Graves Registry: Between a rock and a wet place


There have been a couple of congressional investigating committee meetings that have generated more than the usual media interest lately. The first is the House's inquiry into the poisoning of thousands of people in Flint. Mich. after Gov. Rick Snyder dispatched a team of cost cutters to uncover what extravagant things residents of the financially strapped city were enjoying that might be eliminated to save money. Unfortunately, one of the things that they decided to trim was the cost of ensuring the safety of the city's water. Complaints by residents that the water changed color and actually smelled were met with sneers from officials in the state office building, who were drinking bottled water long before it became a more popular item in Flint than tickets to the latest "Star Wars" movie.

Flint was once a booming metropolis where General Motors operated several plants that employed 80,000 people. Its rapid decline was chronicled in an incisive 1989 documentary by Michael Moore called "Roger and Me." In the movie, the intrepid Mr. Moore tried to track down Roger B. Smith, the CEO of GM, in an effort to elicit an explanation from him as to why a decision was made that would decimate the entire city. Mr. Smith proved to be an illusive quest. Moore tried all the usual places you might expect a titan of industry to hang out. While his former employees were being thrown out of their homes, no one at the Detroit Athletic Club or the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club had seen Mr. Smith. He died in 2007 and hopefully has answered to someone with an easier access than Mr. Moore.

Today, GM employs around 5,000 people in Flint. Forty percent of the population now lives (read exists) below the poverty level.

Flint is an epic human tragedy, the full impact of which is yet to be felt. It should also serve as an enduring example of why the policy of placing money concerns over peoples' welfare is so misguided and costly. Darnell Earley, a career bureaucrat with a track record that summons up memories of George Custer's military acumen, was Synder's appointee as Emergency Manager in Flint. Mr. Earley estimated the savings by drawing untreated water from the polluted Flint River, instead of importing it from Detroit sources, to be around $5 million. It is now estimated that the cost of replacing the city's water system to be around $1 billion, and that isn't even taking into account the lawsuits that will inevitably (and justifiably) be filed or the cost of treating the catastrophic illnesses that result from consuming lead tainted water, especially in children.

The situation in Flint puts the GOP between a rock and a wet place. For decades the Republicans have railed at any mention of investing taxpayer dollars into crumbling infrastructure in this country when it can be meted out so lavishly on our disastrous forays into foreign wars. Flint can be regarded as the most flagrant example so far of chickens coming home to roost.

The tack that the Republican controlled House Oversight and Reform Committee intends to pursue was readily apparent when the committee declined to call Gov. Snyder, at whose desk the proverbial buck stops, to testify. Mr. Earley's attorney said that his client was unable to respond to the summons issued to him prompting a more forceful persuasion by U.S. Marshalls to deliver this despicable (and cowardly) man before the House committee.

Texas Senator John Cornyn expressed sympathy for the "poor people" of Flint. Cornyn has never emitted the brightest glow on the congressional Christmas tree, but his choice of adjectives in this instance was particularly apt. The fact that most of the residents of Flint are indeed poor is precisely why Gov. Snyder and his squad of professional belt-tighteners thought they might get away with something as outrageous as compromising the city's water supply to save a couple of bucks. I'll wager that the water at the Grosse Point Yacht Club positively sparkles in the sunlight.

The other investigation of note, conducted by the same committee, focused on Martin Shkreli, the smirky twerp pharmaceutical entrepreneur who was not averse to hiking the cost of potentially life-saving drugs by 5000% to further feed that industry's insatiable greed. Mr. Shkreli did a splendid job of putting Ted Cruz's reputation as a loathsome individual into perspective.

— Alden Graves is a regular Banner columnist


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