Saturday, December 19, 2015

Austerity and aging infrastructure has caused lead poisoning in Michigan children. A new WPA could have prevented it.

(WPA workers installing a new water line in Annapolis, Maryland, 1938. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

In Flint, Michigan, children have been poisoned by lead due to austerity and aging infrastructure: "The problem began when in April 2014 the city of Flint temporarily changed its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River to save money. The different chemistry of the river water corroded the city's old pipes, releasing huge amounts of lead into the drinking water" ("Why Pediatricians Are So Alarmed By The Lead in Flint's Water," Huffington Post, December 18, 2015, emphasis added).

Austerity--in the modern world at least--means protecting the fortunes of the super-wealthy (for example, protecting their illegal tax evasion), raising taxes on the middle-class & poor (for example, raising regressive sales taxes), and cutting funding for the common good (for example, reducing investments in infrastructure). And this is exactly what's been happening in America these past many years. And that's why, in 2013, our nation received a D+ letter grade for its infrastructure from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

During the New Deal, things were different...far different. For example, WPA workers (formerly unemployed and constantly insulted - just like today) installed 16,000 miles of new water lines, built 276 new water treatment plants, made 420,000 water consumer connections, and constructed 7,000 new water wells, storage tanks, and reservoirs. In Michigan, WPA workers installed 700 miles of new water lines. (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, pp. 132-136). We could do the same today, and even better with today's technology.

So, why didn't we create a new WPA when the recession hit several years ago and unemployment was sky-high? Well, for several reasons: 

First, many Americans don't know their history, and have never even heard of the WPA. 

Second, Republicans prefer to use the unemployed as political punching bags. They know that if they can demonize the unemployed (just like they demonize immigrants and Muslims) they can whip up fear, anger, and votes. 

Third, Republicans want most public spending to go towards middle-eastern affairs, not domestic affairs. You can see this during the Republican presidential debates, where infrastructure is never mentioned. The conversations revolve around terrorism, Muslims, building up the military, the need for ground troops in various parts of the middle-east, and so on. 

Fourth, Republicans prefer austerity to infrastructure spending. 

Fifth, the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, has become a servant of Corporate America and the super-wealthy - and they know that Corporate America and the super-wealthy do not want a new WPA (see table 5 here for example). That's why, when the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation in 2011 to create a new WPA most Democrats (including President Obama) gave him no support. Lautenberg's bill ended up dying a lonely death in committee. 

Sixth, the fanatical belief, held by many, that the "free market" (as channeled through the holy "JOB CREATORS" of course) will solve every problem.

And seventh, millions of citizens are completely disconnected from current events and the political process. They don't pay attention, they don't inform themselves, they don't vote, and they don't care - basically, apathy on steroids.

To sum things up: Thanks to a toxic stew of historical amnesia, Republican politics, a preference for austerity over the public good, a hyper-concern about middle-eastern affairs, Democratic weakness, a fanatical belief in the "free market" & the holy "JOB CREATORS," and public apathy, "adults and children of every age were unknowingly exposed [to lead], including formula-drinking babies and the unborn children of pregnant mothers."

What does this ultimately mean? "The long-term consequences of lead poisoning are dire for children, according to the World Health Organization. While a lead-poisoned infant or toddler might not show any outward physical or mental signs of damage, their developing brains are already damaged...Once kids reach school age, cognition problems, including lower IQ and ADHD-like symptoms start to show up. Lead exposure has been linked to physical problems, such as anemia, kidney dysfunction and high blood pressure, as well as behavioral problems, including aggressive behavior and problems with the criminal justice system."

We need a new and even stronger New Deal to modernize our infrastructure. Unfortunately for America's children, as long as the seven points highlighted above remain true, we're not going to get one. Instead, we're going to get more water main breaks, higher & regressive water utility rates, and lead. 

"We need funding and we need resources. It's an infrastructure crisis for us, so we know that's going to be a tremendous cost and burden on the city of Flint that we can't handle by ourselves." --Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (link)

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