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04 Feb

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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‘We all let the people of Flint down,’ authorities tells Congress in hearing that also highlights flawed water testing practices that persist in other major US cities

Keith Creagh, right, director of the Michigan department of environmental quality, said his agency’s ‘tone was combative and dismissive’ about scientists’ warnings.

Keith Creagh, right, director of the Michigan department of environmental quality, said his agency’s ‘tone was combative and dismissive’ about scientists’ warnings. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency warned of an unfolding toxic water crisis in Flint but was “met with resistance” by Michigan authorities, a fiery congressional hearing into the city’s public health disaster has heard.

Expert advice was dismissed, prompting Michigan’s government to issue an apology to the people of Flint at the hearing for sidelining people who raised concerns over dangerous levels of lead in in the city’s water.

Congress was also told that flawed water testing practices, now eliminated in Flint, are happening unchecked across the US, risking a much wider public health crisis in other cities.

A picture emerged at the hearing of failure, delay and resistance as state officials ignored scientists and kept the public in the dark about health risks. One senior official admitted there were still no guarantees that water was safe to drink, conceding: “We all let the people of Flint down.”

Joel Beauvais, acting deputy assistant administrator of the EPA’s office of water, said the regulator was aware of elevated lead levels in Flint’s water in spring 2015, with these problems outlined further in a June 2015 memo.

Beauvais told the congressional committee that what happened in Flint was “avoidable and should never have happened” after the city switched from Detroit’s treated water to untreated water from the Flint river in April 2014. Flint was under direct emergency management by Michigan at the time.

“The Michigan department of environmental quality (MDEQ) incorrectly advised the city of Flint that corrosion control treatment was not necessary, resulting in leaching of lead into the city’s drinking water,” he said.

“EPA regional staff urged MDEQ to address the lack of corrosion control, but was met with resistance. The delays in implementing the actions needed to treat the drinking water and in informing the public of ongoing health risks raise very serious concerns.”

Keith Creagh, director of the MDEQ, told the hearing that he was apologetic to the people of Flint and admitted: “We still cannot guarantee that the water is safe to drink……………..

London conference is aimed at getting aid for work and education opportunities to cut risk of people falling prey to extremism

Syrian refugees walk at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

Syrian refugees walk at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

World leaders are heading to London for a conference aimed at raising $9bn for Syrian refugees and preventing the creation of a permanent underclass of uneducated, restless and jobless Syrians living in countries bordering their homeland.

Organisers want the aid to be diverted from food handouts towards work and education opportunities for Syrians in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

British officials acknowledge that unless refugees are offered the possibility of a better life both in and outside the camps, there is an increased risk that they will fall prey to extremism or give up waiting to return to their homeland, instead making the perilous journey to Europe. There is also a growing acceptance that countries neighbouring Syria cannot carry the burden without substantially more help.

David Cameron, Angela Merkel and the leaders of Norway and Kuwait have jointly convened the conference to be held on Thursday. They have pointed out that the 2015 appeal for Syrian refugees failed to meet half its targets or pledges, and say that in 2016 the goal must be to get 1 million more Syrians into education and tens of thousands into jobs by offering them work permits.

Syria’s neighbours, who have hosted 4.6 million refugees between them, have seen their labour markets badly disrupted and have been reluctant to offer permits.

Syrian refugee children leave a makeshift school in a displacement camp in Lebanon.

Syrian refugee children leave a makeshift school in a displacement camp in Lebanon. Photograph: Bilal Hussein/AP

The UN children’s agency has said that $1.4bn will be needed to rescue what could become a lost generation both in Syria and in exile.

Delegates at a European Bank of Reconstruction Development conference on Wednesday will discuss how the private sector can boost investment in Lebanon and Turkey. The voices of refugees will be heard at a civil society conference attended by the UK’s international development secretary, Justine Greening……………….

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US politics

Election 2016

Ted Cruz in high school: a ‘prodigy’ with plans for world domination

Donald Trump claims Ted Cruz ‘stole’ Iowa caucuses and calls for new election

Rand Paul drops out of Republican presidential race after Iowa caucuses

Rubio criticizes Obama mosque speech for implying ‘US discriminates against Muslims’

Santorum drops out of the Republican primary race and endorses Marco Rubio

Opinion

The Democratic candidates demonstrated moments of warmth and intimacy in their Town Hall – yet ultimately policy matters most

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Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton hit their marks in the CNN’s New Hampshire Town Hall, making sure to hammer home at the signature topics that have brought them here. Both also enjoyed genuinely amusing human moments that let voters feel like they “know” these candidates.

Clinton’s warmest moment of the evening, besides an anecdote about sneaking out of the White House incognito to be Civilian For A Day (including, apparently, being asked by tourists to take pictures of them and their families outside the White House), came in a quick reply to Town Hall moderator Anderson Cooper.

Cooper referred to a famous Clinton quote from the 1990s, asking: “Do you still believe in a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’?” Without missing a beat, Clinton replied: “Don’t you?” before going on to state that it’s only gotten bigger. She’s right. It got a laugh, and for the first time all night, she seemed to be enjoying herself.

Sanders’ entire debate approach was more humanizing than Clinton’s. Although he later ramped up to his standard intensity, he initially eschewed his default semi-shouty firebrand delivery. The quietness probably evoked something like intimacy, but his best candidate-as-person moments of the night came when talking about himself.

In addition to referring to his own folk music album as “one of the worst albums of all time, people can’t believe how bad it is”, he answered Cooper’s question about his car with what eventually voters will probably start to think of as signature “Berniness.” The car is red, and it is American made. A Chevrolet. “It is one of the smallest Chevys that they make.”

The fun stuff aside, both candidates sought to refine their pitches to a divided Democratic base going into New Hampshire and, soon, South Carolina.

Sanders again emphasized that he has refused to take ‘Super Pac’ money and has amassed the largest number of donations (to this point in a campaign) in history, at roughly $27 per donation. He hammered Clinton for accepting $15m in Wall Street donations and for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars for speaking to Goldman Sachs.

Despite shaky answers on the issue of terrorism, where he will never be as broadly salable as the more hawkish Clinton, he was on sure footing criticizing Clinton’s endorsements of trade deals that offshore jobs and deplete opportunity for the American working class. He also enjoyed a really winning moment, for his campaign, when questioned about taxes.

A man named Chris, who said he earned $41,000 per year, asked Sanders to explain his middle-class tax hike. Sanders explained that, by adopting a Medicare For All approach to universal health care, Chris’ tax burden would increase by $500, but he would likely save $5,000 per year from no longer having to pay insurance premiums. Cooper followed up: “Chris, does that work for you?”

Chris replied: “If it saves me on health insurance premiums, I will gladly pay more taxes”. The Sanders campaign couldn’t have hoped for a better soundbite to express the incentives of progressive healthcare policy and progressivism in general………………….

 

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The O'Leary

Did any of us think the Democratic candidates would be arguing over which one was more progressive? Thank Bernie Sanders. Of course, tomorrow Hillary might be claiming to be the most moderate. One never knows.

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