Follow Up: Flint Water Crisis – Officials Criminally Charged & The Fallout Ahead

In a follow up to previous articles on this tragedy, the Flint, Michigan water crisis is back in the mainstream news cycle. A total of five government employees have been charged with manslaughter including the head of the Michigan health department.

These charges stem from their role in the water crisis where lead contaminants left residents deathly ill. The residents got sick from Legionnaires disease, which is a respiratory condition and type of pneumonia that is caused by a few factors, but was connected to the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint.

The news media was speculating about who may be charged next in this investigation into one of the worst public health disasters in American history and whether those charges would reach the Governor of Michigan. It is not known how much the Governor knew, or when he was informed of certain developments surrounding the crisis with the water supply in that beleaguered city.

The water crisis in Flint represented a calamity on so many levels between the negligence being alleged, the lack of adequate training for local city water officials, and then the steps taken when the problems with the contamination were verified. The result is a massive problem with the water supply of an entire city and reports of illness across the demographics from the elderly, to women, teenagers, children, and babies.

It is a very public example of failure of public governance in the area of public health and safety. That is the key message behind the charges handed down to the five public officials accused of these serious offenses. The fact that the water from the Flint River supply source was not treated properly caused lead to be emitted from the older pipes in the system. The damage is costly with estimates running at around anywhere from $55 to $95 million to replace all of the pipes which provide drinking water to residents and other structures in Flint.

Most of that money is going to come from lawsuits filed by the residents against the EPA primarily and the state has pledged to replace the water lines that connect to the main distribution and pipe systems for 18,000 homes by 2020.

That is all well and good but the question remains: what will residents do in the interim? The water crisis has decimated an already depressed market for real estate in Flint. In essence, nobody wants to move there and the residents cannot sell their homes to relocate elsewhere. It is a total mess, with the fallout so far – reaching it is hard to fathom.

There have been accounts of government officials concealing evidence regarding the toxicity levels of the water, which is greatly concerning for obvious reasons. The entire situation has both frustrated and saddened Americans across the country as well as triggered the investigation into lead levels in other cities and counties.

The situation in Flint is tragic and heartbreaking and is unique to other public health issues that came before it for a variety of reasons. First, it was widespread and encompassed an entire American city which is rare for a public health issue which are usually confined to a specific area or neighborhood.

Second, it was so intricately covered up for years by different levels of government from the local, county, and state level as well as involving the EPA. The levels of lead and other toxins in the Flint River have now been well documented. The situation with that water supply was so bad that General Motors stopped using that water supply for their factory in Flint.

The final main component of this whole disastrous situation, at least in the scope of the general public, is that the damage is already done. The water supply has made many people sick with some unable to work, children have been so ill they have dropped out of school, and some people died in relation to the contaminated water supply.

The city and state level of government can issue all the statements they want about how the water supply has been changed back to the Detroit water supply which Flint used for decades before the cost-cutting switch to the local supply took place. The damage has already been done, just because the supply has changed, the pipes are still leaching chemicals and lead so they must be replaced.

The people who are sick and who have sick children or sick parents from tainted water cannot be cured by a switch in water supply or by issuing statements about correcting the problem three years from now. They are sick, that damage has been done, and there is no going back.

Some within the media have dubbed the situation in Flint as the “crisis with no end in sight” because of the sheer scope of the problems caused by the tainted water and the brazen way that the government tried to prevent the people from knowing about the problems which existed.

The attorney general for the State of Michigan has vowed that he is not done with the investigation they are conducting into this disaster. He stated after these first four arrests were announced that they will have more charges handed down to others involved in the coming months.

The federal government has taken no responsibility for helping the effort to be resolved, and some feel that they should provide some type of funding more than the band-aid funds sent about a year ago.

The “crisis with no end in sight” will continue on in a variety of levels in Flint between the government, the public health implications, and the restoration effort for their water supply pipe system. The investigation into this horrible tragedy has a long way to go before it is concluded. In the interim, thousands of American families have had their lives altered in terrible ways and also see no end in sight.

Flag Day and The Cost of Freedom

In marking the observance today, June 14, of Flag Day I join with my fellow Americans to commemorate the anniversary of the Second Continental Congress adopting our nation’s flag back in 1777. I put up the flag this morning outside the house here under sunny skies, grateful for another day of freedom living in America.

The events of this morning with the shooting in Northern Virginia as well as the workplace shooting this afternoon at a UPS site in San Francisco serve as stark reminders of the way that freedom can be used for evil in an open society.

I saw other acts of kindness today that also demonstrate that freedom can be used to achieve so many positive things, so much good in our world.

In addition, I am reminded always when I look at our American flag, of the cost of freedom. I think of all those who have served our country and have died defending that flag, both at home and abroad. I will forever be grateful for their service and their sacrifice.

The events of today can serve to make some people lose hope. I will remind them that good always triumphs over evil, light always conquers the dark, and our American values and ideals will endure. Freedom will outlast tyranny.

May God bless you all and May God Bless the United States of America.

Follow Up: Honeybee Population Decreases In U.S.

In a follow up to a previous article, the news on Friday is not good regarding the honeybee population. In a report by USA Today about one third of the honeybee population in the United States died in the past year. This decline in the population levels can have far-reaching consequences for our domestic food supply.

The honeybee is responsible for an estimated one out of every three bites of food that the average American consumes each day. The combination of pesticides, environmental changes, and parasites have triggered a dramatic decrease in the population of this crucially important insect.

This survey does report that the winter seasonal losses were the lowest for American bees in a decade. The winter is a characteristically a period where honeybees will die in larger numbers due to the climate conditions. The experts analyzing this report stopped short of saying that the winter loss number was good news because the overall population numbers have declined so precipitously in recent years.

Some crops are almost completely dependent on the honeybee, and those shortages in supply levels are going to result in higher demand. This higher demand with smaller supply levels will result in higher prices that will passed along to the consumer. This includes items such as almonds, raspberries, and other fresh fruits or produce.

The rise in the growth of the organic and farm-to-table movements put a premium on beekeeping and balancing the protection of the bees from parasites against the utilization of harsh chemicals or pesticides. There are certain pesticides and herbicides that are widely used in agriculture that attack the central nervous system of bees causing them to die.

The greater emphasis should be placed on decreasing the chemicals and pesticides used in the production of certain crops. Some states have already initiated areas for honeybee preservation as well, so those areas have many restrictions as far as the use of pesticides and other airborne agents.

The honeybee is vitally important to our food supply and while the winter losses in 2016 were better than recent annual findings, the population is still depleted by one third. It is clear that steps need to be taken to preserve the honeybee colonies in the United States. It is unclear at this point what those steps will be moving forward.

Preserving The Legacy: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is on this day that America pauses to reflect on the life and legacy of a great leader and an amazing citizen, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The impact that his example made on generations of people is so profound that it cannot be fully explained in words.

Dr. King worked for the equal rights of all people regardless of skin tone or what they looked like, he also embraced a peaceful and diplomatic approach to change. His words and his actions were guided by Christian ideals and centered on love and hope conquering fear and hate.

The America that we live in today is very different because of the actions of Dr. King, and the civil rights movement that he and some other leaders inspired. It is a country that has such incredible potential and though we have made strides, like any society we have room for improvement and growth.

On a personal level, I have always had an affinity and respect for Dr. King and for his approach to tackling such fierce opposition and his courage in the face of unbelievable personal attacks. His Letter From A Birmingham Jail was a book that impacted my life very significantly. I put myself in his place and could not imagine the emotions he must have dealt with at that stage of his life.

Many of you also know that on Martin Luther King Day four years ago I decided to start this blog, Frank’s Forum, I made the determination to go out on my own and start a new business. I also made the choice to begin to write more pieces for the general public and really put myself out there into the world.

I remember having some fear about it, but then I thought of all that Dr. King faced and had to deal with in his life. I remember that being the inspiration for me to get beyond my own fears, which seemed so insignificant in comparison, and to hit the “publish” button on this blog.

In the years since, I have been blessed to have produced written work that has been published in over 40 countries throughout the world. I have been blessed that this blog has had posts distributed in shared globally as well. I have been invited to write my own blogs for several websites and to contribute news stories on a variety of subjects.

In the years since, I have been fortunate to write about important issues such as: Hurricane Sandy, corporate mergers, the GMO debate, environmental issues, factors impacting our food supply, the Flint water disaster, the refugee crisis, the war in Syria, and to raise awareness of diseases such as Scleroderma.

In the years since, I have been blessed to write about the plight of the honeybee, the Clean Air legislation, and issues facing veterans of foreign wars. In addition, I have been fortunate and humbled to contribute work to major websites and to cover my favorite sports teams and topics facing the sports that I love to watch and write about, which has been very fun to undertake.

In the years since, I have published articles in the Catholic media area which have inspired and encouraged others. I have also shared my creative work in publishing poems to this blog, a major poetry site, and in publishing a collection of poems on Amazon which is entitled The Promise of Tomorrow.

I never thought it could be as successful as it has been, but my leap and my belief in myself has taken me to places I never expected. I only dreamed of having some of this come true, and I am honored and humbled that it has taken me down the roads that it has in the last four years.

I will continue to work to share with you, the audience, stories that inspire and provide you hope. I will continue to work to help others to embrace the Christian ideals of love for one another, and still fervently believe that we all can live together in peace.

I will continue to work to preserve the legacy of Dr. King, so that one day, his dream for America can be realized. Thank you all for your tireless support and I hope this story inspires you to make a difference in your neighborhoods and your communities. May God bless you.

The Inevitable Demise of An American Icon: Sears

Sears has been in the news again this week with news regarding the potential sale of one of their iconic brands. I wrote a post for another site a few months ago when Sears first decided to put three of their mainstay brands up for sale: Craftsman tools, Kenmore, and Die Hard. This is most certainly an effort to increase cash flow through both the sale of the brands and through the almost certain jump in Sears stock as a result.

The news that an as yet unnamed bidder (rumor has it the bidder is Black & Decker) is interested in paying a significant amount of money for the Craftsman name with some estimates in the $2 billion range; has Sears stock trading at an increased level in the past two days. Craftsman is a symbol of uncompromising quality in tools and related hardware products that is well established in the consumer marketplace.

The unfortunate other side to this transaction is that many industry experts and financial market insiders with great knowledge of the situation indicate that even if Sears divests Craftsman in this deal, the cash flow is not enough to make a reversal of the outlook for the company.

In fact, those same experts as well as some other reports I reviewed state that even if Sears sold all three of those brands at a premium it still would not help their cause. This is where the Sears merger and acquisition of Kmart stores again looms large in the negative outlook for the company.

In my understanding of the situation having covered this as well as other failing retail brands in the past is this: essentially while the sale of the brand, in this case it is Craftsman, may help Sears in the short term; Sears will lose the profit generated by the sale of those branded products which it currently owns outright.

The mere fact that Sears put these three well established brands on the block to be sold is (if some of you remember my previous work on this subject) an indication that the times are desperate there. It is an indication that the company is definitely preparing for “reorganization” (i.e. bankruptcy) in the near future.

Sears also owns a great deal of real estate between the buildings of their brick and mortar retail stores and the land that those stores are situated on which contributes to their profit and loss situation. It is expensive to maintain both buildings and land, so Sears has either been divesting itself of one or both, as well as determining some other methods of cost reducing those components of their business model.

A couple of prime examples of these strategies are right in my backyard in New Jersey. Sears owns the building that is home to their Freehold Raceway Mall location, in order to control some of the costs the company consolidated their inventory from multiple levels of the store onto one level. They subsequently rented out the other two levels to an Ireland based company called Primark, a retailer of discounted products, mostly clothing brands.

In Middletown, the Sears location and the large piece of land it sits upon was sold to Investors Bank. The bank is now constructing a new branch location at that site, and most certainly has some kind of long range plan for the development of that land in the future. Most retail and financial market experts put the time frame for the bankruptcy and demise of Sears at 18 to 24 months from now.

It still boggles my mind that Sears, such an iconic retailer will cease to exist in potentially that short a period of time. I always think of those employees who will be out of work, some of whom have undoubtedly served the company for many years. These same workers have a set of skills and experience in the retail field which is shrinking and may have a difficult time finding new employment.

Conversely, Sears could not seem to get it right, they were missing that connection with the consumer. They were the retailer that was an afterthought in the minds of the average consumer. Sears is thought of as a place where you get tools or tires or a dishwasher; and not where you would get a television, a jacket, or a pair of sneakers. They could not seem to connect the value of their full complement of products to the consumer in the way that Wal-Mart and Target most certainly have accomplished.

The management at Sears keeps telling Wall Street that they are in the middle of a “turnaround” but that has not seemed to materialize. I liken it to the professional sports team that is in seemingly a constant rebuilding mode and never seems to turn that corner where the results manifest themselves tangibly.

Sears CEO, Eddie Lampert, has stated again this week that the company will not close down the Kmart division of the business, which is seen as an anchor around the neck of the entire business operation. They will continue to close Kmart stores that are “underperforming” as they recently closed my local Kmart here in New Jersey. They will not shutter the entire division. I think that this is a mistake and that there is a point where you have to start bailing the water out of the ship before it sinks further.

The business model for Sears in this turnaround phase is a case of “too little, too late” as the saying goes. The damage has already been done. The executive team is now focusing on selling off the brands that are most profitable, closing down lapsed consumer credit lines, and whittling down their overhead costs through the sale of real estate holdings or through sublet type agreements as I mentioned similar to the location in Freehold.
Those are all signs that the executives are trying to maintain what little profitability remains in the business. Therefore they can divide up those revenues when it comes time for them to take the “golden parachute” ride before the operation shutters the doors for good.

The demise of Sears is inevitable it seems, and it is sad because I am sure that most of us at a certain age have memories of shopping there, or of our parents bringing home a picture of the new Kenmore refrigerator. I remember going in the garage and seeing all of my father’s Craftsman tools or getting a Die Hard battery for one of the cars during a harsh winter. My mother would take me to Sears to get clothes for an athletic team I had joined.

All of those instances and so many more will remain memories that other generations of American children will never have. That is due to poor business decisions by Sears, marketing campaigns that consistently missed the target, and the societal shift towards online shopping and away from traditional retailers. It is a scenario where it is essentially “adapt or fail” and Sears failed to adapt in time to save an iconic American retail brand from joining the long list of other retailers who no longer exist. It is a sad trend overall, but one that is a harsh new reality.

Twenty Two Tragedies A Day: The Veteran Suicide Rate Spike In America

The effects of warfare have always been devastating to our society and our shared global community. In the United States, the focus on such factors as PTSD began largely following the most recent wars waged in Iraq and Afghanistan following the September 11th terror attacks.

The men and women who bravely served our country and survived returned home after their service in combat with battle scars of another kind: mental, emotional, and psychological. The prevalence toward violent outbursts and wildly irrational behavior was seen more with these service veterans than others, though the Vietnam-era veterans had demonstrated some symptoms that, at the time, went largely unrecognized.

The media began to focus on the amount of suicides being committed by veterans and speculating about particular potential connections. This past week, USA Today and Military Times released a comprehensive study regarding this disturbing trend.

The first finding of the report suggests that the rallying cry from veterans’ advocacy groups may be inaccurate. Those groups would demonstrate and centered their key message around “twenty two per day”, which is in reference to the suicide rate of veterans in the United States.

However the data from this study seems to indicate that the number of veteran suicides is twenty per day. The number is still a huge problem and a heartbreaking statistic, but some other reports still have the number at twenty two, so the consensus remains that there is a problem and it has to be addressed.

There have been 7,400 veteran suicides, which is 18% of the total number of suicides in the U.S. in a given year. The astounding part of that statistic is that veterans constitute less than 9% of the U.S. population. The federal government was quick to point out that 70% of the veterans who tragically took their own lives did not regularly utilize VA services.

The suicide rate in female veterans rose the most precipitously with an 85% increase over the past 13 years. The rationale behind that increase is not a situation that can be easily determined or tracked. It certainly does not fit the general stereotype of veteran suicide, so much of the mainstream media reporting is on male veteran suicide.

Another troubling statistic is that 65% of the veterans that have taken their own lives are 50 years old and older, and have spent no time fighting in the most recent wars against the terrorist groups organizing in the Middle East.

In response to this terrible situation, which is of growing concern, the VA hired over 5,300 new staff in mental health support type jobs. The more challenging aspect is going to be determining methods to get the veterans to use the services offered and to stay consistently compliant and accountable with those mental health services.

Furthermore, there are so many other organizations in the non-profit arena working and dedicated to solving the tragic prevalence of suicide within the veteran community; that those involved in it feel that needs to change as well. In essence, without one single authoritative group to lead this effort, it will be too scattered to achieve any type of traction.

There are several proposals regarding how this single entity authority would work, and this type of structure has become necessary with other large social justice causes in the past, so the interest groups involved with veterans’ issues will approach it in a similar manner.

The other response that has come out of the combination of the recent media attention and the survey data on this continued horrible trend of suicide within the veteran population is, an effort termed by the federal government as being more “aggressive” in their procedures in getting these veterans into VA offered services.

Unfortunately, there is no hard data on the root cause of the rise in the suicide rate for veterans. The suicide rate could correspond with untreated mental and emotional trauma from being in combat. It could also be in response to the changes from when a soldier has to adjust to being back in their home or in their community; and the transition to being back in that scenario after being away for several months to a few years can be overwhelming.

In addition, the rise in this rate could be tied to any number of combinations of these issues coupled with the isolation that many veterans deal with upon their return home from active duty. The study data also indicates that difficult economic times may be a contributing factor in causing that transition home to be more challenging which leads to depression and then to suicide.

A large number of the suicides take place within three years of the veteran being out of military service. It is also not completely correlated to those who served in active forward areas or combat zones. The study data shows that military service members serving in other capacities have a tendency to take their own life. In a piece done by the LA Times where they interviewed military officers about the findings, the consensus is that there is no way to understand why these terrible events take place.
In my view, the numbers of veterans that take their own life both shocked and saddened me. The importance of mental health services for these service men and women becomes absolutely critical for them to be able to survive the transition from active duty to the civilian life. The human need for connection suggests that the VA should increase their capacity for holding support groups in communities more actively to support our veterans.

Furthermore, the indication that economic conditions could be a major contributing factor to the suicide rate in veterans suggests that more effective job placement is needed. The other component to that is, in many cases, more robust job training programs to help provide new skill sets to our veterans to compete in an ever-changing job market.

The root of the issue is mental and emotional, it stems from places in the human psyche that we may never fully understand. It is a stark reminder of the true cost of war and the emotional scars it can leave on these brave men and women. It is a reminder of the “dog eat dog” world where everybody is out there with their own self-interest in mind. A soldier coming from an environment where he or she was used to having fellow soldiers to lean on, would find that transition especially isolative. That leads to a scenario where we have twenty of these tragic suicides a day.

If you are interested in finding out more about how you can help the veterans of military service to better transition into your neighborhood or your community, please contact your local VA office, your local Congressional representatives, or your local American Legion office. Those of you who are reading this and have served our country in military service of any kind, I thank you for your service. If you are reading this, and your family has suffered through the suicide of a family member, you are in my prayers.

It is time for action, it is time for us to step up and help so that our military veterans can return home to move forward into active and productive lives. Some may think this is impossible, but I believe that in America anything is possible because of the compassion of our people.

Senseless: A Tragic Morning in Virginia

I was running on the elliptical at my gym this morning when the breaking news came across CNN about the tragic and truly senseless shooting of two journalists in Virginia on live television while they worked a routine news story. Alison Parker and Adam Ward were both in the prime of their lives and their careers. They were brutally shot to death by a former employee of the same TV network who had some sort of vendetta against both of these former colleagues.

 

The shooter eventually took his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound and died in the hospital around 1:30 this afternoon. I still cannot believe that such a senseless crime happened today in a small, rural area outside of Roanoke. I will never understand what drives someone to commit such a horrible act of aggression against another human being.

 

I was in shock as I watched the interview at the gym with the General Manager of the television station who was explaining that the cameraman, Adam Ward, was engaged and that his fiancée is one of the producers of the morning show, so she watched these horrific events transpire live in their newsroom.

 

It was at that point that I had a feeling that this crime was perpetrated by someone with intimate knowledge of their station because no other motive really made sense. The reporter, Alison Parker, was in a serious committed relationship with another fellow employee who was a news anchor, they have been together for three years. Therefore, a jealous ex-boyfriend did not fit in this situation. The nature of the crime suggested it was someone who knew them both, I was saddened to learn later that my suspicions were correct.

 

In another unfortunate sign of the times we live in, as I was running, CNN posted another news alert that New York City and their Counterterrorism Unit had bolstered security at all New York news stations. That made sense to me especially until they determined the motive behind this attack, if it was terrorism related then New York always has to be extremely cautious with that.

 

However, it is on these days that I even more fully realize how blessed I am to be alive. I become even more grateful for all that I have been afforded in my life because it is a reminder that at any point it can be taken away.

 

The shooter mentioned the tragedies in Charleston, South Carolina and at Virginia Tech in a manifesto he sent to ABC News. He mentioned being angry but wanting to die in peace. These tragedies he mentioned and including the one in which he caused by his actions today have become unfortunately commonplace in our country.

 

The recent movie theater shootings and the announcement late last week by Regal Cinemas that they would begin a policy of checking bags and searching people for weapons have highlighted the unfortunate need for more security against gun related crime.

 

Furthermore, the series of school related violent tragedies punctuated by Columbine (which the Virginia shooter also mentioned in the document sent to ABC News) and the Sandy Hook tragedy are some of the most profoundly disturbing events we have experienced in our nation. This violence, this disrespect for life has to stop.

 

I covered a variety of aspects of the Sandy Hook school tragedy in my own work for a few different organizations. I have covered other events where I have had to interview someone or multiple people such as what Ms. Parker was doing today in a story on tourism when this horrific event transpired. I have never feared for my own safety while working a news story or an event or a fundraiser where I was representing a media outlet or submitting the story to a variety of outlets. We live in a nation where that should not be acceptable under any circumstances. These young people were just doing their jobs, something has to change, something has to be done to deal with gun related violence in America.

 

I am not sure what the solution is, and quite frankly, I do not have a solution. I just feel very strongly that human life is sacred, that all life should be protected, and that innocent people should not die at school or at work or in a public place in a civilized society. This crime today, and other attacks like it, are completely senseless and they simply must be eliminated from our national way of life. We should not, and honestly, cannot allow these sorts of tragic crimes where innocent lives are taken to continue.

 

The main issue here in this case, and with many others like it, remains that the root cause is not addressed. In many cases those who carry out these horrific acts have problems or issues that are not being addressed. An improvement in the availability of mental or psychological counseling and intervention would resolve these situations before these people are pushed to the breaking point and taking the lives of others. Something has to be done to change how we as a society deal with these issues.

 

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims today, to the family of the man who caused this tragedy, and to all those who knew those who died this morning in Virginia. My prayers continue that one day we will find peaceful solutions to our societal problems and that our culture will embrace the concept that all human life is valuable and should be respected. My prayers continue that other Americans agree with my sentiments and that tangible progress can be made to end this senseless violence in our country on a permanent basis.