Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Reverse New Deal: Instead of adequate infrastructure investment, Michigan gets water main breaks, water shut-offs for poor people, poisoned children, and a state of emergency. (Warning: epic, but totally hinged rant ahead.)

(WPA workers on an infrastructure project in Cherry Lake, Florida. Much of the infrastructure created by WPA workers still serves America today, well past its intended lifespan. Photo courtesy of the State Library and Archives of Florida.)

Here's what the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) said about Michigan's drinking water systems back in in 2009:

"much of the delivery system including piping, valves and hydrants are reaching the end of their anticipated design life and routine replacement has been postponed for too long. Out of sight and out of mind...until the  road is closed and flooded out, toilets cannot be flushed, food cannot be cooked, dishes cannot be washed, or a shower cannot be taken" [and I would add, "and children are poisoned by lead"]. (link

And here's what the ASCE said about the nation's drinking water systems in 2013:

"Especially in the country’s older cities, much of the drinking water infrastructure is old and in need of replacement... Some pipes date back to the Civil War era and often are not examined until there is a problem or a water main break. These breaks are becoming more common, as there are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States." (link)  

So, did Michigan and the nation listen? Nope. In fact, I'd wager that most people have never even heard of the ASCE, let alone looked at any of their warnings & reports. After all, one has to keep up with the Kardashians, so there's precious little time for anything else.

But there's a price to be paid for ignoring infrastructure. In Michigan (as in the rest of the nation), there are water main breaks that shut off water service, buckle roads, flood basements, shut down businesses, and close schools. Then there are the water shut offs for low-income Detroit residents who can't afford their rising bills, but not for businesses that owe millions. But that's okay, because business owners are the holy "JOB CREATORS" and the law doesn't apply to them in the quite the same harsh manner that it applies to people making minimum wage, i.e., people who lack political representation.

And now we've learned that children in Flint, Michigan have been poisoned with lead because the state decided to switch them to a cheap, old water system to save money (austerity). The Republican governor of Michigan has declared a state of emergency, after the U.S. Department of Justice said it will look into the matter (it seems that state officials may have known about the lead poisoning but refused to act, even as Flint residents kept using their austerity-driven, lead-laced water supply).

And the poisoned children of Flint (lead affects children far more than it affects adults) are not the only victims of crumbling infrastructure. For example, "The federal Department of Transportation estimates that obsolete road designs and poor road conditions are a factor in about 14,000 highway deaths each year" ("Human Cost Rises As Old Bridges, Dams and Roads Go Unrepaired," New York Times, November 5, 2015). In South Carolina, there was a loss of life after dozens of dams failed this past October. A dam safety official said: "We’re really not surprised at some of the things that are happening when you don’t have a fully robust state regulation program and [Republican-led] South Carolina, unfortunately has not put the time, resources or manpower into their state dam safety program."

And here's the really insane thing: As Republicans keep blocking infrastructure bills, and as the federal government offers less and less aid to the states, and as super-wealthy Americans keep adding billions of dollars to their personal fortunes (buying more private compounds, more private islands, and more private jets), states and localities are forced to raise taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates on the middle-class and poor. Yes, millionaires & billionaires are pampered, while more and more regressive taxation is forced upon everyone else. As the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy (another organization that most Americans don't know about, and don't care to know about about; even though they should for the sake of their wallets) reported a year ago: "Virtually every state tax system is fundamentally unfair, taking a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families." 

All this foolishness is fueled by (1) extreme public apathy, (2) Republican priorities that put middle-eastern affairs first, and American infrastructure... well... infrastructure isn't even on their agenda, and (3) campaign contributions from the super-wealthy (i.e., legalized bribery designed to keep their tax rates low, to keep law enforcement from investigating their tax-evading bank accounts, and to keep the rest of us misinformed, distracted, and stupid). 

During the New Deal, things were very different - opposite in fact. Programs like the WPA, PWA, CWA, NYA, and CCC improved American infrastructure on a scale not seen before or since - on a scale that most Americans cannot even comprehend today. And FDR and his New Deal colleagues were not afraid to raise taxes on the super-wealthy. Oh yeah, and most people weren't misinformed, distracted, and stupid back then. They knew quite well, especially after the Pecora investigations, who was responsible for their unemployment, lost savings, and general misery (hint: big financial institutions and the radical greed of the fortunate few). And that's why they elected Roosevelt four times.

So, let's be clear and let's be frank. Today, as a nation, we've said (if not directly, then through our ignorance & apathy): "I'd rather have a quarter-of-a-million water main breaks, every single year; I'd rather waste two trillion gallons of water, every single year; and I'd rather have children be poisoned by lead-contaminated water, than create a new WPA or tax millionaires & billionaires more. In fact, I'm willing, and even happy, to be hammered with regressive taxation, so that a few privileged families can buy private islands to escape the madness they've created for the rest of us through their greed."

This isn't your garden variety foolishness. This isn't the type of foolishness that you can find growing on a tree. No, this is foolishness on a monumental scale. This is the type of foolishness that indicates a burned-out shell of a civilization - a civilization held together by duct tape.

Where's an FDR, a Harry Hopkins, and a Frances Perkins when you need them? Heck, where's common sense?

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