The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Third World Nation: 33 Cities Cheated to Pass Lead Tests

And not just small cities, either:

  • Despite warnings of regulators and experts, water departments in at least 33 cities used testing methods over the past decade that could underestimate lead found in drinking water.
  • Officials in two major cities – Philadelphia and Chicago – asked employees to test water safety in their own homes.
  • Two states – Michigan and New Hampshire – advised water departments to give themselves extra time to complete tests so that if lead contamination exceeded federal limits, officials could re-sample and remove results with high lead levels.
  • Some cities denied knowledge of the locations of lead pipes, failed to sample the required number of homes with lead plumbing or refused to release lead pipe maps, claiming it was a security risk.

Straight up cheating was not uncommon:

At least 33 cities across 17 US states have used water testing “cheats” that potentially conceal dangerous levels of lead, a Guardian investigation launched in the wake of the toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has found.

Of these cities, 21 used the same water testing methods that prompted criminal charges against three government employees in Flint over their role in one of the worst public health disasters in US history.

Lead poisoning is not a minor health problem. It can chop 20 points off someone’s IQ.

Straight up, this indicates cover-your-assdom from the highest to lowest levels, including regulators. No regulator worth its salt, who is doing their job, could have missed entire States and large cities cheating, because any regulator worth its salt does its own audits and testing. Only a fool believes the results handed to them by internal testing and audits. I’ve been on the internal side of regulation (in the life insurance industry) and companies cannot be trusted. Period.

Once you start concealing, you have to keep concealing. Because if something like lead contamination comes to light, figuring out where it is and why will include figuring out how long the water has been contaminated, how long you should have known about it, and how long you’ve been concealing it.

In many of these cities I’ll bet the concealment has been going on for decades, handed down from generation to generation of bureaucrat. Someone, when it was first discovered, didn’t want to go public and didn’t want to fix it, and from that point, the bureaucracy was locked in to their decision to keep cheating.

This doesn’t mean bureaucracies can’t run such systems; they were created in spite of the great objections of private industry, who also opposed municipal sewage for all they were worth. But it does mean you need to stay on top of it, and be willing to pay and be scrupulously honest about issues which matter.

I hope that those who have covered up are charged, and in cities where this has been going on for a long time, I hope investigators look back as far as necessary to charge those who covered up in the past.

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  1. Elected officials cheat because they can get away with it until they are out of office, and by the time the problem is uncovered it is someone else’s problem to deal with. They have been the official that delivered a chicken in every pot, put two cars in every garage, created generous pensions for all government workers, built brand new football stadiums, and cut taxes every year while doing so. Then they gracefully accepted that term limits prevented them from continuing in office and retired to their beach house and let their successor deal with the huge mess that is the inevitable result of the lies and bogus reporting that made them “heroes.”

  2. Shh

    It’s easy to look at widespread systemic failures and conjure up platitudes to condemn acts and omissions. The root cause of this is simply people don’t have the intellectual capacity to think things through.

    As with many of the topics you bring up here, there are complexes upon complexes of individual and collective acts that ultimately result in widespread harm. One of the components of these artifacts of our society centers on the idea of agency. Not as a government agency but the idea of what force impels individual acts, and where responsibility lies for both the conduct itself, and for enforcement actions by bodies charged with oversight.

    It’s patently obvious that if people didn’t act like a bunch of ignorant self serving shitheads, there would be no need for regulation. All law and regulation has as its genesis the fact of maladapted behavior. Companies that whine about regulation have no-one but their idols to blame. Communities that suffer at the outcomes of their own failure to keep watch over their appointed custodians have no one but themselves to blame.

    Every society that rises above it’s own hubris does so only when the consequences of not changing behaviors presents an obvious, immediate and unavoidable catastrophe.

    The lead pipe thing was actually talked about briefly in the late 70’s and early 80’s before the Holy Christ of Buffoons (Raygun) came into power and bamboozled every half alive ass-hat in the West into ascribing to the sanctimonious trickle down idiocy. This is only one manifestation of a truly monumental clusterfuck whose eggs are now hatching. America, in all it’s fat-faced self satisfied smugness will be a loose collection of warring nation states within 25 years.

  3. different clue


    I believe Thatcher did the same for UK that Reagan did for US, and she began doing it earlier. Am I wrong?

    Anyway, the “Third World” comparison is not the best one. “Failing Second World” might be better. America may be facing a “fall of the Soviet Union” future. It will be interesting to see which states and regions are America’s “Baltic States” and which are America’s “Ukraines” and “Moldovas”.

  4. ItsHangingTime

    Notice that the New England states did the worst of the cover ups. Democrats lead those states for the majority of the time. That’s what you get for lesser of two evils. And idiot Democrat voters will shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s only lead poisoning! Do you want the second incarnation of Hitler on the Supreme Court! It’s lead poisoning or Hitler, vote Hillary!”

    Three cheers for lead poisoning!

  5. Longview

    As a retired bureaucrat, it was always my experience that those around me would rarely hesitate to do the right thing, just so long as by doing so they weren’t subject to retaliation by the political hacks at the top. But often it’s a “who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” situation where the bureaucrats instinctively know which way the wind is blowing and will engage in a cover up even without explicit instructions from above if that is what they perceive to be in their career interest.

    Sure, the bureaucrats can always blow the whistle, but as someone who actually did that I can personally attest to what an incredibly stressful experience it was. It was so bad that it was something I would have done anything to avoid having to do twice. Fortunately, I never had to make the choice again.

  6. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    It’s lead poisoning or Hitler, vote Hillary!”
    Three cheers for lead poisoning!

    Not quite.

    If the situation is what IHT states, then the choice is “Lead poisoning with Hitler or lead poisoning but at least no Hitler”.

    Hitler isn’t going to get the lead out.

    Shh is right; most of the USA’s current problems can be traced back, at least partially, to the grim fact that so many of my fellow white male USAmericans are vacuum-skulled, knuckle-walking bigots who consistently voted, and vote, for the “psychological wages of whiteness” (and maleness) over the practical wages of social democracy (the popularity of the Drugstore Cowboy being a major example of this).

    The stupid bigots have the government and economy which they deserve.

    The problem with that is that the rest of us also have the government and economy which the stupid bigots deserve. 🙁

    However, I disagree with Shh’s last sentence. I think the internal and external security apparati of the USA can hold the country together. As bad as things are now, they are not as bad as they were in 1860, when the country actually was starting to fall apart.

  7. EmilianoZ

    Has anybody ever been punished for screwing the people? I expect the opposite. Those crooked officials have probably been decorated with the highest order of merit for outstanding service to Neoliberalism.

  8. EverythingsJake

    Keeps coming back to the Good German. Hannah Arendt was right. Why the Republicans used Reagan to start gutting education during his term as CA governor. Read these lines Ronnie.

  9. V. Arnold

    June 6, 2016

    Yes, the good German\’s who allowed Hitler; now we have the good Americans allowing something far worse than Hitler given the context. Not to venture too far OT; this Eric Zuesse article is a sobering read;

    Lead in the water may be the least of our worries…

  10. bruce wilder

    Do we collectively and commonly lack “the intellectual capacity to think things through” as Shh puts it? Is that a root cause of our benighted politics?

    I think it is, but not quite in the way Shh articulates it.

    Is it true, is it “. . . patently obvious that if people didn’t act like a bunch of ignorant self serving shitheads, there would be no need for regulation” ???

    Are we supposed to just nod and agree, if men were angels . . . what ?

    Yes, some people are sociopaths, but I don’t think that’s the beginning or the end of the problem that requires extensive economic regulation backed by state authority.

    At bottom, the problem isn’t purely one of good moral intention — it is one of limited knowledge and unlimited uncertainty. Economically, we specialize, in large part because of the gains in technical efficiency from focusing narrowly — gains that come about because a narrow focus allows us to gain and apply specialized knowledge. (And, no, that’s not the “comparative advantage” so beloved by economists). But, even the extreme specialists do not know everything about what they do. We operate, and learn, by following rules. Rules and rule-driven behavior reflect the limits to our knowledge and understanding.

    Specialization has another consequence: we end up doing very little for ourselves alone. However one may conceive of personal satisfaction or an individual’s “utility function”, a specialist is necessarily following some abstract guide, not simply personal satisfaction. Even the mythic artist, marching to the drum of inspiration only she hears, seeks an appreciative audience and reception for the product of her art. The cobbler must produce many more shoes that he himself needs. His efforts in crafting shoes must be guided by something more abstract than his own subjective experience of the good, since most of his shoe production constitutes, in relation to his personal needs, wildly excessive surplus. And, he has only a limited capacity to anticipate all the consequences of his choices for others; for this, he needs a theory and measured feedback. Again, rules.

    Our actual experience of specialization in a developed economy isn’t the “market economy” of neoliberal/neoclassical myth. What we experience is hierarchy, with supervisors and command-and-control and, of course, government regulation of business. And, as is the case in the topic of the OP, government regulation of . . . government.

    It is a nice question, why our ideological myth prattles on about the allegedly self-regulating market, which only requires regulation when, in imperfection, it fails, “justifying” regulation. But, leave that aside in this moment and consider why we specialist producers need supervision. And, more broadly, why has capitalism seemed to work so well in bringing the scientific revolution into production? Why is hierarchy so pervasive in the economy? What economic function does authority serve amidst the rule-driven behaviors and highly specialized production?

    I am not going to try to answer that question fully in a blog comment. I just want to draw attention to the fact of hierarchy. We don’t rely on the methodological individual coordinated by markets, so thinking about it that way isn’t helpful. We rely on the boss.

    Relying on the boss is obviously problematic in several ways. No one likes the boss or being bossed about and the boss may cheat or steal. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? and all that. But, why does that structure seem to work, economically and politically? Why do we need someone to govern by rules and to enforce the rules?

    Why does the cobbler need someone to insist that the 180th pair of shoes is made to some technical standard? Why do we need health authorities to inspect restaurants to make sure hygienic standards are observed in the preparation of umpteen meals that the chef and his staff will never eat? Why does the chef supervise the staff?

    I do not know that the idea that humans are morally weak is enough of an answer. Humans are morally weak. And, intellectually weak, too. Social organization, including hierarchy, though hierarchy introduces serious problems of its own, strengthens us intellectually and morally, in several senses. We need the increased scope of knowledge and feedback to know that lead pipes cause lead poisoning and lead poisoning is bad. And, we need the discipline of an intervention from a boss indifferent to our subjective experience, who will insist on following rules and procedures.

  11. ADG

    I’m sure Obama’s war on whistle-blowers had nothing whatsoever to do with no-one wanting to blow the whistle.

  12. Peter*

    Lead remediation and removal from the environment is actually one of the most successful programs over the last 40 years. There are problem areas that were neglected, intentionally or otherwise, and problems remain but most everyone is receiving a much lower dose of lead than forty years ago and that includes almost all of the recent elevated levels of exposure reported in Flint and elsewhere.

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