Nearly 4,000 US communities have higher rates of lead poisoning than Flint

By Jerry White
16 November 2017

In an updated study, Reuters news agency has identified 3,810 neighborhoods where recently recorded child lead poisoning rates are at least double those found in Flint, Michigan during the height of that city’s water crisis in 2014 and 2015. In some 1,300 of these “hotspot” communities, the percentage of children six and under with elevated lead levels was at least four times the percentage in Flint during the peak of the crisis.

In pockets of Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia, where lead poisoning has spanned generations, Reuters reported that the rate of elevated tests over the last decade was 50 percent or higher. An interactive map released with the study shows one census tract in Buffalo, New York—a former steel and auto center that, like Flint, has suffered decades of deindustrialization—where 68 percent of the children had high levels of lead.

Map of lead concentrations in the United States

The ingestion of any amount of the heavy metal, whether through tainted water, lead-based paint, contaminated soil or fumes and dust, can do irreparable harm to children. This includes impeding the development of the brain and nervous system, lowered IQ, memory loss, hearing and speech problems, and behavioral and attention-related problems. The toxin, which remains in the body and can be passed on for generations, is also responsible for a host of adult health problems, including decreased kidney function, high blood pressure, tremors and infertility.

In the year following the switchover of Flint to water from the polluted Flint River, which caused leaching from the city’s antiquated lead pipe system, five percent of the children who had their blood tested showed lead levels in excess of five micrograms per deciliter. This is the threshold requiring immediate public health intervention, according to the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which acknowledges that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

Reuters used data collected by the CDC based on neighborhood-level blood testing results for 34 states and the District of Columbia. As devastating as the results are, they do not provide a full picture. The CDC funds 35 state and local health departments for lead surveillance. Reporting is voluntary in the remaining states, many of which do not have staff to collect data. Despite the well-known public health hazard, the US government does not require reporting and does not oversee the systematic collection and analysis of data on lead poisoning.

Dr. Kim Cecil of the Cincinnati Lead Study shows how the brain isdamaged by lead poisoning

Reuters says this is the first look at data broken down by census tracts, which are small county subdivisions averaging 4,000 citizens, or by zip codes, with average populations of 7,500. In December, Reuters noted that far from being the exception, Flint did not even rank among the most toxic cities in America. It pointed to Warren, Pennsylvania, a town on the Allegheny River, where 36 percent of the children tested had high lead levels, to a zip code on Goat Island, Texas, where a quarter of tests showed poisoning.

The newest map includes additional data collected this year by Reuters from Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, North Carolina, New York City and Washington, D.C. The newly identified areas with high levels of child lead poisoning include a historic district in Savannah, Georgia, areas in Rutland, Vermont near a popular skiing area, and a largely Hasidic Jewish area in Brooklyn, New York.

Like Flint, which has acres of land polluted by General Motors and other industrial firms, impoverished homes with peeling paint, and underground lead water mains and service lines, the areas throughout the US with the worst lead poisoning are invariably working class and poor.

There has been a sharp decline in poisoning since lead was removed from paint in 1976 and gasoline in 1995, the latter after more than a decade of resistance by the oil industry. The elimination of lead poisoning, however, is not possible due to lead pipes, residual lead paint in poor urban and rural areas, and former or current industrial sites polluted with lead.

T
he Flint River

“The dramatic decline in blood lead over the last several decades in the US is a public health triumph, resulting from control of lead in gasoline, paint, food, water, soil, consumer products and other sources,” said Marc Edwards, a professor of environmental and water resources engineering at Virginia Tech University, who was instrumental in exposing the lies of state and local officials who claimed that Flint’s water was safe.

He continued: “Before the increased use of lead in paint and gasoline, lead in water was once the dominant source of human lead exposure in the United States, and it was generally acknowledged to cause widespread lead poisoning, fatalities and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Flint is yet another reminder that we must remain vigilant to harm caused by all lead sources, especially lead pipes, which are out of sight and out of mind. It is also the only government-owned source of lead, which directly affects potable water, a product intended for human consumption. Flint is just the most recent example of how this inherent conflict has harmed people.”

The poisoning of Flint was brought into the national and international spotlight only due to the courageous efforts of the city’s working class residents and science professionals like Edwards and pediatrician and public health advocate Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. She was denounced by Governor Rick Snyder’s office for “slicing and dicing” the results of blood samples.

Flint became a symbol of everything that was wrong in America: corporate and political criminality and the indifference of both the Democrats and Republicans to the plight of working people. The media, celebrities and politicians from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders poured into the town and legal proceedings were initiated against several lesser figures involved in the crime and cover-up. More than three years since the switch to the Flint River, however, nothing has been done to make the residents whole.

The new report from Reuters has been largely ignored by the rest of the corporate-controlled media, which originally presented the Flint crisis as an anomaly, until it was unable to deny the massive and nationwide scale of the problem. Far from committing the necessary resources, including an estimated $500 billion to $1 trillion to replace the nation’s lead pipes, the Obama and Trump administrations have failed to provide any significant funding to address this public health care threat, even as they have squandered trillions on bank bailouts, military spending and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Trump’s 2018 budget request includes a $1.2 billion, or 17 percent, cut to the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/16/lead-n16.html

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Theater professionals address the Flint water disaster

Public Enemy: Flint, an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play: A remarkable artistic event

By Joanne Laurier
15 June 2017

Written, directed and produced by Purni Morell, based on An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen

A remarkable cultural event took place last week in the devastated city of Flint, Michigan, whose 100,000 inhabitants have been systematically poisoned with dangerous amounts of lead and other deadly contaminants.

Actors from across the US, assisted by a British writer-director, performed Public Enemy: Flint, an adaptation of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play, An Enemy of the People, on June 8, 9, and 10 in the gymnasium of a former school.

Ibsen’s famed work concerns a doctor, Thomas Stockmann, who tries to warn the local authorities—including his brother, the mayor—about water contamination problems and is persecuted for his discoveries. Parallels to the present catastrophe in Flint are striking, and hundreds of residents from the city and surrounding area responded enthusiastically to the performances.

Purni Morell

British theater directors Purni Morell and Christian Roe learned about the Flint water crisis in January 2016, while touring the US. In an interview, Morell explained to a reporter: “It’s not about doing a play about a water crisis in a city experiencing a water crisis—it’s about the underlying issues, like what made the water crisis possible in the first place. In the play, as in Flint, the water is a symptom of a bigger problem, and I think that needs to be investigated because it affects all of us, not just the city of Flint.”

Morell’s version follows the general outline of Ibsen’s play. Dr. Heather Stockman has ascertained through laboratory tests that the water in the town’s economic “salvation,” its Wellness Resort, owned by Mineralcorp, is contaminated with lethal chemicals and carcinogens.

Stockman tells the newspaper editor Oscar Hofford: “I mean contaminated, Hofford. Polluted. Impure. Mercury, in high proportions, chloroform off the scale—that means legionella; copper levels way too high…I’m saying the Wellness Resort is a danger to public health. Anyone who uses the water is endangering himself.” It turns out, she explains, that an industrial plant upriver is “seeping chemicals into the groundwater. And that groundwater is the same groundwater that feeds the pipes into the pump room.”

Hofford, at this point supportive of Stockman’s exposé, thinks the contamination speaks to broader issues: “What if the water isn’t the problem, but only a symptom of the problem?… I think this is the perfect opportunity to talk about what’s really going on. The vested interests, the—well, maybe not corruption exactly, but the system, Heather—the system that means these people can do whatever they like without any comeback.”

Audience members in Flint

The newspaper’s publisher, Stephanie Anderson (Ibsen’s Aslaksen), representing the city’s small business concerns, makes an appearance. The embodiment of petty bourgeois philistinism, Anderson’s watchword is “moderation” in all things. As a founding member of the Homeowners’ Association and the Temperance Club, she informs Stockman that the “resort is the backbone of our enterprise…Especially for the property owners.”

Anderson too is initially supportive of Stockman’s revelations, even suggesting that the doctor be recognized for her “contribution to the city’s welfare.”

Everything changes when Stockman’s brother Peter, the mayor, outraged by word of the doctor’s findings, bursts in and demands that the truth be suppressed to protect Mineralcorp’s interests. He claims that re-laying the pipes, to avoid the contaminated water, will cost $7 million and mean closing the resort for at least two years. “Do you have any idea, any idea at all, what this means? … This would finish us. We close the resort, everyone else capitalises on our idea, and in three years’ time, when, if, we reopen it again, this city will face ruin. And it’ll be your fault.”

In Ibsen’s play, Act IV is entirely taken up by a public meeting at which Stockmann denounces town officials and imparts “a discovery of a far wider scope than the trifling matter that our water supply is poisoned … the discovery that all the sources of our moral life are poisoned and that the whole fabric of our civic community is founded on the pestiferous soil of falsehood.” He passes on from that insight to a misguided conception, the defense of “isolated, intellectually superior personalities” and the notion that the “majority never has right on its side.”

In the Morell-Flint adaptation, the director and actors have decided to turn over this portion of the play to a genuine public meeting.

Tyee Tilghman (Horster)

Tyee Tilghman, the actor playing Jim Horster, a soldier who faces deployment to Mosul in Iraq, addresses the audience directly: “What we’re going to do now is change things up a little bit because in the next scene in the play, there’s a town meeting and what normally happens in it is that Stockman tells the people in the town about the water problem, and they call him an enemy of the people because they don’t want to hear about it—but we thought it would be more interesting to do this a different way, since we’re here and you’re here, and so we thought we’d set up a little town hall of our own.”

This prompted audience members of all ages, children, teenagers and adults, to discuss their appalling and inhuman conditions. One man described having to lug endless cases of water up flights of stairs. Some audience members reported owning houses that were literally crumbling. Others bitterly denounced the bullying of the authorities, who threaten to take their homes and even their children. Still others recounted how they had received water bills higher than their mortgages, and how the homes of protesters had been broken into by police who confiscated computers. Angry residents explained how they contracted health problems and even debilitating diseases from the poisoned water.

All of this was reinforced by the fact that signs in the restrooms alerted users not to wash their hands with water from the taps! Cases of canned water were stacked against the wall.

Sign in the restroom warns against using tap water to wash hands

When Public Enemy: Flint resumes, Dr. Stockman and her daughter, Petra, a teacher, both lose their jobs. Moreover, Stockman’s mother-in-law, Eleanor, the owner of the polluting plant, threatens the doctor and her daughter with financial disenfranchisement and destitution. Stockman lashes back at “hypocrites” like Anderson, with her “cheap, small-town flimflam,” and the townspeople themselves.

Petra has the final word: “This town is fine—it’s no better or worse than anywhere else. OK, there are things you can’t fix—you can’t fix that people with money can buy their way out of problems, and you can’t fix that some people care more about their position than what’s right—maybe you can’t even fix the water.

“I think you’re wrong about people, Mom. You said people get the government they deserve but I think people get the government government can get away with. And the government gets away with a lot, not because people are poor or because people are stupid—but because for years, for decades, we’ve eroded our schools, we’ve failed to educate our youth, we’ve failed to invest in ourselves as people.”

And she mentions that like her counterpart in Ibsen’s play, a work now 130 years old, she will start a school.

Public Enemy: Flint is a highly unusual confluence of a classic play, committed, talented actors and a motivated and engaged audience. It is proof, if proof be needed, that art is not something detached from social life. Important, enduring art by definition is work that does not remain indifferent to the crises and convulsions of its time. From that point of view, this modest three-day presentation, staged in a gym, was one of the most significant theatrical efforts in the US in recent years. The participants in the production, which was serious and thoroughly professional throughout, deserve the strongest congratulations and thanks.

The central role of Dr. Stockman was exceptionally performed by Los Angeles-based actress Michole Briana White. She was supported by an outstanding cast that included Charles Shaw Robinson from Berkeley, California as Peter Stockman, Madelyn Porter from Detroit as Stephanie Anderson, Briana Carlson Goodman from New York as Petra, Tilghman from Los Angeles as Horster, Meg Thalken from Chicago as Eleanor and Chris Young from Flint as Billing.

Public Enemy: Flint was the creation of British theater company fieldwork, in collaboration with Detroit Public Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, the Goodman Theatre (Chicago), Chautauqua Theater Company (New York), Berkeley Repertory Theater, People’s Light (Philadelphia), UM-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance, M.A.D.E. Institute, & the New McCree Theater, Flint.

Morell’s adaptation honored Ibsen’s play while eliminating its more elitist tendencies. The latter had a great deal to do with the situation in Norway in the 1880s, where, as Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov once explained, “a working class, in the present sense of the term, had not yet developed … and was, therefore, nowhere evident in public life.”

Plekhanov pays strong tribute to Ibsen’s social insight and instincts, in particular the dramatist’s abhorrence of the crude, grasping petty bourgeoisie. The Norwegian writer, observes Plekhanov, despises the “moral rottenness and hypocrisy of small town society and politics” and “the boundless tyranny of petty bourgeois public opinion.” He notes that “Ibsen hates opportunism with all his soul; he describes it brilliantly in his plays. Recall the printer Aslaksen [Anderson, in Morell’s play], with his incessant preaching of ‘moderation,’ which, in his own words, ‘is the greatest virtue in a citizen—at least, I think so.’ Aslaksen is the epitome of the petty bourgeois politician.”

The play’s passion and outrage continue to speak to present-day audiences, not least of all in Flint, whose working-class residents are the victims of corporate predation and government indifference or worse. In fact, when the mayor in Public Enemy: Flint proclaims that “the public doesn’t need new ideas; what the public needs is good, strong, time-tested method, not hare-brained theories that turn the world upside down,” one is tempted to shout out that the world, above all, needs to be turned upside down.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/15/ibse-j15.html

Obama to Flint: Shut up and drink the water

By Shannon Jones
5 May 2016

President Barack Obama’s remarks Wednesday in Flint, Michigan before an audience of about 1,000 people at Northwestern High School displayed the arrogance and contempt of his administration and the corporate elite toward working people suffering from the devastating effects of lead in their drinking water.

Flanked by a host of state and federal officials who oversaw the disaster in Flint, including Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Democratic Congressmen and Senators, the president offered a series of false promises and platitudes. He blandly noted certain symptoms of the social crisis in America—crumbling roads and bridges, aging water pipelines, failing public schools—without acknowledging the role of his administration in presiding over this disaster.

Pallets of bottled water standing in a lot across the street from the venue of Obama’s speech

In his trademark folksy and patronizing manner, Obama urged the people of Flint to resume drinking the city’s water, despite test results showing the persistence of dangerous amounts of lead. At the same time, he dismissed the serious short and long-term effects of the poisoning of Flint children by lead-tainted water. “The kids will be just fine,” he said.

To back up this assertion, Obama cited the spurious example of children accidentally chewing on lead flakes from paint. He noted that perhaps he had ingested lead as a child.

Obama also urged Flint residents to begin drinking the water again, which in many areas is brown and still contains high levels of lead. At one point in his remarks he asked for and drank a glass of filtered water, while proclaiming, “This is not a stunt.”

LeeAnne Walters, an activist whose actions played a pivotal role in exposing the lead poisoning of Flint’s water, told the WSWS, that she and her husband walked out of the event. “Obama’s speech was a complete atrocity. To sit there and tell a city of 100,000 that lead poisoning from drinking water compares to Obama eating paint chips as a kid is incredible. To compare drinking lead poisoned water to paint chips is like comparing apples to toxic waste. We were devastated. We were told our kids don’t matter—not just my kids, but all the children here. We’re talking about the long-term effects.

“He told us to drink the water. That means the programs for filters and bottled water will stop.”

Obama’s visit to Flint coincides with an explosive development of the class struggle in Michigan. It came in the wake of two days of angry protests by teachers in nearby Detroit, Michigan over intolerable conditions in the classrooms and attempts by authorities to rob them of pay. It also coincided with the start of mass water shutoffs in Detroit for households with delinquent bills.

Flint residents crowd the street waiting for the Obama motorcade

Hundreds of people lined up along the route of Obama’s motorcade in Flint, some holding up signs calling for federal help for the city. Many expressed frustration and anger that work on repairing Flint’s water system has barely begun.

A Flint resident holds a sign along the route of the motorcade

Estimates of the cost of repairing Flint’s antiquated piping run as high as $1.5 billion. Democrats in Congress have advanced penny-pinching proposals amounting to only a few hundred million at most. Obama himself in his remarks made only vague promises of fixing Flint’s pipes, specifying no concrete dollar figure. Instead he touted the work of non-profits, charities and philanthropists in providing assistance to Flint residents. He even cited approvingly the $2,500 raised by a group of prisoners in Indiana.

A central aim of Obama’s remarks was to perpetuate the cover-up of the criminal responsibility of government officials at all levels for the disaster. He made a point at the beginning of the speech of noting the presence of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and chastising those who responded by booing. “We’re doing business here,” Obama said.

Obama blamed the crisis on “poor decisions,” claiming that no one “consciously wanted to hurt the people of Flint.” Instead, officials simply “weren’t attentive to potential problems” when acting under budgetary pressures. “This is not to sort out every screw-up that resulted in contaminated water.”

In fact, officials did not merely make “poor decisions,” they actively conspired to ensure that the water source was switched to the Flint River despite ample warnings of the consequences. Documents show that state environmental officials altered reports in order to minimize the dangers of lead in Flint’s drinking water. When residents began to complain of the contaminated water, local, state and federal officials worked to discredit these complaints and cover-up their responsibility.

Obama wants to avoid an analysis of the “screw-ups” because his administration is itself culpable. The federal Environmental Protection Agency moved to isolate and silence Miguel Del Toral, an EPA officials who warned of elevated lead levels and said that the city was not using corrosion control. The agency regularly allows cities throughout the country to violate the government’s own standards.

Both Democratic and Republican officials were involved in the decision to shift Flint’s water supply to the polluted Flint River. This included former Democratic State Treasurer Andy Dillon who signed off on the decision to shift the Flint water supply.

The crisis in Flint is part of a generalized crisis produced by decades of deindustrialization, budget cuts, the elimination of regulations on corporations and growing social inequality. Basic social services are being starved for funds while the Obama administration lavishes countless billions on the Pentagon war machine and handouts to America’s wealthy elite.

Obama’s remarks on Wednesday were a declaration to the people of Flint and throughout the country that nothing will change, no serious assistance will be provided and that workers should simply stop complaining and be quiet.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/05/05/flin-m05.html

The crimes behind the US lead water crisis

grossflintwater

19 March 2016

On Tuesday, Marc Edwards, a professor of civil engineering at Virginia Tech University and the leading expert on lead contamination in drinking water, testified before the US Congress on the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Dr. Edwards had likely read an advance copy of a report in this week’s edition of USA Today, which quoted him extensively, reporting that lead had been found in the drinking water of hundreds of schools and child care centers throughout the country. The report suggested, based on an independent analysis of government data, that as many as one-fifth of water systems in the US have dangerous levels of lead contamination.

Speaking in a restrained tone before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, many of whose members were absent, Edwards described what amounts to a conspiracy by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under two presidential administrations, Republican and Democratic, to allow states and municipalities to falsify water quality testing results.

EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman, Edwards said, “aided, abetted and emboldened the unethical behavior of civil servants at the State of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.” Referring to a case of lead contamination ten years ago in the drinking water of the nation’s capital, Washington DC, Edwards charged that the EPA “wrote falsified scientific reports and created a climate in which anything goes across the United States, anything at all to cover up the health harm from leaded drinking water.”

He expressed perplexity at the “willful blindness” of government officials, who were “unremorseful” and “completely unrepentant.”

Edwards’ comments and the report in USA Today are the latest in a series of revelations on the elevated lead levels present throughout the country’s water systems. Flint is not unique. Reports have pointed to lead levels higher than Flint’s in Cleveland, Ohio, in Jackson, Mississippi and in cities throughout Pennsylvania.

Edwards could not hide his exasperation at one basic reality: “If a landlord were to engage in similar practices, and through their negligence, to allow even a single child to be exposed to lead paint risk, the EPA would argue for prosecution and incarceration. Yet, the EPA has allowed entire cities to be unnecessarily exposed to elevated lead in their drinking water.”

Edwards’ comments raise a critical point: Why is no one being prosecuted for the actions that have created this situation? While various Democratic Party officials have, in an effort at damage control and blame shifting, suggested that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder should resign, no one is calling for his arrest and indictment.

In testimony in the same room two days later, Snyder, whose administration covered up the poisoning of residents for at least a year, declared, “Local, state and federal officials—we all failed the families of Flint.”

No, these officials did not “fail” Flint residents, as if it were a matter of miscalculations or missteps. Rather, they knowingly made decisions that have led to permanent disabilities and impairments of untold thousands of children and have been linked to at least ten deaths from an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease, then hid and doctored evidence showing that the city’s water was not safe to drink.

At the federal level, the EPA under the Bush and Obama administrations has allowed cities throughout the country to willfully ignore the government’s own standards. The consequences of these actions are not yet known. How many people have suffered needlessly from permanent brain damage or other effects of high lead levels? How many people have died?

The United States spends over a trillion dollars a year on its military, which President Obama bragged at this year’s State of the Union address was bigger than that of the next 10 countries combined. It is home to as many billionaires as the next five countries combined. Even as a radical expansion of the military is underway, public capital investment in transportation and water infrastructure has been slashed by 23 percent since 2003. The cuts to education, health care and other social spending are comparable.

The crisis in Flint follows a pattern in which preventable catastrophes are inflicted on the population, and no one is held responsible. A hurricane can largely destroy one of the most important cities in the country, New Orleans, due to the underfunding of infrastructure, leading to more than a thousand deaths, and no one goes to jail.

The banks and investors produce a financial disaster and a global economic crisis, and no one is punished. Revelations of the manipulation of exchange rates and actions to defraud people of their homes have produced at most wrist-slap penalties. The US government has launched wars based on lies, the CIA has tortured prisoners, then hacked government computers to cover it up, and again, no one is prosecuted, let alone convicted.

The actions of government officials are dictated by the character of the social system that they defend, one that is based on the subordination of everything to the interests of the financial and corporate elite. That the United States is run in the interests of a criminal cabal has received yet another confirmation in the catastrophe in Flint and what it has exposed about the state of infrastructure in the country as a whole.

Andre Damon

 

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/03/19/pers-m19.html

“Left” demagogy and nationalism dominate Democratic debate in Flint

Sanders pushes trade war policies

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By Barry Grey
8 March 2016

In Sunday night’s debate between Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, held in Flint, Michigan, the crisis resulting from the lead poisoning of the city’s water supply served as the occasion on the part of both candidates for “left” posturing devoid of any substantive proposals.

Sanders sought throughout to use the Flint crisis as a springboard for pushing economic nationalist, trade war policies, attacking Clinton for having backed trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the normalization of trade relations with China and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In the run-up to Tuesday’s primary election in Michigan, Sanders has intensified his nationalist rhetoric, seeking to channel the anger and frustration of autoworkers over mass layoffs, plant closures and cuts in wages and benefits into hostility toward their coworkers abroad, particularly in Mexico and China.

Flint, a city of 100,000 people, has been devastated by General Motors’ closure of virtually all of its plants in what was for decades the center of its industrial empire. Over the past 20 years, the city has lost 75 percent of its manufacturing jobs. It has gone from 80,000 GM workers to fewer than 5,000 today.

The auto giant bankrupted the city, with the collaboration of both Democratic and Republican administrations and the United Auto Workers union. The decision of state and local officials to switch the water supply to the polluted Flint River in 2014, and the subsequent cover-up of toxic levels of lead and other chemicals by officials from the Obama administration on down, was but the latest social crime inflicted on Flint’s mostly working-class inhabitants.

In his promotion of protectionism, Sanders, who calls himself a “democratic socialist,” actually complements the overtly fascistic demagogy of Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who has campaigned in the Detroit area in advance of the Republican primary and sought to exploit the social crisis facing Michigan workers by means of racist attacks on foreign workers and immigrants.

While nominally representing different extremes of the bourgeois political spectrum, both Sanders and Trump lay the blame for factory closures and unemployment not on capitalism, but rather on unfair trade deals. This nationalist opposition to pro-corporate trade deals reflects the interests of sections of the ruling class. It echoes the longstanding chauvinist policies of the United Auto Workers and the trade unions in general, which have served to block a united struggle by American and international workers against the transnational corporations. The unions’ economic nationalism has facilitated endless layoffs, wage cuts and speedup carried out in the name of upholding the “competitiveness” of US-based companies against their foreign rivals.

In Sunday’s debate, Clinton sought to counter Sanders’ charges on trade by accusing the Vermont senator of opposing the Obama administration’s bailout of Chrysler and General Motors by voting against the October 2008 bill sanctioning the $700 billion taxpayer rescue of the banks. Some $85 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bank bailout fund was used to finance Obama’s forced bankruptcy and restructuring of the US auto industry.

Clinton presented the auto restructuring as an immense boon to autoworkers, remaining silent on the fact that it was carried out on the backs of the workers, who suffered a 50 percent wage cut for all new-hires as part of a two-tier wage system, along with drastic cuts in benefits for both retirees and current workers, and thousands of additional layoffs.

Referring to record profits recorded by the Big Three US automakers in 2015—based on a 30 percent reduction in labor costs—Clinton boasted, “We had the best year that the auto industry has had in a long time.”

While Sanders voted against the TARP bill, he actually supported the auto bailout, a fact he emphasized at a town hall event held Monday night in Detroit.

In the back-and-forth between the two candidates over their respective records on auto, Sanders and Clinton were in part competing to win the endorsement of the UAW, which has yet to announce its choice for the November election.

At one point, in fending off Sanders’ attacks on her trade policies, Clinton, perhaps unwittingly, revealed an essential function of the State Department, which she headed as secretary of state in the first years of the Obama administration. “I did go many places around the world to sell American products,” she declared, “because the alternatives were usually European, Asian, primarily Chinese products.” In other words, she hustled to secure markets and profits for the American corporate elite.

The first half-hour of the two-hour event was devoted to the Flint water crisis, with the candidates taking questions from both the CNN moderators and members of the audience. The two sought to outdo one another in expressing shock and anger over the poisoning of Flint residents, but neither offered any specific proposals or dollar amounts to be spent removing the lead pipes, making the water system safe and caring for the thousands of children physically harmed for life by exposure to the toxic substance.

Both Clinton and Sanders quickly called for the resignation of Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican. While this demand is entirely in order, for the Democratic candidates it serves as part of an attempt to lay all of the blame on the Republican Party and conceal the criminal role of Democratic officials at the local, state and federal level.

When asked by one of the moderators whether they thought officials responsible for the lead poisoning and cover-up should be jailed, both candidates dodged the question, saying that would be up to investigators and the courts.

Asked by a Flint resident for specific proposals to solve the crisis, Clinton said she supported the efforts of the city’s Democratic mayor and Democratic representatives in Congress. They, however, are proposing token measures that will hardly begin to address the scale of the crisis.

Congressional Democrats have proposed allocating $600 million for Flint, while the cost to remove and replace the lead pipes has been estimated at more than $1 billion. Fitch, the credit rating agency, recently estimated that it would cost $300 billion to replace lead water pipes nationally.

Sanders, for his part, quickly pivoted from the Flint crisis to his trade war agenda. In reply to a question from CNN moderator Anderson Cooper on whether Flint residents could trust “big government” solutions to the crisis, Sanders replied, “I suppose they can trust the corporations who have destroyed Flint by a disastrous trade policy which has allowed them to shut down plants in Flint and move to China or Mexico.”

He returned several times to the same theme, complaining at one point that “Secretary Clinton supported virtually every one of the disastrous trade agreements written by corporate America.” He added, “Those trade policies have resulted in the shrinking of the American middle class.”

The above quote points to one significant feature of Sanders’ performance in the debate—the virtual elimination of any reference to the “working class” in favor of that most vacuous of political abstractions in the vocabulary of American bourgeois politics: the “American middle class.” Sanders’ increasing adherence to the unwritten law of official politics in the US banning the term “working class” is a sure sign of his accelerating turn to the right.

At one point he answered Clinton’s disparagement of him as a “one-note” candidate by declaring, “My one issue is to rebuild a disappearing middle class. That’s my one issue.”

Most revealing of the fraud of Sanders’ “socialism” was his omission of any call for the nationalization of basic utilities such as water and sewerage. If ever there has been a demonstration of the incompatibility of social needs with corporate control over the provision of basic necessities—whether through direct ownership or via the subordination of nominally public entities to the banks—it is in the Flint crisis.

Historically in the US, the demand for public ownership and democratic control of the utilities—electricity, water, sewerage, the railroads—was a standard plank in the platforms of socialist and progressive parties in the early part of the 20th century, and was even supported by more left sections of the Democratic Party. Sanders, a conventional bourgeois politician despite his talk of “political revolution,” opposes nationalization, in line with his defense of capitalist private ownership of the banks and corporations.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/03/08/deba-m08.html

On eve of first presidential contest: US two-party system in crisis

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1 February 2016

The Democratic and Republican caucuses in Iowa tonight mark the first actual contest of the 2016 US presidential election campaign, but they will involve only a tiny fraction of the population of one of the smaller American states. The US electoral system is the least democratic and the most subject to manipulation of any major capitalist country purporting to be a democracy. Just two parties, both of them right-wing and controlled by corporate interests, have an effective monopoly.

There is an acute and intensifying contradiction between the vast and diverse population of the United States, a country of 330 million people, and a political structure controlled by the top one-tenth of one percent.

The two-party system, controlled by this elite, is confronted with an unprecedented crisis of political legitimacy. Both the Democratic and Republican parties – political institutions that are more than 160 years old – are losing their hold on a population that is deeply and profoundly alienated from the political establishment.

The media has been taken by surprise by the emergence of candidates in both political parties whose sudden rise and popularity was unforeseen: Donald Trump on the Republican side and Senator Bernie Sanders on the Democratic.

At the start of the campaign, the candidacy of Trump, the thuggish real-estate mogul and reality-television celebrity, was viewed as a entertaining sideshow that would soon lose its audience. As for Sanders, the media largely ignored the announcement of his candidacy, assuming that the campaign of a septuagenarian who described himself as a democratic socialist would attract only negligible support.

Contrary to all expectations, both Trump and Sanders have acquired mass support and emerged as the dominant figures in the primary process. There is a growing realization within the political establishment that the Trump campaign is a deadly serious matter, and that Trump may emerge as the nominee of the Republican Party. And while the corporate-financial interests that control the Democratic Party still expect the badly-battered Clinton to win the nomination, the Sanders candidacy is seen as a harbinger of a continuing and uncontrollable left-wing political movement.

What accounts for this unfolding crisis of the two-party system? Like all significant political developments, it has deep political and social roots. The contradictions that are now blowing the two-party system apart — developing out of the protracted decline of US capitalism — have been accumulating for decades. But the massive economic collapse of 2008, on the very eve of the election of Barack Obama, marked a qualitative turning point in the crisis of American society.

The disastrous impact of the economic crisis upon the lives of tens of millions of people is reflected in the growing rejection of a political system that is seen to be controlled by the elite which first caused and then profited off the 2008 collapse.

On the extreme right, Trump’s barrage of insults against his Republican opponents and the media resonates with a section of the electorate that feels it has been betrayed and bamboozled. Moreover, his candidacy is the end-product of a degraded political environment that has relentlessly promoted and legitimized the sort of reactionary backwardness that Trump skillfully exploits.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the growth of working class militancy and anti-capitalist sentiment, expressed in strikes and contract rejections by autoworkers, steelworkers and teachers, as well as in opposition to police killings and outrage over lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, demonstrates that the working class is moving to the left, towards an open struggle against corporate America.

This is the primary factor behind the crisis of the two-party system. The leftward movement among broad masses of the population has found expression in the growth of support for Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a “democratic socialist” and has placed economic inequality and Wall Street criminality at the center of his campaign. Sanders has moved into a virtual tie with Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in pre-caucus polls in Iowa, as well as opening a significant lead in polls in New Hampshire, where the next primary contest takes place on February 9.

The Des Moines Register poll published Saturday, the last before the Iowa caucuses, found that Sanders had opened up a lead of more than 30 points over Clinton among potential voters under the age of 35. The poll found that 68 percent of likely Democratic voters thought a socialist president was a good idea, a remarkable figure in a country where socialism has been subjected to endless vilification by the media and the political elites.

The WSWS has explained that Sanders is not a socialist, but rather a moderate liberal whose views would have been considered middle-of-the-road in the Democratic Party of the 1960s. While criticizing the stranglehold of the billionaires over the US political system, Sanders defends the foreign policy of American imperialism: i.e., the use of military force, assassination, espionage and political subversion to defend the interests of these same billionaires around the world.

The main function of the Sanders campaign is to appeal to the increasingly radical sentiments among youth and working people in order to divert them back into the political confines of the Democratic Party. Despite this political service, however, there is growing nervousness in the Democratic Party establishment, and more widely in ruling circles, that Sanders’ attacks on Wall Street could encourage a movement going well beyond the intentions of the senator from Vermont.

This explains the concerted attack on Sanders this weekend by the principal organ of the Democratic Party, the New York Times. The Times published a lead editorial Sunday endorsing Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, while dismissing Sanders as a candidate who has raised useful ideas but could not possibly put them into practice. It singles out Clinton’s role as a paragon of identity politics—she would be the first female president and an advocate of black women, gays, etc.

More extensively elaborated is the argument of Times columnist Paul Krugman in a commentary headlined, “Plutocrats and Prejudice.” He claims that Sanders and Clinton represent competing diagnoses of what is wrong with America, with Sanders focusing on economic inequality and “the corrupting influence of big money,” while Clinton (and Krugman himself) maintain that “money is the root of some evil, maybe a lot of evil, but it isn’t the whole story. Instead, racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice are powerful forces in their own right.”

The conclusion is that issues of race and gender are just as important, or even more important, than issues of class. As a result of the prevalence of racism and sexism among white workers, Krugman argues, “visions of radical change are naïve” and “political revolution from the left is off the table.”

This analysis of American society is a political libel against the working class. Krugman cites no evidence of the supposed dominance of racism in a country that elected an African-American president in 2008. On the contrary, issues of race and gender are being deliberately injected into the political arena in order to divide the working class and head off the growth of class consciousness.

Much of the press coverage of the Iowa caucuses and the broader election campaign concedes that the overwhelming sentiment among millions of people is anger at the existing political system and both parties. But there is no explanation of why there is so much anger, when, according to the media, the US economy is in the sixth year of recovery.

The official media are either oblivious to the reality of declining living standards and deteriorating social conditions or are deliberately covering it up. Their America is the rising stock exchange—at least until January—and the increasing wealth of the super-rich and a privileged upper-middle-class layer.

America is a deeply class-polarized society, with a vast and unbridgeable gulf between the wealthy and the rest of the population. It is this social reality that underlies the mounting crisis of both the Democratic and Republican parties. As the class issues come to the fore, shaking the sclerotic and unrepresentative political system, there will undoubtedly be more political shocks and surprises in the course of the 2016 election campaign.

Patrick Martin

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/01/pers-f01.html

War and the destruction of social infrastructure in America

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28 January 2016

As the water crisis in Flint, Michigan continues to occupy national headlines in the United States, scientists and environmental officials have revealed a dirty secret of American life: the poisoning of drinking water with toxic chemicals is not unique to Flint, Michigan, but takes place all over the country.

Counties in Louisiana and Texas, as well as the cities of Baltimore, Maryland; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Washington D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts all reported that substantial numbers of children have been exposed to elevated lead levels, largely through municipal drinking water.

This week, the head environmental regulator in the state of Ohio called national water regulations “broken,” saying that they dramatically understate the true scale of lead poisoning in American cities. As Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards put it, “Because of the smoke-and-mirrors testing, Flint is meeting the standard even as national guardsmen walk the street.”

Many water pipes in the United States are over 100 years old, and a large number of cities still have 100 percent lead plumbing.

The reasons are not hard to find. According to the Congressional Budget Office, public capital investment in transportation and water infrastructure, already underfunded for decades, has been slashed by 23 percent since its peak in 2003.

The year 2003 is significant as it coincides with the beginning of the illegal invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration. The “war on terror” has entailed a vast expansion of the military at the same time that spending on anything not directly related to the accumulation of wealth by the financial aristocracy has suffered from continual cutbacks.

The response of the political establishment to the poisoning of tens of thousands of people in Flint and potentially millions more throughout the United States has been characterized by indifference. The politicians responsible, from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to local Democratic Party officials and the Obama administration, pull long faces, pretend to take responsibility or seek to shift blame, while doing nothing to address the issue.

Nowhere is there a single politician who has responded to the disaster by demanding what is clearly required: the immediate allocation of a relatively modest sum, $273 billion according to the Environmental Protection Agency, to replace all of the municipal lead pipes in the US. This is equivalent to the annual spending on the US Army, just one of the four branches of the US military. There is simply “no money” for such a proposal to be considered, much less approved.

While politicians pore over any allocation of resources for social spending with a fine tooth comb, almost unimaginable sums are made available to the military without a second thought. How many know that the US military is shelling out over a trillion dollars to defense contractor Lockheed Martin to fund its beleaguered F-35 program? Or that it is spending another trillion dollars to “modernize” its nuclear arsenal by making atomic bombs smaller and more maneuverable?

The US spends more on its military, as Obama boasted in his most recent State of the Union address, than the next eight countries combined. Yet more is continuously demanded.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently evaluated the Defense Department’s so-called pivot to Asia, in which military hardware has been either procured or restationed in the Western Pacific to counter the economic and military rise of China. Strikingly, the CSIS report gave the US military a failing grade. It called for the expansion and development of every aspect of US military capacity in the Pacific if it was to maintain superiority in the event of a shooting war with China.

Since the early 1990s, the US military has operated on the basis of a strategic doctrine that it will allow the existence of no other power that can challenge its military authority on even a regional level. That means that the US must be able to field such overwhelming military force that it would be able to defeat another major power, such as China, in a conventional war far away from the borders of the US.

This is a recipe for the bleeding white of American society in an insane attempt to maintain its military dominance, which can only end in catastrophe for the population of the US and the entire world.

Of course, it would be simplistic to say that war is the only cause of America’s social problems. The most conspicuous element of life in the US continues to be the vast chasm between the rich and the poor. However, the rise of war and militarism are interrelated and have a common root.

In response to the the longterm decline in the global position of American capitalism, the American ruling class responded on the one hand by promoting a wave of financial speculation, mergers and acquisitions, wage cuts, and the transfer of social wealth from the great majority of the population to its own pockets. On the other hand, it has sought to use its predominant military power to counteract the consequences of its economic decline by force.

In the insane and socially destructive priorities of the American ruling class, one sees in concentrated form the inextricable connection between war and capitalism, and at the same time the inextricable connection between the fight for all the social rights of the working class and the struggle against imperialism.

Andre Damon

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/28/pers-j28.html