It’s been a long time since Flint Michigan was a prosperous city. At it’s most populous, nearly 200,000 people lived in Flint and 80,000 of them worked for GM. Fifty or sixty years of disinvestment, outsourcing and globalization means that the city barely has 100,000 people of whom only 8,000 are working for GM. That’s why there was a financial crisis in the first place. It’s like Detroit but worse, they are trying to maintain services originally designed for a city twice as large, on a tax base that has been shattered by white flight, disinvestment and relentless hostility towards the well paid union jobs that built the city in the first place. Enter Rick Snyder. Republican governor of the state of Michigan. His signature piece of legislation was a “Emergency Financial Manager” law that allowed him to dismiss the democratically elected municipal government of any local government unit when “probable financial stress” was found and appoint an Emergency Manager. This law was fully and completely rejected by a referendum of the voters in Michigan. Subsequently the bill was re-introduced and passed in a form that was not subject to voter referendum. In practice what this has been is a usurpation of local control, and a disaster for local residents. For a more in depth breakdown I recommend this article: Republicans Trashed Democracy in Michigan. Now They Want To Trash It in Your State, Too. Remember the Detroit water crisis? Where the city of Detroit had almost two hundred million dollars of unpaid water bills outstanding? The reason that suddenly became an emergency instead of an ongoing crisis, is that the Emergency Manager thought it would be a good idea to privatize the water utility and they couldn’t even think about selling an asset with a 175 million dollars of uncollected and frankly uncollectable bills. Detroit Shuts Off Water To Thousands Of Broke Residents The city of Flint got their water from Detroit. The city of Detroit has been raising their water prices in an effort to balance their books. The City of Flint was building a pipeline of their to draw water from Lake Huron in order to not have to buy the suddenly more expensive Detroit water. Until the pipeline was complete, the city of Flint had the option to pay more for water from Detroit, or use the water from the Flint River. The same Flint River that was too corrosive for GM to use for washing auto parts: General Motors shutting off Flint River water at engine plant over corrosion worries. That’s what the Emergency Manager of the city of Flint and Governor Rick Snyder thought was a better choice as revealed in the FOIA requests quoted in this article from the Michigan ACLU Flint Water and the No-Blame Game .
From what I understand, the river water in Flint isn’t particularly clean, but it isn’t contaminated with lead. The lead comes from the ancient waterworks that delivers water to the city’s 100,000+ residents and the ancient plumbing of their housing. Clean treated water doesn’t pull (much) lead out of lead pipes and lead based solder. The witches brew that flows in the Flint river has been contaminated by flowing through what amounts to a 150 year old industrial dump. Flint’s been a manufacturing hub for almost 150 years. The EPA and the clean water act were passed in the early 1970s just when GM was reeling from the energy crisis and foreign competition. They thought it would be easier to shut down Buick city than clean it up and keep operating with union workers, and I’m sure on some balance sheet somewhere it looked great. But by shutting down their factories in Flint, by sourcing their parts from abroad, GM sidestepped their tax obligations to the city that was the cradle of both Buick and Chevrolet. Now of course in addition to lead contamination, the water in the city of Flint is suspected of contributing to an outbreak of Legionnaires disease: Snyder: Flint has seen spike in Legionnaires’ disease
So what does this ongoing train wreck look like to the best minds in journalism today? I couldn’t say. but to Ron Fournier who will never be counted among those ranks, it looks like leadership. A Refreshing Approach to Politics in Michigan in this revolting tongue bath, he paints Rick Snyder as a data driven visionary. A bold leader who can create simple order out of bureaucratic chaos. I see it as something different. I see it as a revolting disregard for human life. I see it as outright hostility to the well being of the residents of Michigan and an all too cozy relationship with the privatize the profits and socialize the costs model of disaster capitalism. It looks pretty similar to outright sabotage of public utilities and schools so that he can sell privatization to the citizens of Michigan as the cure to the ineffectiveness of deliberately mismanaged public institutions.
So that’s what leadership is. Selling out the welfare of the most vulnerable, poisoning an entire city, to create the appearance of fiscal prudence.