by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
Barack Obama has expressed concern for any number of human tragedies in the nation and world, and waged wars under the banner of “humanitarian” compassion. But it took him two years to visit the scene of the poisoning of a largely Black American population. Obama’s “visit is not intended to alleviate the suffering of the Flint community but to whitewash his political legacy of total contempt for the plight of the very people who elected him.”
A Day Late and a Dollar Short: Mr. Obama Goes to Flint
by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
“It has taken this president almost 2 years to travel to Flint for a briefing on what can most charitably be described as an intentional poisoning of a city.”
Presidential legacies are built on rapid responses to both domestic and foreign crises. President Bush’s military intervention in Iraq presumably was predicated upon reports of Sadaam Hussein’s poisoning of Kurdish opponents. Consider the White House response to the Charlie Hebdo attack, with the political pronouncements of solidarity in Je Suis Charlie or the massive NATO and Washington coordination and propaganda campaign around the Russian annexation of Crimea.
Alternatively, consider the White House pathetic response to terror attacks in African communities in the United States where thousands of unarmed Black people have died at the hands of police and an entire community deliberately poisoned under the watchful eyes of local and federal government officials.
The president did not deem it worthy to visit Ferguson during the uprising to protest not only the death of 17 year-old Michael Brown but the state-sponsored violence and terror visited daily upon the African community. There have been no chastisements by the president against a local police force now under federal consent decrees because of massive human rights abuses by police.
The president did not consider it important to visit Florida after the brutal murder of unarmed 17year old Trayvon Martin. But, in an act that can only be described as cynical and manipulative, the Obama administration invited Trayvon’s parents to the White House to celebrate Black History Month after the Department of Justice acquitted the killer of their son, George Zimmerman, a week prior.
Now, the corporate media have reported that President Obama will travel to Flint Michigan, a community of approximately 100,000 people on May 4th to review the situation and hear:
“… first-hand from Flint residents about the public health crisis, receive an in-person briefing on the federal efforts in place to help respond to the needs of the people of Flint, and deliver remarks to community members.”
“The suffering of this community fell on deaf ears at both state and federal levels.”
It has taken this president almost 2 years to travel to Flint for a briefing on what can most charitably be described as an intentional poisoning of a city in which children have been systematically exposed to lead that has been known to cause permanent brain damage and a variety of other health problems. Congress has called for the resignations of both the Michigan Governor and the EPA Administrator.
Flint's water has been dangerously contaminated with lead since April 2014 – two years ago, when Michigan Governor Snyder’s administration oversaw the city’s switch to the Flint River as its water source in order to save money. State regulators told the city not to treat the water with anti-corrosion chemicals that would cause lead to leach out of pipes made from the heavy metal.
Flint children were poisoned in their homes and schools, pregnant women experienced miscarriages, adults reported strokes and increased heart disease. The suffering of this community fell on deaf ears at both state and federal levels. The future of Flint citizens was drowned in lead, and to add insult to injury, residence were charged for the toxic water flowing in their homes while their property prices plummeted.
The trip will be Obama’s first visit to Flint since the city’s water crisis became a national story. He visited Detroit in January to attend the Detroit auto show and pledged to “have the backs of Flint's people” during a speech there:
“I know that if I was a parent up there (in Flint), I would be beside myself that my kids’ health could be at risk,” Obama said at the time. “It is a reminder of why you can’t shortchange basic services that we provide to our people and that we, together, provide as a government to make sure that the public health and safety is preserved.”
“The trip to Flint is an attempt to place a bandage on an ugly chapter of willful and criminal neglect in Obama’s presidential legacy.”
The American public is now asked to suspend its intellectual acumen to believe that President Obama’s trip to Flint is triggered by a letter from a courageous 8 year-old named Amariyanne Copeny. But, how many 8 year-olds wrote pleading letters to the President from the war zones of Fergusson, Florida, New York or Detroit?
Perhaps the trip to Flint is an attempt to place a bandage on an ugly chapter of willful and criminal neglect in Obama’s presidential legacy or simply an obscene checkmark on his political bucket list.
If the press can find a mustard seed of courage they will press the President for answers on when he was informed that the Flint water supply had been poisoned? What was his response and what did he order his EPA Administrator to do in response to the poisoning? Did the EPA Administrator immediately inform the president of the poisoning or did she delay informing the President 2, 4 or 6 months after she was briefed by the now disgraced and forced to retire EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman? The American public must demand to know why the EPA Administrator didn’t use her congressionally authorized emergency powers under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to seize control of Flint’s environmentally dangerous designs created by the governor and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. SDWA Section 1431 provides the EPA Administrator with the authority:
“…upon receipt of information that a contaminant that is present in or likely to enter a public water system or an underground source of drinking water, or there is a threatened or potential terrorist attack or other intentional act, that may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to the health of persons, the EPA Administrator may take any action she deems necessary to protect human health.” [emphasis added]
“The American public must demand to know why the EPA Administrator didn’t use her congressionally authorized emergency powers under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to seize control.”
The EPA Administrator, with or without the Governor’s permission, should have provided precautionary warnings to the citizens of Flint that they were drinking, bathing and cooking in poisoned water and replace the Governors’ authority by the federal government to protect the citizens of Flint. If the EPA Administrator failed to inform the president in a timely manner why hasn’t President Obama demanded her resignation?
The media has refused to ask the most basic questions and tease out the quintessential Watergate questions of “what the president know about the poisoning in Flint and when did he know it?”
But, if the press conforms to its normal, stick-to-the-script and talking points agenda, the visit to Flint will be framed around a president visiting Flint moved by a child’s letter.
Obama’s upcoming presence in Flint is a day late and a dollar short. Obama, during his presidency turned his attention to nearly every issue of major concern outside of the Black community, a community that gave him over 95% of their votes and has provided undeserved loyalty.
The Obama journey to Flint can only be seen as a cynical political maneuver that is 2 years too late. His visit is not intended to alleviate the suffering of the Flint community but to whitewash his political legacy of total contempt for the plight of the very people who elected him.
To compound the insult, would anyone be surprised if EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is a part of the Obama caravan despite her failure protect the citizens of Flint.
January 2016, nearly 2 years after the poisoning, the Obama administration declared an emergency in Flint and pledged $80 million in assistance for the state to make low-cost loans to municipalities with water infrastructure issues.
“Our children should not have to be worried about the water that they’re drinking in American cities,” Obama said at the time. “That’s not something that we should accept.”
Michigan Governor Snyder told the Detroit News Wednesday that he probably won’t join Obama in Flint.
“I’ve got a pretty full schedule next week,” he said. “That’s not currently a day I’m scheduled to be in Flint.”
The Detroit News has reported that “proposed aid in Congress has stalled, although new Senate legislation including up to $220 million for Flint and other communities is scheduled for a Thursday hearing. Snyder has proposed $165 million in state assistance for Flint, with $30 million already approved as supplemental spending to reduce residents’ water bills.”
So far, the rest of the proposed spending has been going through the normal budget approval process, which means additional assistance might not flow until June at the earliest.
No doubt, the president will be met in Flint with pomp and circumstance, cheering and loving crowds. Predictably, the media will create the narrative that all errors in judgment will be forgiven, particularly since the president was inspired to visit Flint at the invitation of an 8 year-old child. The problem is that after President Obama leaves the city, the children of Flint will still have lead in their brains and diminished or non-existent futures.
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated: No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is Director of Transparency and Accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet, serves on the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.com and coordinates the Hands Up Coalition, DC.