Friday, January 22, 2016

Genocide, Fast and Slow

The mass poisoning of the residents of Flint, Michigan is a lot more than a public health emergency. It's even a lot more than depraved-heart murder and assault by deadly bureaucrat.

 Using the guidelines established by the United Nations, it's likely that the deliberate and continuous piping of lead-contaminated water to unsuspecting people qualifies as both a crime against humanity and actual genocide.

Heads should indeed roll... all the way to The Hague. The only trouble with that suggestion, of course, is that the United States has conveniently absolved itself from accountability before the International Criminal Court. America is an exceptional Third World nation.

At the very least, a special U.N. rapporteur should be appointed to go to Flint to collect the evidence, before it's destroyed or mysteriously misplaced.

Characterizing the poisonings as genocide is not at all hyperbolic, by the way.  According to Article II (c) of the Genocide Convention, it is not necessary to prove actual intent to exterminate. It is only necessary to prove "constructive intent." In other words, since state and federal authorities knew or should have known that they were causing harm to Flint residents, their "mistakes were made" defenses won't wash. Ignorance is no excuse.

Put another way, the piping-in of water from the Flint River to save a few bucks  was (and still is) a policy having a destructive, de facto exterminating effect. It doesn't matter whether the poisoning was inadvertent or unintentional, or whether it was incidental to another motive. (cost-cutting in the name of austerity)

That the poisonings in Flint also have a distinctly racist stench should give further impetus to the genocide charge. Unlike other means of culling the herd, this particular crime has a relatively short, very straight chain of evidence from perpetrators to victims. It also doesn't matter whether the victims die quickly, die slowly, or endure a lifetime of disability and pain before dying of old age. (not very likely, given all the kidney and neurological damage.)

Genocide is actually pretty broadly defined, albeit hard to prosecute. As Adam Jones wrote in Crimes Against Humanity:
"More recently the drafters of the (ICC) Rome Statute's 'Elements of Crimes' have declared their understanding that extermination can include 'deprivation of access to food and medicine,' resulting in death through protracted debility.... Other examples appearing in case law of the Tribunals include imprisoning a large number of people and withholding from them the necessities of life, resulting in mass death, and introducing a deadly virus into a population and preventing medical care, which results in mass death."
The crimes against humanity in Flint look so outrageous because they and their victims are so visible to us. These crimes should not be hard to prosecute.

Run-of-the mill, garden variety lead poisoning cases, on the other hand, are rarely, if ever, prosecuted. They've been a silent, hidden epidemic for generations. Rarely do we see such acute, severe cases as in Flint, in so many people all at the same time. The lead in drinking water is usually invisible and tasteless. Symptoms develop insidiously, and they vary from victim to victim. The toxic metal accumulates in bone and body tissues over years, and can be passed down through generations, from grandmother to mother to child, ad infinitum.

 No amount of lead is safe.

In poor black communities, lead poisoning is a common congenital birth defect. It is transmitted to fetuses long after the mother's exposure. Lead is an extremely stable element and degrades little over time. Ninety percent of lead dust in surface soil will still be present 70 years after contamination, according to the Illinois Dept. of Public Health.

Yes, it is racial, inordinately affecting black populations. And yes, it is ignored.

I used to write regular newspaper articles based on piles of health department inspection reports of slum housing containing lead-based paint in the poor Orange County, New York cities of Newburgh and Middletown. Children would regularly get poisoned by ingesting paint chips as well as from drinking water from lead pipes. Slumlords would get warned, again and again, referred for criminal prosecution rarely, and perhaps eventually get fined for failure to follow through on abatement orders. It's the cost of doing blacksploitation business.  Moreover, ownership of substandard housing is often sliced and diced into lawsuit-proof LLCs. Immunity is built right in, as permanent as multiple coats of toxic old paint.
Newburgh, New York

After decades of public health reports and complaints, there is still lead paint in the same substandard Newburgh housing, at some of the same addresses on the same blighted streets. Law firms that specialize in lead poisoning cases are as common as flaking paint chips. Depending on your address, prenatal blood screenings for lead are not only recommended, they are required.  It's estimated that least a third of all learning-disabled children in New York state are in special education classes because of chronic lead poisoning.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 38 American children has lead poisoning. That's half a million kids. Violent crime and drug abuse are among the results of the socially painful, permanent brain damage caused by lead poisoning. How much easier that makes it for white bigots to blame black people for their own plights, for their own behavior. Lead within black bodies is conveniently so invisible that it can be ignored.

Meanwhile, federal funding for testing and treatment was slashed four years ago -- as usual, all in the name of bipartisan fiscal responsibility and austerity. Funding was finally, partially restored this year, despite the best sadistic efforts of House Republicans to cut it yet again, by a full third.

Newburgh happens. Detroit happens. Chicago happens. And then Flint happens. But just for once, what happens in Flint is not staying in Flint.

Whether it's fast or whether it's slow, genocide is genocide. Even in America. Are we waking up yet?

We need a super Super Fund for all the people that this country has hurt. We must put an end, once and for all, to austerity for poor people. We've had enough of the greed of the oligarchs. They're weighing us down like a ton of lead.


Jay–Ottawa said...

Think of the jobs that could be made restoring our fresh water, ripping out the lead pipes under our cities, and stripping (very carefully) the lead paint from our houses. So much work of this kind to be done in America.

What's that Krug, or was that you, Cruz? Oh, that's you, Hillary. (You all sound the same.) How do we fund such projects?

Just take away from the Pentagon 5% of its swollen budget, which is roughly around $650 billion in recent years––nobody can really pin it down exactly, given all the add-ons and hidden corners.

Anyway, 5% of the Pentagon budget amounts to $32.5 billion, a hefty sum to spend on mere people but long overdue in repairing US infrastructure. And putting money in people's pockets again.

Can you hear me, Bernie? "5%" Start pounding the table for 5%. There's the money for your work program. Say it again and again between now and November, and you'll win in a landslide.

Pearl said...

Jay: It is interesting that when I looked up statements by Bernie Sanders about the bloated budget of the Pentagon, no one responding seemed to know where the money was going exactly, even Bernie, as you mentioned. A complicated situation which allows for fraud and contradiction although the known amounts going to the Pentagon for various military exercises and how distributed are beyond immense.
I pity Bernie if he is elected and has to have accurate information from the Pentagon, although he has accused them of how they use and spend their money.
Therefore if he criticizes anything they do it can be deflected especially if he wants to use any small part of it as you have suggested.

How do you view this situation and how can he accurately state what percentage could be used for repairing infrastructure, etc. with this murky Pentagon set up?

Pearl said...

Good article from Tom Hayden's Journal

Title: “Somebody's Got to Tell It!”- Jack Newfield, 2002 Link: Excerpt: On the Inevitability of Risk

Jay–Ottawa said...

Pearl, I understand that Pentagon cannot be audited. Read somewhere that audits are no longer attempted. I guess Congressional oversight will have to do for now. Nevertheless, Obama and his predecessors all drafted budgets annually with a certain figure set down for defense. A few years ago that figure by Obama was $610 B, which the Congress then increased by $40 B.

Whatever figure President Sanders sends to Congress in his first budget, it must be understood that 5% will be diverted to non-military infrastructure at home. That would amount to roughly $32 B, a good start to begin contracting to get the lead out, among other health problems. Of course, the House––assuming Bernie has no coattails whatsoever in 2016––will still be full of Republicans, thanks to gerrymandering away the majority's will. So Bernie has to sell his 5% solution to the nation during the campaign and after the election. He has to get people in the streets. Obama never did; let's see whether Sanders even tries. Then he might get a bill to sign approximating his original proposal to repair the infrastructure.

Of course there would be other ways to recapture the people's stolen money from the generals and the superrich. We and Bernie have talked before about taxing Wall Street speculation.

Then there's single payer to keep costs down. In the current healthcare setup there are many insurance plans requiring an army of clerks wading through the forest of paperwork demanded by countless varieties of private insurance plans. Billions of $$$ are wasted on administrative costs in doctors' offices, hospitals and the private insurance companies themselves. Eliminating that waste would save hundreds of $billions annually and help fund single payer for all and for a much reduced total cost.

Dr Steffie Woolhandler is the co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program. In the radio interview linked below, she unmasks the recent lies of Hillary Clinton and her surrogates against Sanders and his advocacy of a single payer system. Along the way, Dr Woolhandler also describes single payer successes in Scotland, Canada, Germany and elsewhere. She does it so very well and in less than a half hour. She's been at it for twenty years. Oh, to get the ears of 100 million voters to listen to her for this half hour. Slide the dot to minute 25 of the following 51 minute broadcast where Doug Henwood's interview of Dr Woolhandler begins.

Bill Sprague said...

This is terrific writing. I have a blog that not even Google can find (so I don't get any comments) where I use the same phrase as this. I say "is it time to wake up yet?" Eyes open and slavery and genocide must stop. I won't be around for all that much longer (yes, I am old) but I've been exposed to the Amerikan foolishness all my life and I'm frankly tired of it.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Bill. Where can we find your blog?

Meredith NYC said...


The major national disaster is our political culture that allows this atrocity to go on.

NY Times, good to stay on this. But do more--criticize the normalization of small govt, low wealth taxes, bad public services, anti public, pro private-profit political culture. Will that look too ‘left of center’? That’s what our ruling big money election sponsors want the media to think, so it’s unfashionable for main stream to criticize them.

Admit it’s become normalized for govt officials to ignore public welfare as a low priority, to abuse and disrespect voters. These Michigan officials were simply acting out that distortion of our democracy.

This is the end result of the rw Gop credo, promulgated on their monopoly media. It's time for the federal govt to reclaim its rightful purpose of protecting the mass of citizens and guaranteeing equal protection of the laws. Will Flint’s tragedy now signal a new movement for reform? If Times comments are any indication, it might.

We need a national 'Our Lives Matter' movement, with street marches joined by all classes, races, ethnicities, incomes, in cities nationwide--repeated---until justice is done, and a strong signal is sent of what won't be tolerated.

A war zone refugee camp? Send in to Flint some international refugee aid organizations. Put it on TV. They’re experienced in dealing with public health disasters in nations with failed govts.

MSNBC Maddow show announced a special devoted to Flint next Wed.

Valerie said...

I read somewhere - sorry, not able to remember or find a link on Google - that the reason the military budget is so hard to pin down is there is a budget for ships and guns and military personnel but there is another budget in addition - which the public is not privy to know - where even more millions (billions?) are authorized to fight specific wars such as the Iraq War. Can anyone add to this or correct me if I am wrong?

Great post, Karen. It is amazing that there is still lead paint around and lead pipes in subsidized housing complexes. I must admit, that I thought it was all in the past.

Just for anyone who doesn't know and is interested - the reason lead is so much more dangerous for children is it mimics calcium when ingested. The body of a small child needs calcium to grow strong bones and teeth so it basically laps it up at a much higher level of absorption than an adult. Where I live in Australia, there is a big lead problem from a smelter that spewed lead for 125 years. The difference is the state and federal government have acknowledged the danger have been working for years to clean up the lead and to keep children of our city safer. A couple of years back, the government pitched in to close down the lead emitting furnace and build a new one that doesn't emit the lead.

I agree with JayOttawa. Bernie needs to go after the military budget and start using the money for infrastructure needs such as cleaning up the lead problem in the United States.

Karl said...

Sorry folks, whenever there is a natural disaster anywhere in the world (or peacekeeping, or whatever) the first thing they do is look around for a contribution or participation by the US Military. Yes, there is Bloat and waste, but that seems to be a feature of any complex organization. We really should NOT have closed the C-17 Line (176 of a planned 300?), but if you do NOT know off the top of your head what a C-17 is and it's role, you are not qualified to make a meaningful comment. Bureaucracies make decision for their own twisted rationale (Why does every University need a Dean of Minority affairs?). Nice work if you can get it.

So, cutting the Pentagon Budget would more than likely lead to LESS resources for all the OTHER things the world relies on the US Military for. We remain the essential great power. Would you rather have China trying to do those kind of things?

So let's just raise taxes on the Plutocrats, and use that money to rebuild our infrastructure. Their are plenty of underemployed National Guardsmen (and women) who would be happy to help run a CCC type organization, like their grandfathers did in the 1930's.

Lefty Fantasies about getting money from the Pentagon are as delusional as Right Wing ones about the savings to be wrung out of the welfare system.