Food, Water, Air and Government

Okay. Sunday sermon time.

For the past 30+ years, self-described “small government” conservatives have waged a propaganda war on the legitimacy of the state. While that war has rarely been as explicit as Grover Norquist’s famous threat to make government “small enough to drown in a bathtub,” or as intentional as the campaign I blogged about yesterday, the constant focus has been on what government does badly and the constant refrain has been that “we don’t need no stinkin’ government telling us to [fill in the blank].

Let’s stipulate that, yes, there are many things government at all levels does badly, and yes, we need to monitor its operations and correct its mistakes. Yes, there are good forms of government and oppressive forms, and thoughtful citizens should opt for—and attempt to institute— the former. But that is very different from the irresponsible attacks on the very existence of established political authority.

The shock that has accompanied the water crisis in Flint, Michigan demonstrates the extent to which even the most anti-government among us depend upon a well-functioning bureaucracy—not to mention the extent to which ill-considered ideological decision-making poses a very real threat to the well-being of citizens. (Especially citizens who lack the means to remove themselves from the polity and retreat into privileged enclaves where they can pay for clean water and other “amenities.”)

There’s a lot that might be said about Flint’s situation, and a lot of blame to go around, but  the lesson to be learned goes well beyond the idiocy of “penny wise, pound foolish,” stubbornly ideological policies, or even official misconduct.

America is no longer a country of family farmers and small merchants scattered along the eastern seacoast. The overwhelming majority of Americans no longer grow and preserve our own food or draw our water from a pristine nearby creek. Cars and factories discharge pollutants into our air, airplanes criss-cross the skies, and we live in densely populated cities where—among other things— we can’t just toss our garbage out the back door. The list is endless.

American citizens are utterly dependent on the institutions of government to provide services we cannot effectively or efficiently provide for ourselves. We expect government to assign air lanes so our planes don’t crash into each other, to inspect the foods we buy at the local grocery so we don’t get ill, to prevent the local factory from discharging its toxic waste into our waterways so we don’t drink contaminants, and much more.

The private sector cannot protect even the richest gated communities from polluted air.

There are certainly areas of our communal life where government need not and should not intervene. Debates about the necessity and/or propriety of programs and initiatives is entirely appropriate, as is criticism of poor performance of government agencies or officials.


When self-serving political rhetoric encourages our dimmer citizens to fear a “government invasion” of Texas, when the slightest effort to curtail gun violence sets off hysterical accusations of “confiscation,” when loony-tunes cowboys try to “take back” land held in trust for the benefit of all citizens, when efforts to ensure equal treatment of the nation’s more marginalized groups is rejected by zealots who claim exemption from the laws of the land “because God,” we have not only weakened the bonds of citizenship, we have endangered our own safety and well-being.

If we don’t retreat from our bipolar “government bad/private good” approach to complicated issues, there will be a lot more people drinking brown, lead-filled water and breathing toxic air.

Among other things.


  1. “There’s a lot that might be said about Flint’s situation, and a lot of blame to go around, but the lesson to be learned goes well beyond the idiocy of “penny wise, pound foolish,” stubbornly ideological policies, or even official misconduct.”

    I am going to concentrate on this paragraph of today’s blog because I have a personal stake in this issue locally. I have believed for years that we in this state – and this country – are slowly being poisoned by pollution in our air, water, food and all products we come in physical contact with, including prescribed medications being used without knowing the possibility of side effects in patients. The rising number of cancer victims in it’s many ugly forms surpasses the gun deaths we are concentrating on nationally. The local media has either forgotten or is covering up the cancer cluster of 27 victims located south of Marion County in a 25 mile-square area. Health authorities deemed it was NOT a cancer cluster due to the variety of cancers suffered by the victims. There has been no further mention of this deadly issue nor have we received any information that there was an actual investigation to find the source of so many cancers in that small area.

    The nephew of my friend was one victim; Jagger died of cancer after multiple surgeries on his 3rd birthday. My sister-in-law’s 11 year old nephew Lance was diagnosed with leukemia and is battling for his life. Families and friends of these victims suggested one site; a long abandoned business location with hazardous waste seeping into their ground water. Karen Silkwood and Erin Brochovich; both uneducated, but strong young women, researched and found sources authorities had long denied in other areas of this country. Karen was killed for her devotion to saving others; Kerr McGee was eventually put out of business but never held responsible for the deaths they caused. Erin’s hard work was rewarded and opened other avenues into further pollution due to hazardous waste resulting in health issues and death.

    This issue locally, and in Flint, Michigan, have been denied and ignored due to two major Republican areas of denial and determination to remove from their responsibility. POLLUTION AND MEDICAL CARE! Both are areas of science and scientific studies; they will find nothing regarding creationism in their many Bibles to deny these issues or these deaths and their responsibility in both areas. The same is now making national headlines due to the lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan; an issue we must all work to keep before the public in this election year.

  2. Reducing taxes and government control is the mantra of the GOP. They have reduced tax collections by taking income from the middle class and sending that money to the top 1%. That money is then removed from our economy and placed in overseas tax shelters.

    Flint supposedly switched water supplies to save money. If the residents of Flint had decent paying jobs that in turn provided adequate tax revenue to cover the city’s expenses this issue most like would never have happened.

    An example of just one of our many problems in Indiana is that we have deplorable road conditions due to the lack of funds to repair them. When is the GOP going to realize that they are damaging their own quality of life also?

  3. “there are many things government at all levels does badly, and yes, we need to monitor its operations and correct its mistakes.” One could say the same thing for the private sector as well. In fact, monitoring its operations and mistakes is what “regulations” are all about. The next time someone tries to score points about how private business does it better, just tick off a few of these sterling examples of private sector successes: the Ford Pinto, the tobacco industry and lung cancer, Union Carbide’s Bhopal gas leak, the Exxon Valdez, BP’s Gulf of Mexico caper, and the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. For a healthy and productive society we need both a public and a private sector, and both need oversight and regulations by independent and fair minded citizens whose only agenda is the welfare of all.

  4. Nancy,

    “When is the GOP going to realize that they are damaging their own quality of life also.”

    Probably never. The “elite deviants” running this horror show behind the scenes have the money to go elsewhere after they finish destroying America.

  5. Since the Republican Governor of MI has induced lead poisoning that will harm the kids of Flint for life, he REALLY needs to go to jail. Any bets on that? No, me neither.

  6. Marv;

    Individuals in LA use about 107 gls of water per day, in Beverly Hills it 32,000. They can install their gated paradises right here! The state of Utah is a good beginning.

  7. Having spent an equal amount of time in the private and the public sector, I can say with certainty that any large organization has problems related to its size and the distance from the consumer to the decision makers.

    Accountability never takes the form it should. Leaders resign from one job, only to be rewarded with a better job somewhere else. Governor Snyder will not go to jail. After his term as governor expires, he will go back to the private sector, where he will be rewarded for his pro-business moves with a high paying position and a ton of perks. Meanwhile, the low level guy who threw the swtich that turned on the Flint water will be fired.

    That will lead to further demoralization of the public employees and even worse service to the public in the future. There is a level of fear among government workers that prevents them from saying what needs to be said when they realize something is very, very wrong.

  8. Amen Pastor Kennedy,

    Thank you, for the endorsement of the policies that are correct. (Flint action to be specific) In an effort to elevate let me refer all to this article about the history of a man who through his actions has proven government ‘by the people, for the people’ is messy but can work:

    Keep on!

  9. One of the concepts that we are collectively and apparently ignorant and therefore easily misled about is the concept of “socialism”.

    In truth it’s a benign concept that’s defined as the condition of assets, means of production, owned by the people who rely on them. Of course ownership implies paying for the up front and continuous costs of them, employing them to deliver goods and services, and enjoying the goods and services so produced.

    All of that can be said simply as a world owned by customers.

    Of course there are other ways to organize. Here the most prevelant alternative is private ownership of means. The customers of goods and services have no ownership and therefore no say but that can work because competition motivates the owners to produce goods and services of more value than others who can provide them in exchange for the right, responsibility and power implied by ownership.

    There is only one key difference that makes private ownership even viable. Competition.

    So, instead of socialism and capitalism we ought only to be discussing competition. When it can be maintained private ownership becomes a viable alternative to customer ownership, otherwise not.

    Advertising has in many ways reduced, even eliminated, competition. It renders private ownership less viable than before because it compromises fully informed buyers. We are, through the magic of media, suckers. So we pay 10X to P&G for soap that is indistinguishable from brand X.

    This of course threatens the easy life of asset owners so not surprisingly they fight to continue, even enhance the system that they compromised by advertising, by advertising.

    While it may be unkind to some to say it’s also nevertheless accurate to view advertising as viral ignorance.

    So here we are. Infected by the ignorance virus trying to figure out solutions to the most complex problems humanity has ever faced.

    That’s a big problem.

  10. Companies can be viewed as miniature countries. Virtually all of them govern by dictatorship. Of course what keeps that kind of power in check is competition. If they don’t serve the people we don’t buy their goods and services because we have alternatives.

    To be be sure some, though fewer over time, are benevolent dictatorships which is often cited as the most effective way to govern except that the benevolence is always temporary as power always corrupts.

    So, again, the key is competition. Without it dictatorship is not viable and therefore hierarchically organized countries or companies are not.

    Competition is compromised by advertising, viral ignorance.

  11. And right here in Indiana, the Town of Pines still has undrinkable water thanks to NIPSCO dumping coal ash in the wetlands on the edge of this town which is on the edge of the Dunes. Haven’t heard the same hue and cry over that, though. NIPSCO’s lobbyists are obviously better paid…..

  12. What is going on in Texas IS going on , and else where. When the government is sanctioning the U.N.’s Agenda 21 , and private property rights are diminished – that’s big government overstepping it’s bounds . Government is to serve , not oppress those it is supposed to serve – the HUMAN masses , and not the Globalists.

  13. For those of you who prefer truth instead of Mark’s conspiracy theory here’s what UN Agenda 21 is.

    “Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development.[1] It is a product of the Earth Summit (UN Conference on Environment and Development) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. It is an action agenda for the UN, other multilateral organizations, and individual governments around the world that can be executed at local, national, and global levels. The “21” in Agenda 21 refers to the 21st Century. It has been affirmed and had a few modifications at subsequent UN conferences.”

    Apparently Mark’s been made so angry and afraid by Republican advertising that he is scared to death that saving the world from climate change is going to cost him his entitlements.

  14. I’m sure Anthony means ‘Professor’ Kennedy, not Pastor.

    The last thing in the world I want to be accidentally associated with is a pastor or used car seller.

  15. Girl cousin, conservatives advertise reduced regulation because to them NIPSCO’s profits are way more important than your health.

  16. @Earl Kennedy, your comment left me laughing to myself. It’s a standard joke in my extended family that a particularly loquacious male child is doomed to be a televangelist, a used car salesman, or a politician.

  17. Gov Synder will be arrested one of these days. 10 people have died. Outrage is everywhere and he is not going to get a pass on this one. Shame on him. The DOJ is not going to look the other way on this one.

  18. Indiana’s department of naural resources (DNR) has been cut each year for over 8 years. More than 200 FT positions are vacant (and have been for a few years) to keep those monies from being used. The money goes into reversion (back into general fund). This means that the public trust (our natural resources like air, land, water & forests) are not being maintained or conserved. This means the ($500 Billion) thing we own together (as Hoosiers) is an asset we’re losing. The ecological benefits are rapidly decreasing & our health statistics clearly illustrate a strong correlation between the two.
    Since most of the public does not understand this loss & the need for scientists and well credentialed staff to manage our natural resources, we “trim the fat” thinking its “fiscally responsible”.
    Further, when state staff are paid poorly, forced to cover 2-3 positions (our current state), they often fail and are harshly criticized, etc.
    If its important to you & you live in Indiana….you’re going to need to be an activist and take a very active role in changing this. Please have the difficult discussions with peers, colleagues, & family. Please vote and ask people openly of they’re registered to vote.
    The magnitude of these administrative policies have and will continue to permanently impact the health and economic viability of our citizens.

  19. Because I don’t live in Michigan, I cannot express any thoughtful or well-informed outrage about issues in a state where I do not live or do not vote. I prefer to keep my outrage confined to the state of my residence where I can make a difference by my vote.

    I’ve no specific complaint about my experience with Indiana state government as it pertains to me. In fact, I’d say there are resources available from Indiana state government that some of us fail to use.

    Case in point. A couple of years ago I read a short article from the Indianapolis Star that outlined a free service from the IN Dept of Natural Resources whereby they’d assess the quality of water for those who use well water. I signed on. A few weeks later I was contacted by DNR and we scheduled a home visit.

    Come to find out, I was participating in a state-wide assessment of Indiana’s groundwater that provided me with a detailed spreadsheet of the water quality of my well. I learned that the water from my well contained an amount of lead that was not at the toxic level, but that was at a level where prudent people might be concerned. As a result, I elected to install a point of access water purifier in my kitchen for drinking/cooking water.

  20. Holly, a couple months ago I had the pleasure of meeting with the CEO of a very well known non-profit organization that does excellent work. The CEO informed me that in the more than 20 years that he has worked with the government, the level of discouragement among government employees has increased each year since Mitch Daniels became governor and has increased rapidly with Pence.

    How did Indiana build up a $2B cash reserve during a recession with an anemic economic recovery that contains mostly part time low wage jobs? Cut essential services.

  21. Holly; thanks for your informative comments and Nancy, thanks for your response.

    BSH; whether you live in Michigan or not, you still should be able to express thoughtful and well-informed outrage at any government poisoning it’s residents.

  22. I can personally attest to the comments Holly made above, because my position is one of those 200 unfilled since I retired in early 2014. In the 35 years I worked for DNR, there was seldom any “fat” to be trimmed; but that was particularly true over the past decade or so. There was good reason that George W. Bush nicknamed his budget man Mitch “the blade”. His wreckless management style only intensified when he became Indiana’s governor. His first step with DNR was to appoint Kyle Hupfer as DNR Director. Hupfer, a lawyer whose only qualification to serve as DNR Director was that he was a hunter, came in as a henchman who promised to clean house and get out after a couple of years. True to his promise, at a weekly meeting with his division directors, he suddenly announced the firing of 11 people–mostly division directors–then ended the meeting. These division directors were not political hacks who’d received their jobs as a favor for campaign work (as was Hupfer). These were professionals in their fields who had gone through an extensive interview process like anyone applying for a job, and who were hired based on their merits and qualifications. I’m afraid I can’t say the same for the appointees who replaced them.
    Holly mentioned fiscal reversions, and I witnessed several of these through the years. When an agency starts off with a meager budget that doesn’t allow all of its positions to be filled in the first place, then has part of that money taken away, it’s no wonder that the number of unfilled positions continues to grow and services to Indiana citizens continue to suffer.

  23. Pete, please dig deeper into United Nations agenda 21. You only regurgitated exactly what is on the United Nations website. It sounds great, as it’s meant to. You could do some more research and decide for yourself exactly what agenda 21 is. With literally, the world at everyone’s fingertips, how can so many people be ignorant of this? Start googling agenda 21, and YouTube has so much information from people around the world, and individuals in areas where agenda 21 is being implemented as we speak. Yes, there is a lot of misinformation out there, you can’t believe everything everyone says, but people around the world are waking up and realizing what’s actually happening, please be one of those people, for everyone’s sake. Agenda 21 is all about control of every country, and every person. It’s especially hard to understand this, when you don’t see all the pieces to this puzzle being put into place, I understand why this is happening but I’ve been following it closely for 20 years, most people haven’t. For lack of time to explain exactly what it is, which would take days (at least), please research…please get informed there are “higher ups” counting on the majority of people remaining ignorant, so they can get away with it.

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