Posts Tagged ‘Infrastructure’

Donald Trump’s bogus infrastructure program

March 20, 2017

Here is something Donald Trump said during the Presidential campaign:

“We have spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that, frankly, … if we could have spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems, our airports and all of the other problems we have, we would have been a lot better off — I can tell you that right now,” Trump said.  “We have done a tremendous disservice not only to the Middle East — we’ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity.  The people that have been killed, the people that have been wiped away, and for what?  It’s not like we had victory.  It’s a mess.  The Middle East is totally destabilized, a total and complete mess.”

Source: The Huffington Post

What he said then was true.  But his current policy reflects just the opposite philosophy.  His infrastructure program consists of providing tax breaks for contractors, and giving control of public assets to public companies.   And it’s not as if he intends to pull back on military intervention in the Middle East.

LINKS

Trump’s Infrastructure Boondoggle by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Alluring Infrastructure Income by Michael Hudson.

USA failing to make the needed public investment

June 2, 2016

blog_net_government_investment

If you own a house or an automobile, you know you have to spend a certain amount on maintenance to keep it in good repair.  If you don’t, you’ll have problems and a bigger expense in the long run.

The same is true if you own business property, except that if you’re in business, you would want to expand and improve and not just maintain things as they are.

Governmental infrastructure needs to be maintained as well.  Our roads and bridges, airports and seaports, water and sewerage systems and other facilities don’t take care of themselves.

The chart above shows there’s a problem.   Net investment—investment minus depreciation—has fallen over the years.  In some years, it has been a negative figure, meaning the federal government isn’t keeping up with what is needed.

Putting people to work on public infrastructure projects is a good way to stimulate the economy, which has been largely missing during the current recovery.  But the main reason is that public investment is necessary if we are to have a good economy.

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A good question

May 19, 2016

Oil and Gas Pipeline Construction vs. Massive Public Infrastructure Construction: Why do the building trades unions want the former rather than the latter? asks Beverly Mann for Angry Bear.

Does the USA need less infrastructure?

August 12, 2015

I’ve posted a good bit about the deteriorating U.S. infrastructure and the need to do something about it. Paul Trombino, the head of the Iowa Department of Transportation, raises a possibility I hadn’t thought about, which is that the U.S. has more infrastructure than is really needed.

Iowaopenroad-1He suggests a planned triage: Determine which roads, bridges and other facilities are necessary and make sure to keep them in good repair. Get rid of the rest.

As someone brought up in the old expanding America, I hate to think of public policy in terms of managed contraction. But maybe this is what we have come to. It is better than allowing the system as a whole to deteriorate.

Republicans in Congress have balked at funding the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is needed to keep American roads, bridges and public rail systems in good repair.

But I bet that if the Department of Transportation submitted a list of highways, bridges and public transit systems not worth maintaining, they wouldn’t like that, either.

LINKS

Iowa DOT Chief: The system is going to shrink by Charles Marohn for Strong Towns.

The passing scene – August 11, 2015

August 11, 2015

The Artful Puppet Master by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.  How Fox News managed the Republican debate so as to minimize political damage to the GOP.

Game of Groans: How Focus on Trump Taunts Hides GOP War on Middle Class, Workers by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.

Get Ready for Scott Walker … and the Ruthless Politics of Walkerism by John Nichols for The Nation.

The United States Infrastructure Is Failing Dramatically But No One Is Paying Attention by Kendyl Kearly for Bustle.

Employee or contractor? Labor seeks to clarify rules by Christopher H. Rugiber for the Associated Press.

You Can Bet on These Racetrack Workers to Fight for a Raise From Their Billionaire Boss by Bruce Vail for In These Times.  (Bill Harvey)  Union organizing at Pimlico racetrack.

The case for re-building our rail system

May 20, 2015

train-combined2
The recent derailment of an Amtrak train, killing eight people and injuring 200, has people worried about the safety of railroad transportation.  But rail transportation is extremely safe, compared to automobile driving.

It is also more energy-efficient and affordable, and this is going to become more important over time.

I enjoy the freedom of driving my car and of not being tied to a bus or train schedule.  At the same time I’m glad that bus and train transportation is available when I’m not able to drive, and I’d use it more if it were more convenient.

I might prefer a comfortable leisurely train trip to the hassle of traveling by air, if the schedule were convenient.  I’ve never heard of anybody losing a seat on a passenger train because it was over-booked.

And rail transportation when available is the most cost-effective means of shipping freight.
train-combined1

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to an article making the case for investing in rail transportation.  But the U.S. government is doing the opposite.  It is dis-investing in rail.

amtrak2

Why?  I think it is due to an ideology that has taken root in the Republican Party that public services are in and of themselves a bad thing, unless provided by for-profit corporations.  So public services are starved of the funds they need, which makes them function poorly, which provides a justification for punishing them by further budget cuts.

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The passing scene: January 1, 2015

January 1, 2015

The Tragedy of the American Military by James Fallows for The Atlantic.

Gun Trouble by Robert H. Scales for The Atlantic.

HighAirfare35e18The U.S. armed forces have greater prestige than at any time in American history, and the nation spends almost as much on its armed forces as the whole rest of the world put together.  Yet the USA doesn’t seem to be able to win wars, or even provide troops with a gun that doesn’t jam.

James Fallows wrote in The Atlantic that the United States has become a “chickenhawk nation.”  The majority of Americans do not wish to serve in the military and have no real desire to understand the military, so we take the easy way out which is to say, “thank you for your service,” and go about our business.

Military procurement has become a business subsidy and job creation program.  If the USA reduced its military force and weapons spending to what is needed to defend the nation, and nothing else was done, a recession would result.

Infrastructure advances in the rest-of-the-world will blow your mind by james321 for Daily Kos.

We Americans used to pride ourselves on our mega-engineering projects, but now the rest of the world is leaving us behind.

China has opened direct rail service from the China Sea to Madrid.  Switzerland is about to open its 35-mile Gotthard Base Tunnel under the Alps.  Italy is soon to start high-speed rail service between Milan and Rome, capable of speeds up to 250 miles per hour.

We Americans don’t even perform maintenance on what we’ve got, and that’s a sign of a society with a fatal loss of concern for its future, just as our military strategy is a sign of a society with a fatal loss of a sense of reality.

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The passing scene: November 1, 2014

November 1, 2014

Common Core and the End of History by Alan Singer for Huffington Post.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Is the purpose of public education to educate citizens or to train employees?   Alan Singer described how the New York State Board of Regents voted to allow high school students to skip final examinations in either American history or global history and substitute an exam or proficiency test in some unspecified vocational-technical subject.  He quoted a teacher on how a school dropped social studies so students would have more time to cram for Common Core standardized math and reading assessments.

Living wages, rarity in U.S. fast-food workers, served up in Denmark by Liz Alderman and Steven Greenhouse for the New York Times.

A Burger King employee in Denmark is paid the equivalent of $20 an hour, about two and a half times his U.S. counterpart.  He gets his work schedule four weeks in advance, and cannot be sent home without pay just because it is a slow business day.  And he enjoys the benefit of Denmark’s universal health care plan.  What’s the secret?  A powerful labor union, which negotiates wages and working conditions on an industry-wide basis.  And employers who are satisfied with a smaller profit as the price of not having extreme poverty.

Americans are working so hard it’s actually killing people by Esther Kaplan for The Nation.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Under-staffing is dangerous, but it is on the rise as a means of cutting costs and increasing short-term profit.  Workers such as nurses, who are tasked with preserving life, are stretched too thin to be able to do their jobs well.  Workers in dangerous occupations, such as coal mining, neglect safety precautions in order to get the job done on time.  This is a major factor in industrial accidents.  And workers who are pushed to their physical limits are worn down over the years.

Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked by what she learns by Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post.

An experienced high school teacher spent two days shadowing high school students, one a 10th grader and one a 12th grader, and did everything the students did.  She learned how exhausting it is to spend most of the day sitting still and passively listening, and took away lessons she will use in her teaching.  I think the shadowing exercise should be required in college courses in education.

As infrastructure crumbles, trillions of gallons of water lost by David Schaper of National Public Radio.

Trillions in global cash await call to fix crumbling U.S. by Mark Niquette for Bloomberg News.

Get ready for deja vu in the credit markets by Ben Eisen for Market Watch.

With interest rates being held down by the Federal Reserve System, this would be a great time to issue bonds to perform needed repairs and reconstruction of water and sewerage systems, roads and bridges and other public works.  But now the Fed has decided to end its “qualitative easing,” which held down interest rates, so that window of opportunity is going away.

The Caliph fit to join OPEC by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Pepe Escobar speculated on whose interests are served by the fact that ISIS is allowed to sell oil on world markets.

The War Nerd: Crunching Numbers of Kobane by Gary Brecher for Pando Daily.

Gary Brecher discussed the public relations war against ISIS and the appeal of terrorism and war to sexually-frustrated young men.

Why do we discount the future?

January 7, 2014

Ian Welsh wrote on his blog (one of my favorites on my Blogs I Like page) that we Americans don’t care about the future any more.

The men and women who lived through the Great Depression always planned for the future. They built power plants which produced more power than needed, bridges which could handle more traffic, water purification plants which produced more water than needed. They made sure infrastructure would last for decades, and then built it so well it outlasted even their specifications.

Their heirs, the Silents and the Boomers, thought this was absurd.  Why not party now, and let the future take care of itself?

Call this the “death bet”. In its pure form, the death bet is just that, a bet that when the bill comes do, you’ll be dead.  If you live a good life and die owing millions, well, what do you care?

But someone will pay that bill.  Maybe it will be your creditors, who might even go out of business, unable to collect what they are owed.  Perhaps it will be your heirs, if the millions adhere to property.  Perhaps it will be someone you don’t even know.

But someone will pay.  The good life, bought by debt, is always paid for.

The death bet is why we are not dealing with climate change, even though we know that it is coming and we know it will kill hundreds of millions and might even destroy our entire society.  The death bet is why our governments make huge tax cuts today knowing that either taxes will have to be increased in the future or spending will have to be drastically cut because the spending is not used for investment.  But in the meantime the government can borrow, or print money, so who cares?  The politicians who make the tax cuts won’t be in power, and many of the people who receive the cuts will be dead, so what do they care?

The death bet is why America had a 2.4 trillion dollar infrastructure deficit as of 2009. It is why Californians voted in 1978 to disallow property tax increases of more than 2% per year. And it is why tuition rates have increased by hundreds of percentage points more than inflation in many countries.

A death bet always come due. It just isn’t always paid by those who made it.

via The Death Bet.

Why is this?  I think it is reinforced by a philosophy that says pursuit of self-interest in a free market is sufficient to produce a good society, and moral values just get in the way.  This is not a question of liberalism vs. conservativism per se.  You can believe in individual self-reliance and oppose the welfare state, and still be concerned about your neighbors and those who will come after you.   The house I live in was built in the 1920s, before anybody dreamed of a New Deal.  Yet it is more solidly built than many of the houses built in the 1950s and 1960s.

Another factor is that American society since its beginning has been continually transformed by rapid technological change.  Why make an automobile or a computer that will last 25 years when it will be replaced by a better model in five years?  We become habituated to focusing on the new at the expense of maintaining the old.

Some of our problems seem so intractable that it is easier to try to postpone the day of reckoning rather than to solve them.  While it would be perfectly feasible and economically beneficial to launch a public works problem to repair America’s crumbling bridges, dams and water and sewerage systems (what Welsh calls the infrastructure debt), it is much harder to face up to the need for sustainable energy and the problem of global warming.  These would require daunting transformations of society that I, for one, find it virtually impossible to face up to.

That is why apocalyptic religion, and apocalyptic fiction and movies are so popular.  If we are living in the End Times, if civilization is going to collapse anyway, why bother to invest in infrastructure, education or scientific research.

At age 77, I probably will win Welsh’s “death bet.”  I expect to fall apart before American society does.  I guess that makes me part of the problem.

Bridges in danger of falling down

December 4, 2013
Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

A good way to stimulate the United States economy would be to put people to work fixing the nation’s bridges.  After that they could be put to work on dams, levees and water and sewerage systems.   It’s at least as likely to stimulate the economy as Quantitative Easing – buying up bad investments of the Wall Street banks – and, even if it doesn’t, we at least have safer bridges.

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The secret world of the Internet

December 30, 2011

It is easy to think of the Internet as a magical immaterial realm, in which information, thought and imagination are the only realities and physical distance and material reality don’t matter.

This is of course not true.  The Internet depends upon a physical infrastructure which, like so many things in our lives that are easy to take for granted, depends on the devoted and capable work of people we never hear of.

I once remarked to my friend Bill, a retired electrical engineer, that it is easy for laymen such as myself to think of the interface on my i-Mac as real, and forget that the reality is the 1s and 0s that make up computer code.  Not so, Bill said; the reality is the flow of electrons through circuitry.  Information technology is a technology; it is not pure information.  Human beings have to design and make the equipment through which the information flows.

America’s infrastructure deficit

July 12, 2011

President Bill Clinton was accused of playing word games when he described his government spending proposals as “investments.”

But what is an investment?  Investment is an expenditure that creates new wealth, or maintains the nation’s ability to produce wealth.

We need a minimum of military spending so that our armed forces can defend the nation, but this is not an investment.  I am in favor of giving a minimum of support the elderly and the disabled, but this is not an investment.

Spending money on scientific research is an investment, because new knowledge is of economic benefit.  Spending money on public education is an investment, because an educated public is of economic benefit.   Maintenance of the basic physical infrastructure is an investment, because well-functioning transportation, communication and water and sewerage utilities are necessary to a functioning economy.

The United States has allowed its physical infrastructure to shockingly deteriorate.  The Urban Land Institute issued a report saying that it will take $2 trillion to rebuild roads, bridges, water lines, sewerage systems and dams now nearing the end of their life cycles.

The report envisions a time when, like Detroit, U.S. cities may opt to abandon services in some districts and when lightly used blacktopped rural roads would be allowed to return to nature.  Eventually, the report says, the federal gasoline tax will be increased; local governments will be allowed to toll interstate highways; water bills will rise to pay for pipe and sewer replacement; property and sales taxes will increase; and private, profit-seeking companies will play a much larger role in funding and maintaining public projects.

“Over the next five to 10 years, public concerns will grow over evident declines in the condition of infrastructure,” the report says.  “At some attention-getting point after infrastructure limps along, platforms for reinvesting in America could gain significant traction and public support.”

… …The report says the desire of Congress to curtail spending will push costs onto “budget-busted” state and local governments.  It points to highways and water treatment plants, built with federal funds 40 to 50 years ago, that will become financial burdens to local governments as the time comes for replacement.

via The Washington Post.

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Let’s stop acting like a Third World country

September 7, 2010

We’re the Americans!  We’re the people who once did things nobody else could do.  We built the tallest buildings, the biggest dams, the spaceships that sent people to the moon.  We created mass prosperity on a scale the world had never seen before.  We took as our national motto the slogan of the Seabees (Navy Construction Battalions) during World War Two – “The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer.”

Minneapolis bridge collapse (2007)

Now we act as if we are some Third World country waiting to be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund.  Our roads and bridges, dams and levees, water and sewer systems are all wearing out and we have no plans to replace them.  Some cities are turning out the street lights, some countries are digging up paved roads, some school boards say they can’t keep schools open the full year.  Our new national mottoes are – Nobody could be expected… and Nobody could have predicted…

Our present situation is that we as a nation have an enormous backlog of work that needs to be done.  We have nearly 15 million unemployed who need work.  And interest rates are at their lowest level in a generation, giving a once-in-a=generation opportunity to finance the work.

So I applaud President Obama’s announcement of his plan to rebuild the nation’s transportation infrastructure.  It is a good first step.  The next steps would be to rebuild the nation’s communications, energy, water and sewer infrastructure.

Click on America Goes Dark for an eloquent and justified rant by economist Paul Krugman.

Click on Obama’s Labor Day Remarks in Milwaukee for President Obama’s announcement of his infrastructure plan.

Click on White House fact sheet for the details of President Obama’s plan.

Click on New Republican Highway Bill Nixes National Infrastructure Bank for a report on Republican opposition to infrastructure spending.  [7/12/11]

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Money down the drain

June 28, 2010

The Democrat and Chronicle this morning had an excellent article on how the aging Rochester, N.Y., water distribution system allows 24 percent of the treated water to leak out before it reaches customers.  The corresponding figure for the Monroe County Water Authority, which serves the Rochester suburbs, is 15 percent. This range is not unusual for cities in the Northeast.

Wouldn’t this be a good time to start work on repairing these deteriorating stuctures?  Since this work is going to have to be done somehow sometime, why not now, when our country needs to create jobs to keep our recession from becoming a full-blown depression?

The financially strapped City of Rochester and Monroe County governments aren’t in a position now to start big infrastructure projects. The pressure on them is to do the reverse – to defer maintenance.  The American Recovery Act of 2009 did provide some funds for infrastructure improvements, mainly of roads and bridges, but there is much more to be done.

And, yes, since we’re in the middle of a recession, the federal government would have to borrow to provide funds to help repair municipal water systems. But we, the taxpayers, would get a return on this investment, in the form of a more efficient and less costly water supply.  And the longer the wait in making these repairs, the more costly they’ll be.