Friday, February 19, 2016

Spending $8 million per hour for perpetual war, as millions of our children drink toxic water

Above: A water storage tank built with funds from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA), ca. 1935. The description for this photo reads, "A million-gallon water-storage tank erected at Newport News, Virginia, to replace an old tank which had been condemned." New Deal policymakers understood the importance of replacing old infrastructure with new infrastructure. The PWA, for example, contributed funds to over 2,400 drinking water infrastructure projects. Image from "America Builds: The Record of PWA," 1939.

America's Drinking Water Infrastructure

Our drinking water infrastructure, like the rest of our infrastructure, is falling apart. We have a quarter-of-a-million water main breaks, every single year, causing a loss of two trillion gallons of water, every single year. These water main breaks shut down businesses, close schools, flood homes, damage roads, increase traffic congestion, and frequently cause water contamination (prompting officials to issue "boil water advisories").

In addition to water main breaks, our aging infrastructure is poisoning millions of children with lead. Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause irreparable damage even in trace amounts. We have been warned by numerous agencies and researchers, for example, the CDC, that no amount of lead is safe to ingest - none, as in zero (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, here, and here). And yet, amazingly, many cities and towns think their children are safe if they stay below the EPA's permissive 15 parts per billion. As if that were not bad enough, we know that many cities and towns are performing tests in ways that minimize the results.

Much of the damage caused by lead poisoning is irreparable. That damage includes anemia, kidney damage, brain damage, nervous system damage, mental retardation, and fertility and pregnancy problems. Death can occur in some cases and, generally speaking, children are much more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults.

Cities and towns that have recently found high levels of lead in their drinking water include Flint, Michigan; Sebring, Ohio; Granby, Massachusetts; and several towns in South Carolina. Some big cities, like Milwaukee and Chicago, may also be having lead problems. In any event, we know that children all across the country are drinking lead.     

Aging infrastructure, combined with a bad water source, can cause other problems too, for example, Legionnaires' disease. This likely happened in Flint, Michigan where, as children were being poisoned by lead, about 87 people came down with Legionnaires' disease, at least one woman died, and another is on dialysis waiting for a kidney transplant ("Cases of Legionnaires' Disease create further concern in Flint," KNOE 8 News, February 14, 2016).   

Above: WPA workers, formerly unemployed, installing a new water main in Maryland, 1935. Across the nation, WPA workers installed 16,000 miles of new water lines. Many of these lines are still in use today, well past their intended lifespan. Today, we don't offer jobs like this to the unemployed. Instead, we frequently call the unemployed "parasites." Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.
Where is the money to fix old water mains, old distribution lines, and old plumbing? 

A few days ago, the editors of the New York Times highlighted the infrastructure problems associated with our drinking water and correctly pointed out that many areas will need state & federal assistance. The editors then declared, "There is no reason Congress cannot come up with the money."

In reality though, there are at least three major reasons why Congress cannot come up with the money to repair & improve our infrastructure.

1. Because we are spending $8 million per hour on perpetual war. By this time tomorrow, we will have spent another $192 million to keep our destabilizing war-machine rolling.

2. Because Republicans, Tea Partiers, and Wall Street Democrats are committed to keeping taxes low on the super-wealthy - mainly because the super-wealthy have paid them to do so, through campaign contributions, speaking fees, promises of lucrative jobs when they leave Congress, and Lord knows what else. Indeed, Republican and Tea Party politicians actually want to lower taxes for their super-wealthy donors again (as if the last four decades of gargantuan tax-cuts-for-the-rich have not caused enough damage already - for example, crumbling & outdated infrastructure).

3. Because many corporations and super-wealthy Americans are engaging in rampant tax avoidance and tax evasion. And, making matters worse, many politicians in Congress are protecting this unethical and illegal activity by trying to de-fund the IRS and by trying to eliminate tools used to catch tax evaders. With respect to the latter, a global financial expert said, "It is mind-boggling that a major political party [the GOP/Tea Party] would even consider endorsing a resolution to facilitate tax evasion."

Above: Here is some money that could have been used to protect America's children from lead poisoning. Instead, it went towards private jets, private compounds, private islands, monster-sized yachts, gold bathtubs, and similar trinkets for the rich. How much money do you think could be devoted to infrastructure, and other domestic issues, if we stopped spending $8 million dollars per hour on perpetual war, cracked down on tax evasion and tax avoidance, and increased tax rates on the wealthy to pre-Reagan levels? See, e.g., "What Could Raising Taxes on the 1% Do? Surprising Amounts," New York Times, October 16, 2015. Image courtesy of
Many super-wealthy Americans are doing everything in their power to avoid contributing towards the common good. Their efforts have been very successful so far, thus damaging the health of millions of children. But if we, the voters, continue putting anti-infrastructure Republicans, anti-government Tea Partiers, and Wall Street Democrats into high office... does that make us accomplices to the crime? And if we continue to let billionaires add tens, even hundreds of billions of dollars to their already-bloated wealth, every single year, and continue to spend $8 million dollars per hour on perpetual war--while simultaneously convincing ourselves that we can't afford to improve our infrastructure--does that make us fools? And lastly, if children suffering from the consequences of lead poisoning ask us, ten years from now, "Why didn't you replace the old pipes and plumbing?", what will we tell them?   

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