Ethics Alarms Déjà Vu And The President’s Infrastructure Proposal

The President has proposed an infrastructure upgrade, more or less. I don’t care about the numbers: whatever it is, it’s not enough. It is, however, something, and infrastructure renewal is a national emergency, indeed a crisis, that should not be derailed by partisan bickering and gamesmanship. Will it further exacerbate the ballooning debt? Yes. Unlike much of the spending that has dug the nation a deeper hole than it is likely to ever escape, however, infrastructure is not discretionary spending.

Jonah Goldberg just issued a mind-meltingly ignorant and dishonest column for the Los Angeles Times titled “Is American infrastructure crumbling? Hardly.”

Shame on him. This is Trump Hate as national suicide. Our infrastructure has been crumbling for decades, with each year of neglect guaranteeing bigger expenses and hidden burdens on the economy, not to mention that cholera outbreaks when the sewage pipes and water pipes start breaking coast to coast.

I’ve been writing about this unethical nightmare of irresponsible leadership and government for years, here and elsewhere. Nothing has changed. Where necessary, as you read these excerpts from 2010 and 2011, just change the name of the President or the parties. The situation hasn’t changed, other than getting worse:

From Blame Everyone for Infrastructure Ruin: Unethical, Irresponsible Priorities from Reagan to Obama…

In the early Eighties, I oversaw and edited an independent study funded by the Highway Users Federation and the National Chamber Foundation called “Transport Tomorrow,” exploring the immediate need for transportation infrastructure repair and expansion in all modes of transportation: roads, railway, waterway, and airports. In the process of learning how dire the need for massive construction and repair was if America’s future commercial needs were to be met, the study commission made a disturbing discovery: urban water and sewer systems were crumbling too. There was literally not enough money to fix all the roads, bridges, tunnels, water mains and sewer pipes that had to be fixed, and the consequences of not doing so would be economic paralysis and worse, disease and even social unrest.

In the face of this looming and undeniably real disaster, the Reagan Administration did—pretty much nothing. Neither did the Bush, Clinton and Bush II administrations, and even the Chamber of Commerce failed to make infrastructure repair one of its key issues. Oh, there were new projects, of course, and when a major bridge started to dump cars into rivers it was repaired. Holes were patched, pipes were replaced here and there. But the full-fledged commitment to the unsexy and incredibly expensive job of keeping the infrastructure sufficient to meet the needs of the nation, and protecting it from the ravages of use and time was deferred, and deferred, and deferred. Something was always more important: wars…tax cuts…the environment…health care. The Obama Administration is following this irresponsible pattern, except it has combined with the profligacy of the Bush Administration to push the Federal deficit into unprecedented dangerous territory. New taxes on just about everybody and everything are going to be needed to stave off financial ruin, and there will be little political will to spend any of the income on something as mundane, but crucial, as sewers.

The problem, however, has become infinitely worse since 1983, when “Transport Tomorrow” was released, and then as now, the attitude of our elected leaders is to let the next guy deal with the problem. Is this responsible? No. Is it cowardly? Yes. Is it a blatant, intentional and knowing distortion of priorities that will threaten American prosperity, jobs, and lives? Absolutely….

From Ethics Heads-Up: When the President Talks About “Investment in Infrastructure,” Pay Attention:

Yesterday, a massive water main rupture shut down part of the Washington area Beltway, tying up traffic and swamping cars. From the Associated Press story:

“At one point, water from the broken main shot eight or nine feet in the air, said Lyn Riggins, a spokeswoman for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. There was significant damage to the office park, with chunks of asphalt strewn across the parking lot, building windows shattered and three cars filled with water.

“It looks like somewhere where you would go white water rafting,” Riggins said.”

Advance reports discussing President Obama’s State of the Union message tonight note that he will be talking about, among other things, investing the nation’s resources on infrastructure renewal: roads, sewers, bridges and more. Already, Republican budget hawks and the conservative talk shows are mocking this as simply a euphemism for more “out of control spending.”

Addressing this country’s dangerously decrepit infrastructure will be expensive all right, but it is definitely an investment, and not undertaking it immediately is irresponsible, short-sighted, dangerous and foolish.,,

From Hole-in-the-Roof Ethics: If Obama Asks For Massive Infrastructure Renewal, the GOP Must Support It:

Spend the money, trillions if necessary, to repair and replace existing roads, railway beds, waterways, sewer systems, airports and bridges.  It still won’t get us where we need to be, but we’ll be much better off than if we let the current deterioration continue, and we’ll save money in the long run, too—real savings, not phony health care reform savings that evaporate once reality kicks in.

There is no justification not to do this, nor is there any legitimate excuse for any elected official not to vote for it. (And no, not wanting to give the President a victory is not legitimate…or ethical, or patriotic.) Repairing the infrastructure isn’t “discretionary spending,” it is essential, unavoidable and cost-effective spending, unless it is diverted into new boondoggles and pork. No new structures, unless they replace unrepairable old ones. No light rail systems or bullet trains; what is needed is basic maintenance and repair….everywhere. It is already late, but “better late than never” has seldom been as appropriate.Will fixing the infrastructure add to the deficit? Not really, because it already is an expense that we know will have to be made, or else. If the sewer systems and waterworks break down, we start dying. If bridges collapse, we die too. That isn’t even mentioning the increasing costs in energy and commerce caused by a decaying transportation system. The sooner we pay for it, the less it will cost, so sooner is per se better for the economy…

Any pundit, politician or journalist who claims that spending to repair the crumbling—yes, that’s the right word—infrastructure is not an urgent, existentialist bi-partisan priority is either a liar or a fool.

22 thoughts on “Ethics Alarms Déjà Vu And The President’s Infrastructure Proposal

  1. Although the aubsurdiry of it all does call to mind existentialism, I think you mean it’s an “existential” issue. I wonder what Sartre would have to say.

    • Since this will never impact, or even inconvenience, the elites on either side of the aisle, they continue to play games with crucial issues. The aristocracy does not live in our world, and thus do not understand the issues such games cause citizens.

      And they don’t care

      But let the proles vote in one not of their club, and watch the sparks fly!

  2. Even before hitting political biases, infrastructure is so dramatically unsexy that it creates a huge barrier- spending money to feed a hungry child or liberate an oppressed population is sexy (even if we argue over whether it was money well-spent); spending money to dig up a road, replace some pipes, and put a boring old road back in the same place is far from it.

    When I was a summer camp counselor we spent a whole season watching people’s faces fall when the answer to “what’s new this year?” was “plumbing, mostly.”

  3. Obama seemed to genuinely want to renew infrastructure nationwide, and he most likely would have had bipartisan support for it. The insanely under-reported story of the failure of his “shovel-ready” project plan was that it was derailed and shot down by feminists, to whom Obama immediately capitulated. From USA Today:

    “That was actually an original part of Barack Obama’s stimulus plan, but it was derailed by feminists within the Obama coalition who thought it would produce too many jobs for men. Christina Romer, then-chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, reported: “The very first email I got … was from a women’s group saying ‘We don’t want this stimulus package to just create jobs for burly men.”

    That’s right, too many jobs for men. That’s what we need to worry about when bridges are collapsing. Nevermind that women simply will not DO those jobs (but please give them shortcuts to becoming CEOs and scientists and other cool jobs, because in those select cases they care about equal representation and stuff.)

    This is why we unquestionably dodged a bullet by not electing Hillary.

    • More detail about the entire fiasco here. The glorious stupidity of it all is that we ended up spending the bajillions of dollars in stimulus money anyway and somehow did it WITHOUT fixing any of the infrastructure.

        • Fake news.

          The women did it! If you look at the linked piece, however, you’ll noticed that while feminist groups were (rightly!) concerned about gender equity in stimulus spending, they did not oppose infrastructure projects or get any stripped from the ARRA. Women’s groups wanted additions, not subtractions, and got them. The idea that women’s groups, rather than conservative Republicans, are the reason for the lack of infrastructure spending is risible bad faith even by Reynolds’s standards.

        • Interesting article, Isaac. Both interesting and specific, like this:

          “The National Organization for Women (NOW), the Feminist Majority, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and the National Women’s Law Center soon joined the battle against the supposedly sexist bailout of men’s jobs. At the suggestion of a staffer to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, NOW president Kim Gandy canvassed for a female equivalent of the “testosterone-laden ‘shovel-ready’ ” terminology. (“Apron-ready” was broached but rejected.) Christina Romer, the highly regarded economist President Obama chose to chair his Council of Economic Advisers, would later say of her entrance on the political stage, “The very first email I got . . . was from a women’s group saying ‘We don’t want this stimulus package to just create jobs for burly men.’ ”

          The blog that Chris cites as reference to his claim of Fake News says this:

          “On the ARRA specifically, you can blame the Republicans and conservative Democrats who used their vetoes to make the stimulus smaller and more tilted towards tax cuts than spending or state aid.”

          The seven (7) links in the article offer no examples of this, or any evidence supporting the claim that I could find. It may well be true, but even if it is, hardly refutes the evidence of the influence that feminists had with the Obama administration as regards the ARRA Act of 2009. So I’m not sure why this would be called “Fake News” by anyone.

          • I think that Chris has a deep emotional need to regard unpleasant facts as “fake news.” I’m not sure why. I think it would be healthy to be able to change one’s opinions as one gains new information. Just seems like that would make life easier.

            After Chris gets around to reading the materials that I originally shared (no one’s point was ‘the women did it!” so there seems to be a Cathy Newman-sized comprehension problem there,) he can read this Forbes article. Real infrastructure spending actually plummeted during Obama’s first term:

            Since men’s jobs were by far the biggest casualties in the recession, infrastructure repair requires a great many burly men, women do not CHOOSE to do those jobs (and since most women aren’t feminists, they don’t need to feel any cognitive dissonance over this,) and considering that a large chunk of Obama’s stimulus package was frittered away in sectors of the economy that didn’t need a stimulus because “gender equality”…I fail to see how he can logically posit that feminists were “rightly” concerned about the Obama stimulus’ being sexist. It seems that their concern was wrong in every respect. I cannot find a single word of Chris’ post that I can honestly assent to.

            • Chris lives in a bubble. Any facts, feelings, or analysis contrary to that bubble must be untrue.

              This is a common socialist flaw. It is also one reason they resort to shaming, doxing, ridicule, and demonization of their opponents: they cannot win a fair debate on facts, track record, or ideology.

              This is another reason Trump was elected: common Americans hate socialist tactics.

    • Why was it ever labeled a “stimulus package” in the first place? When I go to the grocery store, I’m not investing in the economy by making up some quasi-useful aesthetic project for someone to do; I’m buying something I need. Has the federal government somehow become allergic to simply buying things it needs? Does it have a standing “stimulus package” for its utility companies, too?

  4. Reading Goldberg’s article, I don’t really see the Trump hate. He gets a few digs in, but most of his ire is reserved for Congress. It seems like a basic small government argument to me. If you can show that his stance was different during the Obama administration that would help justify the charge that this article is motivated by bias, but it seems pretty consistent with conservative thought during past eight years.

    • Fair call. Goldberg is a prominent conservative NeverTrumper, and trying to minimize the need for infrastructure repair is irresponsible, but you are right: his post is not clearly an anti-Trump hit piece, though this…“But if he’d begun his presidency with building as his top priority, he would have won a lot of bipartisan support..” is so dishonest and counter factual I can’t stand it. Earlier? Earlier Democrats were boycotting his searing in and convinced that could get him impeached. Earlier the economy wasn’t booming. Earlier the resistance was calling the shots. The Democrats are botching the Dreamer negotiations, and losing support—now is a much better time to seek a bi-partisan effort.

  5. Road, bridges, and other infrastructure are in dire need of repair and/or improvement. In Houston, Hurricane Harvey pointed out the failures of proper planning and allowing developers to build wherever and whenever they wanted. In west Houston, most that land was wetlands, which soaked up the usual heavy rains from spring and fall storms, which average one a year. Now, they are covered by buildings, asphalt, concrete, and highways (and some unbelievably tall [and I mean friggin’ tall] bridges). We learned that Houston drainage is a big, fat, hairy problem.

    So, what do we do to fix the problem? The Harris County Court has just approved $105,000,000.00 to improve the Astrodome. The Astrodome. That one. The one that has been empty since the Astros and the Texans moved to other stadiums over twenty years ago, stadiums paid for by Harris County taxpayers.

    And what will that get the lowly citizens of the City of Houston and Harris County, Texas? A parking lot. Yep. A parking lot, to set the stage for further renovations and upgrades and plans to Save The Dome! It has been empty for over 20 years, aside from serving as a temporary shelter for Hurricane Katrina refugees. The estimated cost is $105,000,000.00. You know that when it is all said and done, it will cost much, much more than that.

    Yet, every two years, the Harris County Commissioners’ Court (basically, the county’s mayor’s office) puts a Save the Dome initiative on the ballot, with some new and improved cockamamie plan to convert the Dome into some new revenue-generating facility. And every two years, the initiatives go down in flames, only to be resurrected in two more years with a new bright idea.

    Meanwhile, Braes Bayou spills out over its banks and floods the Meyerland area three times in three years, forcing residents there to rebuild their homes. Now, for Meyerlanders to rebuild their thrice-damaged homes, they must get their plans approved by the City, which includes structural elevations of at least five (5) feet. FIVE FEET of elevation. Before they can rebuild the structures. That is at a cost of approximately $200,000.00, which most cannot afford and is not covered by homeowner’s insurance (because those policies cover wind and water-that-falls-down damage, not flood-related damage), and flood insurance does not cover the elevation costs because flood insurance only covers the structural damages and contents resulting from flooding. So, they get federal elevation grants. From the federal government. Where does that money come from, you ask? Taxes. Who pays taxes? Why, taxpayers, no?

    Now, I ask: couldn’t $105,000,000.00 be better used to rebuild/replace needed infrastructure rather than on the Astrodome?


      • Yup. That one. It is an eyesore and should be razed to the ground. But, wait. Stop. Hold on a second. It was built in the 1960s. What was used in the 1960s? Asbestos. That’s right. Asbestos. To raze the place, they need a remediation plan. One estimate to raze the place, including remediation and attendant costs, was about $220,000,000.00. Now that I think of it, $105,000,000.00 for a parking lot is not a bad deal. Sheesh.


        • Houston has been the bastion of Minority Democrat Rule for decades. What else did you expect?

          Before Chris starts in, I simply point to the facts of how such places have faired. It is not bias to observe and comment on the observation.

    • jvb: the NFIP does have a program to help with elevation of dwellings with repetitive inundation – some of the requirements are that the local community has to require the elevation (in the form of a demand letter from the controlling community) along with a specified number of flood claims by the same owner. The “Increased Cost of Compliance” claim needs to be filed separately by the homeowner – it is not an automatic claim. This claim will be evaluated by the carrier or NFIP (depends on how the policy was issued). There is a limit of, I think, $30,000.00 for this claim if it is approved.

  6. We need massive infrastructure improvements. And to the extent that we need more workers to get it done, hire a bunch of young men and women who need employment anyway. Or, subsidize those wages and offer free college tuition as trade — 1 year of work = 1 year of tuition. But make it a massive effort and get it done.

    • The skill sets needed aren’t available in that cohort. This isn’t pick and shovel work, for the most part. I doubt that you would hire someone like you describe to maintain/repair the water supply and sewage needs of your house, they are less qualified still to do so for a municipality.

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