My reading group at the Northshire Bookstore recently discussed "One Man Against the World," Tim Weiner's riveting and extremely troubling account of the Richard Nixon presidency. Nixon first came to national attention for his relentless pursuit of a State Department official named Alger Hiss. It became a highlight of the right wing witch-hunt conducted during the late 40s and early 50s when there was a suspected Red hiding under everyone's bed.
People started to take notice of another man destined for the White House at the same time, but Nixon thought Ronald Reagan was an "amiable dimwit." It was quite possibly the only assessment by Mr. Nixon that most readers of Mr. Weiner's book will be in complete agreement with.
From that inglorious beginning in the McCarthy era, Nixon managed, through patience, persistence, and luck, to be elected President of the United States in 1969. He had honed his skills for surrounding himself with sycophants to a fine edge and these people found themselves continually placed in the unhappy position of having to defend, deflect, or cover-up the actions of an unstable, often irrational alcoholic, who never doubted for a moment that the entire world was conspiring against him.
One of the questions that arose during the discussion of Weiner's book was "Why didn't anyone try and stop this man?" It's a good question.
Whether you are talking about a great nation in peril or a small village in jeopardy, sometimes it just takes only one person with a gnawing suspicion in his gut that there is something terribly wrong. In Hoosick Falls, N.Y, that man's name, it turns out, is Michael Hickey. Mr. Hickey's father died of kidney cancer in 2013. Kidney cancer can be one of the results of exposure to a man-made chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA.
Although the fact that there was a high rate of serious illnesses in Hoosick Falls had occurred to many people, Mr. Hickey decided to take his personal concern one step further. At his own expense, he sent a sample of village water supply to be tested by a Canadian laboratory. The lab found elevated levels of PFOA.
Four days after an article about the possible contamination of community water in Hoosick Falls appeared in the Albany Times Union, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that it not be used for drinking or cooking. The New York State Health Dept. and Hoosick Falls officials, after "downplaying the risks" (according to the Times Union) of consuming PFOA, abruptly reversed their positions and warned residents to find alternate sources of drinking water. How the state's Health Dept. could minimize the serious ramifications of consuming water tainted with one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet is a question that citizens (and victims) in New York should probably consider exploring further.
The same sort of issue, magnified considerably in the public consciousness, now faces Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan. (If they ever do a movie called "The Stepford Governors," they should all look exactly like this guy.) Gov. Snyder decided to deal with Flint's bankruptcy status by gifting the city with one of those grim reaper cost-cutters that Republicans always find so useful. There was little risk to Snyder, politically speaking, because forty percent of Flint's population existed below the poverty level and an even bigger percentage of them were black. (Nixon was also totally indifferent to minority suffering.)
Gov. Snyder's man decided to save $5 million by drawing water from the polluted Flint River instead of importing it from sources in Detroit. As a further cost cutting measure, the water from the river was not treated with chemicals to impede corrosion in pipes carrying water to the city's residents. When people began complaining about water that actually changed colors and smelled foul, they were met by derision from state officials. Lead contamination in Flint's water supply now tests at twice the amount the EPA uses to qualify liquid as a hazardous waste.
With the GOP's typically myopic foresight, Gov. Snyder and his minions saved the state $5 million or so. How much do you suppose that Michigan is going to have to spend just to settle the thousands of lawsuits that will result from this incredibly callous action? The governor, awash in abject apologies, but hedging on any commitment to actually fix the problem, claims that "race had nothing to do with it." I guess we are supposed to believe he would have done exactly the same thing if the problem had been in Grosse Pointe. Yeah, right.