The Economics of WaterJames Clingman / January 29, 2016
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“Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”
— The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
I can hear the backroom discussion now: “We can save money if we stop taking our drinking water from Lake Huron and start using water from the Flint River instead.” Those may not be the exact words, but the leaders of Flint, Michigan, including the two recent Emergency Managers, City Council, the EPA, and the Governor, have caused a catastrophe.
Money is the common theme among the perpetrators in Flint; it is always lurking in the shadows of the many problems facing Black and poor people. Now, in a city that is approximately 60 percent Black and has a 40 percent-plus poverty rate, money trumps life again. Money trumps the long-term effects on more than 8,000 children, many of whom will grow up suffering from the physical, cognitive, and emotional illnesses caused by lead poisoning. As one person said, “Everybody in the city has been poisoned, everybody.”
Sophia A. McClennen (Salon.com) wrote, “The story of Flint is the story of what happens when profits are more important than people. What Michael Moore captured in [Roger and Me] was a clear prelude to what is happening [in Flint] today. First, Flint residents lost their jobs. Twenty-five years later they have lost their water and their health. There are ten dead…from Legionnaire’s disease in Flint and countless others with serious illnesses from contaminated water.”
Politicians are playing games with this emergency, and trying to garner votes from it. Remember Rahm Emmanuel’s quote? “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Where is the “opportunity” in this crisis? Was the slow response to this crisis really just an opportunity to get more money?
This is far from being about what party is in charge. Some folks are blaming the Republican Governor and some are blaming the city council, on which the Democrats hold a 7-1 majority. But so what? The damage is done; the right question is “Now what?”
Many people have marshalled their forces to assist the people of Flint, first, by bringing water. The Feds have granted a measly $5 million to help but the POTUS, who went to nearby Detroit but did not go to Flint, denied the request by the governor to declare the situation a “major disaster,” which under law applies to natural disasters and “certain other situations.” Isn’t this a “certain other situation”? Isn’t it just as important as getting water to Katrina victims and providing healthcare for Flint’s citizens?
It would be great to see our doctors, psychologists, attorneys, scientists, engineers, and technical personnel lend their talents to help, like we do in other countries. In light of this terrible situation, Flint is in need of all the services, assistance, contributions, and prayers that we can muster. By the way, so are the folks in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, where the citizens are suffering from all sorts of diseases and untimely deaths, because of the still lingering effects of the BP (British Patroleum) oil spill. Earnest McBride of the Jackson Advocate has covered this story.
The lawsuits will come and the money from the taxpayers’ coffers will flow, money that could have been used to prevent the problem in the first place. The long-term health ramifications of lead poisoning are irreversible but manageable if the funds to do so are available. The State of Michigan, as it deals with myriad financial issues, will now have to pay billions for its neglect and lack of concern for poor people.
Beginning with Idlewild in 1912, Michigan has had issues with Black/White relationships, social/environmental justice, and economic progress, which provides a context from which to view Michigan’s current predicament, Detroit and its recent economic woes notwithstanding.
In Benton Harbor, with a 90 percent Black population, Edward Pinkney was imprisoned for fighting for social and economic justice, another example of money trumping what is right. The NAACP abandoned brother Pinkney and opted, by its silence and lack of advocacy on his behalf, chose the path of least resistance, and who knows what they received from the Whirlpool Corporation in return for their silence? Once again, as it has throughout the nation, the NAACP manipulated the local election to get rid of Pinkney as president. He went to prison and Whirlpool got an NAACP award.
Three of the five great lakes, Michigan, Huron, and Erie, virtually surround Michigan. For folks in Flint to have to drink water from the Flint River in order to save money is reprehensible. “Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” To all of you “Civil Rights” advocates: What could be a greater “civil right” than having clean water to drink?
James Clingman is a columnist from Cincinnati, Ohio. Visit his Web site: Blackonomics.com.