Over a year ago, Lee Camp did a segment on Redacted Tonight about a political prisoner in Benton Harbor, Michigan. All the information is still accurate today: Reverend Pinkney remains locked in a cell, with no contact permitted with the outside world, for a crime he did not commit, and was convicted with no evidence. And why? Because he got in the way of the Whirlpool corporation attempting to clear the brown people out of Benton Harbor so they could build a "private lakeshore playground for the wealthy," as CounterPunch writer Jackie Miller puts it.
According to Jordan Chariton's latest reporting for The Young Turks Network, many of the people of Michigan believe a similar scheme is at the heart of Governor Snyder's refusal to pay for clean water distribution in Flint or make the necessary upgrades to Flint's infrastructure. As Jordan reveals in the interview below, the root of the evil in Flint is the same as that in Standing Rock, North Dakota: a pipeline. A water pipeline this time, though. The Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) was established for the exact purpose of undercutting Detroit's water prices (some of the highest in the country), whom Flint was previously buying their water from. The private company built a pipeline to transport fresh water from Lake Huron to a number of cities in Michigan and Flint city officials were pressured to jump in on the deal. The switch to the Flint River was only meant to be temporary until the KWA pipeline was completed, and the decision was made hastily, with no regard for the consequences that may develop in the interim.
Just as Benton Harbor was Whirlpool's "testing ground to see what they [could] get away with," KWA decided to see how far they could push the local government in Flint, as well politicians at the state level. The deal Flint City Hall struck to join the Karegnondi Water Authority was never legal in the first place. The so-called "sweetheart bond deal" - a term acquired from emails between Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) Water Resource Division now made public - would have been more accurately named a Bully Bond Deal. According to Chad Livengood with The Detroit News, the ex-DEQ staffer who sent the emails claim the term "sweetheart deal" is being taken out of context:
"Zacharda said Thursday her use of the term “sweetheart” was a “completely innocent” yet careless way to describe a utility that voluntarily sought to comply with state environmental laws.
“It’s stupid that we call it a sweetheart deal, but that’s just the nomenclature of someone who comes in willingly to make a deal,” she said in an interview with The Detroit News. “It’s easy to understand that people wouldn’t understand what it meant — it’s inside baseball lingo.”
I don't think KWA so much came in "willingly to make a deal" as they did to shake down the city of Flint.
When you find yourself in too deep with the most brutal, powerful and unforgiving outfit in town, you do whatever it takes to scrape together the balance and settle the account, before the bastards bring the hammer down. Sell your car, take out a second mortgage on your house - get a third one, if you can - pawn the kids' bikes and baseball cards, apply for every cash advance credit card you qualify for, buy a handful of Powerball tickets, auction off all those antique firearms Grandpa left you in his will, hit up any other outfit in town that you're still in good standing with, put your wife out on the corner after you put the kids to bed- Never mind, wake the little bastards up: get 'em a fake ID and a job that makes tips; take all the cash they make over to the reservation and just keep putting it on red, five dollars at a time.
Take whatever you can scrape together from all that and once Greasy Eddie behind South Side Jimmy's lets you know of another "sure thing" coming around, put another bet down. Who gives a damn if that's how you got into this mess in the first place? Nothing could have kept that horse from breaking its ankle during the breakaway down the final stretch - it's not as if the pharmaceuticals were to blame. Surely, they'll pay off next time. The mistake was laying the bet on that crazy-eyed Yakuza bookie covered in an orgy of dragon tattoos, wreaking of Newports and Mad Dog 20/20. You've learned your lesson - the Japs may have better odds, but the penalties are much more severe. Lay it on those Arian Brotherhood nut jobs over on the west side of town this time, and remember to get a haircut on the way. Tell them you got ripped off by the slopes and bitch for a while about how the Fuhrer never should have trusted those crazy gooks and they ought to give you a few extra days to come up with the juice. And if you still come up late, you can usually buy yourself some extra time with an ounce or two of meth - Greasy Eddie can hook you up. . . . The point is, it's do or die. You're already as good as dead anyway, so there's no risk you can't justify, no level of moral ambiguity or depravity to which you will not stoop if there's even a 0.01% chance it could put another dollar in your wallet, another breath in your lungs.
This is the situation in which Flint found itself. Flint owed the Karegnondi mafiosos for their piece of a $285 million project they agreed to, but didn't really need, and when KWA came to collect Flint had already run out it's luck with every outfit in town, had a 490 credit score, had its car repossessed, defaulted on its second mortgage, maxed out its credit cards, had its wife stolen off the corner by a pimp named Biz Kwik, sold its children to a sweatshop in Malaysia, and stopped paying its student loans a long time ago. How the fuck was it supposed to come up with the $7 million annual payment they agreed to?
Bending the law to its breaking point and poisoning their entire citizenry in the process is how. The World Socialist Website recently reported that four officials have now been charged with felony counts of false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses for their roles in fraudulently using the state's Home Rule City Act to authorize the issuance of tens of million more dollars in bonds to pay for their portion of the KWA. The Act was meant to acquire financing to address an emergency situation. Ironically, the "emergency" they claimed the money would be used address was the clean up of lime sludge deposits left from the Water Treatment Plant.
James Brewer writes for WSWS:
[Michigan Attorney General Bill] Schuette’s official statement adds: “To make the situation even worse, tucked inside the 15-page Statement of Purpose for an upgrade of Flint’s Water Treatment Plant system was a one-paragraph requirement that bound the city to use the Flint River as an interim water source, and the Flint Water Treatment Plant as the sanitizing and distribution center.
“The Flint Water Treatment Plant, however, was not ready to produce safe, clean water to the citizens of Flint. Regardless, the Defendants mandated the City to use the Flint Water Treatment Plant as part of the deal to get the ability to issue bonds.”
Mike Glasgow, then head of the Flint Water Treatment Plant, was indicted in April by Schuette’s office. He pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of willful neglect of duty so a felony charge of tampering with evidence would be dropped, pledging to cooperate with the investigation.
In emails uncovered in February of this year, Glasgow warned state water quality officials that the Flint Water Treatment Plant would not be ready to treat Flint River water in the timeframe demanded: “I was reluctant before, but after looking at the monitoring schedule and our current staffing, I do not anticipate giving the OK to begin sending water out anytime soon… If water is distributed from this plant in the next couple weeks, it will be against my direction.”
Schuette’s statement elaborates charges that Croft and Johnson “allegedly pressured employees of the Flint Water Treatment Plant to get the plant in working order before April of 2014, the scheduled date for re-start. When the deadline closed in, rather than sound the alarm, the defendants allegedly ignored warnings and test results and shut off the pipes pulling clean water from Detroit, and turned on the Flint River valves.”
With all this come to light, the people claiming gentrification and genocide are the real reason for the water crisis - not only in Flint, Michigan, but Indiana, Corpus Christy, TX, and many more we likely aren't being told about - are sounding less and less like conspiracy theorists.
Here's how Michigan civil rights attorney Hugh “Buck” Davis put it in the very same CounterPunch article above:
"In the 1960s, it was called Negro removal. In Bosnia, it was called ethnic cleansing. It could be called genocide, the removal of the minority population for the purpose of redevelopment of the land. That’s what’s happening in Benton Harbor and leading the resistance is Rev. Edward Pinkney."
What's happening in Flint and Benton Harbor and plenty of other deindustrialized cities across the United States not only demonstrates how powerless our courts, elected officials, and democratic institutions have become in resisting the will of the corporate state, they are emblematic of the inhumane, dystopic ideology at the heart of neoliberal economics. Neoliberal politicians and the soulless oligarchs who own them justify economic racism and structural violence through the out-dated Malthusian belief that the world's resources will never be enough to support the expanding population and massive swaths will inevitably die off. The exponential expansion of our technology due to breakthroughs in computing and data processing has rendered this scarcity-based ideology false and irrelevant. If we can restructure our economic system to transfer the benefits of technological job-loss to the population at large, instead of it all going to the top 1%, we could easily give every person in the United States free healthcare, a college education, and a living wage at a job they like doing. But if we keep heading in this direction, we'll soon have a society like the movie Elysium, only without ever leaving planet Earth - a completely bifurcated America, where the rich and poor never come into contact with each other. Rather than a space station, the rich will retreat to high-rises and gated communities guarded by militarized thugs, where they pay private corporations for purified water and filtered air, and the rest of us have to cross our fingers and hope our cities' pipes haven't corroded too much or the oil pipeline going under the river isn't leaking. When the water wars begin, it won't be nations fighting nations - it will be the poor fighting the rich.