Of COURSE The United States Has To Spend Trillions On Infrastructure Renewal, And Of Course Ignorance, Incompetence And Dishonesty Will Screw It Up. Again.

Welcome to the first Russian doll Ethics Alarms post, in which a series of essentially identical essays are nested to shout out a truth that hasn’t changed in decades. That truth is that the infrastructure of the United States is getting progressively worse.

Sub-truths nested in that one include these:

  • This was an urgent crisis 40 years ago, and has only been getting worse since.
  • Both parties and all Presidents since—Nixon? Johnson?—are equally responsible, because they all  participated in “kicking the can” down the rotting road for political gain. This was and is political cowardice. Maintaining the infrastructure is one basic function of government, like national defense and law enforcement, that both Big Government and limited government advocates can agree on. However, since infrastructure rot is only a headline matter when bridges collapse, airliners crash or sewer pipes burst spreading disease and death, it’s a long term expense with benefits that the public won’t see immediately, if at all. Their grandchildren, however, will have better lives.
  • Politicians prefer short-term benefits, like sending checks directly to potential voters (and favored interest groups) under the fantasy of “economic stimulus.” This is a bi-partisan breach of duty and ethics.
  • As with everything else, the news media is stunningly incompetent in explaining the facts. I just heard two Fox News talking empty-heads arguing about whether sewer and water pipes were “infrastructure.” This is because much of the partisan attacks on Biden’s proposal has focused on the relatively small proportion of the financial requirements that will pay for  “roads and bridges.'” Of course sewer and water pipes are infrastructure, and indeed among the most dangerous parts of a nation’s infrastructure to let deteriorate, as ours have in too many major cities to count. You people (Dana Perino and Bill Hemmer in this case) are incompetent idiots, and should be working at a 7-11. Also included in the “infrastructure,” in case you care: canals, airports, railways, public transportation, barges, ferries, waterways, traffic signals, the power grid, and more. You are making the public even more ignorant than they already are. You’re a disgrace. I hate you.
  • Jobs are not infrastructure, but to listen to the advocates of renewal,  you would think that creating jobs is the main reason to undertake the effort. This is disinformation, and also unforgivable.
  • A rotting infrastructure hurts the economy in thousands of incremental, sinister, unavoidable ways, making goods more expensive, people poorer, limiting economic growth, and yes, costing jobs, with all of these effects getting worse over time.
  • No, the nation can’t afford to do what needs to be done–which is what will lead to national disaster if it is not done. That is because we have allowed the national debt to reach the red zone, and again, both parties are to blame, Republicans for irresponsible tax cuts, and Democrats for creating out-of-control social programs. However, whether we can afford it or not, we have to do it, spend the money, raise the taxes, be responsible…or we are dooming the nation. That is the situation cowardly, incompetent, venal and dishonest leadership has created.
  • I see little hope that President Biden’s efforts are any more serious or that they will be any more successful than the proposals that have gone before. It is true that even some infrastructure repair is better than none, but Democrats and progressives have painted themselves, and the nation, into a corner.

For example, the Biden administration has blocked a major highway expansion in Houston, Texas, claiming that the project is racially discriminatory and harmful to the environment. The state was about to begin a proposed widening of certain sections of Interstate 45 that has been years in planning when the Department of Transportation invoked the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to temporarily shut it down pending further review, Politico reported.

The department’s intervention is supposedly  a “test case” for Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, has claimed  “racial injustice” in highway construction and vowed to make “righting these wrongs an imperative” under his leadership. Local activists say that the highway expansion would disproportionately harm black and Hispanic communities by displacing more than 1,000 homes, hundreds of businesses, five houses of worship, and two schools along the stretch of highway.

If race, class and the environment are going to be the priorities, then essential infrastructure maintenance is impossible. It is that simple.

Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Exactly How Much Are We ‘All In This Together’? The Golden Rule Vs. ‘Look Out For #1’”

The above image is for “Fallout Shelter-The Board Game”

Last night’s pre-dawn post inspired this one (it’s just after 5 am here) , another thoughtful reflection on the ethics process from enigmatic commenter Extradimensional Cephalopod.

Here’s his (it’s?) Comment of the Day on the post, “Exactly How Much Are We ‘All In This Together’? The Golden Rule Vs. ‘Look Out For #1’”:

Whenever we encounter an ethical conflict, we need to take a look at the bigger picture, figure out what the most ethically effective way to deal with the relevant liabilities is, and then scale that principle back down to the current situation.

If we ever encounter a situation where people really do need to seek shelter, each family should ask itself, who do I most want to offer shelter if they need it? Those people get first choice. If they pass, then the family reaches out to the next group they care about. And so on. People can’t just wait for situations to happen to them; they need to ask themselves the hard questions about who they prioritize and why.

Having done that, everyone should prepare themselves to help in other ways, to offset the help they can’t offer through the space of their home. These ethical situations don’t take place in a vacuum. There are plenty of options for people to help in various ways and coordinate to make sure people get what they need even if it’s from someone they didn’t know. Benefactors can go shopping, donate money or food, organize, offer listening ears, et cetera. It’s amazing what people can do for each other when they put their minds to it. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Dunce: Professor Lara Bazelon” (1)

The Ethics Dunce post highlighting prominent lawyer and legal commentator Lara Bazelon’s op-ed celebrating her decision to place her career and the welfare of clients over the best interests of her own children didn’t attract a lot of commentary, but the comments that arrived were excellent and often moving, and readers related her dilemma to their own lives. There have been three Comments of the Day so far. I’m going to post them in the order in which they arrived.

Here is JP’s Comment of the Day on “Ethics Dunce: Professor Lara Bazelon”:

About 8 ½ years ago, I became a father. As I looked down at my newborn son, I couldn’t help but note was how small he was. How beautiful he looked. How unprepared I was to be in this situation. It’s funny the way life teaches us lessons. For example, did you know an 18-month-old could lock you out of your house? Or that a 2-year-old could operate an elevator? How about a 3-year-old using deception to win a game of hide and seek? Maybe that a 4-year-old could teach himself to swim?

It hasn’t been easy taking care of my oldest. From the beginning of his life, he has always been too interested in what was going on to care about being held or even staying in one place. His confidence has given him a unique perspective on the world where everything is a new adventure. It seems that he always must be in the thick of things. But here I am, trying to keep up, increasingly more aware that I am falling further behind and time is running out. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Professor Lara Bazelon [UPDATED]

The click-bait headline is, I’ve Picked My Job Over My Kids : I love them beyond all reason. But sometimes my clients need me more.”

The author is well-published law school professor Lara Bazelon, who often opines at Slate. I could, but I won’t, give Bazelon the benefit of the doubt, assuming that as a lawyer and advocate, the article is intentional hyperbole and intended to both spark debate and to assuage the conscience of other working moms. Lawyers, however, are not supposed to mislead or lie. If Bazelon doesn’t believe that she has picked her job over her kids, then she shouldn’t write it. If she does believe it, then she is rationalizing away a breach of duty.

There are millions of working mothers who have no choice other than to work when their children may need them, but Bazelon is not one of them. She writes, Continue reading

The Ozzie Albies Exension, Or “How DARE A Baseball Player Consider Anything Important Other Than Money?”

The Atlanta Braves announced a contract extension with second baseman Ozzie Albies guaranteeing the 22-year-old third year players a total of $35 million  from 2019 tp 2025. He’ll earn $1million apiece in 2019 and 2020, $3 million in 2021, $5MM in 2022, and $7MM annually from 2023 through 2025. The contract includes two  club options reportedly valued at $7million each; the first one comes with a $4 million buyout. If both are exercised, Albies will earn  $45 million over the next nine seasons .

Executives, players, stat-heads and scouts are all  condemning the Albies extension, alternately calling it a terrible deal for Albies, unethical exploitation by the team, and selfish betrayal by the player.

Here’s NBC Sports…

Front offices deciding, seemingly simultaneously, to stop spending on free agents in their 30’s stagnated the market. Then, because of the stagnated market they created, the owners get to collectively save billions of dollars in the coming years by nudging their young players into signing extensions well before their primes, before they have established leverage with which to negotiate. Free agency is then further stagnated because these players will be reaching it at 29 and 30, rather than 26. …In these young stars and potential stars signing away their arbitration-eligible seasons, they will fail to help set higher and higher bars at each step of the arbitration process.

Continue reading

On Greed, Stupidity, And Reality: My Baseball Wish

There is now rampant speculation that the twin prime-age free agents who have the so-called Hot Stove League in palpitations—the two are outfielder Bryce Harper (L) and shortstop Manny Machado (R), both 26, burgeoning superstars, and, in the estimation of many including me, assholes—will not sign contracts until February. I find this difficult to believe, since it would be jaw-droppingly stupid (and unethical), but I hope hope hope that it happens, because the ethics lessons the consequences might teach couldl be momentous.

Both young men are reportedly seeking contracts in the range of ten years at 30+ million dollars a year. Both have player agents who are telling them such exorbitant goals are reasonable.  Machado has already made about 34 million dollars in his still-brief Major League career.  Harper had made almost 48 million. Both are in a position in which they could pick out the city and team they want to live in and play with, and say to their agents, “This is where I want to be. Make the best deal you can, and make it happen.” That is what a rational person would do, and indeed, that is what some players, not players with the potential earning power of these two but ones with more brains than Harper and Machado have between them, have done, though rarely.

It is important to note that unless these guys have developed an addiction to eating diamonds or something similarly extravagant, they don’t need to work another day in their lives now. What is their motivation to be paid more than a third of a billion dollars over the next decade, other than having avaricious, unethical agents steering them in that direction? Ego? Insanity? Stupidity? Harper or Machado could call up any one of the 30 MLB teams, ask, “What can you pay me for the next five years?” and have a contract for at least $100,000,000 dollars within 25 hours. How much different will their lives be with those “low-ball” contracts than if they received the longer, richer ones they covet? Not different at all, and quite possibly better. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/14/2018: Another Rushing Around In A Hotel Room Getting Ready For A Seminar Edition…

Good morning from Boston...

…where I always feel at home! I’m here for the morning, talking to young, newly minted Massachusetts lawyers about ethics.

1. This is a big deal, though only lawyers will care. Finally, California has ditched its confusing, multi-source (some ethics rules were laws, some were regulations), antiquated legal ethics rules, and became the last of the jurisdictions, including D.C., to adopt the American Bar Association’s template for legal ethics guidance. Yes, in one area, if not the most important ones, California is moving closer to the rest of the country! There is hope!

2. Ally’s lament. Ally Sheedy, whom you might recall from “War Games” and “The Breakfast Club,” is one of Hollywood’s more articulate and thoughtful performers. She recently penned a post condemning Hollywood sexism, and its effect on her career. Essentially the essay amounts to a complaint that Hollywood is obsessed with appearances and, with women, sex appeal.

I like Sheedy, and I was pre-inclined to respect her observations (which are certainly accurate), but I have to admit that unsympathetic blogger Amy Alkon has a point. She writes,

“..professional actress Ally Sheedy takes it upon herself to lament the looks-driven reality of Hollywood — which is kind of like lamenting how in professional baseball, somebody’s always throwing a ball your way. …This is the movies, dear, not the genetics lab. Her entire essay is an example of intrasexual competition — criticizing and trying to change the standards of female competition by one who falls a bit short of them.Because so many people are so ignorant of our evolved psychology and in denial of biological sex differences (and the psychological sex differences that come out of them), they don’t get that there is pressure on men, too, to meet women’s differing mating priorities.As for those differing priorities, well…you don’t see men writing essays about how rotten it is that you can’t get a hot girlfriend (or probably any girlfriend) while unemployed and sleeping on a couch in your grandma’s basement.”

Yikes. And they say I’m tough… Continue reading

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

Harvey Pet Rescue Ethics

I was watching a Fox News live feature about heroic efforts in Houston to rescue animal companions. I am an animal lover, and my wife is an animal worshiper, so this aspect of natural disasters is close to our hearts.

We were told that one sheriff has been going door to door for days searching for endangered non-humans in the flooded areas. Awwwww. Fox caught up with him as he was leaving one domicile with the owner, who had with him the rescued pet: his 9-year-old son’s…

hermit crab.

His name is Crabby.

Wait, what???

We’re arguing about such dire conditions in Houston that looters are running amuck, and hearing about overwhelmed rescuers and rising death rates, and this sheriff is spending hours rescuing hermit crabs?? The tragedy is down to that then? We’re at the endangered hermit crab stage of triage, are we?

Observations: 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