I found it strange that a crew from BBC Scotland led by Anthony Baxter should from 2014 spend five years filming a documentary about water pollution in Flint Michigan, the former home of General Motors, and the narrator is Alec Baldwin. We’re far from home.
Remember around 25 years ago when John Gummer, the then Tory agricultural minister, fed his four-year-old daughter a burgher to prove the British beef was safe after the BSE (Mad Cow Disease) disaster? Here we have President Obama sipping water from the Flint River’s Treatment Plant and declaring it safe. Whilst we have Reverend Jesse Jackson declaring that water is a basic human right. Amen to that.
What we have is a crisis of faith in authority and what they are telling us. (Soon to be mirrored by the almost 50% that will not take a Covid 19 vaccine because they don’t trust those telling us it’s safe – and often for good reason—although in the case of the Covid vaccines, plural, ignorance plays a large part).
Who to believe becomes what we believe. In Flint the mayor declares it an issue of class (and ethnicity). General Motors produced almost 50 million cars in Flint. That’s past tense. Since 1970 the population has halved. Houses that sold for $60 000 can now be bought for $6000. Lots lie empty.
Rick Snyder was elected as Michigan’s governor on a ticket of running local government like a business. This is the kind of ticket the Laurel and Hardy of British politics Cameron and Osborne ran down the British economy. The same ticket Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison ran in sacking firefighters to save public money because in Rupert Murdoch land global warming is a hoax nobody is falling for. We could even throw in the moron’s moron’s wilful dismantling of government agencies tasked with the prevention of public health epidemics because they were insiders.
Snyder got away with sacking firefighters and police officers to balance the books. His plan to ratchet up water prices and take water from the Flint River and not from the Huron River, in south-eastern Michigan which had been used before then to save around $5 million per annum was a fiscal disaster and health disaster.
It followed the usual trajectory. First up is to blame the victims. Jeremiah Loren, aged 12, with a skin rash and debilitating illnesses is somehow to blame, if not him, then his family.
As Michigan’s governor, he stripped Flint’s city council of its power, and his administrators raised water prices to balance the books. They then forced the city to use water from the Flint River in order to save more money. Something was wrong. Tap water was brown. Residents were told to run it a little longer. Advised that colouring had nothing to do with safety—it was still safe to drink. At the last remaining General Motors assembly plant car parts began to rust.
Professor Edwards with the help of his students from nearby Virginia Tech College took water samples and found lead 5000 times over the limits advised by the World Health Organisation. He declared it ‘a man-made disaster’ that such a toxic substance had been allowed to accumulate, particularly, in the bloodstream of around 10 000 city children where it was linked with among other factors a lower IQ and possible brain damage.
ACT 2. Snyder admits there may have been a problem. He’ll fix it (but you’ll pay for him to fix it). Hey Presto. Fixed. Your water is safe to drink. Cue Snyder drinking water treated by the Flint Treatment Plant and taken from the Huron River. No more talk about saving money, now it’s about saving lives. We do get a fix on him with his ad-lib about those on welfare (that they should be glad to pay over-inflated prices for drinking poison).
Class actions suits against Flint, and at state and federal levels are filed. We’re in Erin Brokovich territory.
The expert for the Water Defence League, Scott Smith, proves to be a charlatan and snake-oil salesman. Professor Edwards turns turtle and agrees to work with Snyder. Edwards declares the water safe to drink, well, as safe as any other state. Edwards files a law suit of defamation against, mother of three, Melissa Mays. She was a major part of the city-wide initiative to uncover the truth about Flint’s water. Edward had publicly thanked and praised her and other volunteers.
Alec Baldwin appears in front of the camera to ask a resident and mother, ‘why don’t you leave?’
If you can’t work out the answer, here’s a questionnaire I developed (A) I just love poisoning myself and my kids or (B) I’m skint, and where would I go?
If you answered A, congratulations, you voted for the moron’s moron, Trump. If you answered B, and voted for Trump, keep drinking the water. Rust belt? Sure, hope so.