Sunday, August 05, 2007

COLLAPSED BRIDGE IS JUST ANOTHER SIGN OF “THE LOSER SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT” DRIVING AMERICA TO BE A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY

COLLAPSED BRIDGE IS JUST ANOTHER SIGN OF “THE LOSER SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT” DRIVING AMERICA TO BE A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY

By Kevin Stoda


Having lived in a 3rd world country (Nicaragua) and in several semi-developed nations (Mexico, the UAE and Kuwait) over the last three decades, I have observed with astonishment and dismay the U.S. federal government’s lack of forward planning (& lack of interest in maintaining infrastructure) and its promotion of bad priorities for quite some time. This malfeasance is exemplified by the U.S. footing the defense bill of all defense contractors and defense subcontractors (etc., according to the Washington Post and other sources, to a tune of a trillion dollars a year) around the globe--at the loss of American jobs and the cost of continued social and building infrastructural short falls in the U.S.

The recent collapse of a major bridge on a federal river plain and on a major interstate highway this past week in Minnesota reminds us all again of what we already had noted in the wake of the Katrina Hurricane: The U.S. federal and state governments have been driving America into underdevelopment and disaster at a speed never experienced before in 3 centuries of American history.

In April 2007, I wrote an article, called THE LOSER SCHOOL OF GORVERNMENT STRIKES AGAIN, about the tarnishing of America’s image and integrity abroad, i.e. as a supposedly fair-handed & less-corrupt-than-most-nation, and how this tarnishing continued in the wake of a series of business scandals, including the leadership debacle at the World Bank under Paul Wolfowitz. I noted at that time that the current image of the American government abroad could be likened to the modeling of a species of global free-tradism that should be known as the “Loser School of Government”.

I could write a book about how this “Loser School of Government” (2000-2007) has malfunctioned and destroyed more and more of the former memory around-the-world of America being a well-run country and a land where businesses and governments know how to work together, i.e. for the benefit of all.

The attack on the poor and the middle class, for example, in the last 7-years has been unheard of in the country’s history.

Moreover, over the last 5 decades, the federal government’s sustained attack on the providing of minimum guarantees to workers, investors, and national infrastructure, in turn, has hurt the basis of good governance at the local and state levels which small- and medium sized businesses and farmers across the land rely on. However, in the case of the bridge catastrophe and the Katarina devastation, it is also clear that local and state governments have also certainly fallen short—due to lack of federal funds being shared by taxpayers at both the national and state levels in the USA.

Finally, the reliance on greed and private sectors to keep America’s standards high has fallen flat on its face--as the I-35 Bridge Collapse showed the world. Recently a DEMOCRACY NOW program focused on this failed but popular trend in America to privatize our public highways through federal government under-funding.

Daniel Schulman co-authored a MOTHER JONES article with James Ridgeway entitled "The Highwaymen: Why You Could Soon Be Paying Wall Street Investors, Australian Bankers and Spanish Builders for the Privilege of Driving on American Roads". They both spoke about the article.

The DN piece started out by noting that the “American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it would take nearly $190 billion to fix more than 70,000 bridges deemed ‘structurally deficient.’” [1] Here is an excerpt of their dialogue that indicates where the privatization process has been heading the infrastructure in America:

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, you know, it’s all in process. I mean, the thing is that the major Wall Street investment companies are trying to link up with various international partners in Australia, in Spain, elsewhere, to essentially buy this sort of decaying -- or infrastructure that is in need of repair. And this is -- you know, it’s appealing, as Dan, I think, mentioned. It’s appealing to the local politicians, because it looks like they’re getting some cash from these guys on Wall Street, and they’re not going to have to raise taxes to fix the roads, and there’s the illusion that sooner or later these roads will get fixed. Now, you know, whether that happens or not is like anybody's guess, because when this actually takes place, when the actual improvement of the roads is done, it's going to be when all these politicians are dead and gone.
AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Schulman, in the piece, you write, “Fifty years to the day after Ike put his pen to the Highway Act, another Republican signed off on another historic highway project. On June 29, 2006, Mitch Daniels, the former Bush administration official turned governor of Indiana, was greeted with a round of applause as he stepped into a conference room packed with reporters and state lawmakers. The last of eight wire transfers had landed in the state's account, making it official: Indiana had received $3.8 billion from a foreign consortium made up of the Spanish construction firm Cintra and the Macquarie Infrastructure Group (mig) of Australia, and in exchange the state would hand over operation of the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road for the next 75 years.” And it goes on from there.
Talk about the political climate. How did people in Indiana, how did Hoosiers feel about this?
DANIEL SCHULMAN: People were absolutely -- I went to Indiana shortly after that, and people were absolutely outraged. If you travel that toll road even now, I think, and talk to people, they still don't understand why this road that really is part of their, you know, cultural -- it's just like the rest of the roads in this country, we really feel a deep affinity for them -- why this is in the hands of a foreign consortium. And some of it is xenophobia. Some of it, they don't want foreigners running their roads. But some of it is also, they've got -- you know, they’ve asked really hard questions about this. “Are we getting a good deal?” And, you know, frankly, a lot of people are saying no.
You cited the figure before that some say that Indiana -- over the life of this contract, the road could have generated $11 billion. So that's a $7 billion net loss for the taxpayers of Indiana. No, people in Indiana are outraged, and elsewhere, too. You’ve seen in New Jersey recently, there was a backlash against the potential plan to privatize the New Jersey Turnpike, which some said could bring in as much as $20 billion. I was driving that road recently, and there was a big sign, a big billboard, you know, against this privatization plan, and the plan has been pulled at this point.” [2]


LONG TERM GOVERNMENTAL VISION

Admittedly, the trend in America over the past decades has been to fill the different offices of congress in D.C. and our state houses (across the land) with examples or models of the “Loser School of Government”—so, the current demise certainly predated the current administration.

This administration, however, sought to use spending (and withholding spending) as particularly strong tools to speed up the collapse of major governmental departments and to discourage them from meeting their objectives. The hope in doing so has been to increase calls for privatizing ever more sectors of government responsibilities.

Further, more than any of its previous administrations, this federal government sought to fill federal (and eventually state offices) with people tied only to the largest industries and businesses in the land—neglecting the needs of medium and small businesses in terms of capitalizing infrastructural needs. Namely, the firms and the wealthiest investors who most benefit from good state and federal infrastructure ( i.e. the largest companies) have refused to support brave candidates who want to equitably fund and manage good government.

Meanwhile, more experienced officials are retiring from sectors as diverse as the foreign service and CIA to the departments overseeing environmental protection and public safety due to the lack of support and lack of receptiveness of this government’s leadership to rank & file needs and demands throughout the various governmental departments in the land.

Non-Americans around the globe are astonished by any government allowing such a public service hemorrhage as American people and their government are witnessing today. In almost no other country on the globe (save Zimbabwe for example), are bright people with the desire to make a difference in their country’s governmental bureaucracy leaving at the scale Americans have been witnessing of late. [3]

Where are the Eisenhower Republicans who built the Interstate Highways in the first place?

Where are the progressive democrats who should know that both our building and societal infrastructure do not blossom on their own--nor by seeding them with capital-only from the private sector?

Good government requires (a) teamwork—and (b) clear thinking about national and local priorities!

Those who benefit from the infrastructure in the USA need to pay the government—and not pay private international conglomerates—for usage of highways, airways, and cable networks running in the public domain.

The infrastructure on I-35 in Minnesota and in other states have been allowed to continue to be more and more underdeveloped under ever-more horrible conditions for decades. The deluge of competence in the public sector must be ended and resources channeled to rebuilding America. Not since the 1970s have policymakers left America’s drifting under the path of malaise and hopelessness that we are facing today.

The various problems with this bridge that collapsed so terribly this past July on the Mississippi in Minnesota provides a clear and memorable reminder of neglect. For example, major problems with the structure of that bridge was already well-known nearly 17 years ago.

All models of America’s “Loser School of Governments” (and leaders of such governance who shout blindly in favor of the private sector to take over where good governmental actors are needed) must be marginalized in the media and popular debate—at least until priorities have been better identified and infrastructure is returned to levels commensurate with the country’s past reputation of a land of high standards and governance.

We need to move beyond pithy clichés about either big government or private sector solving major problems without oversight, planning, and qualified funding from WE THE PEOPLE. We need to anticipate problems (and solve the ones we have already) instead of sitting back and waiting for some private investor monopoly, like the one run by Rupert Murdoch, to take over the rest of our nation..

In summary, Americans need to retake control of the pathway to good societal and building infrastructure and not simply CONSISTENTLY SIMPLY depend on a nebulous or unqualified private sector to solve problems--whereby good planning and GOOD MAINTENANCE are ALWAYS required--regardless of the kind of funding (private or public sector funding) might possibly provide to build and support infrastructure.

Improving these infrastructural matters in the USA is what will make the country a better place to live in!

America’s SPENDING annually of over $1,000,000,000,000 to 2,000,000,000 on (a) a national war machine, (b) its prior war debts & commitments, and (3) promoting arms trades abroad will not make AMERICA competitive with CHINA or any other power over the next 100 years.

Nor will it be an encouraging place for our children or grandchildren to grow up in. (America may remain to be a better place to live than Bangladesh or Burundi--or some other very underdeveloped state or nation in the long-term--to raise a family in, but why should we strive as a people to live in mediocrity and in the middle of the pack in terms of providing quality of life for our residents and citizens over the next hundred years?)

If and when states, local cities, and our federal governments sell bonds to raise money they need in the future to be for sounder things than what has been the case during the Reagan and Bush presidencies.

The focus in allocating resources needs to be on good projects: education, health infrastructure, roadways, etc. not on shifting all these areas to the private sector and then sending the savings bonds to help support military funding and military related investments EVERY SINGLE TIME. [4]


KATARINA CONTINUES TO HURT AMERICAN IMAGE

In conversing with my friends and peers around the globe this past weekend in the wake of the government-inspired catastrophe in Minnesota last week has led me to the conclusion that almost all peoples of under-developed nations are standing around in shock.

If such mismanagement of infrastructure, as resulted in the I-35 Bridge Collapse in the USA—which is supposedly, the richest and most powerful land in the world--, how could they ever have hope or expectations that their own governments could or would provide safer transport and better quality of life & safety standards in places as diverse as Indonesia, Philippines. Kenya, Nigeria, Bolivia, Nicaragua—where good governance has traditionally been lacking?

Any Third World Nation can see that the U.S. is dangerously shifting way too much of its economy into projects that blow things up—e.g. billion-dollar jet fighters of bombers & tanks that sit around in Iraq instead of being deployed some place that would make the world a safer place for all Americans.

These under-developed nations will eventually simply turn their eyes to China, Japan, and Europe to look for future role models in development. Meanwhile America will continue to be seen a second-class place to work (and second class piece of work in the third millennium), i.e. where foreigners may indeed continue to have more access to coming and working in than in the other 3 aforementioned regions due to America’s more open immigration policy.

However, at the current rate of underdevelopment and mismanagement of the American infrastructure, America will be off the radar screen as a model of good governance by the end of this first century of this millennium. That is--if Americans don’t take back their government and make governance, infrastructure, and society work better FOR ALL!


NOTES

[1] “Following Minnesota Bridge Collapse, New Scrutiny for the Nation’s Ever-Privatizing Roads”, http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/08/03/1348236

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Testimony of Concerned Foreign Service Officers at the February 14, 2006 Testimony Congressional Hearing on National Security Whistle Blower Protection”, http://www.worldcrafters.com/legislativeaction.html

[4] “2007 Budget Favors Defense”, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/04/AR2006020401179.html

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