Politics & Prejudices: Verdict in -- Snyder is to blame

Mar 30, 2016 at 1:00 am

"MDEQ (the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) bears primary responsibility for the water contamination in Flint ... MDEQ caused this crisis to happen." -Flint Water Advisory Task Force, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, March

For weeks now, the Snyder administration strategy for survival was simple: Try to dump the major share of the blame onto the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

They knew they couldn't deny the responsibility totally. After all, it was Snyder's director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality who presided over the screw-ups and apparent attempted cover-up, and his sneering jackal of a press secretary who belittled reporters asking about the water.

But they've been fired now, and Governor Relentless Positive Action Rick has taken to repeating his new mantra, "Mistakes were made at all levels of government."

Eager to help out, congressional Republicans made sure that, when Snyder finally did belatedly testify before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, they also dragged in EPA head Gina McCarthy at the same time.

Democrats cuffed around and blamed Snyder; Republicans beat on McCarthy, who after all, was appointed by that great Satan himself, President Barack Obama. The GOP goal was to blur the issue. They know Snyder is politically dead, but it helps them if the public is confused about who to blame.

That confusion should now be over. The final report is in from the task force Snyder himself appointed — a task force co-chaired by that conservative Republican icon, former state Sen. Majority Leader Ken Sikkema. And it makes it clear where the responsibility lies: with the state. With the Snyder administration, and ultimately, the governor himself.

Yes, the EPA did make one big mistake, the task force found — it failed to move quickly enough to seize control and clean up Snyder's mess. The feds' main mistake, it said, was failing to "aggressively pursue enforcement," and being "hesitant and slow" to countermand Snyder's MDEQ.

Plus, the feds "tolerated MDEQ's intransigence." Essentially, Washington deferred too much and too long to Michigan bureaucrats who deserve no respect at all.

They were allowing children to be poisoned, and, as the report notes: "When confronted with evidence of its failures, MDEQ responded publicly ... with a degree of intransigence and belligerence that has no place in government."

Just in case someone missed the point, the Flint Water Advisory Task Force final report adds: "These failures are not diminished, nor should focus on them be deflected, by the fact that other parties contributed to the disastrous decisions."

The report also makes it clear just who made the decision to switch the city to unsafe Flint River water — and who refused to return to Detroit water even it was clear something was radically wrong — Snyder's appointed emergency managers.

This is important, because lots of people believe the lie that elected officials in Flint made, or at least supported, this decision. They never did. Flint City Council did at one point vote to eventually join the not-yet-operational Karegnondi Water Authority, usually abbreviated as KWA.

But they never voted to switch to Flint River water — and it wouldn't have mattered if they had, because by that time, all the power in Flint had been turned over to a succession of dictator-like emergency managers.

Flint has had no less than four of those. Ed Kurtz, the second of them, was the one who made the decision to switch to Flint River water. But if one person deserves most of the blame, it is Darnell Earley, who refused to switch the city back.

Earley's arrogance is especially interesting. Like most Snyder officials, he showed absolutely no interest in what thousands of increasingly desperate Flint citizens thought.

But he didn't even listen to concerned Snyder administration officials like Rich Baird, who began to worry in late 2014, after it was clear the water was discolored, tasted bad, and had high levels of bacteria. Instead, Earley claimed "the water quality problems can be solved," and said it would cost too much to switch back to clean and safe Detroit water.

Earley was eventually appointed emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools instead, and went on to fail there until he left, presumably forced out, last month.

None of this should have been all that surprising: Michigan's emergency manager law empowers the governor to appoint a virtual dictator any time a city's finances get badly out of whack. Unfortunately, they aren't charged with making the city a better place to live; just with cutting costs and balancing the bottom line. (Flint is lucky child prostitution and selling the city's indigent into slavery is, for now, still illegal.)

The task force report blasts the emergency manager law itself, noting that "EMs often do not have, nor are they supported by, the necessary expertise to manage nonfinancial aspects of municipal government."

The task force recommended a review of the emergency manager law, and changes in it, to perhaps add an ombudsman, and to find "a structured way to engage locally elected officials in key decisions."

Snyder's response was vintage, learned-nothing-from experience Snyder. "I think the law has value," he told Gongwer News Service. "Can it be improved? I look forward to talking to the legislature about that at some point in the future."

Yup, that's about the degree of concern for the citizens we've come to expect from Ranger Rick, the accountant who knows he's always the smartest man in the room.

Why, when the peasants repealed the original EM law in a statewide vote four years ago, he immediately rammed another through the legislature. That's our governor.

And we've got nearly three more years of him to go.

Lowest of the low

Lily Tomlin famously said that "no matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up."

That was back in the genteel 1970s. These days, no matter how far down in the gutter you think Donald Trump is, he always manages to find deeper layers of muck.

Consider, for example, his savage, smirking smears of Heidi Cruz, the wife of his fellow contender for the Republican presidential nomination, a man Trump likes to call "Lyin' Ted."

In their latest attempt to turn this year's race for the presidency into a junior high school locker room fight, Trump took a break from talking about his pork sausage to launch into an attack on Mrs. Cruz. To be fair, someone did dump semi-naked pictures of Trump's current wife onto the Internet.

Trump, with the class and taste and behavior toward women we have come to expect, posted an unflattering picture of Heidi next to one of Melania Trump, with the caption "A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words."

No one was surprised by this, since Trump has always made it clear he regards women as meat. What was more distressing was Trump's threat to "spill the beans" on Heidi Cruz, an apparent reference to her struggles with depression.

That was especially bothersome to Tom Watkins, the CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.

"Despicable," he tells me. "We have been attempting to fight stigma that prevents people from seeking the diagnosis and treatment they need to address the illness."

Watkins knows what he is talking about; he lost two brothers to depression and suicide.

"We need to make it just as unacceptable to make fun of a mental illness as it would be to mock cancer," he says.

That's something you might have thought everybody would have accepted years ago. But so far this year, 8 million of us have voted for Donald Trump for president, and he is all but certain to be the GOP nominee.

About the best we can hope for is that he will turn back to hating Muslims and Mexicans soon.