes, vehicle owners are increasingly damaged as no one wants to buy their cars and their investment is lost. Hence the aggressive time limit.

* Caution: that link to SFGate may autoplay video and ad content. Really, SFGate? That’s such hideously bad form.

Rough road ahead in Saudi Arabia to a post-oil world
This piece in WaPo paints a grim picture of cheap oil’s impact on Saudi Arabia — and there are huge pieces missing. Worth a read while asking yourself how much Saudis are spending on military efforts against Yemen and Syria, and what new industries they’re investing in to replace oil-based employment.

Took long enough: Software and social media firms get Apple’s back
Did their legal departments finally read the case thoroughly and realize they had skin in this game, too? Who knows — but Google as well as Microsoft are planning to file amicus briefs in support of Apple. Microsoft had already indicated they would support Apple in a congressional hearing yesterday morning; Google piped up later. The latest skinny is that Facebook and Twitter both intend to file briefs as well in favor of Apple. Looks like Microsoft’s current management took an 180-degree turn away from progenitor Bill Gates’ initial response, hmm?

Hit and run

That’s a wrap on this week. Keep your eyes peeled for news dumps while folks are still picking apart last night’s GOP-cast reality TV show. And make time to dance.

EDIT — 8:40 AM — Ugh, why didn’t the Detroit News publish this piece *yesterday* instead of a Friday morning? Michigan’s Gov. Snyder’s “inner circle” exchanged emails advising a switchback from Flint River a year before the switchback took place, and only three weeks before Snyder’s re-election. There was enough content in this to go to press without waiting for a quote from one of the former advisers.

[Work in Progress] Timeline: Flint’s Water Crisis

This is a work in progress. Not all dates and events between the end of 2015 and current date have been added as of publication. This timeline will be updated periodically, as events unfold and as key information is revealed about Flint’s ongoing water crisis. Some information is incomplete or in need of validation. Links to sources will be added over time. If you have content you believe is relevant and should be added, please share in comments.
__________

1974-2002

XX-DEC-1974 — The federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) enacted to ensure safe drinking water for the public; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for setting safety standards, monitoring, compliance and enforcement of the same under the SDWA.

07-JUN-1991 — EPA issued the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) limiting the amount of lead and copper in public drinking water, as well limiting the permissible amount of pipe corrosion occurring due to the water itself.

XX-JUL-1998 — The federal Environmental Protection Agency required all large public water systems maintain a program to monitor and control lead in drinking water due to piping corrosion under the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). Cities like Flint must have a state-approved plan to maintain water to regulatory limits for pH, alkalinity, corrosion inhibitor chemicals.

XX-XXX-2002 — [DATE TBD] Genesee County purchased 326 acres of property with 300 feet of Lake Huron waterfront via auction from Detroit Edison, for $2.7 million **How did this purchase affect the city of Flint’s 2002-2004 financial crisis?
__________

2009

28-AUG-2009 — Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) issued a permit to Genesee County Drain Commission for water withdrawal from Lake Huron (Permit 2009-001), up to 85 million gallons per day. MDEQ director at the time is Steven Chester.
__________

2011

10-MAY-2011 — DTE Energy expressed interest in acquiring 3 million gallons of water from Lake Huron intake for use at the Greenwood electricity generation plant.

07-SEP-2011 — Report to Flint City Council by Rowe Professional Services determined buying water from Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) cheaper than continuing to purchase from Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), or using Flint River water as upgrades to Flint treatment equipment required would cost $50 million.

XX-SEP-2011 — (confirm date) City of Flint increase water and sewer rates 35%. Higher water costs due in part to higher-than-expected unmetered water losses. This is the second double-digit rate hike in 2011. The city’s water system once served ~200K residents, now serves half that number and a much smaller manufacturing base.

29-NOV-2011 — Emergency Manager Michael Brown appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to take over management of the city of Flint effective 01-DEC-2011. Democratically elected offices are now subordinate to the EM.

XX-DEC-2011 — (confirm date) Report showed the City of Flint leaking 30 to 40% of its water, well above more typical 15-20 percent loss of unmetered water.

14-DEC-2011 — EM Michael Brown appointed Howard Croft as Director of Infrastructure and Development. Croft’s role has oversight of Parks and Recreation department, Street Maintenance, Water and Sewer, Sanitation, Planning, Fleet and Community and Economic Development. Jerry Ambrose named financial advisor, with oversight of finance, budget and treasury departments; Gary Bates named director of human resources and labor relations. Bates’s role was temporary, lasting 90 days, at time of appointment.

20-DEC-2011 — The City of Detroit sells $500,675,000 in bonds for Water Supply System Revenue funding (pdf). The offering prospectus notes Flint’s desire to migrate to the KWA, but that it might be seven years out before the move. 6% of DWSD water is supplied to Flint.
__________

2012

XX-FEB-2012 — (confirm date) Emergency Manager’s team audited Flint’s water system to identify current rate of unmetered water loss.

23-APR-2012 — EM Michael Brown proposed budget plan includes a 25% average increase in water and sewer rates, with water rates projected to increase 12.5% and sewer 45%. City personnel cuts were also proposed. Water and sewer are the single largest expenditure in the budget. (Proposed budget, PDF) **Did any of the personnel cuts made affect staffing of water and sewer maintenance?

XX-AUG-2012 — [DATE TBD] Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder after Brown steps down. Kurtz has previous experience working in Flint during the 2002-2004 financial emergency.

XX-DEC-2012 — [DATE TBD] Michigan Treasury officials met with Flint city officials to discuss drinking water alternatives, including Flint River. Only two options — remaining on DWSD, or development/switch to new KWA — would be studied.
Read more

Flint Crisis: Harvey Hollins Not Giving Task Force Information that Implicates Harvey Hollins

Some weeks ago, I noted that Rick Snyder had picked his Director of Urban Initiatives, Harvey Hollins, to coordinate response with his hand-picked Task Force to respond to Flint, in spite of the fact that Hollins was intimately involved in all his prior decisions involving Flint.

First, back in early December, Snyder’s hand-picked Task Force for responding to the Flint crisis met with him to tell him of their initial observations. One of their key recommendations, as made clear by a meeting summary they shared with him, was that he appoint one single person to handle the response. (See PDF 240ff)

We also believe it important that a single person or entity-potentially independent of any one particular state agency and mutually agreeable to this Task Force and you, Governor-be established to provide effective coordination of ongoing activities and reporting on thestatus of mitigation measures.

[snip]

Accordingly, in advance of our final report, we would like to ensure the independentcoordinator suggest ed above engage trusted community groups to beginrebuildincommunity trust in state actions.

Snyder responded by “appointing” Harvey Hollins, his Director of Urban Initiatives, as that person “independent” of the “involved state agencies.”

You make a solid suggestion about establishing a person who is independent of any one of the involved state agencies to serve as the point person to coordinate t he ongoing work. I am recommending that Harvey Hollins, director of the Office of Urban Initiatives,carry out this effort. Harvey Is wellversed in the issues and the challenges faced by ourcities and will be effective in this role. Senior members of our executive team willcontinue to engage with your task force and provide direction and support to Harvey to ensure you will have continued support and cooperation.

The thing is, Hollins was in no way “independent” of the decisions that poisoned Flint. He has been involved at every phase, down to coordinating Snyder’s hush-hush water filters when he was still trying to cover it up. So basically Snyder just “appointed” the guy he had “appointed” to oversee all the decisions that got Flint poisoned in the first place.

The other day, Progress Michigan revealed that MI’s Department of Environmental Quality had alerted Hollins of concerns that the Legionnaires outbreak in Flint might be tied to the water switchover last March.

In the next few days, officials at DEQ exchanged some panicked emails, pretty much blaming Flint for the non-response, noting that DEQ “became peripherally aware” of the spike in Legionnaires, but also bitching about the Genesee County supervisor suggesting that it might be tied to the switch to Flint river water.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 7.02.07 PM

It appears that panicked email was printed out by then DEQ Director Dan Wyant’s assistant, Mary Beth Thelen, then initialed by Wyant, presumably indicating he had read it.

Also included on that email, though, was Harvey Hollins.

Yesterday, the Free Press reported that, in an interview, Hollins had explained that he had decided there was not yet enough information to brief the Governor on the public health crisis potentially tied to the water.

Harvey Hollins III, director of Michigan’s Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives, said in an interview Friday that he received an e-mail from a Department of Environmental Quality official in March about concerns over Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County. But Hollins said he told the e-mail’s author, former DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel, in a follow-up call, that there was not enough information for him to take the issue to the governor.

Instead, Hollins said he told Wurfel to gather more information and have the department’s director bring it directly to the governor if it was warranted. Hollins said he heard nothing more about the issue until late December when local officials in Flint revealed the outbreak had recurred.

Hollins said he should not be held responsible for what some have called the state’s sluggish response to the Legionnaires’ outbreaks starting in 2014. The outbreaks and the city’s 2014 switch to the Flint River for its drinking water are suspected of being linked, but state officials said they have yet to make a direct connection.

“I have nothing to leave over,”  Hollins  said when asked whether he considered resigning over the issue. “When you have people who are professionals who are hired … to do their job and it takes four months to do that, for me to leave over their missteps, I’m not going to do that,”

“I don’t feel any responsibility for grown-ups who don’t do their jobs,” he added.

It’s unclear whether the Freep asked Hollins if he felt any responsibility for the 9 people who died in this Legionnaires outbreak.

Also yesterday, one of the doctors on the Task Force with which Hollins is supposed to be coordinating communication said that it is having problems getting information — notably, on the Legionnaires outbreak — from state agencies.

“Unfortunately, first on the list is the legionella issue,” said Reynolds of Mott Children’s Health Center, referencing spikes in the fatal Legionnaires’ disease after the city began using Flint River water in April 2014.

“Some agencies have been very forthcoming, other agencies it’s like pulling teeth to get information, and it can get real frustrating and doesn’t facilitate good communication,” he said.

Reynolds, who serves on the task force, raised his concern during a meeting of the Flint Interagency Coordinating Committee attended by Snyder and top aide Rich Baird, who vowed to help Reynolds push through any bureaucratic resistance.

[snip]

The Flint task force has been working to wrap up its investigation this month, but Reynolds said members may need to reinterview some officials because of recent developments.

“If we don’t ask the question, we don’t get the answer,” he said. “But there’s clearly information that’s being withheld.”

How curious that Hollins doesn’t seem to be terribly effective at getting the Task Force the information it needs about events that implicate Hollins.

Wednesday Morning: Full of Whoa

CapagnoloFrontBrakes_BillGracey-FlickrWhoa. Halt. Stop. The brakes need firm application, even mid-week.

Zika virus infects media with crappy reporting
I can’t tell you how many times in the last 24 hours I yelled at my computer, “Are you f****** kidding me with this crap?” With so many news outlets focused on hot takes rather than getting the story right, stupidity reached pandemic levels faster than mosquito-borne viruses. And all because Dallas County health officials and the Center for Disease Control used the words “sexually transmitted” in reference to a new Zika case in the U.S.

The following sampling of heds, tweets, and reports? WRONG.

  • US reports first case of sexually transmitted Zika in Texas (Gizmodo, io9)
    [Not the first sexually transmitted case in the U.S., just the first in Texas]
  • First US case of the Zika virus infection was sexually transmitted, officials say (Verge)
    [Not the first U.S. case of Zika virus]
  • The first known case of the #ZikaVirus contracted within the US confirmed in Dallas (Newsweek)
    [Not the first known case of Zika contracted within the U.S.]
  • The first case of the #ZikaVirus contacted within the US was through sexual transmission (Newsweek)
    [Neither the first sexually transmitted case in the U.S. or the first contracted within the U.S.]
  • The First Sexually Transmitted Case of the Zika Virus Is Confirmed in Texas (Slate)
    [Not the first sexually transmitted case in the U.S.]

The first case in which Zika virus was contracted inside the continental U.S. occurred in 2008. This was the first sexual transmission of the virus in the continental U.S. as well. Scientist Brian Foy had been studying Zika in Senegal during an outbreak; he had been infected by the virus, became ill, and was still carrying the virus when he came home to Colorado. His wife became infected though she had not traveled abroad, had not been bitten by a mosquito, and children residing in their home did not contract the virus. More details on the case can be found here.

The first cases of Zika virus in the U.S. in this outbreak were not locally transmitted inside the U.S., but contracted outside the continental 48 states and diagnosed on return here. States in which cases have been reported include Hawaii, New York, Virginia, Arkansas, Florida, and now Texas — in the case of the traveler who brought the disease home and infected their partner through sex.

It’s incredible how very little effort many news outlets put into researching the virus’ history or the case in Texas. Bonus points to Newsweek for trying to get it wrong in multiple tweets for the same story.

Best reporting I’ve read so far has been WaPo’s piece on the new Dallas cases, and WIRED’s collection of Zika reports. The CDC’s site on the Zika virus can be found here.

Gonna’ be a massive Patch Day for F-35 sometime soon
Whether or not Monday’s earthshaking sonic booms over New Jersey were generated by F-35 test flights, there’s still a long and scary list of bugs to be fixed on the fighter jet before it is ready for primetime. Just read this; any pilot testing these now is either a stone-cold hero, or a crazed numbnuts, and they’d better weigh between 136 and 165 pounds to improve their odds of survival.

Oral Roberts University mandates students wear FitBits for tracking
Guess the old “Mark of the Beast” is interpreted loosely at ORU in Oklahoma. Fitness is measured on campus by more than theological benchmarks. Begs the question: who would Jesus monitor?

The last straw: Fisher Price Wi-Fi-enabled toys leave kids’ info out in the open
Fisher Price is the fourth known manufacturer of products aimed at children and their families in which the privacy and safety of children were compromised by poor information security. In this case, Smart Toy Bears are leaking information about their young owners. Maybe it’s about time that either the FCC or FTC or Congress looks into this trend and the possibility toy makers are not at all concerned with keeping their youngest customers safe.

EDIT: #FlintWaterCrisis
Forgot to note the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on lead contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan at 9:00 a.m. EST. C-SPAN3 will carry the hearing live.

Tap the brakes a few more times before you take off, eh? It’s all downhill from here.

Governor Snyder: You Were Not Hired to Be Jerry Lewis

On Tuesday, self-described wonk Rick Snyder used much of his State of the State speech to take responsibility for poisoning Flint’s children. Though by the end of the week, Snyder was limiting the extent of his responsibility because the “experts” didn’t exercise “common sense.” (See video here.)

“The department people, the heads, were not being given the right information by the quote-unquote experts, and I use that word with great trial and tribulation because they were considered experts in terms of their background, these are career civil servants that had strong science, medical backgrounds in terms of their research,” Snyder said. “But as a practical matter, when you look at it today and you look at their conclusions, I wouldn’t call them experts anymore.”

[snip]

This is something that we don’t consider just what one person did, let’s look at the entire cultural background of how people have been operating,” Snyder said. “Let’s get in there and rebuild the culture that understands common sense has to be part of it, taking care of our citizens has to be part of it.”

[snip]

The Republican governor added: “What’s so frustrating and makes you so angry about this situation is you have a handful of quote-unquote experts who were career service people that made terrible decisions in my view and we have to live with the consequences with that. They work for me, so I accept that responsibility.”

It’s a very curious argument for a guy who — still! — gets treated as someone who puts policy over ideology, in spite of the years of serving as Dick DeVos’ puppet approving of bad policy over and over.  (In the same appearance, Snyder took credit for things President Obama’s Administration has given to Flint, including Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare, but that’s a long-standing schtick of this governor.) Effectively, a guy whose entire political gimmick is that he relies on experts is now saying those damned experts didn’t exercise enough common sense.

Yes, Governor. The experts did not exercise enough common sense.

But something else Snyder did this week drives me even crazier than his equivocation over wonkdom, just as it became clear his particular approach to policy — especially his insistence that emergency managers can fix the pervasive problems of Michigan’s cities — had poisoned Flint’s children.

Rick Snyder channeled Jerry Lewis, the telethon guy.

In the middle of his speech — and in his website dedicated to this issue — Snyder solicited donations.

If you’d also like to aid Flint, please go to HelpForFlint.com to volunteer or donate. If you are a Flint resident who needs help getting the water you need, go to HelpForFlint.com.

Hell, Snyder’s not even as competent as Jerry Lewis! Because while two of the links Snyder includes on his site go to sites dedicated to helping the people of Flint deal with this crisis — one to Greater Flint’s Community Foundation and the other to a United Way fund specifically set up to benefit Flint — Snyder’s third donate link goes to the Red Cross’ general SE MI site, such that any funds donated might go to other entirely worthy causes but not Flint.

Anyway, here’s why this has been bothering me all week.

First of all, Rick Snyder is worth something like $200 million, and while he returns his gubernatorial salary, he brings in around $1.9 million a year. So this is a guy making making $36,500 a week asking people who (using the Michigan average household, not individual, income) $48,500 a year to donate to help Flint. Your average Michigan household is doing almost twice as well as your average Flint household (average $25,000 a year) — so it is certainly within their charitable ability to help their fellow Michigander. But clearly the kinds of donations that Rick Snyder could afford would go much further to helping Flint than the kind of donations most Michiganders could afford.

But here’s the more galling thing.

We got into this position because Michigan (under a Democrat, originally, but expanded under Snyder, than reinforced after voters of Michigan rejected that approach) has decided to deal with the ills of its cities a certain way. Not only doesn’t the state help out, it instead has shifted revenue sharing away from cities, which has created fiscal emergencies in many of them, which Snyder has then used to bring in state appointed “experts” to dictate to the locals what to do. The measure of those outsiders is always “fiscal responsibility,” not overall well-being or even fiscal sustainability (or what some people might call “common sense”). The result is that — with the possible except of Detroit (though even there, the human cost has been breathtaking) — city after city sells common property off and takes away services, including things like policing and … clean water  … as a way to meet those fiscal responsibility goals. Many of the cities so treated — Flint is one of but not the only archetype — keep having serial emergencies without any solutions to the underlying problems of disinvestment and segregation.

It was only a matter of time before the state’s emergency managers started doing real damage to the people living in the cities as a result (and the damage Snyder’s serially experimenting and corrupt state-led schooling replacement has been at least as bad).

From my understanding, Michigan has decided to approach its cities this way for two reasons. First, segregation: Michigan is a badly segregated state (though on that count, Flint is nowhere near as bad as many cities in Michigan). And for too long, Michigan’s politicians — Democratic and Republican — have shied away from from sharing state resources broadly, for either services or schooling, which has meant that as white flight left cities without revenue bases and as globalization hit Michigan more generally, those cities spiraled downward. Quite simply, the state wouldn’t do what Snyder wants to Michiganders to do informally, share between the more fortunate and the less fortunate.

How bizarre is that?!?! That Snyder thinks we more fortunate Michiganders should share with the less fortunate (we should!!), but he won’t use policy to make it happen?!?!? Effectively, he is suggesting the well-being of some of the state’s children should be at the whim of charity, not government policy.

But the other reason Snyder pushed through his initial emergency manager law and then re-upped it after voters rejected it is to enable certain kinds of policy outcomes. The best known of those is the breaking of the unions and with it the slashing of both wages and pensions that used to provide a middle class living for many public servants. But in some cases, the ability to have an appointed manager make decisions based solely on economic responsibility has made it easier to loot those cities, a golf course here, an art museum there, much of a downtown there. And both the ideological outcome — busting the unions — and the looting  have beneficiaries, people like Dick DeVos (net worth $6.9 billion, and whose ideological goals Snyder has placed ahead of Michigan’s well-being) and Quicken Loans owner Dan Gilbert (net worth $3.7 billion). Gilbert, in particular, has benefitted coming and going, as he got to influence how properties, including foreclosures his own company owned in Detroit, got dealt with.

And of course, Snyder pushed his expanded emergency manager approach to solving the problems of cities like Flint even while he was cutting taxes for businesses like DeVos’ Amway and Gilbert’s Quicken.

So, even at a moment when his preferred approach to dealing with real problems of a manufacturing state like Michigan resulted in the poisoning of Flint’s children, Snyder was calling for charity rather than demanding that the policy of the state ask its billionaires to invest in cities rather than looting them. (It’s important to note Grand Rapids is better off than almost any other Michigan city in two ways: it is not majority African American, and it benefits handsomely from Meijer,  DeVos and fellow Amway billionaire Van Andel family investments in the city, giving us access to arts and sports opportunities most cities of our size would not have).

Which brings me to one thus far enduring mystery about the Flint crisis.

There was one moment during this crisis when Snyder asked his rich beneficiaries to pony up some charity rather than asking the middle class.

Last year, at a time when the State acknowledged there were probable carcinogens in Flint’s water but still maintained any lead in the water reflect normal seasonal variation (!!), Snyder brokered the donation by a still unnamed corporation of 1,500 water filters to some faith leaders in Flint.

Dave Murray, a spokesman for Snyder, confirmed that the filters, distributed by the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, came from a “corporate donor that does not wish to be recognized but cares deeply about the community.”

The donor “worked with the governor to provide 1,500 faucet filters to be distributed to city homes,” Murray said in an email.

The state’s involvement in the filter distribution was never publicized and pastors told The Flint Journal-MLive Tuesday, Sept. 29, that they were asked by staffers in the governor’s office not to speak about it.

[snip]

“Those filters came from the governor,” Poplar said. “The governor seems to be the one with the golden key” to make something happen, she said.

Pastors involved with the giveaway of the filters, which were designed to remove total trihalomethanes (TTHM) as well as lead from water, said they accepted the condition that they not discuss the state’s role in securing the equipment, said the Rev. Allen Overton.

Overton and the Rev. Alfred Harris said they thought the arrangement was odd, but did not want to jeopardize receiving the water filters, which Flint residents waited in line for and which were given away in just three hours.

Now, the most likely corporate donor, both because of its potential liability for the fouling of the Flint River and because it obviously was testing the water the city of Flint was releasing, would be GM. Though that doesn’t seem to match the redactions in the emails released earlier this week. (See PDF 65)

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But I find it remarkable that the only time Snyder has actually asked any big money entities to donate in this affair was at a time when he was trying to make it all go away by shutting up the activists and leading a small portion of residents to feel better about the taste and appearance (though not necessarily the content) of their water.

That donation, like Snyder’s appeal for a sense of common good not backed by actual policy, was all show.

The Circumstantial Case for Flint River Water and Hot Water Tanks Leading to Flint’s Legionnaires’ Oubreak

Although the progressive community has been aware, for more than a year, of the water quality crisis in Flint that was created when the state-appointed emergency manager switched Flint from Detroit’s water system to a supply from the nearby Flint River, national attention is only now starting to focus on it. Today’s New York Times features an editorial denouncing the “depraved indifference” Governor Rick Synder’s administration showed toward Flint as the crisis unfolded.

The basics of what happened are clear. Water from the Flint River is much more corrosive than that from the Detroit water system (from Lake Huron). Even though this water leaves the Flint processing facility fairly clean and appearing to meet most standards, its corrosive nature results in the pipes in the aged Flint distribution system corroding. Both iron and lead leach into the water as a result of this corrosion, leaving the water with a reddish-orange tint and unsafe levels of lead. Children in the area have already shown elevated levels of lead in their systems. Sadly, lead damage is irreversible.

A bit of digging shows that the corrosive nature of the Flint River water comes from its high chloride content. [Note: free chloride ions (Cl) are distinct from intact molecular chlorine (Cl2) and have very different chemical effects in the systems being described here. For brevity, they will be referred to as chloride and chlorine, respectively.] That high chloride content very likely results from heavy application of salt to roads during winter and subsequent runoff of the salt into tributaries and the river. The Flint River has a chloride content about eight or nine times higher than Lake Huron.

Technical documentation of the Flint water crisis is almost entirely the work of a group of researchers directed by Professor Marc Edwards of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virgina Tech (frequently updated at their website, flintwaterstudy.org). As the Times editorial noted, the Snyder administration tried to dismiss one group of critics as “anti-everything”. That won’t work with Edwards, who won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (often called a Genius Grant) in 2007 for his work on water quality.

One very simple and elegant study carried out by Edwards and his team is described in this post from August 24 of last year. The team took a clean-looking sample of Flint water and put it into a glass jar along with a piece of iron. The iron is present to mimic the effect of the Flint water coming into contact with iron pipes as it flows through the distribution system into people’s homes. An otherwise identical sample was prepared with water that came from the Detroit water system. After only five days, the jars looked dramatically different:

Flint water that has been in the presence of iron for five days takes on a reddish cast while Detroit water does not. Image is Figure 3 found at http://flintwaterstudy.org/2015/08/why-is-it-possible-that-flint-river-water-cannot-be-treated-to-meet-federal-standards/ by Dr. Marc A. Ewards and Siddhartha Roy.

Flint water that has been in the presence of iron for five days takes on a reddish-orange cast while Detroit water does not. Image is Figure 3 found at http://flintwaterstudy.org/2015/08/why-is-it-possible-that-flint-river-water-cannot-be-treated-to-meet-federal-standards/ by Dr. Marc A. Ewards and Siddhartha Roy.

The water in the Flint jar looks just like what we have seen in countless photos of exasperated Flint residents wanting something done about the poor quality of the water coming out of their taps. Leached iron by itself could well be the cause of this discoloration that is common in Flint. We will come back to this same study in a bit.

In addition to the dire issue of unsafe lead levels in homes (and subsequently documented in children) that received Flint River water, another problem may relate to the changed water source. Writing at Huffington Post earlier this week, Erin Schumaker documented an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in Flint. Remarkably, in a graphic created by Alissa Scheller, we see that the outbreak coincides quite precisely with the change in water source:

Huffington Post graphic depicting Legionnaires' Disease cases in Flint and their correlation with the water source. Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/flint-water-legionnaires-lead-crisis_us_569d09d6e4b0ce4964252c33 Graphic by Alissa Scheller.

Huffington Post graphic depicting Legionnaires’ Disease cases in Flint and their correlation with the water source. Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/flint-water-legionnaires-lead-crisis_us_569d09d6e4b0ce4964252c33 Graphic by Alissa Scheller.

How could there be a pathway connecting the water source to a Legionnaires’ outbreak? Read more