Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How much lead will we drink to please the rich? Another town has contaminated water.

(WPA workers on an infrastructure project in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, 1941. All across the nation, WPA workers repaired and modernized our infrastructure on a vast scale. Much of this infrastructure is still being used today, far beyond its intended lifespan. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

The town of Sebring, Ohio has found lead in its water supply; coming from, among other places, water fountains in schools. Lead causes brain damage in children. The reasons for the lead contamination are a corrosive water supply and an aging infrastructure - just like the lead contamination problem that recently poisoned children in Flint, Michigan.

If you think these are isolated problems, you might want to think again. These older pipes can be found all across the country, and lead can be leeched out of them as they age. Chemicals are added to prevent most of the leeching, but is the process good enough to keep us safe? According to a recent article in the Seattle Times, "Some researchers question whether chemical treatment and routine testing for lead in the water are enough, arguing that the only way to remove the threat is to replace the pipes... officials have long treated the water with phosphates to prevent leaching. Phosphates are generally considered safe for humans [generally??]... The EPA says cities need to take steps to reduce lead levels if they exceed 15 parts per billion. But many health experts say no amount is safe."

The American Society of Civil Engineers has been warning us, at least since the early 2000s, that our infrastructure needs serious improvement. We've ignored those warnings. Progressive-minded politicians have proposed public jobs programs for the unemployed, e.g., a new WPA, and they've introduced legislation to repair & improve our infrastructure. Conservative politicians have blocked them, preferring instead to ignore or even insult the unemployed. Conservative politicians have even delayed the Highway Bill, feverishly trying to insert Wall Street favors into it. Things are so bad, that a top Republican in Congress blamed his own party for hindering infrastructure improvement.

Why is this foolishness occurring? Well, mainly because conservative politicians are protecting their wealthy campaign donors from increased taxation - taxation that would generate the revenue needed for infrastructure repairs. Those wealthy campaign donors are not interested in improving our bridges, roads, and water lines, even though such improvements would help hundreds of millions of people. They prefer to focus on their private compounds, private jets, and private islands.

Not every conservative has jumped down the infrastructure rabbit hole, of course. A little over a year ago, Republican political strategist Matthew Dowd wrote: "we need to have a well-paying jobs program tied to infrastructure improvements administered locally by cities, counties and states where people still trust government to get the job done. And this should be funded by tax policies at the federal level which put a much bigger burden on the wealthy in this country." He's essentially calling for a New Deal-type infrastructure program, because that's exactly how it worked back then. Local communities & governments submitted infrastructure proposals, wrote up plans, provided a certain percentage of funding, and New Deal programs like the WPA and PWA kicked in the rest of the money.

Significant, wide-scale infrastructure improvement cannot occur unless we tax the rich more (both individuals and corporations) because the middle-class & poor are already tapped out. You see, as the rich have become richer and richer, the majority of the rest of us don't even have a few hundred bucks standing by for an emergency. Over the past several decades, as the rich have gobbled up more and more of our national wealth, incomes for people who have to work for a living have stagnated or dropped. We could borrow money to repair our infrastructure, of course, since interest rates are low; but how much more do we want to keep adding to the national credit card, especially after President Bush and his war hawks ran up the balance with their poorly conceived and poorly executed wars in the middle-east?

In any event, here's the million-dollar question: How much lead are American voters willing to drink, and have their children drink, to please the rich? I think I know the answer to that question, and it's horrifying.

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