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Op-Ed:Starving Government Creates a Disaster Like Flint

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For the residents of Flint, Mich., the water crisis continues. Their governor and President Obama have declared states of emergency.

 

Congress is holding hearings. Presidential candidates are doing tours and debates. Free filters are being handed out. Resident can pick up bottled water. The city has gone back to water coming out of Lake Huron rather than the Flint River

 

. But for parents, the fears remain — and almost nothing has been done. They will join in a March on Flint on Feb. 19 to demand action at the national and state level.

 

Flint residents don’t know if the filters work. They don’t know if they should bathe in the water or use it to wash clothes. Almost all the children in Flint under age 6 have been exposed to elevated levels of lead in the water. And the water still isn’t safe.

 

Flint, already impoverished before the calamity, has been devastated. People don’t know whether to trust eating in restaurants. Universities are finding it hard to recruit students. Businesses aren’t about to move into Flint.

 

Even before the crisis, Flint had 11,000 vacant lots and 10,000 abandoned homes, according to the Washington Post. The population has fallen by more than half since 1960, as General Motors shipped jobs away. Forty percent of the city’s population is below the poverty line.

 

The average household income is about $25,000, less than half that of typical U.S. household.

 

Now, the 30,000 homes that are occupied have lost virtually all their value. Who would buy a house where the water is not safe?

 

Mayor Karen Weaver estimates it will cost $45 million to replace the lead service lines to 15,000 homes in Flint, according to the Post.

 

Mona Hanna Attisha, the pediatrician who helped exposed the lead poisoning in children, estimates it will cost $100 million to combat the potential effects. Overhauling the Flint water distribution system will cost an estimated $1 billion.

 

No one knows where the money will come from. The president’s state of emergency freed up a few million federal dollars in short-term assistance. State and private donations have added up to $28 million, but a good portion of that has to repay Flint residents for the water bills they are paying when they can’t use the water.

 

For the residents of Flint, this is a disaster. The damage suffered is like getting hit by a hurricane like Katrina. The federal government should declare it a national disaster and mandate action. Congress should step up and appropriate emergency funds. Flint residents may be disproportionately older, poorer and black — but they are part of this country.

 

The national disaster has hit Flint but it is already coming to other communities. Lead pipes were banned 30 years ago, but there are an estimated 3.3 to 10 million still in service, according to the New York Times. EPA’s trigger level for action — 15 parts of lead in a billion — is arbitrary, set not on the basis of a health standard, but so 90 percent of homes fall below it.

 

And EPA’s annual budget for safe drinking water has fallen 15 percent since 2002, with 10 percent of its staff lost. In 2013, 17 states cut their drinking water budgets by more than a fifth.

 

One-third of Americans get drinking water from wetlands and tributaries not yet superintended by EPA. When the Agency sought to issue a rule, reports the Times, the Republican-controlled Congress passed legislation to overturn it and two dozen states sued to stop it, worried that it would hurt business.

 

The Guardian reports that its inside sources suggest that in “every major U.S. city east of the Mississippi,” water authorities “systematically distort water tests” to downplay the levels of lead in the water.

 

At $5,000 a pipe, according to the Times, it is estimated that it would cost up to $50 billion to get rid of lead pipes servicing homes with water. That’s on top of the $384 billion EPA estimates it will need in deferred maintenance to keep drinking water safe.

 

Yet conservatives keep slashing core budgets in order to keep cutting top end taxes. The problem with making government so small that you can “drown it in a bathtub” — conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist’s famous quip — is that you’ll end up like Flint, with your children drinking and bathing with poisoned water.

 

Clean and safe drinking water isn’t a luxury. It shouldn’t require purchasing bottled water. It should be provided and policed by our government. It should be a basic necessity that we share in providing securely.

 

Flint shows the horror of violating that basic trust. Only Flint is not alone. If we continue to starve basic functions of government, we will see more and more Flints in our future.

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History

The Black Press: Our Trusted Messenger

Our Black newspapers are now celebrating 194 years of being the keeper of the flame of liberty and the source of information in “our” struggle for freedom and equality.

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Cover of the Oakland Post

Sometimes it’s necessary to be reminded who we are and who our friends are.  It’s also important to remember from whence we have come. 

Such is the case this week with the Black Press. Our Black newspapers are now celebrating 194 years of being the keeper of the flame of liberty and the source of information in “our” struggle for freedom and equality.

With the advent of the recent pandemic and the visible disparity of Blacks dying at greater numbers than others, getting fewer vaccines, working in the highest risk occupations and death at the hands of law enforcement, our need for a “trusted” source of information is greater than social media, which has become an alternative for many.

 At the same time, the interest in reaching our communities has increased on all levels. The question has become “who is in touch with the Black community” as injustice, murder and social disparity continues to grow among Blacks. 

The NAACP and the Urban League gave the impression that they were in touch with the Black community. But the reality is neither organization has ever been in touch with the Black community without the Black Press.  It is Black newspapers and not CNN, ABC, NBC or CBS that carries the articles and commentaries of these organizations to the Black community. 

Yet, neither of these organizations ever mentions the Black Press when taking both credit and dollars for outreach to the Black community.

The African American and Black communities of America should not be duped into believing that social media has become a substitute for the Black Press. The Black Press is now both print and electronic, it’s a newswire service as provided by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), providing coverage of both news here in America and around the world.

 It is the Black Press that has been the “Trusted Messenger” to our communities for 194 years, and that says a lot. Our newspapers are the rear guard, the battle ground against the efforts to resegregate America and return to “Jim Crow” racism.

As we celebrate Juneteenth, let us remember that we are not only free but capable of defending and determining our futures if we get serious. Let’s remember how we got here, on the backs of those like the Black Press who bought us thus far; let us not forget in the words of James Weldon Johnson: that “ we have come over a way that with tears has been watered, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.” We are still being slaughtered today by others as well as each other.

Let’s remember who is truly telling our story and our obligation to keep and support that effort. Pick up a Black newspaper and get involved. You owe that and more to keeping the Juneteenth principle of freedom alive today.

Editor-in-Chief note:  The Post News Group consists of nine newspapers:  Oakland, South County, San Francisco, Vallejo, Marin, Stockton, Richmond, Berkeley Tri-City and El Mundo.  We are also online at postnewsgroup.com.

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Community

Telehealth Increases Access to Care for Medi-Cal Patients – Let’s Keep It OPINION

Telehealth may not make for a good Norman Rockwell painting, but it does make for good medicine. It’s an improvement, a step forward that helps us get healthier and close gaps in care.

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telehealth stock image

Nearly a century ago, a Norman Rockwell painting titled “Doctor and Doll” was published on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, a popular American cultural magazine.

It depicted an older gentleman wearing a suit, doctor bag at his feet, pressing a stethoscope to the chest of a little girl’s toy doll. A cluttered desk and worn chair sit atop a forgettable rug. It’s an old image of health care in America. A country doctor caring for his neighbors via a “house call.”

Of course, we know it was not that simple. Healthcare was rudimentary compared to today’s standards – that is if you had access to care at all. Average life expectancy reflected that. If you were born white in 1929 you would be lucky to reach your 60s. If you were Black, you weren’t likely to reach your 50s.

While things are far from perfect, at least they have improved. Healthy lifestyles and modern medicine have made living into your 80s commonplace. Significant racial disparities remain, but the gap is closing. And the number of people with health coverage has never been higher.  But while Medi-Cal (the state sponsored coverage for people who have low-incomes) now covers nearly 14 million people, many still lack appropriate access to care.

Access to care is a complex issue, but sometimes it’s as simple as geography. Taking an hours-long bus ride across town to visit the doctor isn’t practical for most people. Add lost wages, a lack of childcare, and the fact that you don’t feel good, and it’s downright impossible.

Solutions available in employer-based health insurance for years, like virtual care through an app or over the telephone, haven’t been an option for people on Medi-Cal.

Until the pandemic.

When the federal and state governments declared emergency last Spring, federally qualified health centers like WellSpace Health were able to provide care virtually via telephone and video, a practice that had been prohibited previously.

Virtual care is wildly successful. Over the past two weeks, 5,015 patients accessed care remotely rather than visiting our health centers. Half of primary care visits and 85% of behavioral health visits were virtual. According to a statewide survey of community health centers, which serve 1 in 5 Californians, there has been a 75% decrease in no-show rates since the implementation of telehealth. A study conducted by the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network reported a significant number of patients from communities of color engaging in telehealth and having a high level of patient satisfaction.

As an internal medicine doctor and the chief medical officer WellSpace Health, it makes sense. Technology has given us the ability to conduct a modern day “house call.” We can go to the patient and break down significant barriers to care. If the patient requires a hands-on assessment or treatment, we can take that step. But frequently, especially in behavioral health, hands-on care is not necessary.

Our ability to provide virtual care under the emergency order will expire soon. Permanent authorization will require action by the Legislature and the governor through the budget process. Assembly Bill (AB) 32 by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D- Winters) provides the template for action.

In this budget cycle, the governor must take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address inequality in our health care delivery system. By adopting the provisions of AB 32 into the FY21-22 final budget, it will guarantee that all Medi-Cal beneficiaries – regardless of where they seek care – can use all telehealth modalities, including telephonic care, indefinitely.

Telehealth may not make for a good Norman Rockwell painting, but it does make for good medicine. It’s an improvement, a step forward that helps us get healthier and close gaps in care.

It even brings back the house call.

Dr. Janine Bera is the chief medical officer for WellSpace Health and chair of the California Primary Care Association Telehealth Clinical Task Force.

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Art

In Colorizing the Characters in ‘Hamilton,’ Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda Whitewashes History

But he should also make sure we all know Hamilton was no hip-hop hero, just another founding slave holder. Miranda’s color change doesn’t change history, nor make it less distasteful.

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Photo of Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton courtesy of cinemablend

Is there any doubt that Ishmael Reed is Oakland’s writer of conscience and consequence?

He was my teacher in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. From him I learned a number of truisms about writing. Like, for me, when in doubt, put in the Filipinos. Don’t take them out!  Another one was career advice. The more money you make, the less you get to say. Conversely, the less you make, the more you get to say. And that brings me to the topic of this column.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “In the Heights,” opened the movie version of the musical last week. It’s a gushing hydrant of diversity. It should make a lot of money. But when I talked to him a few weeks back I wanted to talk about his other monster hit, “Hamilton,” where Miranda applied what I call a little affirmative action. He put the Black and the Brown actors in the white parts.

The Founding Fathers got “Hamiltoned.” Revolutionary?

“Well, it’s interesting,” he said. “The idea when I picked up the book was it’s an R&B hip-hop musical so, of course, Black and Brown actors would play those roles. As I’m reading the book the first time, I’m picturing which of my favorite hip-hop artists should play Hercules Mulligan or George Washington. They were always people of color, and the music reflects that…I was sort of more surprised that everyone was surprised when we finally came out.”

“I think it kicks open the door,” he added. “Why are we so literal when it comes to this stuff? And you know, I see Shakespeare with people of every ethnicity playing the roles. Why can’t that be the case with our founders? We know what they look like – they’re on our f***ing money. So, like, let’s move forward here. But I think once you see a show that has had the diversity that we have on stage, it’s very hard to go back to sort of these all-white productions because you’ve got to ask why, what stories aren’t we getting when you see that?”

You still have to ask what you’re getting. Miranda got comfortable enough to cuss and didn’t like the term “affirmative action.” But was he rehabbing Hamilton, making him and the others better than they were by applying the hip-hop beat?

It was the perfect opening to ask a question about Reed, the MacArthur ‘genius’ award-winning novelist, satirist, and playwright who last year wrote  “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda,” a play that takes Miranda to task for the failure to highlight the real history of Hamilton.

Hamilton and his in-laws, the Schuyler family, were slave owners.

Miranda may have given the actors some tone, but the historical soul remains the same. Just obscured. Reed sees Miranda as duped by the Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow, which Miranda used as the main source for his skin-deep musical that glosses over our racist founders.

“I think seducing thousands of children and even the inaugural poet Amanda Gorman into believing that Hamilton and the Schuyler girls were ‘ardent abolitionists,’ must rank as a cultural crime,” Reed said to me.

As I asked Miranda my question about Reed, the PR rep cuts in: “We are actually out of time.”

Then Miranda says, “I got a long schedule, sorry. Thank you.”

It would have been interesting to hear his answer, with “Hamilton” beginning a new tour in August.

But this is megabuck showbiz, and the PR juggernaut must go on.

So, Miranda wiggled his way out. He could have answered. I gave him a shot.

Then again, Miranda’s got this new property to sell that’s a lot more cleansing and joyful. “In the Heights” is the feel-good movie of the post-pandemic, you know. All the fire hydrants are gushing.

But he should also make sure we all know Hamilton was no hip-hop hero, just another founding slave holder. Miranda’s color change doesn’t change history, nor make it less distasteful.

In fact, the 2021 tour for “Hamilton” is coming to San Francisco, Sacramento and San Jose for multiple-week runs in August through October.

Will he come clean by then? Or come up with a new song? In the meantime, you should read Reed’s “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.”  There’s no music to wash away the truth.

Emil Guillermo is a veteran Bay Area journalist and commentator. He vlogs at www.amok.com Twitter @emilamok

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