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Op-Ed: Michigan Poisons Poor to Save a Few Bucks

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Flint, Michigan is impoverished. The auto plants have closed. Forty percent of the city’s 100,000 residents live below the poverty level. It is majority minority.

 

It’s been in fiscal crisis since 2011, with the state taking over budgetary control and a state-appointed “emergency manager” driving policy focused on cutting spending.

 

Flint residents are Americans, but like many impoverished Americans they are forgotten. And state officials led by Gov. Rick Snyder have shown that they consider the residents disposable.

 

In Flint, the water supply has been poisoned by lead. Police are now delivering bottled water from door to door. But it may be too late for hundreds of kids who are already suffering from elevated levels of lead in their blood. The damage done is irreversible with lifelong consequences, including lowered intelligence and long-term mental and emotional damage.

 

How did this happen? The emergency manager — accountable only to the governor and state officials — decided to save money by switching Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to a cheaper source, the Flint River. Only the river had been poisoned by waste from nearby factories for generations.

 

The toxic wastes not only turned the water brown, it corroded the aged pipes of Flint’s water system, unleashing lead into the water. Federal law required that the water be treated, but that would have cost $100 a day, so it was not done.

 

Parents began to complain of rashes and hair loss. The state’s environmental quality agency denied there was a problem. High-level state officials knew that the water supply was lead poisoned for six months before declaring an emergency.

 

Finally, a Flint pediatrician tested the blood of children and discovered lead levels double and even triple the prior amounts. State officials denounced her work before realizing the truth could no longer be hidden.

 

Finally, Gov. Snyder ended the denial. He declared an official emergency, and four days later called for delivering bottled water. The head of his environmental agency resigned. Snyder apologized for the catastrophe, but calls for him to resign continue to build.

 

Flint is not alone. Across America, in ghettos and barrios, reservations and rural valleys, the poor are isolated and too often forgotten. Systems basic to civilization — plumbing, water systems, school houses, garbage collection and treatment, roads and public transport — are in squalor, lacking even the investment to keep them up to minimum standards.

 

Impoverished neighborhoods often lack hospitals, grocery stores, and decent public spaces. The poor are left to fend for themselves, rising to attention only when violence breaks out, when innocents are shot, when tragedies like Flint become public.

 

The cost of this callousness — in lives lost, disease, mental damage, crime, drugs, hopelessness — are immense. This isn’t about money. We pay more on the back end — in prisons and emergency rooms, cops and guards, prisons and addiction centers — than we would have to spend on the front-end investments that would give every child a chance.

 

Conservatives continue to call for dismantling environmental regulations. They slash budgets for policing violations by corporations or cities.

 

They want to slash support for poverty programs and block-grant them to the states and localities.

 

The next time you hear that rap, think of Flint, its poorest children betrayed by state officials. Think of Flint deprived even of safe water in order to save a few bucks. Think of Flint and investigate your own community — the horrors of Flint are not exclusive to that city.

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Commentary

Biden, Vax Americana, and What the Recall Could Mean in COVID-19 Wars

Masking works. You can see it working. Vaccines work too, but we’re on the honor system for that. And people lie or show a fake vax cards. 

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COVID/Photo Courtesy of Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire 

At Oakland’s Stagebridge, I taught a class this year. One of my students couldn’t make the final. The student had COVID.

I don’t know if the student was vaccinated or whether this was a breakthrough case. But the fact remains, the COVID war must be our No. 1 priority—no matter how many people you see on TV at football games and sporting events unmasked. 

Masking works. You can see it working. Vaccines work too, but we’re on the honor system for that. And people lie or show a fake vax cards. 

This is why President Joe Biden’s speech last week, what I call his “Vax Americana” speech was so much more important than people want to admit.

It was his first get tough moment. And it reminded me of the phrase, “Pax Americana,” from post-World War II in 1945 to describe how the U.S. used its dominance to bring peace and prosperity to the world. 

After months of “nice,” Biden was a little less nice ordering federal workers to get vaxed, and OSHA to lean on employers with 100 workers to mandate vaccinations.

But all you need to remember from the speech was the last line, when Biden in a hushed, aggressive whisper said, “Get vaccinated.” 

What are you waiting for—a death bed conversion? 

It’s time to get serious about public health, about caring for our country and each other. 

We can end the war on COVID if we all do our part, masked and vaxed. 

I wonder if Biden knows about a non-profit in Stockton called Little Manila Rising

“Someone Pulled a Gun” 

You know what guns do to a situation. In the COVID wars, the anti-vaxers are insane. 

One of the handful of Filipino American canvassers for Little Manila Rising going door to door to provide the public with good information, got a rude greeting from an anti-vaxer.

“A gun!” said Amy Portello-Nelson, the head of the Get-Out-The-Vaccine drive in Stockton. The canvassers are armed only with information. No one was hurt, but you see how dangerous fighting COVID can be when you’re armed only with facts. 

Here’s what Little Manila Rising’s done in two months on the job. It has knocked on more than 32,000 doors and had 20,000 conversations. The area they’ve worked has gone from a vaccination rate of 32% to more than 50%. 

Talking to people and telling them to get vax works. It’s how we’re going to get back to normal. It’s going to take a “Vax Americana” effort.

The Recall

Of course, whatever happens with this gubernatorial recall will determine how quickly the state gets to the 70%-80% rate that gives us an effective herd immunity. 

My deadline is before any official recall results. And even then, mail-in ballots with a September 16 postmark will take time to be counted. 

The talk of voter fraud is greatly exaggerated. There’s more rhetorical fraud than anything else. 

With more than 8 million ballots in already, unless there’s a strange crossover vote, the Democrats should continue in power. 

But let’s say the recall succeeds and a person with the most votes among 46 also-rans becomes the new governor, it would not bode well for the state.

The Black conservative Larry Elder was leading among those who want to replace Governor Gavin Newsom.

Elder is an anti-vaxxer and has espoused views indicating that – under his leadership– California would look a lot more like Alabama, Texas, Louisiana and Florida on the COVID map. 

That would be the real monumental tragedy for California and for Vax Americana. 

Let’s face it, the political virus unleashed by the Republicans on our democracy is worse than COVID. 

The recall effort needs to die a natural death this week.

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Op-Ed

Opinion: Governor Newsom Has More Than Proven He’s Worthy of Office

When Newsom became lieutenant governor (2011-2019), that tenure allowed him to acquire on-the-job-training, which, in today’s electoral climate seems to be a forgotten asset. 

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Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photo by Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Daily Breeze via Getty Images.

It seems more than 1 million Californians are upset.  They are mad at Gov. Gavin Newsom, and – in their minds- that is justification for this very expensive recall election.

I, too, was upset with Newsom long before he became the Golden State’s top leader.  It was circa 2010, the period when Newsom initially sought the gubernatorial post.  I so wanted to participate in that campaign, but my excitement was short-lived.  In deference to Jerry Brown’s candidacy Newsom withdrew, and his decision upset me.  Why, you ask? I had longed to support a gubernatorial candidate that displayed capacity, commitment, compassion, competence and, might as well say it, a degree of coolness.

When Newsom became lieutenant governor (2011-2019), that tenure allowed him to acquire on-the-job-training, which, in today’s electoral climate seems to be a forgotten asset.

The lessons I gleaned from observing the lieutenant governor would alleviate any ire.  Even prior to holding that position, as mayor of San Francisco from 2004-2011, Newsom weathered controversies, again on-the-job-training. However, all told, nothing like the ones contrived by today’s dissenting voices that have amassed this recall election with some 40-plus contenders.  I’ve stopped trying to make sense of it; I just voted my reconstituted anger, “NO” on the recall.

My mind won’t let go of questions I would love to get answers on from the contenders:

  • Describe your experience balancing budgets of, let’s say, more than $200 billion?
  • What accomplishments did you achieve while serving in elected office?
  • Where were you and how did you show up during the raging firestorms of the past and present?
  • What are your commitments and plans to mitigate homelessness in California?
  • What allocations did you facilitate for small businesses to help them during this COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Are you vaccinated against COVID-19? Have you encouraged others to get vaccinated?

Of course, there are many more questions I’d love to get answers to but, I am busy organizing and planning because, when the smoke clears and the drought ends, I want a clear conscious and an experienced leader.

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Commentary

No Further Delays on Launching MACRO!

City Administration must implement Civilian Crisis Responders Program and keep planned community advisory board 

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Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan

COMMENTARY 

At this week’s Public Safety Committee, councilmembers received an update on the status of launching Oakland’s emergency civilian responder program, Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO).

I, along with my Council colleagues, call on the City Administration for the speedy implementation of this important public safety service as an in-house program and to include meaningful community input and involvement, as was previously directed by the Council to include a community oversight board.

The implementation of this program is highly awaited and urgently needed, as the goal is to provide services to those experiencing non-violent crises. A Community Intervention Specialist, Emergency Medical Technician, and a Case Manager would respond to non-violent crisis calls, rather than a police officer.

This would simultaneously free police to respond to violent crimes.

In 2019, the idea of this program was presented as part of my budget proposal, with strong grassroots community backing and an informational memo brought by Councilmember Noel Gallo. 

That same year, I successfully allocated the funding for the feasibility study of creating this civilian mobile response program in my budget amendments.

The City Council then approved $1.85 million in the FY 2020-21 Mid-Cycle Budget Amendments (88174 CMS) to implement the proposed program. On Dec. 15, 2020, my resolution to pursue the option for in-house hiring process for MACRO was adopted (88433 CMS).

In 2020, the City Council, along with strong community support, pushed to fund the launching of the pilot. With the goal of improving coordination, response, and creating job opportunities for the communities in which MACRO will be launched, Council, along with community grass-roots organizations,  called on the program to be launched as an internal city program.

Earlier this year, Noel Gallo and President Pro Tem Sheng Thao advocated to have the program in-house within the Oakland Fire Department (OFD). Bas and Councilmember Dan Kalb introduced the resolution that was unanimously adopted by Council directing the establishment of MACRO within OFD and creating an Advisory Board, which would consist of crisis health service experts, individuals impacted by the criminal legal system, unsheltered individuals, domestic violence survivors, youth, and/or survivors of state violence, to serve as advisory partners to the Oakland Fire Department in further developing MACRO.  

The state has shown support of MACRO by responding to my advocacy letter, asking for funding; Senator Skinner included $10 million for the launch of MACRO in the state budget. 

Meanwhile, other cities have successfully launched similar programs including Olympia, Wash., Portland, Ore., and Albuquerque, N.M. 

Thanks to strong grassroots advocacy working together with Council members, we were able to pass the proposal to launch civilian responders for Oakland, and to win funding in both the city budget and state budget to support this vital public need.

We know that this type of program can save dollars and save lives.  We call on the administration to launch it timely and effectively, and include vital community input, to ensure success.

“It’s urgent that the Administration implement MACRO, Oakland’s mobile crisis response program in the Fire Department. Oaklanders agree that we need medical professionals and crisis responders to address mental health and other non-violent issues, allowing police to focus on violent crime,” said Bas.

Gallo said, “I am thankful for my colleagues on the council who supported launching MACRO in-house in the fire department. Working together we can provide effective civilian responders to provide community needs and handle low-level calls that do not require a police officer.”

Added Thao, “The City Council committed to its goals to reimagine public safety with the funding of the MACRO program, and I join my colleagues and the community in urging the City Administration to implement this important emergency response program. Oakland cannot wait for this common sense and holistic approach to public safety any longer.”

 

Watch the September 14  Public Safety Committee Zoom Meeting at: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87171430933

“The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

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