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Wednesday, October 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Smart Bombs: Great Lakes crisis is eerie

Remember the dish-washing nightmare, when phosphate-infused detergents were banned by the Nanny State? Darn that nanny, making us scrub a little harder before placing plates in the dishwasher. Maybe you’re still battling this prohibition. Maybe you’re still finding ways to buy the “good stuff.”

But, holy Toledo, did you hear what’s happening in Ohio’s fourth-largest city? Residents went without potable water for a couple of days. Couldn’t drink it, and boiling didn’t help. They had to wash the dishes by hand with bottled water. The water supply had been poisoned by massive algae blooms on Lake Erie. Green slime had surrounded the intake contraption for the city’s water supply, and then moved in.

This invasion triggered an editorial in the Toledo Blade with the bossy headline, “Clean Up Lake Erie – Now.” Those nannies – so mean these days. Whatever happened to Mary Poppins, who counseled flying kites over boring chores, like scrubbing the lake to fend off Third World advisories.

The editorial included this bit of finger-pointing: “The chief contributor to toxic algae growth is phosphorus-laden runoff that enters the lake from rivers and streams, notably the Maumee River.”

Hmm, phosphorus? So it really can spawn mayhem. Maybe applying a bit more elbow grease to the crockery isn’t so unreasonable. And maybe those bans on phosphate-laden laundry detergents and lawn fertilizers weren’t needlessly meddlesome.

It was either that or watch the continued algae blooms turn waterways like Long Lake into dead seas. It’s called naming your poison, and in Lake Erie it goes by microcystin, a byproduct of the algae that causes diarrhea, vomiting and eats away at the liver. It also kills pets.

So levity aside, let’s put into perspective just how put-upon we are as we protect our waterways. Yes, it’s somewhat different from Toledo, because we are blessed with a bountiful aquifer from which to draw drinking water. But algae blooms fed by phosphorus are a legitimate problem, and it doesn’t pay to wait for a crisis.

Thank you, nanny.

C-C-Courage. The border crisis that was so critical Congress decided it could still take a five-week vacation has brought immigration back into focus. Truth be told, if mainstream Republicans weren’t so afraid of their tea party amigos, the Senate immigration reform bill would probably sail through Congress. It would be good for the economy and improve the long-term prospects of Medicare and Social Security.

But the paranoid style of today’s politics allows a Sen. Ted Cruz to cross over to the House and play speaker for a day. As a result, the compromise plan to handle the surge in border crossings by Central American youths was scuttled, and the solution was left to a president who’s about to get sued for overreaching.

Maybe during the recess, House leadership can locate its backbone and then go on the offensive. Here’s some data for spinal support:

• Between 1996 and 2011, immigrants’ net contribution to Medicare Part A, the main benefit financed by payroll taxes, was $183 billion, according to the bipartisan Partnership for a New Economy. For U.S.-born citizens, it was negative $69 billion. Why? The immigrants are younger. The long-term prospects of the Medicare trust fund would brighten if the 11 million illegal immigrants were given a path to citizenship, because they’d be subject to the payroll tax, rather than be paid under the table.

• The Social Security actuary estimates a $300 billion infusion into that fund over the next decade if the Senate bill were to be adopted.

• The Senate bill would reduce federal deficits by $850 billion by 2033, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.
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