“There are nightmares that make more sense than this”*:The GOP versus the EPA

On the front page of the New York Times the other day was the sickening story, “A Trump County Confronts the Administration With a Rash of Childhood Cancers,” by Hiroko Tabuchi. 

The county is in Indiana and, as Tabuchi begins:

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. — The children fell ill, one by one, with cancers that few families in this suburban Indianapolis community had ever heard of. An avid swimmer struck down by glioblastoma, which grew a tumor in her brain. Four children with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. Fifteen children with acute lymphocytic leukemia, including three cases diagnosed in the past year.

At first, families put the illnesses down to misfortune. But as cases mounted, parents started to ask: Could it be something in the air or water?

Their questions led them to an old industrial site in Franklin, the Johnson County seat, that the federal government had ordered cleaned up decades ago. Recent tests have identified a carcinogenic plume spreading underground, releasing vapors into homes.

Now, families in a county that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump are making demands of his administration that collide directly with one of his main agendas: the rolling back of health and environmental regulations.

Coincidentally, just the evening before, I had highlighted Nancy MacLean’s pointed description of what happened in Flint, Michigan, from her riveting history, “Democracy In Chains.” MacLean lays the blame squarely on the political antagonism to public health stealthily developed as policy by the Koch Brothers’ spiderweb of “libertarian” dogma tanks (which they ominously call “think and do” tanks).

Their argument against, well, government for the people has been consolidated in a number of amiable-sounding Orwellian policy terms such as “public choice theory.” Their propaganda is chilling to the point of deathliness. I’ve bolded the particularly hideous phrases.

Here is what MacLean writes:

Less well known is that these zealots [“libertarians”] do not believe that the government should be involved in trying to promote public health, period. We are not talking about subsidized hip replacements and birth control. We are talking about things like basic sanitation, something governments have committed to since the Progressive Era as the single most important measure to stop waterborne epidemics such as cholera and typhoid.

The Republican majority on Congress has “systematically cut public health budgets that address Zika, Ebola and other ailments,” notes the columnist Nicholas Kristof….

Even before Obamacare was enacted, a public choice economist funded by the Liberty Fund, Gary M. Anderson, produced a study alleging that the field of public health was, from its beginning in the early twentieth century, nothing more than “a major device used by organized interest groups to redistribute wealth to themselves.” Amity Shlaes, a libertarian journalist on the Wall Street Journal editorial board…came to a similar conclusion as the fight over Obamacare began. She “found that public choice theory explained everything,” including that “health officials’ interest in testing small children’s blood for lead made sense when one considered that finding poisoned children validated their jobs.”

The largely African American population of Flint, Michigan knows firsthand what will happen to “people who fall by the wayside” in the new political economy run by people who think this way.

What happened in Flint was not a natural disaster. Nor a case of governmental incompetence. What happened there was directly attributable to the prodding of the Mackinac Center, one of the first Koch-funded — and in this case, Koch-staffed — state-level “think and do” tanks that now exist in all fifty states are affiliated with the State Policy Network (SPN), also Koch-concocted, to coordinate efforts to prevent state governments from responding to the demands of the “takers.”

“When the Mackinac Center speaks, we listen,” said Michigan governor John Engler in 1994. Indeed, so did his successors. In 2011, the center pushed hard for legislation that would allow the government to take over all aspects of local government in any community facing a “financial emergency” and hand control over to an emergency manager. The power of these unelected managers to impose austerity measures would be vast, including the authority to unilaterally abrogate collective bargaining agreements, outsource services, sell off local resources to private companies, and change suppliers at will. By 2009, more than half of the deindustrializing and economically troubled state’s black voters were being governed by such appointed emergency managers, among them the residents of Detroit, Benton Harbor, and Flint. “It’s dictatorship, plain and simple,” one city commissioner said of the new system. To save money, Flint’s appointed city manager switched the source of the city water supply to the polluted Flint River. The Mackinac Center lobbyists, by the way, made sure that the law incorporated provisions to protect the appointed managers from lawsuits. Given the scale of the damage they had every reason to know they would inflict, that was a wise protection of potential future foot soldiers for the cause.

Is it any surprise, then, that those who would put public sanitation and clean water at risk are now the leading proponents of climate change denial.

*From “The Death of Stalin.”

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