Saturday, June 24, 2017

Damn the US Dams as US infrastructure takes a back seat to war.


Oroville Dam last winter.  A near catastrophe averted: this time
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

A damning report on the condition of US dams has been released by the American Society of Civil Engineers according to today’s Wall Street Journal. According to the report, 30% or 27,380 of the nation’s 90,580 listed dams are rated as “posing a high or significant hazard” and more than 2170 of that 30% are “deficient and in need of upgrading”

The WSJ article gives the Calaveras reservoir dam as an example. This dam is 10 miles from the city of Fremont a little south of where I am sitting right now. The Calaveras dam, like many of California’s 1585 dams sits next to an earthquake fault, somewhat scary given that almost three quarters of the state’s dams are rated as “having high or significant risk of failure.” The reader is probably aware of the events at the Oroville dam, the nation’s tallest, here in Northern California earlier this year when some 200,000 people were evacuated after the dam spillway developed a hole during heavy rains.

In that case, three environmental groups — Friends of the River, the Sierra Club and the South Yuba River Citizens League filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that warned about a possible failure with the emergency spillway 12 years earlier. As is more often the case, that advice was ignored.

A new Calaveras dam is being built to replace the old one but is four years behind schedule after seven years of work so far. “The issues hampering the Calaveras reservoir project show how difficult it is to replace an old dam…” the Journal writes.  And what might these issues be I wonder?  Of course; what a silly question.  As with all the dams that have the potential to bring catastrophe to unsuspecting residents “funding and inspection staffing are considered inadequate” the report said.

Ivan Wong, a seismologist in the Bay Area says that “It’s a huge problem with limited resources…..We can barely pay our schoolteachers, but if a dam fails and there’s a population downstream we’re talking about a disaster.”.  The total estimated for upgrading the dams in question is $64 billion and included in that figure is $22 billion for those posing the highest risk according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. This is equal to the net worth of one very rich human being in this country, Bill Gates. Gates, Buffet and Jeff Bezos of Amazon are worth more than $233 billion between them. In all honesty, do workers actually think this is a good thing? Is this civilization? Is it that obscene comparison of wealth and how its spent what makes America great?  Surely not.

So there are no "limited resources" in the real sense. Society has the labor power and capital. The only issue delaying the repairs to US dams, and failing teachers and the education of our children and other social needs in general, is not a lack of funding but the allocation of the wealth of society that is created by the working class. Labor is the source of all wealth remember. 

When a catastrophe happens like Katrina or the poisoning of the Eel river in Virginia, the BP spill in the gulf or the explosion in West Texas that just about blew up a whole community, the cause is the political system and those that govern it; they are market driven disasters. The tragic fire in a block of council flats in London last week was another system failure as the political representatives of the capitalist class made decisions about housing that placed profits, investment and land speculation ahead of social needs. It sort of sickens me to see the Queen down at the tragedy when she lives in the same borough. Did she never wonder why her neighbors had to live like that?

The people that make these decisions are murderers. The people, regulators and politicians that allowed energy companies to write their own regulations and rules for deep water drilling that led to the Gulf spill are murderers.

People understand this in a way. But the overwhelming obstacle is our own consciousness-----that “stop in the mind” that the historian Christopher Hill wrote about with regard to the revolutionists that challenged the feudal aristocracy and system in the English revolution. In that instance people believed that the king was king by divine right. How can one kill the king?  Cromwell proved that idea bankrupt. Today people feel powerless, particularly so in the US where we have no political party of our own and where the heads of the organized workers’ movement are wedded to the market and capitalism and act as agents of the capitalist class in our movement. Propaganda about the efficiency of the market and that there is no alternative to capitalism spews out of the mass media, the mouths of the trade union hierarchy and the thousands of churches on Sundays. We are in a struggle for the conscious of the working class.

To challenge the status quo, the power that rules and that responds to challenges to its rule with violence, seems such a daunting task. I was just in London and talked with young Poles and other Eastern Europeans what it was like for them, the uncertainty of their lives now since the passing of Brexit. Will they be allowed to stay or forced to leave? On more than one occasion the response was that it didn’t matter, there was nothing they could do.

It is rare if not impossible for there not to be something one can do in any situation. Doing nothing keeps us trapped as victims of forces we think we cannot control but we can affect the world around us, it's how society advances. In the absence of a social force that we can turn to, join, and use as the instrument to fight back, we close our eyes to it all. But Katrina showed, as the attacks on 9-11 showed, we close our eyes to the actions of our own government and those that control it at our peril.

As Socrates wrote, "Just because you don't take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you."----and take an interest it will. The Trump health care bill is an example of it.  There will be some fierce fighting in the streets and the workplaces of America at some point as an overconfident US bourgeois intensifies the war against the US working class. It might take a serious environmental catastrophe or an event like a dam disaster or some other social infrastructure failure, to kick it off or it might be a seemingly spontaneous outburst that has been festering beneath the surface of US society that can be contained no longer, diverted by 24 hour sports, religion, mindless mass media and other diversionary clutter.  But happen it will.

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