Saturday, October 29, 2016

Has America become Ardana?

Above: Kirk and Spock look up at the city of Stratos, on the planet Ardana. Image used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

A recent investigation by KDKA News found that residents of Pittsburgh who cannot afford to replace their lead-contaminated water lines are likely to receive no help. ("KDKA Investigation: No Help For Families To Replace Lead Service Lines," CBS Pittsburgh, October 28, 2016).  

Replacing a water line that runs from a public water main to a family's house can cost about $5,000; but unfortunately, thanks to years of Reaganomics, "63% Of Americans Don't Have Enough Savings To Cover A $500 Emergency" (Forbes, January 6, 2016), let alone a $5,000 water line replacement.

Earlier this year, attorney Tom Neltner, of the Environmental Defense Fund, highlighted how lead poisoning disproportionately affects poor and minority children: "With more than 500,000 children having elevated blood lead levels, as many as 10 million homes with lead service lines, and 24 million homes with lead-based paint hazards, our country has work to do. A priority needs to be children in poor households who are three times more likely to have elevated blood lead levels and African-American children who are twice as likely to show elevated blood levels as their white counterparts" ("Lead service lines must be replaced as soon as possible to protect children," March 16, 2016).

All of this reminds me of the Star Trek episode, "The Cloud Minders," where the Enterprise visits the planet Ardana. On Ardana, society has been split into two groups - the City-Dwellers, who live in the wealthy cloud city of Stratos, and the "Troglytes" who mine the caves on the planet and breathe in dangerous "zenite" gas. When Kirk and Spock question the fairness of such a society, the City-Dwellers express astonishment that things should be any other way, at one point stating, "The complete separation of toil and leisure has given Ardana this perfectly balanced social system... Why should we change it?"

It seems to me that America has become Ardana. True, we've always had a caste society; but from the New Deal to about 1980, we made great strides in moving away from our traditional system of economic apartheid. The middle-class grew like never before or since (thanks to New Deal policies and infrastructure) and the poor had a stronger social safety net. Since 1980, we have slowly but surely chipped away at all of that, and so now we have the Forbes 400 adding billions to their already-bloated wealth, while the children of working class families drink lead-contaminated water.

We don't have to be Ardana of course. We could create a New WPA, giving jobs to some of our 20 million un- and under-employed fellow Americans, to put in new water lines, thereby bringing clean water to every American child. During the New Deal, WPA workers installed 16,000 miles of new water lines and made nearly 900,000 water consumer connections. But we're not going to create a new WPA; and we're also not going to create any other type of nation-wide infrastructure program to replace contaminated water lines. Why not? The only answer I can come up with is, quite frankly, horrifying. And that is this: We've become so submissive and worshipful towards the super-rich, that we are literally willing to risk the health of our children, if that's what it takes to protect their wealth. If you think this sounds far-fetched, think about how many people flock to the likes of Kim Kardashian and other celebrities, and hang on their every word and action. 

Unfortunately, this adoration is almost always a one-way street. Many of the super-rich have absolutely no compassion for those of lesser means. Research indicates that about 92% of wealthy Americans don't like the idea of a public works program for those who can't find jobs in the private sector; and the children of these wealthy, soulless people are flaunting their inherited wealth on websites like Rich Kids of Instagram, where they show off their yachts, watches, champagne bottles, sports cars, and so on - and where, on the home page, we are told "They have more money than you and this is what they do."

And yet, even while America's children drink lead (causing irreparable brain damage), and even while the super-wealthy buy expensive & frivolous items--and rub our noses in it--Republican politicians are working hard to give even more tax breaks to the super-wealthy, and also trying to protect their illegal tax evasion.

People (usually Republicans) say we live in a Christian nation. But I don't remember the verse where Christ said, "Let the children of the poor drink lead, and let the children of the rich enjoy--and flaunt--great wealth." 

"It is mind-boggling that a major political party would even consider endorsing a resolution to facilitate tax evasion."

--Heather Lowe, global financial expert, after "The Republican National Committee (RNC) on Friday called for the repeal of a U.S. anti-tax-evasion law, siding with big banks, libertarians and American expatriates" ("Republicans bash U.S. law targeting offshore tax dodgers," Reuters, January 24, 2014)   

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