Costs Associated with Bought-and-Paid-For Government are Soaring

By FRANK CARINI

There’s something inherently wrong when a fast-food meal of a cheeseburger with bacon, chicken nuggets, french fries and mozzarella sticks costs less than a head of lettuce and a few tomatoes.

It’s totally baffling as to why it took the Southern California Gas Co. 16 weeks — 112 days — to stop methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from belching into the sky above Southern California.

It’s completely mind-boggling that lead-poisoned water was piped into homes and offices in the city of Flint, Mich., for more than a year.

The common thread between these three tragedies, and many others like them? Negligent government bought and controlled by special interests and Big Business. We're trying to run government, at all levels, like a for-profit business, largely at the expense of the nation's most vulnerable.

Billions of dollars in federal subsidies annually go to corn farmers. All this taxpayer-funded grain is used to feed cattle and chickens, and to produce unhealthy high-fructose corn syrup — a key ingredient in fast-food profits and in cheap, both economically and nutritionally, processed foods.

Corn dominates U.S. agriculture, and even cashes in with the energy sector, as the corn ethanol industry has a long history of receiving federal taxpayer subsidies for a misguided alternative. Heck, we force-feed grass-eating cattle corn and other subsidized grains that they aren’t biologically designed to eat. Cheap corn makes shareholders and CEOs richer, and fattens campaign coffers and American waistlines.

Government officials ignored and then delayed action on addressing California’s methane problem, despite the fact that the leak forced thousands of Los Angeles residents from their homes and the stench of gas fumes sickened many area residents. All the while, the Southern California Gas Co. insisted the leak, which the company itself deemed a major public nuisance, posed no immediate public safety threat.

The broken well spewed some 96,000 metric tons of climate-changing methane gas into the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Tunnel vision is a serious problem in U.S. boardrooms and in taxpayer-funded offices in Washington, D.C. Good thing these people have quality health care.

About a month after the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, a senior FBI official told the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that “due to the vital importance of water to all life forms ... the FBI considers all threats to attack the water supply as serious threats.”

More than a dozen years later, callous Michigan officials terrorized a downtrodden city of some 100,000 people by poisoning its water supply in the name of saving money. The government-sponsored campaign lasted more than a year — even though officials were made aware of the public health threat much earlier — caused widespread illness and potentially permanent brain damage among some of Flint’s youngest residents.

No arrests have yet been made, but at least one presidential candidate defended Gov. Rick Snyder’s response to Flint’s water crisis and said the focus should be on fixing the city’s drinking-water system instead of blaming people. You seldom hear a Beltway politician say the same thing about our failed war on drugs. That broken system incarcerates people for smoking marijuana, and instead of rehabilitating drug addicts, creates inmates for the privatized prison industry.

Meanwhile, a Utah senator is holding up $220 million in federal aid to replace Flint’s lead-contaminated water pipes, make other infrastructure improvements in the city and bolster lead-prevention programs nationwide. He has called the bipartisan aid package earmarked for a city that was poisoned by its government “political grandstanding.”

He should know, as he proudly continues Congress’ practice of using tragedy as a political weapon to jam ideological beliefs down everyone’s throats. The non-democratic practice also is a favorite tool in statehouses across the country.

Michigan, for example, has one of the most severe emergency-manager laws in the country, allowing the governor to appoint an unelected agent to take over local governments when municipalities or their institutions have been deemed to be in a “financial emergency.” The opposite happens when Wall Street causes a financial emergency.

Michigan’s business executive/venture capitalist governor pushed for and signed legislation that strengthened the law, and has used it aggressively to impose his version of fiscal austerity on Detroit and Flint. His emergency managers are granted sweeping powers to override local governments, to make budget cuts, sell public property and renegotiate union contracts.

Basically, govern like a dictator.

Politicians, at the local, state and federal levels, underfund public school systems, rail against teachers unions and then bemoan standardized tests scores, which do nothing but generate profits for private businesses not particularly invested in public education.

How do we remove big money and special interests from politics? We could stop voting against our best interests. Stop voting for brands and labels, and start supporting candidates who really want to make change. Encourage high-character people to run for office. And always follow the money.

Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.