Child-Poisoning Psychopath Sends Out a Few Scapegoats

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is a horrible person who belongs in prison.

Rick Snyder is a special animal, a human-shaped skin sack of anti-social nightmare fuel that makes even the worst of his compatriots in Republican governance look like complete amateurs.  Snyder’s start was auspicious, but seemed to only be based on a deeply flawed set of priorities.  The work he’s done recently, on the other hand, is truly without peer.

Heading up a state where potentially thousands of kids were poisoned by an unholy marriage of untreated tap water and antiquated infrastructure is bad, sure, but there are things that are worse.  Like, I don’t know, say, covering the problem up for more than a year, or maybe shipping safe water into government buildings while still refusing to confirm the hazard to the general population.  And if you really wanted to get ugly, you could spend more state funds on PR consultants and independent council to protect yourself and your cronies than on fixing the problem for your citizens.  Mr. Snyder has, of course, managed all of these things and more over the last couple of years.

The latest in this horrific cavalcade of civil neglect is a move not by Snyder himself, but by one of his high-level appointees.  Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette recently announced charges against 3 people involved in oversight of the water system, all of them low-level civil servants, and at least one of whom is on record having concerns about water safety, and voicing those concerns to non-receptive supervisors shortly before the switch.  These are the sorts of people that a competent prosecutor would lever for information on more important suspects, not throw under the proverbial bus with minimal decorum.  And that’s not to say they did nothing wrong, but they also clearly weren’t in positions of power to ultimately either approve or prevent the change.

I’ll admit it’s possible, given the natural difficulty of proving guilt with environmental charges, that the AG needs successful prosecutions of these individuals to achieve the necessary leverage for further investigation, but I’ll believe that is his intent when I see it in action.  For the time being, this looks like a classic scapegoat operation, and the Governor’s own comments on the matter only serve to reinforce that perception:

“…We had a handful of career civil servants, been there 20 or 30 years, not apply common sense.  They were way too technical…”

Or from his congressional testimony on the subject:

“Career bureaucrats… made these terrible decisions that showed a clear lack of common sense…”

These quotes, moreso than anything else I’ve seen, have me convinced that Snyder feels zero responsibility for the disaster in Flint, and has absolutely no intention of letting it change the unhinged governing philosophy that created it.  It isn’t a coincidence that he’s chosen to portray this as a failure of “career bureaucrats,” that is a pro-grade focus-tested deflection if ever I’ve seen one, carefully designed to prey on natural prejudices and longstanding public misconceptions.  The three local officials have been offered up as sacrifices on the alter of public relations, with Snyder’s little incantations meant to totally and finally defer all blame.

Flint is not an inevitable result of government bureaucracy.  It is what you get when you run the government like a business, because the government isn’t a business, and no amount of ideological denial is going to change that.  Governments have very different, and often much more important, responsibilities than a business.  The two organizations serve different goals, and necessarily require different tools and styles of operation.  The idea that you could just run one exactly like the other without disastrous consequences is childish in its simplicity, and makes me wonder if Snyder didn’t experience some significant lead exposure at some point in his own childhood.

The only thing that failed here was Snyder’s concept of reality, and that failure was so jarring that he would rather force children into a lifetime of mental illness and learning disability than deal with it like a responsible adult, let alone a competent leader.  There is more than enough evidence to warrant a much more rigorous investigation of what Snyder’s office knew and when, but the Republican in charge of making that call is unlikely to do anything more than follow orders and play his particular role in permanently abdicating responsibility for the Governor and his loyal Emergency Managers.

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And just one final note, apparently Mr. Snyder has taken to drinking filtered Flint water for the time being, in a bid to further polish his public image.

A couple of things to notice about this:  While some has come from Flint-area homes, Snyder has also been getting water from a Flint restaurant that, much like the homes selected for EPA reporting, doesn’t have the old lead-contaminated pipes or solder that have caused so much trouble for many of the city’s poorest residents.  On top of that, the restaurant in question uses a high-end reverse osmosis filtration system, rather than the much cheaper filters provided by the state to residents in the aftermath of the poisoning.  Finally, even if Snyder were drinking lead-contaminated water, the effects would be unlikely to manifest in a meaningful way on a man his age.  Not to say it would be good for him, but the risk is far less than for a lot of the (again, mostly poorer) children of Flint who were exposed.  Just saying, if the guy really wants to prove a point, he’ll start feeding the shit to his grandkids.  I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

 

Primaries Get Weird and Ugly in NY

Clinton-Sanders NY

Among the multitude of new developments since I temporarily dropped off the planet, the two Presidential Primary elections have probably been the most bizarre and potentially significant.

On one hand, the Republican race would have been a nightmare even without the Trump factor, but with him involved, it has resembled nothing so much as a train wreck into a dumpster fire.  Fucking seriously.  Ted Cruz is by far the more knowledgeable of the two leading candidates, and he is a theocratic psychopath who thinks he is anointed by God to lead the country into the End Times.  Or, he’s some kind of radioactive garbage monster in an ill-fitting human-esque skin suit, intent on steering the species to certain destruction…

I’m not even getting into Trump.  The man gets more media coverage than everyone else in the field combined.  It is enough for anyone’s good, times about 1000.

The Democratic race has been much more significant, but it hasn’t had the same circus sideshow tone, so the media has tended to keep the coverage to a minimum.  The last couple of weeks leading up to the New York primary have been a bit more intense, if only because the action is happening close to home for most national news outfits.  The Clinton camp has also been tapping a couple of choice sources to do some of their dirty work (more on that later), or at the very least taking advantage of clearly shoddy journalism to make Bernie look inept.

The primary is already underway, so I’m just throwing out some decidedly non-rigorous opinions, and on a subject where there are already far too many flying around.  Enjoy!

Any of my previous econ posts should make it clear that I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter, but I try to base my opinions on facts rather than rhetoric or propaganda.  That said, I don’t have a perfect bullshit filter, so feel free to tell my if/why I’m an idiot, especially if you have some credible sources to back you up.

Basically, this state is a monster, and I think this is Hillary’s last big push to shut Bernie down.  Her campaign seemed to be ceding ground for the last month or so, content to lose states she was likely to lose anyway, and instead concentrate on fortifying her senatorial home turf.  California is an even bigger monster, but she doesn’t have as many natural advantages there, so like any good strategic operation, her campaign is picking it’s battles carefully.

The pressure on Bernie to leave the race is going to multiply exponentially if he loses here, and I imagine he’s going to ignore it completely and keep pushing to the convention.  He’s got the money and no good reason to get out now.  I don’t buy the argument that he’s hurting her against the Republicans.  (Honestly, I still think he’s pulling more punches than he throws.  Read up on the Clinton Foundation work in Haiti for an example.  She’s got plenty of vulnerabilities that have yet to see light.)  The worst he is going to do is further strengthen this new left resurgence and buy them more influence with an eventual Clinton administration and the DNC moving forward.

I think Sanders could win, but I strongly doubt he can win by as much as he needs to make up his delegate deficit before June.  After his early losses, things need to go perfectly in any state that could possibly be contested, and while it’s gone fairly well so far, he hasn’t bought himself much in the way of breathing room, and I just don’t see his good luck continuing indefinitely.  He’s had an impressive string of victories over the last 6 weeks or so, but as I said, I think the Clinton camp was in conservation mode for most of that time.  That is decidedly not the case in New York.

Now that we’ve covered their legitimate advantages, let’s get to some of the underhanded shit Clinton’s operation has been engaged in during the New York lead-up.  It started about as early as it could, with a hit-piece interview in the New York Daily News, released a mere day or two after Sanders capped off a seven-state run with a convincing victory in Wyoming.  It was basically Bernie squared off against the entire editorial board, and the framing of the interview (as well as the resulting article and surrounding media analysis) was carefully tailored to make him look incompetent, specifically on questions of bank regulation.

In spite of early impressions, it turns out Sander’s answers to the board’s questions were exactly correct, and if anything the Daily News editorial board came out looking like they didn’t know the difference between the Dept. of Treasury and the Federal Reserve (see this, this, this).  That, of course, didn’t stop the Clinton campaign from flogging the discredited article at every opportunity.  It was some classic Karl Rove/Swift Boat chicanery, attacking an opponent’s strengths with misinformation, then using friendly media to saturate the news environment and create legitimate doubt where none should exist.  But, then again, what did I expect?  If there is a discernible Clinton brand, it is victory at any cost, and the truth is usually an early and frequent casualty.

I don’t know if I have to bother with the perennial accusations of sexism (usually leveled against Bernie supporters, rather than the man himself), but I will anyway.  When a pro-Bernie Union rep. described all establishment politicians as “corporate whores,” the Hillary-friendly media was quick not only to personalize the attack against Clinton, but to claim it was an example of clear misogynist intent, as if there is no such thing as a male prostitute.  There were probably better ways to approach his sentiments, for sure, but the assumption that he chose that analogy particularly because of Clinton’s much-vaunted status as “a woman” is fairly absurd.  Besides, if anything, I’d say the association with U.S. politicians does more of a disservice to the nation’s prostitutes than the other way around.  I’d guarantee the average brothel has a better approval rating than Congress at this point.

Over this last weekend, there was a similar mini-(non-)scandal that centered around Sanders supporters in California showering a Clinton motorcade with 1-dollar bills in protest of a massive nearby fundraiser.  Cable networks pounced again, claiming (say it with me now) sexist undertones.  CNN and MSNBC commentators both went out of their way to describe the symbolic gesture as being “like a strip club,” rather than simply being the most economical way of visually proving a point that could easily be used against any number of male politicians within our corrupt and cash-addled political system.

I’m sure I’m coming off as having my own sexist animus in these last couple of paragraphs, but that’s also kind of the point.  The Clinton camp is counting on its ability to spin any attack on Hillary at all into a “sexist” attack, and to trust the larger culture to interpret those attacks accordingly.  Obviously, Clinton is seen as untrustworthy simply because she’s a woman, not because she’s a person of constantly-evolving positions running against one of the most consistent political figures in recent U.S. politics.  Her addiction to corporate cash is problematic because she’s a woman, not because she’s up against someone who makes a point to gather the vast majority of his funding from private individuals, rather than massive multinational corporate interests.

Ultimately, the Clinton campaign’s cynical use of feminism as a cover for her clear deficiencies as a candidate in this particular race is not only intellectually dishonest as hell, but it undercuts legitimate feminist concerns in the broader social context.  You can only cry wolf like this so many times before people stop listening entirely… But again, victory at any cost.  This is thinking she’s absorbed from her Wall Street connections:  If claims of sexism seem to be working right now, then they are an asset to be exploited for maximum personal gain, and nothing more.  You can call me a “Bernie Bro” for attacking her positions all you like, you’re only further proving my point.

The reality of the 2016 Democratic primary is this:  Despite a cadre of massive systemic advantages and the support of basically the entire Democratic party establishment, Hillary Clinton, the pragmatic, triangulating centrist, is in a tough race with a self-identified socialist independent senator from Vermont, and it’s not like he hasn’t made his share of mistakes that a better candidate of any gender would have been able to capitalize on.  The point is, Hillary Clinton isn’t doing anything that the DLC/New Democratic coalition hasn’t been doing for the last two decades, it simply doesn’t work anymore.  The voters that make up the american left are changing, and they are not going to tolerate this sort of center-right elitist Democrat beholden to corporate interests anymore.  Hillary will probably still win this, but I think a single-term presidency is a real possibility, especially is she insists on assuming that one of her party’s most valuable demographic groups (namely, younger voters) is too dumb to see through her bullshit and vote their own interests and beliefs.  Any future democratic candidates for any office would do well to learn these lessons as quickly as possible.

A Premature Sigh of Illusory Relief

You wish you were as brave as this kid…

 

 Bradley Manning won’t rot in prison for aiding al-Qaeda,  just for standing up for the interests of the American public.

 

Last Tuesday, Pfc. Bradley Manning was found guilty of *only* 20 of the 22 charges brought against him in THE Show Trial of the 21st Century (thus far, at any rate).  The Judge, Col. Denise Lind, handed down a “Not Guilty” on the most severe charge of “aiding the enemy,” but found Manning guilty on most of the other charges, including 6 under the ridiculous 1917 Espionage Act.

Seeing that Manning had plead guilty to most of the lesser charges, those findings are relatively unremarkable, and most of the media chatter has come in the form of relief over his “aiding the enemy” acquittal (Yes, your precious, hand-picked confidential sources are safe, for now).   All the same, I’m having a hard time considering this anything but a serious blow to government transparency and the rule of law.  There are probably a dozen reasons to think this, but three in particular stand out from the crowd.

#1. The 1917 Espionage Act:

The fact that charges were brought at all under this ancient bit of legal code is disturbing, and seeing them upheld in judgment is a very bad sign for anyone trying to expose government incompetence, let alone corruption.  The law has an ugly history of being used for purposes of political persecution, and the Obama administration has held fast to that conceit.

Additionally, many legal scholars consider the Espionage Act a relic, designed to deal with threats that disappeared decades ago, and there’s been more than a little argument over its constitutionality, even at the time it was passed.  It’s tough to imagine a law more ripe for a repeal, or at least a serious reworking.  And yet, this law has been one of the main weapons in the Obama DOJ’s arsenal of persecution against whistle-blowers.  Under their watch, more than twice as many people have faced charges under this act than during it’s entire previous history.  After this ruling, that strategy is unlikely to change.

#2.  The Obscene Double-Standard in Criminal Prosecution:

Significantly more telling than even the sheer mass of the book that was thrown at Bradley Manning is the relative non-existence of legal consequences for other types of blatantly criminal behavior, both in military and civilian circles:

“Did the bank you run launder billions of dollars for drug cartels and known terrorist affiliates over several years?  That’s OK, we won’t bring criminal charges, or even make you admit any wrongdoing.  Just pay us a month’s worth of revenue or so, and we’ll call it even.”

“You say your infantry unit systematically massacred scores of civilians in an occupied country?  Between you and me, that’s pretty messed up, but let me tell you what:  We’ll protect you from local courts and police, but we will have to do an ‘internal investigation,’ just so everyone knows that Justice has been served…”

“What’s that, now?  You’ve been accused of rape and harassment by a fellow soldier?  Well, now, we’ll definitely have to do…  something…  about that…  eventually…  In the mean time, how good are you at keeping your mouth shut?”

Had Manning engaged in this sort of despicable behavior, he would likely be looking at a small fraction of the legal penalties he currently faces.  Powerful  institutions in America tend to protect their own from even the most heinous of accusations.  Of course, that all changes the second you question their own adherence to the high ideals they preach.  Barack Obama seems to wear a particularly smug look when he boasts of his status as a “Constitutional Scholar,” or when he lauds the U.S. as “…a Nation of Laws.”  I can’t tell if that is because he actually believes these things he says, or if he merely finds a sardonic thrill in serving millions of Americans helping after steaming helping of pure, unsullied horseshit.

#3.  Intimidation of Future Whistle-Blowers:

One of the more remarkable things about the Snowden leaks, at least in my estimation, is the fact that they still happened in spite of the type of horrendous treatment that had been heaped on Pfc. Manning during his pre-trial incarceration.  A year and change of 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement under constant supervision, forced to sleep naked in full light, and refused any sort of physical or mental diversion, including reading and exercise.  All, you know, “for his own protection.”  PR aside, these were obviously punitive measures, taken just publicly enough to scare off other military personnel with similar ideas.

(**LATE NOTE** ~ Prosecution claims during sentencing hearings of a “chilling effect” on State Dept. activity and reporting of human rights abuses are a master class in unintentional irony.)

Now that Manning has had his day(s) in court and will likely spend a significant proportion of his life behind bars, anyone else with possibly damaging information on government malfeasance is less likely than ever to come forward, regardless of how said information was obtained.  Anything potentially implicating or humiliating is immediately and systematically classified by an administration obsessed with secrecy.  And the cost of challenging this gross abuse of authority?  Nothing short of your life as a free citizen.

Any and all private information is now fair game for collection and catalogue, but the actions and communications of the security state, funded by our taxes and nominally in our interest, must be shielded from any public knowledge or accountability by any means and at any cost.  The logic behind this situation is perverse beyond any account, and makes endemic corruption a foregone conclusion.

This verdict didn’t throw our pathetically under-utilized system of investigative journalism into chaos. It was simply a crippling blow against any effort to even inform Americans of the ethical depths to which  their country has been dragged, let alone reverse that sickening descent.

Man, we really dodged a bullet there, huh?