Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Feces in Your Future 

If you have been paying attention, you are no doubt aware that one of the attractions of invading Iraq was that unfortunate nation's imagined potential as a sort of laboratory in which neocon ideologues would have the chance to implement, and thereby test the validity of, their most fanciful visions. Once the yoke of Saddam had been thrown off (the narrative went), secular democracy would sprout up unassisted overnight, inspiring surrounding countries to topple their dictatorships, dismantle their theocracies and embrace Israel as their one true ally in the region -- and a true Norquistian economy (not unassisted, admittedly, but with proper legislative guidance) might be established, from scratch, for the first time ever. As Naomi Klein wrote in the superb "Baghdad: Year Zero" from the September issue of Harper's:
The honey theory of Iraqi reconstruction stems from the most cherished belief of the war’s ideological architects: that greed is good. Not good just for them and their friends but good for humanity, and certainly good for Iraqis. Greed creates profit, which creates growth, which creates jobs and products and services and everything else anyone could possibly need or want. The role of good government, then, is to create the optimal conditions for corporations to pursue their bottomless greed, so that they in turn can meet the needs of the society. The problem is that governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush’s Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.

Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions. The people of Iraq would, of course, have to endure some short-term pain . . . But to the authors of this plan, these would be small prices to pay for the economic boom that would surely explode once the proper conditions were in place, a boom so powerful the country would practically rebuild itself.
And what if those "alarmist environmentalists" could be eliminated, and so-called tort reform could nullify the single "market force" that might deter corporate poisoners from their depredations? A BBC story from earlier today (which picks up on the rabies angle we mentioned yesterday, and adds the telling detail that U.S. forces have stashed "hundreds of bodies" in an abandoned potato warehouse that may or may not be refrigerated) perhaps predicts our future, in describing the problems of sanitation in the devastated city of Falujah:
An army spokesman said the estimated 250,000 people that fled the assault cannot return until the risk posed by stray animals and sewage is eliminated.

The Red Cross is waiting for US forces to give it the go-ahead to restore the city's water supply and help identify the hundreds of gathered corpses.

"Many streets are flooded with sewage water," Red Cross spokesman Ahmad Rawi, who has just returned from Falluja, told the BBC News website.

He said the city's water treatment plant has to itself be drained before an assessment can be made of how badly it has been damaged.
Oh -- you think we're exaggerating (as is our wont) for comic effect? Guess again:
The Environmental Protection Agency is close to issuing new guidelines making it easier for sewage authorities to dump partially treated wastewater during heavy rainfalls, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

EPA officials said they had not made a decision, but agency staffers have begun to brief senior political appointees on the plan, which is outlined in a 10-page document titled "Final Policy." The proposal, which was first aired in November 2003, would allow authorities to release a blend of fully treated and partially treated sewage during peak flows . . . .

Nancy Stoner, who runs the Natural Resources Defense Council's clean water project, said the new policy "means more people will get sick and more people will die. This is really a very significant issue from a public health standpoint."

Joan B. Rose, a water pollution microbiologist at Michigan State University, said the EPA's proposal ignores scientific findings that link wastewater to the spread of disease, adding that the Clean Water Act does not cover many unhealthful viruses and parasites.

"Sewage is the source of a lot of major pathogens," Rose said, adding that one study found the risk of disease from blended waste was 100 times greater than that associated with fully treated waste.

The EPA estimates swimmers experience 3,500 to 5,500 cases of "highly credible gastrointestinal illness" each year because of improper sewage treatment.

Sewer authorities and city governments argue that blending does not pose a major health risk and makes more sense than spending money on expensive upgrades. Without blending, said Ken Kirk, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies, the industry will have to "spend $200 billion to fix a problem that doesn't need fixing."

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