Bridge into Troubled Waters

Tonight another US freeway bridge collapsed over another river, plunging cars and the people in them into the cold rushing water below. This time it is I-5, just north of Seattle, into the Skagit river. At this writing, just an hour after the disaster, there is no announced death nor injury toll.

Last time this happened was in Minnesota, 1 August 2007, on I-35, killing 13 people and injuring 145. Federal officials complained about lack of funds for bridge inspection and repair. Really?

When, if ever, will we begin to take our infrastructure decay seriously in the US? When will we put men and women to work creating and maintaining, constructing and repairing, instead of destroying and wasting in war? Since 2001, the US taxpayer has poured $1.44 trillion into war, every cent of which could have created honest creative, sustainable, helpful, strengthening work here in the US, creating many more jobs than does the military and all their contractors. Trying to be the strongest country in the world has greatly weakened the US and the pieces of our workings which are falling apart are simply the first warnings.

Indeed, the economists at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst have studied how many jobs are created per $billion spent and the military is the worst investment. It creates the fewest.

Meanwhile, engineers give our infrastructure a D+ (an F for some bridges, obviously) and tell us (on Fox News, no less) it will take an investment of $3.6 trillion by 2020 to get us safe and operating for the public good.

As soon as the sequester hit, most of the complaining came from the Pentagon, with sob stories about how unready America now already is as a result. Seriously? The Pentagon has all the money. They have had all the money for years, under both Ds and Rs. And we see the catastrophic results.

Schools closing. Pensions vanishing. Funds for regular hardworking people or for some who are disabled or otherwise down on their luck all gone. Far fewer advantages for our children; school boards are desperately wrestling with budget cuts from coast-to-coast. And now, even our bridges are falling into rivers. It’s tragic, it’s embarrassing, and only source of power will change this, if anyone can, and that is our regular folks, getting involved.

Civil society will fix this because civil society, in its enlightened self-interest, will stop electing politicians who allow this sort of corrupt militarism to take the lives of our young people, steal directly from the educational system, and erode our mass transit and roadway system. We will finally tell our elites, “Fix it or you will no longer own what you think you own. We will take it back.”

The Gini Coefficient tracks the income disparities between the elites and the rest of us. The higher the Gini Coefficient, the worse the gap. It is now highest in the US since it started being measured in 1967. It is worst in the District of Columbia, where the elites generally reside and where low-paid federal workers do too. The elites there who vote seem comfortable with this system because it benefits them. It does not benefit the rest of us and we are running out of patience.

When our bridges cannot even stand up it is time for the rest of us to stand up. We are due for some massive nonviolent change in our country because we face a massive set of problems and a massive military industrial complex that benefits the very few at the expense of the rest of us. Bridges falling into the rivers? OK, they are getting our attention. Once they have our attention like this and we get organized to change spending priorities, we will have their attention.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings directs PeaceVoice. 

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