Professor Lead-Head: A Zealot? No Way!

Dr. Marc Edwards and doctoral student William Rhoads (left) examine pipes in a home in Flint, Michigan.

Dr. Marc Edwards and doctoral student William Rhoads (left) examine pipes in a home in Flint, Michigan.

Little Rock   I should just start with some disclosures. For years my ears have been inches away from a thousand conference calls, shouts of outrage at newspaper articles, and screams at television sets for the level of ignorance and ignoring of the dangers of lead pretty much on land, sea, and air all around us. Enough so that a favored Christmas gift to our family several years ago was a water filtration system for our house. We would constantly joke about “lead heads.” I hope I’m making myself clear.

Mostly, I learned to nod at the right times, slow down if we ever happened to drive by a home rehab site that was using open air sanding, and highlight any articles in the paper or elsewhere when I stumbled over them, but gradually like lead itself, all of this began to sink in more and more clearly. Recently, as I have reported on radio and in these reports, we have been pushing schools with ACORN’s affiliates and with Local 100 United Labor Unions to test for lead in water, using the crisis in Flint, Newark, and other cities to put wind in our sails so that victory has seemed both imminent and inevitable.

When I saw there was a feature in the Sunday New York Times Magazine involving one of the heroes of the lead-safe movement, Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, I put it on the stack to read in full, knowing it was important, and that I would probably be quizzed about it later. I asked my companera, “What does the title mean, ‘The Zealot? Are they knocking your guy?” She answered, she wasn’t sure, might be the other guy in the article?

Well, I got around to reading the piece finally, and, I’m sure, they were body slamming Professor Edwards with that headline, though I understand the confusion. The reporter, Donovan Hohn, casts these aspersions widely using more inference than evidence. We are sidetracked around the fact that he is a Republican and a libertarian. The reporter tries to introduce a false paradox about whether a scientist can also be an advocate, even a Cassandra. Those seemed like low-blows. Republicans can like drinking clean water, just as there were Republicans who were consumer advocates and who vote for environmental issues. Libertarians don’t trust government. On that there is almost universal consensus across the political spectrum, and, frankly, we need more scientists who are loud and clear advocates given the threats we face, especially ones that are willing to speak truth to power.

The reporter does score some points arguing that it would be nice if Edwards built more capacity for local fights and used himself more as a nail in these controversies and was less like a hammer. That’s a point a community and labor organizer like me would make. If reporters for the Times are going to start leveling the playing field and join those of us in the “let’s build power for the people” program, they are going to have to lobby to add a few more pages to every day’s paper, because they would have to rewrite half of their articles about politicians, artists, movie stars, and every story where they focus is on the individual, rather than the collective, the “hero,” rather than the community, the big “I’s” rather the huge “We’s.” I’m ready, but until they change their standard, it seems like they are rough handling Professor Edwards.

Our experience with Edwards has been the opposite of this story. In the fight in Houston, we have reached out to him several times. He knows we are union, it’s clear from the email address to the questions, and he has been immediately accessible, totally responsive, and completely helpful. In New Orleans when A Community Voice pushed the issue, he gave them instant credibility in moving school board members to contact him, and he has been totally responsive in that situation as well. He has asked for no credit, hogged no press, and been totally supportive in each and every instance.

I could call out people and name names of scores of similar professors and big whoops where you can’t even get a response to an email, much less real help of any kind.

Zealot? If fighting for clean water and justice makes you a zealot, well, we’re charter members of that group, and we’re recruiting every day for more folks to join our ranks. Welcome aboard, Professor Edwards! Hopefully in your lab you’ve learned the old truth that when you stir the water, you’re going to get wet, too!

Dr. Edwards addressing the water crisis in Flint.

Dr. Edwards with community members addressing the water crisis in Flint.

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Where You Live Could Kill You Faster

SSM Population Health

SSM Population Health  Age-standardized annual probability of death among U.S.-born women aged 45–89 years.

New Orleans    Many of us live where we live, where work has brought us, or where family keeps us. Maybe we live where we have come to love the land or the local culture? Maybe we live where we managed to hang on to a house or bought a small piece in a patch where we thought we might want to spend lots of time someday or some summer when it was too hot, or winter when it was too cool. None of us probably include in the equation that by living one place or another we could literally be bringing reality to the expression, “I’m dying to live there!”

Sadly, studies are now emerging that go to the heart of why life expectancy has been lagging, particularly for American women, although American men are not gaining much time these days either. Looking at extensive population data, researchers are finding that discounting all other factors including wealth, employment, and marital status, where women live could mean life and death. Since where you live could also impact on issues like whether or not your state has favorable maternity and parental leave policies, this hits women particularly hard, and could take years off their lives. Social and economic scores were critical because advancing inequity where you live also is not just an issue of justice, but life itself.

In studies being published in SSM Population Health and reported by the New York Times, the residential life lottery ranks the states with the best scores as Hawaii, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont. Good news for them, but bad news for many of the rest of us, since other than Hawaii almost nobody lives in the other states on that list, and even fewer want to move there for goodness sakes. Other than Hawaii, these are also just about lily white states, which quickly brings us to the states with the worst scores and you can hear the sounds of “Dixie” playing in the background: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New York. Huge income inequality accounts for New York being part of the New South. For women, the list was not much different. The best were Hawaii, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Minnesota made this list as well. Women hit hard luck in a different array of states though which included Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

All of this is in spite of the creation of Medicaid and Medicare over the last 50 years, and even more recently the Affordable Care Act. Looking at the states in-and-out of Medicaid expansion didn’t solve the problem. In the worst list, only New York had expanded coverage until Louisiana just came onto the list. In the best, South Dakota and Nebraska rank high, but haven’t expanded while Nevada and West Virginia drag down even though they have.

All of which means there is no quick fix to this. It’s not a matter of just figuring out where the best hospital in your community might be. It’s got to be the pretty much the whole package of social and economic improvements to lengthen lives of both men and women.

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Rigged Elections and Delegitimized Democracy Increasing Polarization

 A rally last week in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton said voter registration efforts were the best tactic against Donald J. Trump. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

A rally last week in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton said voter registration efforts were the best tactic against Donald J. Trump. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

New Orleans    The early warning signal was a report that 40% of recently surveyed Republicans already believed that ACORN was going to steal the election between Trump and Clinton. Yes, that’s down from the even higher percentages reported on other surveys since 2008 arguing that ACORN stole both elections for President Obama, but it’s still total falsehood and fantasy backed by not one iota of proof, not to mention the fact that ACORN has not operated in the United States since 2010, which seems to trouble none of these conspiratorialists in the least about such a zombie attack on election purity.

Now Trump partnered with the hate mongering, fact-adverse Breitbart bunch is putting out its first television advertisements with the subliminal headline, “Rigged,” flashing across the screen. Trump told his rallies in Pennsylvania that the polls were all corrupt and that the only way he could lose the election in Pennsylvania was if the election was stolen and the whole process was rigged. Normally, these would be tactics only associated with what we would usually call, “sore losers,” except that Trump seems to have virtually trademarked the word “loser,” and may not realize yet, as he undoubtedly will soon, how permanently that moniker will stick to him for the rest of his life, perhaps even in epic, historic terms.

If this were just about Trump, we could easily ignore his attempt to inoculate his fanboys and girls from what is increasingly seeming like the inevitable. The problem, as we have all sadly seen in the eight-year war by the right to delegitimize Obama, is that such a strategy is designed to polarize and erode democracy, which in the vicious circle of our political life, also paved the way for a Trump candidacy. Many will remember from his earliest days in office when President Obama, then a naïve democracy advocate, tried to remind the Congressional Republicans that he “had won the election,” believing that the mandate from the voters came with an understanding that some of his positions should be implemented in policy. We don’t believe any of that nonsense in Washington anymore that somehow the voters will deserves respect. It’s dog-eat-dog period, and the people take the hindmost, which is happening on a state-by-state basis where the rightwing has been able to work their will without restraint.

What does this augur? If Hillary Clinton prevails, will we once again watch her try to be bipartisan, as Obama did, and fail while the right quickly tries to reframe a defeat as not about them but about the flawed Trump candidacy?

Some are advancing the theory that the Senate could change hands if the Trump defeat continues on its current abysmal trajectory. A turnover of four or five seats would make the difference there for four years until 2020 when more Democratic seats are up for grabs, but that wouldn’t break through the logjam, even if it would hedge against our worst nightmares. For the House to flip, thirty or so seats would have to change, and most pundits are estimating only half of that will happen.

It’s depressing when the end of this polarized dysfunction still seems nowhere in sight, even as November’s outcome seems more and more inevitable.

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No Place to Hide from Climate Change

Baton Rouge area

Baton Rouge area

New Orleans   For the second time this year Louisiana has been hit by unexpected flooding. The latest and most horrific is the so-called 1000-year rain and flooding event that has already pushed more than 87,000 to apply for FEMA relief and has decimated homes and communities in East Baton Rouge, Livingston, and Tangipahoa Parishes. A cloud formation hung over these areas on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, overfilling rivers, canals, and bayous with rising water with no place to go, and actually pushing water backwards against and reversing normal flow. So many of these areas were outside – far outside – of normal flood maps and low-lying areas that the vast majority, in some cases more than 90%, had no flood insurance meaning that the likely $30,000 cap on assistance will leave tens of thousands of families far short of recovery.

It’s not the Katrina of 2005, but it’s a big league disaster. Taylor Swift has committed one-million. Lady Gaga has come in with a big pledge. Trump and Pence have been down. Obama is coming next week. Many are thanking the “Cajun navy” of volunteers in skiffs running up and down the waterways for rescuing thousands. Big retail, like Walmart and Home Depot, are stepping up. Sadly, this is a scene we’re seeing repeated too frequently now. This is more like “standard operating procedure,” than emergency preparation or reaction.

Is there any place to hide from this level of emerging climate change and the disasters it triggers? How many times does a 500-year or 1000-year rain become so common that such an event becomes a 100-year rain or just something we see with regularity? Will this kind of rain become the “new normal” in Louisiana and elsewhere?

One of the morning papers speculated on what the difference might have been if several proposed diversion and reservoir projects had been implemented or completed. Looking at the charts, it might have saved 30% of the homes in some areas, but these would have been big-time infrastructure projects, and the experts seemed to be saying that it was probably cheaper to let the water come than make a place for it. That’s a sobering conclusion. The reality of climate change may be to keep your valuables on the second floor and keep a canoe on your patio and a generator at the ready like I do in New Orleans. You get the message: we’re on our own now, less citizens, and more survivalists.

And, we’re not talking about temperatures rising and their impact as well. A map the New York Times showed the distribution of the coming heatwave of over 100 degree days by 2060 and 2100. 77 days in Hot Springs, 98 in Dallas, 62 in Houston, 77 in Jackson, 64 in Memphis, and even 39 days in the home of humidity, New Orleans. Outside of the upper northwest and upper northeast around Maine, the only areas not sweltering ran along the western slope of the Rockies and nearby areas from northern New Mexico through much of Colorado and western Wyoming into southeast Montana from the Centennials to the Bitterroot Mountains.

We’re past the point of arguing about what we read and hear. It’s now come down to what most of us can feel and see for ourselves. There are few places left to hide from rising water and heat, so before all of this is an everyday deal, we better change not just our “where,” but our ways.

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The Trump Uniform and Other Stereotypes

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Republican U.S. vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speak with flood victims outside Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Central, Louisiana, U.S. August 19, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Republican U.S. vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speak with flood victims outside Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Central, Louisiana, U.S. August 19, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

New Orleans    Donald Trump showed up for three hours in Baton Rouge yesterday to make whatever hay he might out of the 1000-year flood in the area. Obama will be coming next week. He’ll be leaving his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard or some such and answering the cries of daily editorials in the Louisiana newspapers calling for him.

There was a picture of Trump in many of the newspapers along with his vice-presidential running mate, Indiana’s governor Mike Pence. The photo op had them helping unload a truck with donated supplies and helping hand those out in the blistering heat and suffocating humidity that makes a Louisiana day in an August summer the stuff of tropical legend. What struck me though was the fact that Trump was still “in uniform.”

Pence was wearing a short sleeve shirt with an open collar. Trump had on his now iconic white golf cap, which reportedly is his sartorial strategy to hold the comb over in place so he doesn’t get caught by any of the political photojournalist paparazzi with his remaining hair flying akimbo in all directions. Not surprisingly, it was also one of his key fundraising strategies throughout the campaign. He was wearing his usual white shirt and dark jacket. No tie, but this is clearly his all-purpose uniform. He has no message discipline, but total and absolute fashion discipline. His image is clearly what he sees as important and paramount, not his message. I find that fascinating and frightening at the same time. This is what presidential means to him.

But, it’s also a product of the media flesh-eating machine. Over the last week we’ve had more than our share of articles about the “buns” in the women’s hair at the Olympics and the number of sequins and rhinestones in the women gymnasts’ outfits. It all got to the point that a rouge feminist interviewer in Rio, watched by my daughter, was interviewing male Olympians and asking them about their uniforms and asking them to “take a twirl” for the viewers.

Reading the business section of the big national newspapers it becomes easier to follow the Trump uniform and its challenges, particularly at the gender divide. For Trump – and many other business folks – this is all about their “brand.” Women pictured in those pages and elsewhere have greater challenges. Of course there is Hillary and her pantsuits and big jackets, Marissa Mayer and her colorful combinations at Yahoo, or Sheryl Sandberg and her dark-colored monotones at Facebook, but for the rest of the tribe there is uncertainty. Do they go with the rigid, formal suit or the summer flounce to message professionalism or friendliness?

Why can’t we move past the trivialities of “dad” jeans and sleeveless dresses? Certainly Trump doesn’t mean to teach us anything, but his boring, standard issue uniform is a clear message he is shrewdly planting in all of us, whether we like it or not.

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Anti-Union Forces Leaving the Courts and Statehouse to Hit the Doors

LAP-opt-out-FEATURED

Freedom Foundation Campaign Ad

New Orleans   The assault on unions is getting very personal. The legislative and legal attacks are part of the environment of constant struggle between unions and companies of course. People try to talk about America as a classless society, but when it comes to the labor-management tussle at work and in community, the class struggle is still part of the everyday experience.

Recently this has been politicized more crisply, especially after Citizens’ United and the surge of money into politics, when mega-rich, hyper-conservative gazillionaires realized that unions were one of the few institutions on the other side of the political divide that had the base and motivation to cobble together the dollars to meet them partway. What started with hate then morphed into strategy, and from there the tactical targets were clarified.

The right realized that the deep labor union pockets were still in the public sector since the industrial and private sector membership was falling like a rock towards 5% membership, if not below. If public sector unions and their membership could be eroded, then there was an almost open field for the right. So we’ve had Harris v. Quinn that broke union shop for homecare workers starting in Illinois. We’ve had near misses for union shop for school teachers with Justice Antonio Scalia’s death allowing us to dodge the bullet. And, thanks to the Koch brothers and their allies with ALEC, we’ve seen one statehouse and legislative chamber after another go right with new right-to-work campaigns and successes even in states like Michigan, an evisceration of public employee unions in Wisconsin, withdrawal of recognitions for lower wage workers in homecare in Michigan and Ohio, and more.

Now, they are engaging in hand-to-hand combat with teams of canvassers going door-to-door to attempt to convince union members to drop their membership and leave their unions. The Wall Street Journal reported on this new alarming anti-union tactic. A group called Freedom Foundation has raised a budget of more than $3 million in 2015 to employ hundreds of outreach people to work the list of union members in Oregon and Washington, available through public information, and do home visits with the sole purpose of getting home health and home childcare workers to withdraw from their union, which is the Service Employees International Union in this instance.

Tom McCabe who heads the Freedom Foundation claims that they have “knocked on the doors of about 15,000 home health-care and child-care workers out of about 50,000 overall in Washington state since July 2014.” He also claims he is targeting about 35,000 workers in Oregon. He also claims “the number of unionized child-care workers has fallen by 60% since he started the effort.” If true, they might have done 4000 or so home visits and convinced a couple of thousand workers to drop their membership at a cost of about $1500 per drop. That might make his program too pricey even for the mega-rich. Putting even more cold water on his claims, the head of the union in Washington, David Rolf, was quoted as saying that McCabe, “talks a big game, but they just aren’t having the impact they claim to be having.”

I’m sure Rolf is right, but that doesn’t mean this is any less painful for the union. This is about money. This kind of door-to-door, hand-to-hand combat means that a good part of the money the union might have spent on “offense,” in expanding rights, wages, and benefits for its members or new organizing, is now having to be spent on “defense,” to put organizers and others in the field to offset withdrawals and increase membership percentages. The objective of the conservative forces is to reduce labor’s expenditures on politics, and a field program like this has to be met in full and in force, allowing conservatives to win at either heads or tails if they reduce the level of contributions unions can make to advance their members’ interests.

The article in the Journal was obviously sales-and-promotion for McCabe and his so-called Freedom Foundation. He says he wants to take this door-to-door attack to California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. We better hope he doesn’t succeed, but in the meantime, his advertisement, needs to also be our call to action.

Freedom Foundation Door Knockers

Freedom Foundation Door Knockers

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