While Michigan officials equivocate about plans to address Flint’s poisoned water system after a switch to corrosive river water leached lead from old pipes into the city’s water system far past toxic levels (see cover story), another town four hours southeast of Flint is facing its own potential lead crisis in its drinking water. Sebring, Ohio, a town of 4,000 people, closed schools and issued an advisory after tests of tap water showed signs of elevated lead and copper levels, the Christian Science Monitor reported (1/25).

Lead levels in seven of 20 homes tested were at 21 parts per bln, exceeding the EPA’s recommended 15 parts per bln. Lead exposure is associated with serious health issues for young children and infants.

A weakened economy and the passage of time have made repair and replacement of old pipes a challenge, and have led to higher costs and a decline in water quality, especially in many older cities, the Monitor noted.

In Sebring, smaller distribution lines and old homes with lead pipes appear to be the source of lead in the water, Ohio EPA spokesman James Lee told WFMJ-TV in Youngstown.

“We are working with Sebring water treatment plant to make adjustments to minimize leaching of lead into the water,” Lee said.

Over the last decade, other US cities have come to see the effects of the nation’s aging water infrastructure, from the lead crisis in Washington, D.C., in 2004 to a recent spate of water main breaks throughout Los Angeles.

Poor asset management, shrinking federal and state budgets, and a lack of political will to address the issue over decades has left the US with deteriorating water and wastewater systems – some dating back to the Civil War era – in urgent need of repair and replacement.

With more than one million miles of water mains across the country, the cost of restoring and expanding them to serve a growing population could cost up to $1 tln over the next 25 years, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) estimates. The EPA’s forecasts are more conservative – an investment of just over $330 billion over 20 years.

But with the federal government responsible for less than a quarter of public spending on water infrastructure, the burden falls on state and local governments to coordinate and cover most of the costs, as the Brookings Institution pointed out (1/13).

The Monitor noted that some cities are taking steps to address the issue. Chicago is in the midst of an ambitious 10-year plan to replace 900 miles of century-old pipes throughout the city – an initiative financed partly by payroll cuts at the Department of Water Management, increased water rates, and partnerships with private contractors. Long-term efforts are also underway in Baltimore to replace old pipes.

Meanwhile, as tens of thousands of Flint residents remain without drinkable tap water and are wondering if their children will face lifelong damage from lead exposure, newly released documents cast significant doubts on the narrative embraced by Michigan Gov. Rick Synder’s (R) administration regarding how and why the city’s water supply was replaced by corrosive Flint River water to begin with.

In 2011, Snyder ordered a state takeover of Flint’s government amid the city’s mounting financial woes. During its time in receivership, a series of Snyder appointees served as “emergency managers,” overseeing Flint’s government functions and finding ways to cut spending.

Two years later, one of those managers, Darnell Earley, implemented a plan to switch Flint’s water supply from the Detroit system to a new consortium and to use water from the Flint River in the interim. He claimed this would save $6 to $8 mln, one city council member recalled to the Associated Press. The Flint River water proved toxic and Snyder has said it will require a “long-term,” decades-long financial commitment to attempt to mitigate the damage to Flint children who drank the water.

But an email reported by Motor City Muckraker (1/23) suggests that the move might not have been necessary to reduce Flint’s water costs. Then-Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Sue McCormick proposed to continue providing water to Flint at a savings of $800 mln over 30 years, or 20% less than the switch. In other words, Josh Israel noted at ThinkProgress (1/25), Flint could have kept the Detroit water and still saved more money than it did with the switch to river water.

ACLU of Michigan investigative reporter Curt Guyette reported at TheDailyBeast.com (1/24) that a previous Snyder emergency manager had considered switching to the Flint River over the long-term in 2012 and rejected the idea after consulting with the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Guyette also noted that Snyder’s then-spokeswoman falsely claimed in October that his administration could not have made the decision to switch to the Flint River because Detroit’s water authority had decided to cut the city off — a claim debunked by a March 2014 letter from Earley turning down the option to continue getting its water from the Detroit system. Last year, Snyder appointed Earley to be emergency manager for the Detroit Public Schools.

Neither of these details were included in a timeline of events given by Snyder in his State of the State address (1/19). In that speech, Snyder took some responsibility for the lead poisoning crisis and promised to voluntarily release his 2014 and 2015 emails, which are not public under Michigan’s disclosure laws. That release, however, proved to be heavily redacted and apparently incomplete.

A class-action lawsuit filed by Flint residents alleges that both Snyder and the state government breached their contract to provide drinkable water and of violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act by saying it was safe. State Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) announced an “independent investigation” (1/25), though his office is also defending Snyder in the class action case. (ThinkProgress)

DOUBTS GROW ABOUT CRUZ’S CITIZENSHIP. Legal scholars say there is reason to believe that Ted Cruz does not meet the constitutional requirement that he be a “natural born citizen” of the US to run for president, since he was born in Canada. Some argue that Cruz would be eligible, since his mother was an American citizen.

The matter is far from settled law, as Cruz claims, since the Supreme Court has never elaborated on the requirement. Harvard University Professor Laurence Tribe, in an op-ed published in the Boston Globe (1/11) argues that “the constitutional definition of a ‘natural born citizen’ is completely unsettled,” and then claims that, under the method of constitutional interpretation Cruz preferred when he was Tribe’s student, Cruz “wouldn’t be eligible, because the legal principles that prevailed in the 1780s and ’90s required that someone actually be born on US soil to be a ‘natural born’ citizen.”

Mary Brigid McManamon, a constitutional law professor at Widener University’s Delaware Law School, wrote for the Washington Post (1/12) that Cruz can’t possibly be eligible for president because he was not physically born in the United States.

“The Constitution provides that ‘No person except a natural born Citizen ... shall be eligible to the Office of President.’ The concept of ‘natural born’ comes from common law, and it is that law the Supreme Court has said we must turn to for the concept’s definition. On this subject, common law is clear and unambiguous. The 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone, the preeminent authority on it, declared natural-born citizens are ‘such as are born within the dominions of the crown of England,’ while aliens are ‘such as are born out of it.’ … James Madison, known as the ‘father of the Constitution,’ stated, ‘It is an established maxim that birth is a criterion of allegiance. ... [And] place is the most certain criterion; it is what applies in the United States.’”

Other Cruz critics questioned whether the Texas senator was entitled to US citizenship at all after Breitbart News reported (1/8) that a list of voters for Canada’s national election of July 8, 1974, included Cruz’s parents, “Cruz, Eleanor, Mrs.” and “Cruz, Raphael [sic], self-employed,” both at 920 Riverdale Ave, Calgary, Alberta.

Canadian law restricted federal voting rights to Canadian citizens, and at that time required immigrants to renounce their previous citizenship to obtain Canadian citizenship. Canadian immigration law was changed in 1973 to allow naturalized citizens to retain their former citizenship.

The Cruz campaign disputed that the “list of electors” was a list of voters, and told Breitbart News Eleanor Cruz was never a citizen of Canada, and couldn’t have been in 1970, when the future senator was born, because she moved to Canada in December 1967, and Canadian law required 5 years of permanent residence before an immigrant could apply for citizenship, a Cruz campaign spokesman said.

Sen. Cruz’s father, a Cuban native, has acknowledged that he became a Canadian citizen. He became a US citizen in 2005.

TRUMP RANKS BIGGEST LIAR SO FAR. Donald Trump has outlied Chris Christie and Ted Cruz in the 2016 presidential campaign by a wide margin so far, according to PolitiFact.

The nonpartisan fact-checking outfit based at the Tampa Bay Times has examined 84 controversial statements by Trump, a real estate developer and reality TV personality, and found that he’s peddling nonsense most of the time, as 17 (20%) were “pants on fire” lies; 33 (39%) were false; 14 (17%) were mostly false; 14 (17%) were half true; 5 (6%) were mostly true; and 1 (1%) was true.

Of 99 Chris Christie statements that were examined, 8 (8%) were rated “pants on fire” lies; while 16 (16%) were rated false; 10 (10%) were mostly false; 26 (26%) were half true; 19 (19%) were mostly true; and 20 (20%) were true.

Of 77 statements by Cruz, 5 (6%) were rated “pants on fire” lies; 25 (32%) were false; 21 (27%) were mostly false; 9 (12%) were half true; 13 (17%) were mostly true; and 4 (5%) were true.

Of 125 statements by Marco Rubio, 4 (3%) were rated “pants on fire” lies; 18 (14%) were false; 30 (24%) were mostly false; 28 (22%) half true; 28 (22%) were mostly true; and 17 (14%) were true.

Among the other GOP also-rans, PolitiFact scored Rick Santorum with 5 lies; Mike Huckabee had 4; Ben Carson, Jeb Kasich and Rand Paul each had 3; and Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina both had 2 lies.

Democrats hewed a lot closer to the truth. Of 148 controversial statements by Hillary Clinton, 2 (1%) were rated “pants on fire”; 18 (12%) were false; 23 (16%) were mostly false; 30 (20%) were half true; 35 (24%) were mostly true; and 40 (27%) were true.

Bernie Sanders was examined 51 times and none of his statements were rated lies; 7 (14%) were false; 9 (18%) mostly false; 9 (18%) half true; 17 (33%) mostly true; and 9 (18%) true.

Martin O’Malley also told no lies, at least that PolitiFact found, out of 18 statements it checked. One was false (6%); 3 (17%) were mostly false; 10 (56%) were half true; and 4 (22%) were mostly true. But none were completely true (at least among challenged statements). See PolitiFact.com.

LATINO VOTE IS GROWING. Rocio Sáenz of Service Employees International Union in a recent press call had a message for what she called “extremist Republicans” like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio: “We will remember—we will remember who stood in the way of families and who stood against.”

The call—arranged to discuss the GOP-led legal challenge to President Obama’s immigration orders—came the same week that Pew Research released a report projecting that the number of eligible Latino voters will be 40% higher in 2016 than it was in 2008, Kerry Eleveld wrote at DailyKos.com (1/27).

The rapid growth in eligible voters has been fueled partly by young Latinos turning 18 and partly by naturalizations, which have been spurred by voter mobilization efforts in key swing states, reports Daniel Hernandez in TheGuardian.com (1/26).

In what campaigners are calling a “naturalization blitz”, workshops are being hosted across the country to facilitate Hispanic immigrants who are legal, permanent residents and will only qualify to vote in the 2016 presidential election if they upgrade their immigration status.

Citizenship clinics will take place in Nevada, Colorado, Texas and California, with other states expected to host classes in February and early March in order to make the citizenship deadline required to vote in November.

Republicans, led by Donald Trump, only have themselves to thank for the urgency many immigrants now feel. Native Honduran and legal resident Maria Polanco, for instance, is finally pursuing citizenship after living 26 years in the US. Factors like the expensive and lengthy application process had discouraged her from completing the process in past, but the stakes are just too high now.

“Lots of people who for various reasons have not gotten their citizenship are now at the point where they will,” she added.

Like the five women Adrian Carrasquillo of Buzzfeed spoke to in Las Vegas.

The women are all Latina. They’re foreign-born. They’re members of the 53,000-strong Culinary Workers Union Local 226. They work as housekeepers (four of them at Donald Trump’s Las Vegas hotel). And they’re all in the process of becoming naturalized US citizens.

“I have realized people have erroneous thoughts about all Latinos, they want to pigeonhole us into things we aren’t like rapists and drug dealers,” said Maria Mendoza, one of the five women, in Spanish. Mendoza was referring to Trump’s now infamous announcement speech, in which he said Mexico was sending rapists and criminals across the border.

DEMS HOPE FOR SENATE MAJORITY. In the Senate, Democrats hope to gain at least four seats now held by Republicans to regain the majority (if Dems keep the White House and the Democratic vice president would break the tie) or five seats to control the Senate outright. And it looks like it will be a close call.

Democrats will be defending 10 seats they now hold while Republicans defend 24 seats.

Seats rated as tossups by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report include the Florida seat that Marco Rubio (R) is giving up to run for president (with a spirited race between US Reps. Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy and at least two other Dems and a Republican primary that has at least five combatants); the Nevada seat Harry Reid (D) is giving up (where former Nevada Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto is the likely Democratic nominee and US Rep. Joe Heck is the likely Republican nominee); the Wisconsin seat Ron Johnson is defending in a rematch with former Sen. Russ Feingold (D). The seat defended by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is rated a “Tossup/Tilt Democrat,” with US Rep. Tammy Duckworth the likely Democratic challenger, while the seat defended by Sen. Mike Bennet (D-Colo.) is rated “Lean Democrat,” with at least 11 Republican challengers.

Seats rated “Tossup/Tilt Republican” include Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Seats rated “Lean Republican” include Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Longshots targets for Dems include Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the open seat given up by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

GUN EXTREMISTS MENACE MOMS MEETING ON GUN VIOLENCE. Nearly a dozen pro-gun activists, including several openly carrying firearms, showed up at a library in Covington, Ky., to confront a group of women from the Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio, chapters of Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence as they held a meeting (1/16). A 2013 law made it legal to bring guns into city-owned spaces, including parks, zoos, libraries, and City Hall.

“This is not the first time gun extremists have tried to intimidate members of Moms Demand Action,” Tracey Goodlett, a volunteer chapter leader with the Kentucky chapter of Moms Demand Action wrote for Cincinnati.com (1/22). “Last December during a vigil and march in Louisville to remember victims of gun violence, a man with a handgun strapped to his leg and his hand on an AR-15 rifle trailed our group. When some of the children among our marchers became scared and upset at the sight of the man given we had no idea if he was a threat or not—the police were called, but our leaders were told there was nothing they could do because open carry is legal in Kentucky.

“This raises the question: when did it become acceptable for armed individuals to intimidate peaceful community members without any consequences? No one is threatening anyone’s Second Amendment rights – so this isn’t about that. In fact, it seems the only time the right to keep and bear arms is at odds with common-sense public safety measures is when extremists decide to show up armed to the teeth at a community event just to prove a point.

“This is about fringe gun rights groups using scare tactics to silence not only those who disagree with their ideology, but to intimidate our elected officials into supporting dangerous, gun lobby-sponsored legislation that allow guns for anyone, any time, anywhere, no questions asked. Well, Moms will not be silenced.”

TEACHOUT RUNS FOR CONGRESS. Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor who ran for governor of New York on a populist platform in 2014, announced that she will run for an open seat in Congress that Rep. Chris Gibson (R) is giving up. Teachout was endorsed by the 11 Democratic county chairs in New York’s 19th Congressional District in the Hudson Valley.

She ran against centrist Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Although Cuomo defeated her — 62% to 34% — the fact that she was able to pull so much support away from a sitting governor was impressive.

Her populist platform emphasized the anti-corruption and anti-monopoly principles she has long advocated. And she did particularly well in the Hudson Valley, which is where the moderate 19th District is located.

Teachout already has the backing of the liberal Working Families Party and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, according to the New York Observer.

Livingston Town Councilman Will Yandik, who says he’s been in touch with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, responded to Teachout’s entry by saying that he’s still considering a bid, David Nir noted at DailyKos.com. However, Yandik didn’t offer a timetable for his decision, and seeing as Teachout has the support of the local establishment, he’ll need to move quickly if he wants to put up a serious fight.

DC COURT DENIES STAY ON EPA CLEAN POWER PLAN. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a request to halt implementation of the EPA Clean Power Plan until litigation on the regulatory package has concluded (1/21).

The stay was requested by a coalition of 27 states and fossil fuel interests, led by West Virginia, which argued that they would suffer irreparable harm if the DC Circuit did not put a judicial stay on the emissions regulations, which seek to cut carbon pollution from the power sector 32% by 2030.

The three-judge panel fast-tracked consideration of the case, setting 6/2 as the date to hear oral arguments on the Clean Power Plan’s legality. Regardless of how the DC Circuit rules, observers widely expect the Supreme Court to take up the case, Gavin Bade noted at UtilityDive.com (1/21).

WHAT WILL MAKES US GO RENEWABLE? In 2013, Greensburg, Kansas — a town of less than 800 residents about 100 miles from Wichita — became the first city in the US to go 100% renewable, powering homes, businesses, and municipal buildings via wind power. In 2014, Burlington, Vt., joined Greensburg, becoming the largest city in the US to be powered by renewable energy sources. A year later, Aspen, Colo., became the third city in the United States to go 100% renewable.

With the price of renewables falling in recent years — solar power cost has dropped 70% since 2009 and wind is now cost-competitive with natural gas — experts in the field of renewable energy, as well as several prominent environmental groups, expect that pace to quicken in the coming years. In December, San Diego — the country’s eighth-largest city — made a legally binding commitment to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2035. So far 12 US cities — including San Francisco, Calif., Georgetown, Texas, and Ithaca, N.Y — have made commitments to transition to 100% clean energy, though many have yet to solidify those commitments as law.

“There are a lot of cities right now that are setting goals or talking about setting goals,” Joyce McLaren, a senior energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory told ThinkProgress. “There is a murmur in the air about this at city and county levels.”

Hoping to push more cities toward this renewable energy transition, several environmental groups are launching campaigns this year aimed at garnering commitments from cities and institutions like universities and corporations. The Sierra Club — one of the country’s largest grassroots environmental organizations — just launched a new #ReadyFor100 campaign, a nationwide effort aimed at getting 100 cities and 100 organizations to commit to transitioning to 100% renewable energy.

Coming on the heels of successful campaigns to stop the construction of new coal plants and hasten the retirement of aging ones, the new campaign looks to complete the transition away from fossil fuels and toward an energy infrastructure built on renewables. The Sierra Club hopes that through grassroots organizing, the campaign will be able to secure legally binding commitments from 100 cities by 2018, with the goal of implementing those commitments by 2035.

“Clean energy is cheap now, there is more political support than there ever has been, and we’re seeing a huge amount of momentum to transition away from coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told ThinkProgress.

Launched in San Francisco (1/21), the campaign will move next to Cleveland, Ohio, Alexandria, Va., and St. Augustine, Fla., and then on to other cities around the country where the Sierra Club has a strong presence. The campaign will also push for universities, like Ohio State, Michigan State, and the University of California system, to commit to transitioning to 100% clean energy.

“It’s hard to argue that Congress is moving quickly on climate change right now,” Brune said. “At the same time, we are making a huge amount of progress on climate change, and part of that is coming from local campaigns at the ground.” (Natasha Geiling, ThinkProgress.org, 1/21)

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY WAS NO FAN OF TRUMP, EITHER. The National Review (1/21) published an anti-Trump manifesto in a special edition, with articles by 22 prominent conservative commentators, authors and activists, arguing that Trump should not be allowed to define conservatism in his image, and the editorial declaration that “Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.”

In response, Trump tweeted, “The late, great, William F. Buckley would be ashamed of what had happened to his prize, the dying National Review!”

But John NIchols noted at TheNation.com (1/22) that Buckley was a Trump critic before his death in 2008 and was proud to challenge what he considered false prophets of conservatism. In 2000, when Trump was toying with a presidential run on the Reform Party ticket, Buckley warned:

“Look for the narcissist. The most obvious target in today’s lineup is, of course, Donald Trump. When he looks at a glass, he is mesmerized by its reflection. If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America. But whatever the depths of self-enchantment, the demagogue has to say something. So what does Trump say? That he is a successful businessman and that that is what America needs in the Oval Office. There is some plausibility in this, though not much. The greatest deeds of American Presidents—midwifing the new republic; freeing the slaves; harnessing the energies and vision needed to win the Cold War—had little to do with a bottom line.”

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2016


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