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: Continue reading

Few Political Stories Make Me Angry. This One Makes Me Angry. And Frightened.

brideg-collapse

In these three posts—Blame Everyone for Infrastructure Ruin: Unethical, Irresponsible Priorities from Reagan to Obama (2010); Ethics Heads-Up: When the President Talks About “Investment in Infrastructure,” Pay Attention (2011); Hole-in-the-Roof Ethics: If Obama Asks For Massive Infrastructure Renewal, the GOP Must Support It. (2011), I laid out the unanswerable case for making national infrastructure renewal a priority. Let me just quote from the three, to save me typing time…

In the early Eighties, I oversaw 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…

Seldom is a solution to a problem so obvious, and so conducive to bi-partisanship. It is a solution to two problems, really: America’s dangerously rotting infrastructure, and the nation’s dismal unemployment rate. 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, and it is perfect timing given the employment crisis.

Yes, Obama better have a way to pay for it, with real budget cuts and reasonable taxes. If he plays politics with the proposal by making it impossible for the GOP to support (as some pundits, like the Post’s Eugene Robinson, have advised), shame on him. This has to be paid for, but it also has to be done…If Obama puts a fair, reasonable, relatively pork-free proposal on the table, Republicans would be despicably unethical to reject it.

As we now know, the Obama Administration proposed, and the GOP Congress opposed. This is a long-term bi-partisan failure, but it must be remembered that Obama had no credibility on this issue, and he never did propose a a way to pay for it “with real budget cuts and reasonable taxes.”

I was reminded of this issue when I read yesterday about how engineers have concluded that over 9% of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient. Bridges are just part of the infrastructure disaster to come—just wait until the 200-year old sewer and water systems in some cities start breaking down, and we have Flint, Michigan times a thousand—but they are illustrative of our government’s failure. Continue reading

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

Seldom is a solution to a problem so obvious, and so conducive to bi-partisanship. It is a solution to two problems, really: America’s dangerously rotting infrastructure, and the nation’s dismal unemployment rate. 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. Continue reading

The Unethical Deficit Debate, a Cause for Despair

Our future, thanks to Washington, D.C.

If the bi-partisan dishonesty and unethical conduct surrounding the budget showdown last week didn’t cause you to despair, then you weren’t paying attention:

  • At a time when the federal deficit threatens the long-term (and not all that long, either) solvency of the U.S., risking quality of life, world leadership and security while placing us under the thumb of China, a Machiavellian adversary, both parties—and the President— opted for ideological point-scoring and demagoguery rather than serious explication of the issues.  Irresponsible cowards.
  • The government was brought to the brink of a shutdown over a pathetic, meaningless, 39 billion dollars of cuts that Democrats called “draconian” and Republicans and Obama trumpeted as the “largest budget cuts in U.S. history”. They were draconian only if you think like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who argued that Republicans were heartless to put “cowboy poetry” on the cutting block, and if, as is increasingly looking to be the case,  the Democrats are willing to let the country stay on the road to bankruptcy as long as it also leads them to power. The cuts were the “largest” only in their inflated figures: the budget was cut close to 50% after World War II. Liars and frauds.
  • Even if it were truly”the largest,” the heralded 39 billion dollars cut represented an infinitesimal dent in the overall budget and will have no appreciable effect on the deficit at all. It took a near shutdown to accomplish that. Easy Quiz: what are the chances of our current leaders displaying the political courage to make the substantial, genuine, painful cuts that all serious analysts agree are imperative to stave off financial ruin? Liars and cowards.
  • After all of the drama, after all the condemnation and hype, after “draconian” and “largest ever,” and after the President joined the charade, the no-nonsense Congressional Budget Office announced that by its calculations, the so-called cut was mostly fiction. It boiled down to only $352 million, less than 1% of a 39 billion that was inadequate to begin with. Incompetents.
  • The Democrats chuckled into their sleeves; the Republicans cried that they had been deceived, as if legislators don’t have the resources to find out what the money in the budget they are charged with approving actually pays for. Liars, incompetents and fools.

For me, the low point was President Obama’s speech at George Washington University, announcing his engagement—finally!—in the deficit-cutting debate while resorting that old Democrat stand-by, class warfare; blaming the Bush tax cuts, irresponsible but only one of many contributors to the deficit crisis; and  pledging to cut expenses by ending waste, fraud and abuse while simultaneously stating that the deficit couldn’t be cut by addressing waste, fraud and abuse.  It wasn’t any of those cynical moments that caused me to lose hope, however. It was the President’s insistence that the deficit cutting measures must not interfere with his highest priorities…such as building “new roads.” Continue reading

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. For a quick refresher on why the neglect of U.S. infrastructure has been a scandalous breach of duty  of duty by generations of U.S. leadership, read this.

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

In the early Eighties, I oversaw 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.

Here is a small glimpse of the enormity of the crisis: Continue reading