The Trashing of America

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Bush Administration, corruption

This goes with the last post, on the failures of conservative ideology —

Chuck McCutcheon writes in The Seattle Times:

A pipeline shuts down in Alaska. Equipment failures disrupt air travel in Los Angeles. Electricity runs short at a spy agency in Maryland.

None of these recent events resulted from a natural disaster or terrorist attack, but they may as well have, some homeland security experts say. They worry that too little attention is paid to how fast the country’s basic operating systems are deteriorating.

“When I see events like these, I become concerned that we’ve lost focus on the core operational functionality of the nation’s infrastructure and are becoming a fragile nation, which is just as bad — if not worse — as being an insecure nation,” said Christian Beckner, a Washington analyst who runs the respected Web site Homeland Security Watch (www.christianbeckner.com).

The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation “D” for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem.

“I thought [Hurricane] Katrina was a hell of a wake-up call, but people are missing the alarm,” said Casey Dinges, the society’s managing director of external affairs.

Maintaining infrastructure is one of the big weaknesses of the rightie “free market” religion. That’s becaue there’s no profit in maintaining infrastructure; it’s all cost. Therefore, private companies want someone else to do it. And I don’t blame them; maintaining infrastructure is a responsibility of government. But conservatives don’t want government to do it, either, unless they can make it part of a nice pork-barrel project or award the contract to a campaign contributor. I’ve ranted about this before.

Our crumbling infrastructure puts citizens’ lives at risk. It also makes us more vulnerable to disaster, both natural and man-made.

The Commission on Public Infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said in a recent report that facilities are deteriorating “at an alarming rate.” …

… “There’s a growing understanding that these programs are at best inefficient and at worst corrupt,” said Everett Ehrlich, executive director of the CSIS public infrastructure commission.

Ehrlich and others cite several reasons for the lack of action:

• The political system is geared to reacting to crises instead of averting them.

• Some politicians don’t see infrastructure as a federal responsibility.

• And many problems are out of sight and — for the public — out of mind.

And, of course, our Republican budget deficit means we don’t have the money to fix what needs fixing. One of these days we’re going to wake up and realize we’re not living in a rich country after all.

See also RJ Eskow on “The Third-World-ization of the USA.”

Unrelated: Digby has your Sunday night reading assignment.

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10 Comments

9 Comments

  1. moonbat  •  Aug 27, 2006 @11:32 pm

    It’s less about infrastructure and more about culture (the two go together), but I thought I’d share this DKos diary, A Former American Is Shocked At Deterioration In America Since Bush.

  2. A. Citizen  •  Aug 27, 2006 @11:33 pm

    I post about this every other month. The entire nation, except for us folks in CA, are livin’ like the Goobers in the South…Fat, drunk and increasingly unhappy.

    As The Idiot likes to say: ‘Polertics has conseeeeeeeequinces…’ yep, when the RedAsses in the RedStates wake up one mornin’ and their water is undrinkable I’m sure O’Lielly and OxycotinBoy will blame in on ‘dem Libruls…’ Woan matter none as by that time it will be too, to late for Goober & Co. jes like it’s too, too late for folks in NOLA, ‘Bama and ‘Sippi.

    Look Out! Here comes Ernesto!

    The idea of taxation was invented for a reason but as long as some folks got da plasma TV and a case o’ beer dey ‘good to go…’

    Amurkkka…land of the ignorant.

    Whew….think I’ll kick back with 24 Hours and brewski….dis lurkin is ‘hard work’.

  3. Lynne  •  Aug 28, 2006 @6:03 am

    From Georgia to “A. Citizen”: What on earth are you talking about?

  4. Donna  •  Aug 28, 2006 @9:43 am

    So, do we need to ask Americans if they prefer ‘stay the course’ of spending 1.7 billion a week in Iraq or if they’d rather spend that money assuring that they have clean drinking water for their families?
    It would take only six to seven weeks of re-directing down-the-drain Iraq War funding to be able to upgrade ALL the potable water systems in America.
    So, an estimated 1.6 trillion is needed over the next five years to fix America’s infrastructure deterioration. Haven’t we already spend around 20% of that on Bush’s chosen pre-emptive war…….with no end in sight to more of our money [estimated at a trillion] going down that drain if we ‘stay the stupid course’?

    I have long had an image of Bush: Bush is a lousy father who takes food off his family’s table [middle class decline], lets the house deteriorate [witness Katrina], and steals his kids’ savings [national debt] in order to run and play at ‘macho’ big-shot war games with his Republican gang buddies. Would he use income [tax $] to fix the faucet in the kitchen or repair the roof on the ‘house’ or save for his kid’s college? Nope, not when he loves to play king of the hill throwing tax breaks and inside contracts to his buddies.

  5. Ray  •  Aug 28, 2006 @10:44 am

    “A pipeline shuts down in Alaska. Equipment failures disrupt air travel in Los Angeles. Electricity runs short at a spy agency in Maryland.”

    I might be missing something here, but aren’t all these the fault of private business? Don’t get me wrong, I do believe infrastructure needs improvement, but isn’t a pipeline the responsibility of the oil company? Is hardware upkeep the government’s responsibilty or the airport’s? And I’m sure the spy agency doesn’t produce their own electricity, but buys it from a utility company.

    If I am wrong on this, please tell me so and why.

  6. Donna  •  Aug 28, 2006 @11:54 am

    Ray, I think the tie-in you need to look at is the oversight/regulation role of government with respect to corporations/private business when those operate in the spheres which affects the common interests—fuel, environment, energy, transportation, and so forth.

  7. Gordon  •  Aug 28, 2006 @12:04 pm

    Ray,

    Roads, electricity, pipelines, ports etc. may or may not be owned by private companies. But infrastructure is almost always a “natural monopoly” and thus gov’t regulation is required. The Right has expropriated the term “free market capitalism” and applied it to something else entirely. “Free market” applies only when competition is possible.

  8. maha  •  Aug 28, 2006 @12:06 pm

    I might be missing something here, but aren’t all these the fault of private business?

    That’s a good point. I should have been more clear about this when I said infrastructure is government’s responsibility. Certainly, if a private business owns and has sole use of a particular facility, certainly that business is responsible for upkeep. In the case of oil pipelines, there are two concerns that involve government. One is that companies are scrimping on inspection and maintenance of their own pipelines to improve quarterly earnings. I realize that in Conservative Land this doesn’t happen, because companies don’t do things that will hurt themselves in the long run, but in the real world companies sometimes — hell, often — make stupid decisions and defer costs until the absolute last minute. The executives are trying to maximize the quarterly profits by deferring cost and hoping the system won’t go completely to hell until after they retire. Thus, government inspectors and regulations — which conservative ideology says are evil — are necessary evils. This goes for larger pipelines that are owned and operated by consortiums.

    The other concern is that oil pipeline maintenance is critical to national security. See this report from Senator Richard Lugar (R) about why this is a big deal.

    Re hardware upkeep — I believe in the U.S. most airports are owned by cities, not private companies. And of course security and air traffic control are managed by federal employees. If you are talking about hardware upkeep on airplanes, I don’t consider airplanes to be infrastructure.

    Regarding electricity, the big weakness in the system is in the electricity grid, and you can read here about how the deregulation so beloved by conservatives means no one is taking responsibility for maintaining the grid any more.

    Also regarding energy, see this article on the Bush Administration’s new source review policy.

    And of course many of the infrastructures I was thinking about, like bridges and subway tunnels, are owned and managed by government.

    The point is that there isn’t a clear divide between private and public responsibility when it comes to infrastructure. The conservative fantasy that deregulation is always better than regulation, private is always better than public, and market forces will fix everything is nonsense. Most of the time there must either be very strict and rigorously enforced governmental regulation of infrastructure, or else the government runs the infrastructure. Neither of these options is palatable to the Right, however.

  9. Tom Hilton  •  Aug 28, 2006 @3:12 pm

    The point is that there isn’t a clear divide between private and public responsibility when it comes to infrastructure. The conservative fantasy that deregulation is always better than regulation, private is always better than public, and market forces will fix everything is nonsense. Most of the time there must either be very strict and rigorously enforced governmental regulation of infrastructure, or else the government runs the infrastructure. Neither of these options is palatable to the Right, however.

    Exactly. The distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’ doesn’t make a lot of sense when referring to infrastructure that is critical to everyone.

    By the way, this has been going on a very long time–back in Reagan’s reign I used to say that ‘deferred maintenance’ was the operational philosophy of the administration. Things got a little better under Clinton (within the constraints of budget-balancing), and now they’re worse than ever–because the vastly greater corruption and costly foreign adventures that are the signature of this administration siphon off a lot more money from the budget.

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