Friday, April 29, 2016

Private industry's waste cleaned up by the taxpayer.

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

One aspect that’s left out when it comes to the so-called vibrancy and efficiency of capitalist mode of production is the cost of cleaning up the mess created by private industry.  Apart from the human health conditions directly associated with the workplace, the cost of cleaning up the environment after one capitalist venture or another lives and then dies as capital accumulation wanes, is staggering. This cost is born by the workers and the middle class as a public expense.  The entire capitalist system is propped up by public assistance in one way or another.

According to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) * between 1986 and 2008, the Department of Defense (DOD), in other words, the taxpayer, spent $30 billion ”…. across all environmental cleanup and restoration activities at its installations.”.  We all know that private defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman do very well from their government contracts.  Who owns them, who actually pockets the billions in profits accumulated over the years is another matter not so easy to determine.
The DOD In its fiscal year 2014 Agency Financial Report DOD reported “$58.6
billion in total environmental liabilities”, It appears the costly job of spreading peace around the world has some serious environmental costs as well.

This report went on to say:
“For example, officials at USDA’s Forest Service estimated that there were from 27,000 to 39,000 abandoned mines on its land approximately 20 percent of which may pose some level of risk to human health or the environment. GAO also reported that Interior had an inventory of 4,722 sites with confirmed or likely contamination. However, Interior’s Bureau of Land Management had identified over 30,000 abandoned mines that were not yet assessed for contamination, and this inventory was not complete. DOD reported to Congress in June 2014 that it had 38,804 sites in its inventory of sites with contamination. DOE reported that it has 16 sites in 11 states with contamination.”

One such site, one of many in the area, is in St Louis County Missouri where the US Army Corps of Engineers is removing “weapons related waste” from many sites where factories worked on atomic weapons. One site where contamination levels are “…hundreds of times above federal safety guidelines.”  is not being cleaned up because the federal government has deemed the site “….inaccessible and not a threat” according to the Wall Street Journal. The ACOE is saying that the waste is safely contained.

But a private group of environmentalists and researchers is challenging the federal government’s position. They say that what is referred to as a “radioactive hot spot” is not secure and “anchored in place” as an Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson claims but that it is leaking, entering a nearby creek and from there flowing downstream in to residents’ yards.

There is no doubt in my opinion, that the incredible level of cancers and other diseases we are battling are connected to the environment. Even the stress of living in a social system that treats everything, including the human body as a commodity is a major cause of illness.  For those in the third world, or developing countries as they are called although they never develop, it is a given that lack of food, medical care, social infrastructure and a lack of public health in general is why diseases we cured long ago kill by the thousands. They die as victims of capitalism.

Leaving aside the health costs to consumers and communities due to the pollution and environmental damage caused by private industry, even those under contract to the state, the costs historically of cleaning up capitalism’s mess must run in to the trillions. One can only imagine the environmental damage that has ensued after years of US bombing in the Middle East and Afghanistan. We are somewhat familiar with the results of US chemical warfare in Vietnam where the Pentagon poured dioxin on the Vietnamese people and their food as well as US troops. There are no holds barred when the issue of creating a market for their commodities is concerned. Vietnamese children are still being born with deformities from US chemical warfare and US veterans are still dying from cancers from it; two of them I knew personally.

When they boast about the efficiency of the market and announce profit gains in their media, they don’t include the cost of cleaning up their so-called free market’s residue as that cost is socialized.  The costs of rehabilitating hundreds of thousands of veterans, both mentally and physically, will not be borne by the war profiteers at Lockheed Martin or the Carlyle group.

How many rich kids were sent to private schools by profiteers who owned these industries? How many vacations in the Alps luxury yachts, and estates were purchased by these private investors as the excrement from their investments pour in to the atmosphere, the soil and the gardens of working class people?

We cannot imagine the hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions in profits that have been made in ventures that have spanned decades or centuries. Land to the capitalist, like everything else, is a commodity. The closer one lives to the land, produces a significant portion of their means of subsistence from the land, the more one respects and cherishes it.

We live in a Democracy we are told but we have no real say in such details like foreign wars, what we produce, when and how much------these decisions belong to the market and the vast majority of us earn our livelihoods from wage labor, not off of the profit of capital.  We will not have community discussions over how to clean up 39,000 abandoned mines or whether they should have been mined in the first place. Even if we did, working class people have no political party through which we can impose our will on society, and we work too long hours. Meanwhile, every four years we elect a representative of these very same profiteers and wonder why things never change for the better. 

Despite the failings of the government agencies, the alternative, leaving such decisions directly in the hands of the private sector, less regulation no matter how weak would be a disaster.  The shifting of federal lands to the states where neo-con right wing politicians can enact their pro-market and anti-social laws aka North Carolina etc. would be a disaster both socially and environmentally.  As I pointed out in a previous post, the state regulators in charge of writing the deep water drilling rules handed the job over to the industry. Yes, the oil industry wrote its own guidelines that led to the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The alternative is not the market or more bureaucracy aimed at protecting business as opposed to  labor/community interests, but control from below. Representatives of the community directly affected by and involved in any issue in conjunction with workers in the community, rank and file members of the unions and other grass root social groups must take these matters up. We have seen so many of these catastrophe’s, Flint, West Texas, Porter Ranch, the BP, Exxon Valdez spills etc. Local single-issue struggles must be linked directly to other struggles nationally. And in the wake of these disasters let’s not forget that the poisoning of Native American communities, including from uranium mining, has been ongoing and has not received the attention it warrants.  These indigenous communities have been the worst hit and are a crucial ally and resource in any efforts to save the land and our natural resources.

Building a direct action national (and international) movement to throw back the offensive of capitalism that threatens not only our immediate welfare but life as we know it, is one way that a genuine independent political party of working people can arise as each struggle can throw up representatives rooted in these campaigns. The success of this movement cannot be assured if it does not recognize that the capitalist mode of production and the social and political structure that arises from it is not sent packing and replaced with an economy that produces for social need, not for profit or private gain.

The wealth of society is collectively produced. It makes sense then that how this wealth is allocated, how it is invested back in to the economy and society for the common good of all should be a collective process.   Capitalism has passed its due date.  The monstrosity of Stalinism that did more to tarnish the name of socialism and its greatest theoreticians has died a long awaited death.

The time for a democratic socialist economy, a federation of democratic socialist states within a global community is ahead of us. But this is not guaranteed, time is not on our side, and capitalism, in its decaying state, is a dangerous animal ridden toward to the edge of the abyss by madmen.

Society cries out for new managers.

* Report of Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy,
Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives

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