Tag Archives: Government

Flint water crisis is a drop in the sorry bucket of government

The presidential election season tends to bring out all kinds of haters, but especially government haters.

  • I hate government waste.
  • I hate Washington, D.C.
  • I hate federal government mandates.
  • I hate do-nothing politicians.
  • I hate paying for government programs.
  • I hate those bozos in Springfield (this is specific to Illinois haters, but there are probably state government haters in every state).
  • I hate pork (by pork, I don’t mean bacon — even vegetarians don’t hate bacon, they just don’t eat it — I mean pork barrel, that wasteful spending that we all pay for but only benefits one district).
  • I hate Democrats.
  • I hate Republicans.
  • I hate socialists who hate bankers.
  • I hate bankers who back socialists.

You get the picture. So we’re all looking for the candidate who spends less, does more and doesn’t clog up the news with negative advertising. Unfortunately, one man’s government waste and pork is another man’s hope and change.

But can all the haters agree on this? If government doesn’t do anything else, shouldn’t it be responsible for providing clean drinking water?

Even before providing for the common defense or ensuring the blessings of liberty (freedom of religion, speech, press and all that), isn’t potable water, like, the No. 1 way to promote the general welfare? Human beings can’t live for more than three days without water (and it gets downright uncomfortable after just 24 hours). Not to say anything about icy cold beverages, nice hot baths, washing clothes and watering lawns, right?

Water is right up there at the top of the priority list.

So this whole Flint, Mich., debacle makes me sick (not as sick as it’s making Flint residents, I’ll bet, but still, I’m appalled).

Here’s the deal. For the most part, a modern citizen can’t ensure her own potable water (though I once was pretty pleased in the investment of a simple water filter). Sure, 150 years ago, I could have dug my own well and lugged water in buckets I made myself from safely harvested materials, but nowadays, the government sources the water (or permits the well digging), the government treats the water and the government governs the pipes through which the water flows.

Government exists for exactly this sort of job. Most of the time, when it’s being done right, I’m quite happy to leave water delivery to government because the government can take advantage of volume discounts. I’m fine to pay for my share in one way or another, usually through taxes of one sort or another and then by the gallon in usage rates, because then I don’t have to buy own water treatment plant, water tower and pipe delivery system.

Same theory applies to road construction, the fire department, the military and libraries. I can’t afford to do these things for myself so paying for a piece of them ensures I have roadways on which to drive, that firefighters will come to my aid when my house goes up in flames, that fearless soldiers will fight on my behalf and that I can borrow a book for free.

But none of those things matter if I’m dead. And I’m dead if I don’t have a dependable source of safe water.

Effective governance requires knowledgeable personnel, active oversight, safe equipment and, I’m sorry to admit, tax-hungry entities like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food & Drug Administration.

Somewhere along the line, effectiveness in Flint’s water system got flushed.

At some point, we may know who exactly is to blame for Flint’s lead contamination problem, but I suspect the blame lies, in some way, with every level of government — local, state and national. A lot of lazy oversight and buck passing probably will be uncovered.

At worst, it’s just this sort of situation that inspires conspiracy theories (I was once a reporter in a town that refused to have its water fluoridated — because, lower your voice and look around furtively, that’s how the government poisons its citizens). And at best, the crisis in Flint is why so many people hate government. Because if government fails at the most basic and necessary functions, then what hope do we have that government — in any form, with any leader, of any party — can address our bigger, even more complex problems, like poverty, health care and North Korea?

Alas. Not much.

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Lesson 2 in your presidential election primer: Watch Obama tonight

Thinking isn’t agreeing or disagreeing. That’s voting.

~ Robert Frost

It’s that time again: Time to be an engaged citizen.

As an engaged citizen, I implore you to check out Barack Obama’s nomination acceptance speech tonight at the Democratic National Convention.

I’m not suggesting you actually vote for Obama — that’s up to you. I’m only suggesting you be informed — that you think for yourself, no matter who you intend to vote for — and collect your information right from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

A lot of hooey is dished from politicians’ mouths during campaign speeches, but if you listen to them yourself, you get to decide what’s hooey and what’s not, rather than letting your friends or the dreaded media tell you (as a former member of “the media,” I can tell you there is a lot of group think going on, but not all media reps think alike or have any interest in conspiring– or the time to do it).

As I mentioned last week, if it was already on your evening schedule, this post is not for you.

But if you didn’t even know the Democrats were meeting this week or you didn’t know Obama had to accept the party’s nomination (“isn’t he already president?”), please pop some popcorn, dress comfy and spend a few minutes listening to the most powerful man in the free world — your world — lay out his plans for a second term.

Barack Obama is running for a second term as president of the United States. A six-word resumé for him would be this: Big thinker, attorney, former Senator, black. He’s running against Republican Mitt Romney (and a number of minor party candidates even I can’t name) for a second term as president. The election is in 60 short days on Nov. 6.

I’ll repeat what I wrote last week about watching Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech: I completely understand why you think your vote doesn’t matter or why you might believe all politicians are greedy and deceitful or why politics is more boring than watching paint dry. But I think voting is a privilege and a duty of being an American, and if you’re going to vote, you really ought to be informed. A lot of other campaigns may be boring and not worth watching (such as the one for village clerk or state representative), but determining who the man who becomes president of the United States is important.

I am not here promoting either candidate, only that a citizen’s minimum effort in electing a president should include:

  • Watching Romney’s speech. Check.
  • Watching Obama’s speech tonight.
  • Watching at least part of one presidential debate.
  • Voting on Nov. 6.

This is not too much to ask in return for the American infrastructure and freedoms you enjoy every day.

In conclusion, I’ll put my Minnesota native tongue firmly in my Illinois resident cheek as I share this quote:

In most places in the country, voting is looked upon as a right and a duty, but in Chicago it’s a sport.

~ Dick Gregory

The hi(story) of a passport

Ah, U.S. Passport, how I have loved thee!

I have carefully tucked you into my purse or overhead carry-on nearly 100 times in the past 10 years.

Alas, you expired five days ago and now I have to part with you. The government demands you back upon renewal. I have a fresh new passport picture that makes me look like a German spy and gamely emphasizes my crooked face.

There was a crooked girl and she had a crooked smile,
She found a crooked prince and moved a crooked mile.
She wrote a crooked blog, and made a crooked home,
And she told her silly stories in a little crooked poem.

My passport against a backdrop of photos of a memorable restaurant in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Dear Passport, you represent the cosmopolitan, jet-setting me when I traveled the world for my employer. How many times did I finger your navy blue leather cover while standing in customs lines in London, Munich, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Tokyo and Sydney?

I treasure the amazing sights and exotic tastes you introduced me to. Because of you, I remember sweatily jogging around the Farm Cove park while gazing at Sydney Opera House, eating kudu and crocodile in South Africa, shopping at Harrods of London and dining on the world’s best sushi in Tokyo.

Thanks to you, I was always re-admitted to the good ol’ US of A with its population of sometimes overweight and arrogant but always liberty-loving citizens who believe in freedom of speech, the right to bear arms and a two-term limit on the office of president.

While I do not miss airline food and jet lag, I shall miss you, little Passport, and the supplemental pages officially inserted into you to accommodate all my visas. You are special to me, and I’ll look forward to our reunification in 10 weeks, though processing times vary.

Parting with you is like parting with my worldly self. Travel well and come home safe.

Interstate highways unite us

As embarrassingly ineffective as some of America’s systems have proven to be — public education, for example, and airport security — our interstate highway system is a wonder to behold.

Having observed no fewer than a dozen different interstate highways in nine different states in the past three months, I’m wowed by this 55-year-old system of “wide, gently curved roads that form the backbone of commerce and invite travelers to cross the country in search of adventure,” according to map maker Rand McNally.

Name almost any two major cities in the United States, and you’ll find a system of interstate highways connecting them.

The standards for the interstate are 12-foot-wide lanes, 10-foot-wide paved right shoulders, 4-foot-wide paved left shoulders and curves to accommodate speeds of 50-70 mph. I have found they are not always this way, especially in Dallas, Texas and though the mountains between Atlanta and Nashville, but for the most part, they are dependably consistent.

The system began with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who drew three north-south lines and three east-west lines across a U.S. map and asked the Bureau of Public Roads to build it, according to Rand McNally in my trusty U.S. atlas to which I referred hundreds of times while navigating recently from the passenger-side seat of our motor home. President Dwight D. Eisenhower funded the vision with the signing of the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956.

Did you know … ?

  • Even-numbered interstate highways (such as 90 and 94) are east-west routes.
  • Odd-numbered interstates (such as 35 and 39) are north-south.
  • Three-digit signs beginning with an even number route through or around a city.
  • Three-digit signs beginning with an odd number indicate a spur into a city.

The interstate highway system are an effective example of your federal tax dollars at work. No one person could build such a system by himself; together, we’ve created a network to bring us goods and speed our travel. There may be no “I” in team, but thanks to us teaming together, we have a great interstate system.

Our system of justice is better as a treadmill than as a meat grinder

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.”

The Seventh Amendment to the U.S Constitution: “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.”

Love or hate the politics, we live in the world’s greatest democracy and among our rights as a citizen is a trial by jury, in matters both criminal (think: robbery, sex crimes and murder) and civil (think: neighbor and property disputes, class action lawsuits).

Perhaps in our selfish, every-man-for-himself, instant-satisfaction society, we’d like to believe otherwise, but rights come with duties.

I dutifully reported for jury duty this morning, and it was a pain in the neck. I got up two hours earlier than normal (so I could squeeze in my 3 miles on the treadmill), I ate breakfast in the car on the way and I drove 50 minutes one way to the courthouse.

I submitted to a metal detector, checked in with 18 other residents, waited around 20 minutes, watched a poorly produced video on the county’s justice system and was greeted by a judge who said, “The bad news is you had to drive all the way here in single-digit temperatures to hear this, but the good news is the case settled this morning and you’re dismissed from jury service for at least a year.”

Apparently, we were to hear a civil case involving a car accident with $5,500 in damages at stake. Not a big deal to me, but apparently a big deal to someone. Just by showing up, my name is now off the list of names for jury service for at least a year.

We were reminded at least twice in the video and at least once by the judge that our appearance at the courthouse is important, and he thanked us profusely for showing up.

Apparently, a lot of surly people show up for jury duty. Sure, it was inconvenient, and yes, I definitely had better things to do than drive 50 minutes on Monday morning winter roads only to be sent home again.

But if I were accused of a crime or if I’ve been wronged by another party, I want intelligent people with integrity who are valuable enough to someone somewhere to have something better to do — like me — weighing the facts of my case. I am, in fact, a plaintiff in a lawsuit that will ultimately mean a lot of money to me and to hundreds of other hard-working people whose retirement money went up in smoke, and when and if that suit goes before a jury, I want really smart people figuring out what’s what.

If you’re called to serve on a jury, leave your crabby attitude at home. Cultivate a little empathy for the accuser and the accused, and be thankful for our great democracy.

Jury duty is not fun, but it’s necessary — kind of like those 3 miles at 5:30 a.m. this morning. Think of it as exercising your duties so we all can enjoy our rights.