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Flint’s Dirty Drinking Water Conundrum

Mike Bivins   January 28, 2015
Photo by Mike McCullough

If you’ve seen Michael Moore’s 1989 film Roger & Me, you know the outlines of the story of Flint, Michigan. It’s a city that was devastated by the decline of the American automobile industry, and it never really recovered. Twenty-six years on, things have only gotten worse.

In the past few years, several news outlets have declared Flint “America’s Most Dangerous City” by virtue of its extremely high murder rate: there were 64.9 murders per 100,000 people in 2012. The following year, Flint’s population dropped below the 100,000 mark necessary to keep it in the running, so it no longer lays claim to that unfortunate title.

But now it has a new distinction to be ashamed of. According to a memo from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (PDF), Flint has been in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act as of the fourth quarter of 2014, due to excessive levels of trihalomethane (a byproduct of chlorination) in the city’s drinking water.


Paying Tribute to Yet Another Petro-Tyrant

Jacob Silverman   January 28, 2015
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) training session. / Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

It’s been a rough week in Middle East policy for the Obama administration, though they don’t seem to realize it.

Consider recent events: Iranian nuclear negotiations are threatened by Republicans and Democrats who want to force through new sanctions, with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu looming in the background like your drunk right-wing uncle demanding to give a toast at your wedding. The current Egyptian government—essentially a military junta that Secretary of State Kerry insists is democratic—used some of its American-supplied weaponry to kill at least eighteen protesters and arrested 400 more. In Yemen, the weak, American-backed government succumbed to Houthi rebels, who are widely seen as close to Iran, but are also tangled in battles with Al Qaeda and an on-and-off again relationship with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Finally, the most theatrically embarrassing of recent developments is the administration’s response to the death of the 90-year-old King of Saudi Arabia, Ali Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz. (In my betting pool, I had 92/stroke/in the arms of a German nurse, but what are ya gonna do.) U.S. officials are practically elbowing one another out of the way to pay tribute to their favorite petro-tyrant. Twenty-seven(!) American officials, past and present, are part of the official delegation to Saudi Arabia. Those who missed the plane can submit to an essay competition established by Gen. Martin Dempsey of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in tribute to “a man of remarkable courage and character.”


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   January 28, 2015
Photo by L.C. Nøttaasen

• Today in Oh Really?: British researchers at the University of Warwick “have for the first time provided strong evidence for what conspiracy theorists have long thought—oil is often the reason for interfering in another country’s war.”

• Per New York magazine, one of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods, East New York, “is suddenly the focus of both private speculators and City Hall, which wants to build thousand of units of affordable housing there—and by announcing its plans is fueling a land rush.”

• New York may get more national attention, but meanwhile, there seems to be an epidemic of excessive use of force by cops in Cleveland; the Plain-Dealer investigates. (Via The Marshall Project.)


The Utopian Vision of Pawnee, Indiana

Sady Doyle   January 27, 2015
The cast of Parks and Recreation / Photo via

Parks and Recreation, now entering its final season on NBC, has always represented a very particular, very liberal fantasy about how government should work.

Though the city of Pawnee, Indiana is broadly drawn to the point of caricature—every branch of government seems to have its own set of quirks, from the stoned dudes of Animal Control to the sleazeballs who work in Sewage—it’s also, in its way, a utopia. In the world of Parks and Recreation, government bureaucrats are all good people who passionately love their town and its citizens. They may disagree, but at the end of the day, nothing can stop them from working together to make Pawnee a better place to live.

In the show’s new season, this vision is laid out more explicitly than ever. It seems to be planning to close its run with one big, final (and weirdly anti-capitalist) statement about what government should be.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   January 27, 2015
Photo by Leo Anderson

• In the run-up to Monday night’s snowstorm, Mother Jones published the results of an extensive series of calculations for how much you should tip a food delivery person during a blizzard. The author came up with the answer of 30 percent. Our answer: learn to cook, or eat a granola bar like the rest of us, you selfish so-and-so.

• Today in Bespoke: The Coloradoan asks, “Bespoke or not bespoke, now that is the question.” Our answer: no.

• Republicans at the Iowa Freedom Summit over the weekend seem to have almost entirely avoided the phrase “middle class,” according to The Week‘s analysis of CNN transcripts.


Democracy in Greece, for Now

Robert Appelbaum   January 26, 2015
Athens / Photo by ccarlstead

In seven years’ time, Athens has been transformed from one of Europe’s gleaming capital cities to Europe’s version of Detroit—much of it dirty, forlorn, its storefronts abandoned, its population in decline.

Graffiti is ubiquitous. There are homeless beggars huddling on the steps of vacant buildings, and makeshift soup kitchens set up in public parks. Professionals, including qualified medical doctors, no longer able to find jobs, have emigrated by the thousands. Unemployment among youths has climbed to over 60 percent. Crime has jumped up, especially property crime. So has the suicide rate. Some neighborhoods are eerily quiet. I used to wonder how America could tolerate the utter decline of one of its major metropolises. Now I wonder the same about Europe.

But the far-left party Syriza has won the election in Greece, and in a few days, when I make my next scheduled trip to Athens, I expect to see something different. I expect to see people in Europe’s version of Detroit thinking their city might be on the road to becoming Europe’s version of Athens again, or maybe even Athens’s version of Athens.


American Sniper and the Trope of the Sheepdog

Jeff Sparrow   January 26, 2015
American Sniper movie poster via

The invasion of Iraq resulted in hundreds of thousands—perhaps even a million—people losing their lives. How can one attempt to justify so much killing?

Enter Clint Eastwood’s new film American Sniper.

Early in the movie, Chris Kyle’s father breaks life down for his infant son (who will grow to be the titular sniper):


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   January 26, 2015
Photo via theweeshed on Etsy

• West Virginia Public Radio has an interview with a former radical Muslim who says he was inspired to rethink his views after reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm. He says it gave him a new understanding of “what happens when somebody tries to create a utopia.”

• America’s middle class has been shrinking for almost half a century. “Until 2000, the reason was primarily because more Americans moved up the income ladder,” explains the New York Times. “But since then, the reason has shifted: There is a greater share of households on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.”

• The National Post on Dan Gilbert, who made his fortune in mortgage-lending and who is now apparently being hailed as a “demigod” for his campaign to buy and fill commercial real estate in Detroit: “With U.S. cities becoming crumblier than ever, they are becoming the perfect palette for the country’s vast collection of eccentric billionaires.”

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