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The Poisoning of Flint: Capitalism and Environmental Sabotage

By Mike Kolhoff
Cruel disregard of human life have been part of the capitalist package from the very beginning. To the ruling class our lives are important only to the degree that we produce profit they can exploit. In its latest neo-liberal incarnation, capitalism seems to have embraced its murderous impulses on a grand scale. The frustrations of extracting profits from an exhausted planet and its people have compelled the “job creators” to commit ever more shocking crimes. The poisoning of Flint stands as grim testimony to the complete contempt such people feel for the rest of us. To them, we are not quite human.

The tragedy initially received regional media attention 2014, shortly after the Republican-imposed Emergency Financial Manager switched Flint’s water supply from the Detroit supply system to a local system using the nearby Flint River. EPA and state reports indicating the poisonous content of the Flint River, a river thoroughly polluted by General Motors and others [i], were willfully ignored.
The excuse given at the time was that it was a money-saving measure in a city teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Recent revelations have shown that even this poor excuse was an outright lie. [ii].  The question then is why did the Republican-appointed Emergency Manager make a decision that was so obviously sure to poison thousands of people?
One allegation is that it was a move to direct money away from Detroit, which at the time was in bankruptcy and being vigorously looted by every sort of shady speculator, including the selling of huge amounts of city real estate at what amounted to garage sale prices. The Detroit Water and Sewage Department made efforts to keep Flint from switching to the filthy water of the Flint River. They even offered their water at a reduced rate, one which negated any savings the City of Flint would make by switching. Flint would have actually SAVED money by staying with Detroit Water and Sewage. This was at a time when the Emergency Manager in Detroit was ordering that their own residents face water cut-offs if they couldn’t pay their bills.[iii]But the rightwing program of ethnic cleansing called for the complete destruction of Detroit, so the people of Flint were poisoned instead.
The cause of the mass-poisoning of the residents of Flint can also be laid at the feet of that innovation in capitalist extraction that has emerged in the last 25 years: Disaster Capitalism. It had nothing to do with saving 15 cents on the dollar, and it wasn’t mainly about diverting income from Detroit, it was about putting MILLIONS of dollars in public funds into the hands of private, rightwing capitalists. These are the people who financed the political campaigns that put the current gang of liars and murderers in power, and they were just looking for their payback – At least $12 million dollars worth of payback in fact. That’s what it was estimated it would cost to switch back to the Detroit water supply in October of 2015.[iv]
Who took that money? Contractors, the biggest an engineering firm from Texas ($4 million), with the help of the rightwing politicians who greased the way for them; many of whom can be seen in this photo of the all-white group surrounding the governor as he approves the aid package for Flint. [v]
Snyder has tried to blame the Flint City Council for the poisoning, but the facts tell a different story. In 2013 the Council voted to help build a new pipeline that would allow them to terminate their contract with the Detroit Water and Sewage Department, but the decision to stop taking Detroit water and start using the Flint River was made much later and by the Emergency Manager, at a time when the Council had no say in city decision-making.
“Snyder said that Detroit, after being informed of the Flint council vote, sent a “letter of termination” of water service. Detroit sent a letter giving Flint one year on its existing contract, but that didn’t mean Flint couldn’t get water from Detroit after that date. In fact, there was a flurry of negotiations between Detroit and Flint to sign a new contract that would carry Flint through until it could connect to the under-construction pipeline.”[vi]
The Flint water crisis is an illustration of the essential criminality of capitalism, with “disaster capitalism” taking the next step into open criminality. Those involved conspired to create a disaster, then reaped huge profits from its implementation, and are now reaping even greater profits from fixing the mess they made.
The greed-based, anti-human social and economic system we live in caused the poisoning of the people of Flint. This does not in any way absolve the individual politicians and capitalists who facilitated the disaster (they should all hang), but only places them in perspective. The system didn’t fail in Flint; it failed to protect the people of Flint, but that’s not what it was designed for. The system functioned exactly as it was supposed to: the ruling class was able to stuff it’s pockets with money, the politicians were able to pay-off their debts to them, and things are comfortably rolling on to the next election cycle.[vii]



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