During the time when the Flint water crisis was unfolding, right wing conservatives spent a lot of time trying to convince the country and the world that it was all the fault of the local government. They portrayed these local leaders as incompetent buffoons who poisoned themselves, countering the reality that the local government officials had literally NO POWER to do anything because their government had been taken over by an un-elected, state-appointed overseer, the Emergency Managers.
With former governor Rick Snyder now out of office and contending with a legacy of having poisoned a major American city by attempting to run government like a business, this charade of blaming local elected officials and showering accolades on the corporations who did the bare minimum to help the residents of Flint continues apace.
Robby Soave from the conservative, corporatist Reason magazine is a millennial conservative who is on the forefront of this effort. He, along with his colleague at Reason, Shikha Dalmia, have been pushing the idea that the decision made to have Flint join the Karegnondi Water Authority and build their own water pipeline from Lake Huron rather than purchasing treated water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department was done as a jobs and infrastructure program:
Snyder’s office did not return my call, but sources close to the situation at the time tell me that it was essentially because Genesee County and Flint authorities saw the new water treatment as a public infrastructure project to create jobs in an area that has never recovered after Michigan’s auto industry fled to sunnier business climes elsewhere. And neither Snyder nor his Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz nor the state treasurer Andy Dillon had the heart to say “no,” especially since to hand Flint to DWSD would have made the whole project less viable. What’s more, they felt that just as Detroit was receiving an infrastructure boost post-bankruptcy (with the state-backed $650 million ice-hockey-arena-cum-entertainment center that I wrote about here) it was only fair that Flint get one too.
All of this shows two things:
One, the Flint water crisis is the result of a Keynesian stimulus project gone wrong.
Two, emergency managers are not always a panacea for fiscally mismanaged cities. The assumption behind handing them control of city finances is that they are grown-ups who, unlike politicians, are immune from special interest pressure and therefore more capable of making tough cuts. In reality, they can have their own political grand plans that don’t always overlap with the city’s fiscal interest.
About the only truth in anything Dalmia wrote in this article is that “emergency managers are not always a panacea for fiscally mismanaged cities.” She doesn’t’ reveal who her “sources close to the situation” are and this idea has literally never been promoted or reported on anywhere at any time before she invented it out whole cloth from unnamed sources in 2016.
In a recent post at Reason, Soave trotted out this lie again in order to “dunk on the libs”, the Democrats running for president:
Many in the media have parroted the absurd claim that the water crisis was caused by austerity, as if the government cared more about saving pennies than saving lives. The truth is exactly the opposite: Keeping DWSD as Flint’s water provider was a cheaper option, but one that would have created zero new infrastructure jobs.
Two other notable facts: First, Flint’s most pressing problem—prior to the unsafe drinking water, at least—was that its taxpayers could not afford to continue paying the pensions of city government retirees. […]
Second, state employees received access to reliable, clean drinking water—in the form of water coolers—a full year earlier than everybody else in Flint. After the water problem became well-known, Flint’s private residents finally began receiving safe water in the form of donations from Walmart, Coca Cola, Pepsi Co. Nestle, and other corporations.
First, the Flint Water Crisis WAS created by austerity measures taken the Emergency Manager. Water treatment with phosphates that would have kept the corrosive Flint River water from leaching lead into the city’s drinking water was withheld to save less than $100 a day.
Second, and equally important, is Soave’s lionization of corporations in all of this. To hear him tell it, Walmart, Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Nestle are the real heroes here (not those who revealed the crisis as it was happening.) This is part of the new corporatist narrative being spewed onto the internet and it is profoundly disgusting. The worst example I have seen of this came earlier this month from Chief Executive magazine, another corporatist propaganda outlet. In their article, “Walmart Rescued Flint Michigan…No One Noticed”, they have this to say:
We often find heroes in places that begin with the letter “C”: the classroom, the combat zone and the command center. As drones do most of the combat fighting, we find analogs to the battlefield in football and basketball. Similarly, the command center has shifted from four-star generals to the men and women who run businesses. But very few of them are thought of as heroes.
This explains why the heroic rescue of Flint, Michigan, by the business community vanished as quickly as Flint’s murky water down the tap. […]
By 2015, during the period in which Flint water was toxic, Walmart rallied its forces and “donated 14 trucks of water— or 504,000 bottles—and 1,792 water filters,” said Beth Harris, store manager at Walmart, “The water crisis is personal to us here in Flint. Those affected include our own associates, customers and their families.”
Walmart was not the only member of the business community to come to the aid of Flint’s suffering population. Coca-Cola donated nearly 80,000 bottles of Dasani, Nestlé sent five truckloads of water—or more than 190,000 bottles—and PepsiCo donated almost 95,000 bottles of water.
Doing some quick math, if you take the number of bottles of water donated by Walmart, Coca-Cola, Nestle and Pepsi (869,000) and divide it by the population of Flint (96,448), these “heroes” donated 9 bottles of water to every person in the city. And that, apparently, is what constitutes “rescuing” the poisoned residents of Flint in the world of corporatist propagandists.
It’s a ludicrous claim, of course. What rescued Flint was the activism by local residents and true heroes like Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha who pulled back the curtain and revealed what the Emergency Managers had done to Flint.
The reality is that Flint is still dealing with the catastrophe inflicted upon them by the Snyder administration. Despite assurances that all is now well, it’s clear that all is absolutely NOT well. When a water main broke recently, residents were advised to boil their water. That advisory came with this statement:
Tap water must be filtered before boiling, because boiling unfiltered water can cause worse effects from lead.
Don’t let history be rewritten and the facts about the true causes and impacts of the Flint water crisis get shoved down the memory hole by people Jon Lovett from Pod Save America calls the the “right wing political zambonis”, apologists who come out to clean up after Republicans cause a mess. If you see history being rewritten, call them out. And let ME know through our comment page so I can push back with actual facts that are strewn high and low on this website about the Flint Water Crisis.