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

Life expectancy gap between US rich and poor widens

gap

By Jerry White
12 April 2016

A study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association(JAMA) provides more evidence that life expectancy in the United States is chiefly determined by economic class. Higher income is the most critical factor in longevity, the study found, with the gap between the richest one percent and poorest one percent of individuals averaging 14.6 years for men and 10.1 years for women.

The study was based on income data derived from 1.4 billion tax records between 1999 and 2014 of individuals aged 40 to 76, and death records obtained from the Social Security Administration. It found that men in the top one percent had an expected age of death of 87.3, compared to 72.7 years for the poorest one percent. The richest women on average lived 88.9 years, while the poorest lived only 78.8 years.

“Men in the bottom 1 percent of the income distribution at the age of 40 years in the United States,” the study noted,” have life expectancies similar to the mean life expectancy of 40-year-old men in Sudan and Pakistan.” US men in the top one percent of income distribution have “higher life expectancies than the mean life expectancy for men in all countries at age 40 years,” the study found.

Writing on the findings, which were obtained by a research team led by Stanford University economics professor Raj Chetty, the Stanford University News commented, “Being richer was associated with living longer at every level of the income distribution. And the gap between the richest 1 percent and the bottom 1 percent in the nation was vast.”

The study is only the latest report highlighting the pervasive impact of social inequality on every aspect of life in America. A study released late last year by two Princeton University economists showed that the mortality rate for white, middle-aged working-class Americans has risen sharply over the past fifteen years, largely due to a dramatic rise in the rate of deaths from suicide, drug abuse and alcoholism.

Another recent study showed that all net full-time job growth in the US between 2005 and 2015 was accounted for by “alternative work arrangements,” i.e., people working as independent contractors, temps, through contract firms or on-call.

These reports provide a glimpse of the grim reality of social life for broad masses of American workers and youth, a reality that is concealed by the media behind complacent and self-satisfied portrayals of an economy rebounding from the financial disaster of 2008. The political establishment is indifferent to the economic and social deprivation facing tens of millions of Americans. President Barack Obama summed up the combination of contemptuousness and cluelessness of the ruling elite when he hailed the jobs report for February with the boast, “America is pretty darn great right now.”

This social crisis is the source of the immense anger and hatred for the political establishment revealed in the 2016 election campaign. The worsening plight of workers—occurring side-by-side with record corporate profits and stock prices—underlies the convulsive character of the presidential contest.

The Republican front-runner, billionaire real estate speculator Donald Trump, has sought to tap into popular anger in order to divert it along the reactionary path of anti-immigrant chauvinism and militarism. But the broader phenomenon, reflected in the widespread support for self-described “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders, is the growth of anti-capitalist sentiment. The political radicalization of the working class is taking the initial form of backing for a candidate who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination by presenting himself as an opponent of social inequality and the “billionaire class.”

The Stanford study underscores that the essential division in the United States is not race, but class. In America, how long you live is determined above all by what social class you belong to.

Between 2001 and 2014, life expectancy in the United States increased by 2.34 years for men and 2.91 years for women in the top five percent of income distribution, but by only a negligible 0.32 years for men and 0.04 years for women in the bottom five percent. The increase in longevity for the richest Americans, the study noted, is equivalent to eliminating all cancer deaths in the US.

The advances in medical science and life-extending technology have largely bypassed large sections of the population. The disparity is worse in areas hit hardest by deindustrialization and rural poverty.

Of the states with the lowest life expectancy in the bottom income quartile (25 percent), eight form a geographic belt from Michigan to Kansas (Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas). Nevada, Indiana and Oklahoma had the lowest life expectancies (<77.9 years) when men and women in the bottom income quartile were averaged.

When broken down further into so-called commuting zones—urban areas and surrounding counties that share common economic characteristics—five of the zones with the lowest life expectancies were clustered in the industrial Midwest states. Among the cities where the poorest sections of the population live the shortest lives were: Louisville, Kentucky (77.9); Toledo and Cincinnati, Ohio (77.9); Detroit, Michigan (77.7); Indianapolis, Indiana (77.6), Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (77.6), and Las Vegas, Nevada (77.6).

The worst in the nation is the economically depressed steel town of Gary, Indiana, where the mean life expectancy for both sexes is 77.4 years, and for men, 74.2 years. The gap in life expectancies between the richest and the poorest quintiles is 7.2 years in Gary, where more than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty. The gap in life expectancies is far higher, however, in several other cities, including Madison, Wisconsin (8.1 years), Detroit (8.2 years), Salt Lake City, Utah (8.3 years), and Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio (8.4 years).

Between 2001 and 2014, average life expectancy in the bottom income quintile fell in several commuting zones. In Florida, this included Cape Coral, Miami, Tampa and Pensacola. Other areas seeing a decline were Albuquerque, New Mexico; Tucson, Arizona; Des Moines, Iowa; Bakersfield, California; and Knoxville, Tennessee.

While the Stanford study does not point to the contributing factors in the growing disparity in life expectancy, there is little question that they include access to good nutrition, decent housing, a healthy environment and lower levels of stress. A study last year by researchers from Harvard Business School and Stanford University found that stressful workplaces, caused by the probability of being laid off, long working hours, work-family conflicts and the lack of employer-paid health care, contributed to lower life expectancy. Researchers concluded that 10–38 percent of the difference in life expectancy across demographic groups can be attributed to disparate job conditions.

The American Psychological Association’s annual stress report issued last month found that more than one-quarter of adults reported feeling stressed about money most or all of the time. Nearly one-third (32 percent) said their finances or lack of money prevented them from having a healthy lifestyle, and one in five said they had either considered skipping or had skipped going to the doctor in the past year when they needed care because of financial concerns.

 

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/04/12/life-a12.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

It should be over for Hillary

Party elites and MSNBC can’t prop her up after Bernie’s Michigan miracle

Trade, wages and the corrupt political class are the new key issues. Bernie and Trump finished off the party elites

It should be over for Hillary: Party elites and MSNBC can't prop her up after Bernie's Michigan miracle
Hillary Clinton (Credit: Reuters/Randall Hill)

You wouldn’t know it from watching TV last night or reading the national papers this morning but Bernie Sanders’ Michigan win ranks among the greatest upsets in presidential primary history.

Should he win the nomination it will be go down as the biggest upset of any kind in American political history.

If he wins the election it will change the fundamental direction of the nation and the world.

Some key lessons, obvious to everyone but the media:

1. The old politics is over. The fault lines of the new politics are not cultural issues like guns, abortion and same-sex marriage that divide the Democratic and Republican bases. They are issues of political reform and economic justice that divide both party’s elites from both parties’ bases, and the American people from their government. On these issues we find the elites of both parties shockingly alike. Among them: global trade; financial deregulation and prosecution of financial crimes; the social safety net including Social Security, Medicare, a living wage and health care for all; above all, the “soft corruption” of pay to play politics.

There’s a name for the bipartisan consensus of party elites: neoliberalism. It is an inconvenient name for many reasons but mostly because it seems odd that the worldview of the Republican elite would be an ideology with the root word ‘liberal’ in its name but it is true, nonetheless. and may even shed a little light on the open, bitter breach between GOP elites and the party base. Democrats stayed loyal longer to their elites for two reasons. One is their love of two very talented politicians, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, whose charm and verbal dexterity masked deep differences with the base. The other is their fear of Republicans.

I often talk to Democrats who don’t know Obama chose not to raise the minimum wage as president even though he had the votes for it; that he was willing to cut Medicare and Social Security and chose not to prosecute Wall Street crimes or pursue ethics reforms in government. They don’t know he dropped the public option or the aid he promised homeowners victimized by mortgage lenders. They don’t know and don’t want to know. Their affection for Bill and Barack — and their fear of Republicans — run too deep.

2. Hillary Clinton has neither their deft personal touch nor protean verbal skills. When she tries to distract the base or paper over its differences with elites, voters see through her, even if, in their hearts, they don’t want to. In Michigan she tried to smear Sanders as a foe of the auto bailout. Before that she sent Chelsea and Bill out to say Bernie would kill Medicare. Each time she ended up only hurting herself. She has tried to co-opt Sanders’ positions on global trade, climate change, military adventurism, a living wage and universal health care.

It’s always too little, too late. Voters sense she’s just moving pawns on a chess board in part because she can never explain her change of heart and often doesn’t even try. She switched horses on global trade in a blog post, on the Keystone pipeline at a grammar school event. In a recent debate she left fracking to the GOP governors who covered themselves in glory on Obamacare, as if it were a states’ rights issue. With her Super PAC (and hers and Bill’s breathtaking haul of $153 million in mostly corporate speaking fees), she is the living avatar of pay to play politics. She shouldn’t be the Democratic nominee for president because she doesn’t even know it’s wrong.

She remains woefully out of touch with the public mood in other ways. This week she began telling voters she and Bernie were pals and that it was time to wrap up their little primary so she could focus on the Republicans. As anyone outside her tone deaf campaign could have told her, she came off as entitled, presumptuous and condescending. The voters aren’t done deciding yet. When they are, they’ll let the candidates know. When party and press elites parroted her line, it had the same effect on Democrats as Mitt’s anti-Trump speech had on Republicans.

3. The performance of the press has been abysmal. Watching CNN and MSNBC last night was painful, as was reading the Washington Post or the New York Times this morning. The TV coverage was of a piece with all other 2016 election coverage. Last night FOX, CNN and MSNBC kept cameras glued on Trump for 40 minutes as he delivered a bizarre, rambling rant in which he talked about himself, his opponents and some steaks he was either selling or giving away.

As Bernie made history, CNN kept sending poor John King to its political trivia JumboTron to relate what various Michigan counties did in primaries or caucuses eight or 20 years ago. An MSNBC panel consisting of Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, Gene Robinson, Lawrence O’Donnell and Chuck Todd dove right into a discussion of who Hillary might choose as her running mate; an actual progressive perhaps, given Bernie’s little showing in Michigan. They agreed it would probably be Elizabeth Warren, who sat this one out; or Sherrod Brown, the Ohio populist whose wife they all knew and liked. Really. The segment closed with everyone sharing a laugh about how mad Brown’s wife would be to hear them flatter her. The hour ended with Maddow summarizing the state of play this way: “The frontrunners had a good night.” This morning the Times led the story this way: “Senator Bernie Sanders’s defeat of Hillary Clinton prolongs a race she seemed to have locked up, although she won Mississippi handily.” He sure did.

Clinton has been helped in her quest by her party, by big business, and by top-down endorsements from progressive lobbies many of which broke members’ hearts to deliver them. But no one’s helped her more than the media. I know full well this hasn’t always been true for the Clintons and I also know not all the help is intentional. But the media helps her in several ways.

One way it helps is just by sharing her ideology. This is especially true of younger journalists at establishment venues like the Times and NBC or at web sites like Vox. These are mostly very bright people who see the world as Hillary does. (I’d call it neoliberalism 2.0 but it’s just like the Beta version.) They are Democrats first for cultural issues. They identify with elites, even know a few power couples and view the current corrupt rules of the game as laws of nature. It’s one reason why not one of them saw any of this coming.

But it’s not the only reason. Their employers put horse-race journalism ahead of all else, so nothing ever gets illuminated — not Trump’s business resume or Hillary’s or Bernie’s political resumes, or their very real policy differences. When Hillary sweeps vital differences under the rug to be replaced with stale tactical arguments, the reporters are perfect patsies — because all they know are tactics.

In the end, thinking only tactically makes you a bad tactician. When revolution’s in the air polls, money and ads mean far less. Reporters who know nothing else can’t conceive how voters choosing among a democratic socialist, a pay-to-play politician and a fascist might pick door number one. They bought Hillary’s myth of inevitability, but as Lawrence of Arabia told Prince Ali in the desert, nothing is written. If Democratic voters really use their heads, they’ll see through the tactical arguments just like the voters of Michigan did — and then walk into voting booths all over America and vote their hearts. Then there will be change.

Bill Curry was White House counselor to President Clinton and a two-time Democratic nominee for governor of Connecticut. He is at work on a book on President Obama and the politics of populism.

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