Monday, January 25, 2016

Flint Water Crisis: For a Few Dollars More

We are amazed but not amused By all the things you say that you'll do
Though much concerned but not involved With decisions that are made by you
But we are sick and tired of hearing your song Telling how you are gonna change right from wrong
'Cause if you really want to hear our views You haven't done nothing
"You haven't done nothing"- Stevie Wonder

Unless you have been completely cut off from the news over the past 90 days you have heard about the crisis in Flint, Michigan. In 2013, the State of Michigan took control over Flint and forced a change from the Detroit water supply to the local water supply from the Flint river. The problem with this decision was that the Flint river water was too corrosive for older untreated pipes. Lead and other contaminants soon started leaching into the water supply. There is no amount of lead in drinking water which is considered to be safe. People consuming or using the water immediately noticed bad colors, foul smells, wrong tastes and acidic reactions to metals. When all of this was brought to the attention of the emergency manager,the state officials responsible for water safety, and other state appointees and politicos they ignored the concerns of the citizens, mocked them, slow walked or tried to "fix" water quality tests, viciously attacked any scientist who raised alarms about the Flint water, lied and said the water was safe, and worked assiduously behind the scenes to figure out a way to blame anyone except themselves. I really don't have a lot to say about this both because (1) I need to create shorter posts due to increasing work responsibilities and (2) the actions of most of the people involved are obviously beyond reprehensible. They shock the conscience. It is just barely defensible for the state to take over financial operations of a city that is unable or unwilling to pay its bills. It is never defensible for anyone to poison people to attempt to balance the books. And yet that is precisely what happened in Flint.

As has been pointed out over and over again during the past few weeks if ISIS or some other foreign terrorist group had poured lead into the drinking water of a US city there would be national, even international, outrage both at the perpetrators as well as the incompetents who let it happen. Both drones and DoJ prosecutors would be immediately dispatched. A lot of the criminals involved would end up dead or in prison. But Flint is a majority black and mostly impoverished city. So instead we have the spectacle of the National Review claiming that the Republicans in charge aren't to blame. We have local Michigan Republicans claiming that the lead in water problem is overblown. We have EPA administrators not doing their job. We have Republicans claiming that the Feds are the true villains, which given the usual Republican viewpoint on states' rights and regulation, is like a bank robber claiming that the FBI is responsible for his crime wave. After all they should have stopped him sooner. There is an excellent examination of the timeline here. You can also hear what the whistleblower scientist, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, had to say here at 2:59. People didn't like what she had to say but fortunately she had the courage of her convictions and the knowledge that her research was correct. As she points out, the problem may be even worse than we realize.

Unfortunately there is probably not much recourse for criminal prosecutions under Michigan law. It appears at first glance as if the public actors may be generally protected from criminal charges under the Emergency manager provision. We shall see. Civil cases are a certainty. There may be room for criminal charges under Federal law. But that is of course up to the President and Attorney General. I don't know the relevant laws. I will say that if we can't arrest a public official for poisoning an entire community then the law is a joke. It's unlikely that Governor Rick Snyder will be impeached as Republicans have majorities in both the Michigan House and Senate. Previous recalls have failed. At this time Snyder has said he's not resigning. As a final kick in the teeth the state is requiring that people pay for the poison water they consumed. If that is not evil I don't know what is. Please note that with only a few exceptions no Republican running for President has had anything to say about this issue. It's just not something they seem to care about. Everyone has to prioritize which issues they find important. But the next time someone wonders aloud, in good faith or otherwise, why black Americans albeit diverse in income, wealth, political views and other characteristics, tend not to vote for Republicans, please point them to this story. A party that shows depraved indifference to people based on skin color and/or class tends not to get their votes. Ironically though this horror might be the catalyst for less partisanship in Michigan as a right wing militia has assisted in distributing clean drinking water. The militia is also making noise about armed self-defense. So there's that. Ultimately no matter your race, gender, age, sexuality or other marker of identity, you don't want lead in your water.

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