Water For All

By some estimates, more than two million people in the United States do not have running water and sanitation in their homes. Water utilities shut off water access to about one out of every twenty people, or close to fifteen million people, every year for nonpayment. Unsurprisingly, this affects racial minorities more than others. This barbaric practice has likely killed tens of thousands of people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given how wealthy the United States is, it doesn’t have to be this way. And throughout the pandemic, we’ve caught some brief glimpses of alternatives. Though the federal government declined to pass a national moratorium on water shutoffs, some states and cities passed laws to prevent utilities from shutting off water to people during the pandemic.

Continue reading

Our Democratic Prospects: What The Ming Dynasty Can Tell Us

How best to understand the assault on the Capitol this week? Might some historical perspective help us better comprehend how endangered our democracy has become? Could that perspective point us to a more promising post-Trump path?

A global team of anthropologists from the United States and Mexico may be offering up just the sort of historical perspective we need.

The team’s newly published research — on premodern societies — might at first glance seem more than a bit irrelevant. Wednesday’s mob violence has Americans by the millions, after all, worried about “democratic backsliding.” But we had no democratic nation states in premodern times.

Continue reading

FCC’s Repeal Of Net Neutrality Is Still Wrong

Washington – In a blog post on Monday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai wrote that he stands by the agency’s unpopular repeal of Net Neutrality rules. Pai also circulated a proposal to address three issues raised in 2019 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit when it remanded critical parts of that repeal and sent it back to the agency.

At that time, the court commanded the FCC to examine the impacts of removing Title II as a source of authority for broadband’s inclusion in the Lifeline subsidy program.

Continue reading

Experiments In Free Transit

Among the few positive aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, some localities have taken the impressive step of implementing free transit. Several cities in Ohio, including Akron, Canton, Toledo and Youngstown announced free fares as of March 16. Towns in Vermont and Nevada have done so as well. Unfortunately, local officials are quite clear that these are only temporary for health purposes and will be reversed once it is “safe.”

Over the last several decades, though, many cities around the world have experimented with free transit. 

Continue reading

No Sacrifices Of The Public Interest In Times Of Emergency

Never one to miss an opportunity, the Trump administration has repeatedly used the COVID-19 crisis as cover to enact unwise and dangerous environmental policies against the public interest and to forestall citizen input.

In recent days the Environmental Protection Agency has moved forward with weakening rules for automobile emissions and relaxing pollution standards. The Bureau of Land Management continues leasing for oil and gas drilling even as prices drop. And while much of the country remains under stay-at-home orders and faces the most disruptive public health crisis in a century, deadlines for public statements on forest plans have not been extended and formats for hearings about dams have frustrated citizens who wish to speak up for public resources.

Continue reading

Essential Work

In the midst of the COVID-19 quarantine, Anna* wrote to a neighborhood facebook page, asking for help. Within hours, dozens of people had responded offering to buy groceries, donate cash to pay for a birthday dinner, bake a cake, host an online birthday party, take a socially-distant walk in the park, or just to talk.

This wasn’t unusual. During this pandemic lots of people need help and have turned to neighbors (usually strangers). Even more people have stepped up to offer assistance.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Many writers have told stories of how people step in quickly to assist in times of disaster. Rebecca Solnit observed this in the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco and in post-Katrina New Orleans in 2005; she learned of similar responses in earlier disasters like the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Continue reading

Why Is US Unwilling To Pay For Good Public Transit?

By John Rennie Short for The Conversation. Officials in Washington, D.C. said this week they may have to shut down portions of the Metro subway system for months because its piecemeal approach to maintenance is no longer sufficient.

The disclosure follows a shutdown of the entire Metro system on March 16 for 24 hours. Three-quarters of a million people use the system each weekday, so the inconvenience and cost were considerable.

The reason: frayed electrical cables discovered in at least 26 locations that posed an immediate danger. Closing the Metro was probably the safest thing to do.

Just two days previously, an electrical fire in a tunnel forced stoppages to busy commuter service.

Continue reading