Saturday, January 21, 2017

Drinking lead for the rich in a New Jersey hospital. When will these crimes end?

"Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure."

--The first leaflet of the White Rose, 1942-1943 (see full cite at end of blog post).

Above: The description for this photograph reads, "Set backs are effectively used in the Jersey City Medical Center to give patients light and air." This building was financed by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (which President Roosevelt strengthened) and/or the New Deal's Public Works Administration, ca. 1934-1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Going to the hospital to get sick

This week we learned that high levels of lead were found in the drinking water of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey. The CDC has warned us that no amount of lead in our bodies is safe, and that it "can seriously harm a child's health... increasing their risks for damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems (e.g., reduced IQ, ADHD, juvenile delinquency, and criminal behavior), and hearing and speech problems." Hence, the Englewood hospital "will test workers, patients and visitors who have been at the hospital since September 2015. The hospital is especially encouraging anyone who was pregnant and children under the age of six to get tested."

Imagine that. You go to the hospital to get better, and you end up drinking a neurotoxin.

We're poisoning our children through willful neglect

The problem of lead poisoning is not limited to the Englewood Hospital of course. The CDC has informed us that "Millions of children are being exposed to lead in their homes." We also know that Americans are drinking lead in schools, parks, and buildings. In Chicago, for example, nearly half the parks tested positive for high levels of lead. And a recent Reuters investigation found "thousands of U.S. locales where lead poisoning is worse than in Flint [Michigan]" (from all sources, not just water).

Old water mains, old connection lines, and old plumbing fixtures are poisoning adults and children all across the country. Why? Because over the past 30-40 years, instead of focusing on infrastructure needs, we have (a) focused on handing out massive tax breaks to the rich and (b) engaged in an endless stream of expensive military adventures across the globe, e.g., bombings, troop deployments, base constructions, and "regime change."

Folks, it doesn't have to be this way. During the New Deal, there was massive spending on domestic needs, and higher taxes on the wealthy. The WPA, for example, built 226 new hospitals, increased the size of another 156, and repaired or improved 2,168. They also installed 16,000 miles of new water lines. (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, pp. 131 and 136).

Above: Between 1933 and 1939, the New Deal's Public Works Administration added tens of thousands of hospital beds for Americans in need. Graphic is from America Builds, 1939, p. 145.

Trump and the New Deal?

Our new president, Donald Trump, knows full well that the New Deal was the golden age of American infrastructure. In his 2015 book, Great Again: How To Fix Our Crippled America, he suggested that we should duplicate the New Deal's bold infrastructure program, writing "we can create the biggest economic boom in this country since the New Deal when our vast infrastructure was first put into place." But here's the problem: Trump and his Republican colleagues in Congress are planning to hand out enormous tax cuts to the wealthy. Republican state legislatures across the country, no doubt, want to do the same thing. Therefore, the only way that we can modernize our infrastructure--while increasing our already-massive military spending (a Republican priority)--is by taxing the middle-class and poor more - at the state & local level; going deeper into debt - which Republicans say they don't like; cutting our already-anemic social safety net - which might pay for a handful of bridges I suppose; or privatizing our infrastructure - which will inevitably lead to more toll roads, more toll bridges, and higher utility rates.

We can look to Kansas, among other places, to see what happens when you pass out tax breaks to the rich like candy. Kansas has been constantly raiding its highway funds, as well as other funds, to make up for the revenue shortfalls they created by handing out massive tax breaks for the rich. That doesn't bode well for infrastructure repair and improvement. Yet, astonishingly, right-wing voters & politicians want to replicate this disastrous Kansas experiment, on the the entire country. (See, e.g., "Kansas' experiment in voodoo economics is floundering. And spreading." St Louis-Post Dispatch, January 14, 2017)

When will we stop being suckers for the rich?

Only when Americans cease their slavish devotion to the super-wealthy will we fix our infrastructure problems. Until then, it will just be band-aid solutions (if any solutions at all). Unfortunately, Americans are showing no signs of ending their pitiful submission to the super-wealthy - as evidenced by their recent placement of even more super-wealthy sociopaths in our state and federal governments, e.g., Trump's billionaire cabinet and administrative picks. And make no mistake about it, American voters have put them there. Whether it was by misinformed voting, voting on social issues alone, failing to vote at all, failing to support Bernie Sanders (a sincere candidate for the people), etc., the American electorate put these psychopath billionaires in positions of authority. Just as the White Rose told German citizens--after the latter allowed Hitler to rise to power--the American electorate is "guilty, guilty, guilty!" (see longer quote below). 

Collectively, we've deluded ourselves into thinking that the people who are financially pounding us into the ground will make our lives better. And that's why American children will continue to incur brain damage from lead-contaminated water; and also why huge numbers of children across the planet will continue dying from air pollution. It seems that we're quite willing to sacrifice the health and lives of children, if that's what it takes to please billionaires. We dare not tax them more, these holy "JOB CREATORS," even as they continue hoarding record wealth while we fall deeper into debt, toxicity, and misery.

Isn't that amazing?

Above: Laborers in the New Deal's Civil Works Administration building a medical facility in Salisbury, Maryland, ca. 1933-1934. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

The White Rose: A lesson for today?

The following is from the second leaflet of the White Rose (full citation at the end). When reading this quote, think of the increasingly fascist & plutocratic nature of American government, the apathetic behavior of many Americans, and the millions of children being poisoned by crumbling infrastructure - infrastructure that always takes a back seat to tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy and military spending:
"Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes... The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so."

"Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencenessless from which they will never, never awake? It seems to be so, and it will certainly be so, if the German does not at last start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims..."

"For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do... Indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt... each one continues on his way with the most placid, and calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!"

(Inge Scholl, The White Rose: Munich, 1942-1943, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983, pp. 78-79) 

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