Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ghost towns tend to be the relics of unrestrained capitalism

I just finished watching Forgotten Planet: Abandoned America. Forgotten Planet is a television series devoted to the places we have been, but have forgotten. In this episode, we are treated to an examination of ghost towns such as Detroit, Michigan, the Salton Sea in California, Hunters Point Naval Shipyard near San Francisco and the towns of Picher, Oklahoma and Bodie, California.

I found the documentary very interesting because it demonstrates the ultimate conclusion of unrestrained capitalism. The Salton Sea and the town of Picher both demonstrate what happens when industrial pollution is left unregulated. In both cases, there is no one being held responsible for the clean up of those places, and I don't see anyone volunteering to do so.

Picher was a mining town, famous in its day for mining the lead used for the bullets in World Wars I and II. What remains is a town surrounded by mountains of tailings containing lead. The wind picked up the dust from these piles of mining waste and spread them all over town, leaving a thin layer of toxic dust everywhere nearby. Kids growing up in that town showed high levels of lead in their blood and developed learning disabilities as a result of that exposure.

Picher also endured more than a century of unrestrained underground mining. The tunnels under the town have destabilized the foundation of many buildings around that town and have created sinkholes. Mining waste has also contaminated the groundwater poisoning everyone in the town who chose to stay there.

Who is left to pay for all of this? The taxpayer.

The Salton Sea is what can best be described as an accidental lake. It was created by a private development company and is now fed by several rivers and agricultural runoff. The runoff includes fertilizers, pesticides and salt, hence it's name. The fertilizers gave rise to algae blooms that took all the oxygen in the water and killed any fish in the lake. The salt killed most anything else. Birds eating the fish died as a result, by the millions. Again, we see industrialists trying to solve a problem for economic gain, finding that they made a mistake, and abandoning their mess for someone else to clean up.

Detroit and Bodie represent the worst of unrestrained capitalism. Bodie was a gold mining town, started by a single prospector. At the height of the activity in Bodie, the finest of whatever you wanted could be bought there. Wine, whiskey, seafood, you name it. But it was also 90% men and the women were essentially second class citizens. The hard drinking men engaged in routine gunfights, giving the lie to open-carry gun fanbois of today. The town saw their fortunes decline as the gold became much harder to find and was already slowly being abandoned toward the end. The end of the town came when a 2 and half year old boy was playing with matches and set the town ablaze. I guess no one thought about building a fire department. But hey, at least someone got the gold.

Detroit is also known as Motor City. It is a once great city famous for the Ford Motor Company and the Packard Motor Company. Both companies have abandoned large swaths of real estate, leaving gigantic warehouses and factories crumbling behind. When the car factories left, so did the people. Block after block of abandoned real estate can be found in Detroit. Unfortunately, there is no one being held accountable for the mess left behind, unless you are a taxpayer.

The last example is the only example caused solely by our government. That is the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard near San Francisco, California. The shipyard was opened in 1941 just before the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th of that year. News of the attack put our country in a panic and that shipyard got busy building ships and repairing ships that were damaged at Pearl Harbor.

The shipyard remained busy until it received ships that were exposed to atom bombs set off in the south Pacific for study. The metal in the ships was "hot" due to exposure to the bomb blasts and the site was eventually abandoned by the Department of Defense with no one to clean it up. Perhaps that is because neither Democrats nor Republicans are willing to acknowledge the mistakes made at Hunters Point.

Curiously, despite the billions (in today's money) made from these disasters, there is no one at the top willing to donate to assist these regions in the cleanup. I don't see any of our great philanthropists offering to pony up a billion here or there to help clean up these places where man can no longer live.

After seeing all of this, in just one documentary, I find it unsurprising that the GOP, fresh out of billionaire funded victories, is ready to take on the Environmental Protection Agency. It should be clear to anyone now, that the GOP does not wish to prevent disasters like the examples in Picher, Oklahoma and the Salton Sea, among many others. Nor do they wish to see anyone pay for the clean up those sites with their ill-gotten profits.

While the GOP attacks the EPA in Congress next year, let us remind them of these places and of who is responsible for the clean up of the same.

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