Thursday, October 20, 2016

Children drink lead in Chicago parks, while the Forbes 400 set personal wealth records

Above: President Franklin Roosevelt at Soldier's Field, Chicago, 1944. Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers made large infrastructure investments in Illinois. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Two days ago, we learned that 43% of Chicago's parks have too much lead in their water fountains. Avalon Park, at 1215 E. 83rd St., had 1,800 parts per billion. That's 120 times higher than what the EPA considers safe (15 ppb). The CDC, meanwhile, says no amount of lead is safe for children. A water quality expert concludes: "Sadly, what people should make of these reports is that tap water at Chicago parks is not lead-free and they are on their own to protect their children from exposures. Demanding that public officials abandon the misleading crutch of the 15 (parts per billion) 'action level' and develop solutions that reflect current scientific understanding about lead in water would be a good first step."

Unfortunately, this story from Chicago is just the latest in a long list of stories highlighting how America's children are being poisoned by lead (see, e.g., my blog post, "We're still drinking lead for the rich").

But don't worry too much; because while children are drinking contaminated water from outdated infrastructure, and having their brains permanently damaged, we do have something to be ecstatic about: "The country’s 400 richest [people] are wealthier than ever, with a combined net worth of $2.4 trillion and an average net worth of $6 billion, both record highs" ("Inside The 2016 Forbes 400: Facts And Figures About America's Richest People," Forbes, October 4, 2016).

Isn't that great news?!?

Above: Here are some of the richest billionaires of the Forbes 400 - beneficiaries of inherited wealth, or deregulation, or Reaganomics, or all of the above. They certainly look happy, don't they? I wonder if their children and grandchildren are drinking lead too, like the children of working-class Americans. Screenshot image from Forbes.com, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

In 2014, prominent Republican 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."

This is what was done during the New Deal, under the Roosevelt Administration. For example, between 1935 and 1943, federally-funded WPA workers performed over 1,800 projects to create or improve public parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, swimming pools, and wading pools in Illinois. They also installed 853 miles of new water mains so that the children of Illinois (for example, the children of Chicago) could have clean drinking water. We could do the same today if we weren't so doped-up on trickle-down economics, and if we didn't worship the rich as gods. But we are, and we do. So, America's children will continue to drink lead and continue to incur brain damage... so that billionaires can keep more of their money. After all, living on $20 billion of wealth is unacceptable - it must be $30 billion.

The billionaires of the Forbes 400 who fight for "limited government," and bribe politicians with campaign contributions (to keep their tax rates low); and those people who serve as their financial bodyguards (i.e., conservative voters - both Republican and Democrat), should be ashamed of themselves.

Of course, it doesn't matter much what I say, or what clean water advocates say. In Plutocratic America, your message and your warnings are only as strong as the money you have to support them. And so we can scream from the rooftops, everyday for the rest of our lives, and our corporate-bought politicians will only snicker at us... while drafting the next piece of legislation that coddles the wealthy, or blocking the next piece of legislation that addresses our infrastructure.

"Now, a lot of people remember it as boondoggles... raking leaves... Maybe in some places it was. Maybe in the big city machines or something. But I can take you to our town and show you things, like a river front that I used to hike through once that was a swamp and is now a beautiful park-like place built by WPA."

--Ronald Reagan, recalling his young adult years in Illinois (from the book In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to George W. Bush, by William Leuchtenburg)

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