Friday, April 13, 2018

US Infrastructure a Catastrophe Waiting to Happen

Profits and US War Economy Takes Precedence Over Social Welfare and Safety of US Population.

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I was wondering should I write about this today as it seems so banal when we consider the situation in the world with the US and Russia squaring off in the Middle East. The US might bomb Syria to save civilians from the gangster capitalist Putin as it supplies Saudi’s with information and weapons to bomb the hell out of Yemen where perhaps the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is taking place, er wait, maybe it is Gaza that holds this prestigious claim. It’s hard to tell what US capitalism will do as at home it’s facing a huge crisis on all front, political, economic, social.

But this is sort of connected.

I was on an elevator yesterday in Oakland and as I generally do I look at the expiration date since the last inspection. As you can see from the picture, this elevator’s was last inspected in February 2016 and that permit expired February 2017 so it has been operating for a year without an official permit.

I always check this as I spent three weeks on a jury trial in which a janitor sued the makers of an elevator and the makers of the software that ran it claiming injury during a malfunction.

I spoke to one of the security guards about the expired permit, a woman who told me she has raised this but no response; “They don’t care about us” she said. I should add that this is common, most elevators are operating beyond their inspection date. 

A failure to inspect elevators and US imperialism’s military ventures to defend US corporations abroad, including the cost of some 280 military installations, are connected. Elevators in a way are part of the social infrastructure of US society just as roads and bridges are and the Predator in Chief has pledged to fix things but the money is not forthcoming like it is for the missiles, MOABS, nuclear submarines and so on.

There is a huge crisis when it comes to infrastructure in the US. The Federal Highway Administration reckons that at the end of 2017, 54,560 of the nations 615, 002 bridges are “structurally deficient” while the American Society of Civil Engineers adds that it would cost $123 billion to repair all of them.
Oroville dam CA. 100,000 evacuated
 A couple decades ago Business Week referred to the mounting costs of repairing the crumbling US infrastructure as the “Third Deficit”. We have seen the consequences of this calamity with collapsing structures, the levees that protected New Orleans for example were known to be weak.  We have had numerous close calls with dams, the most recent for us here in California being the Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the US when the spillway collapsed last year forcing an evacuation of 100,000 residents.Ten years before there had been warnings.

Mississippi, one of the poorest US states suffering from a legacy of apartheid and Jim Crow has been warned by the Federal Transportation Administration to close more than 100 bridges or the FTA will withhold federal funding. This week Mississippi governor Phil Bryant authorized the closing of 102 of these “dilapidated” bridges. They are to be closed within 24 hours or the state will intervene according to the Wall Street Journal.

The bridges “Create extreme peril to the safety of persons and property” the governor explained in the order to close them.

Both the elevator issue and the bridges as well as dams roads and social infrastructure in general, are matters of public services, are expenditures that amount to the wealth that workers create being returned to us in the form of social services. Capitalism’s ability to function also depends on roads, railways and other social services that assist the production, distribution and exchange of commodities. They don’t trust their beloved market forces to do this. The public water utility I worked for arose out of a situation where competing private companies could not produce such a valuable resource; you can’t trust a shark with the seals.

Naturally, there is plenty of money in society. Not simply the obscene wealth of individuals like Stephen Schwarzman but in all aspects of capitalist society and its wasteful, inefficient economic model.

We have said many times on this blog, including in a previous post,  that US capitalism can no longer afford to maintain anywhere near the living standards it did in the post World War 2 era, a period that was linked to the particular conditions that arose after the war and that were the material basis for the term The American Dream.

US imperialism is compelled to defend its interests in competition with its global rivals, particularly with the rise of China, as well as Russia and to en extent India. Capitalism is a war economy. They are driven by the laws of the system to do what they do. The cost of a predatory US foreign policy to the taxpayer and of keeping billionaires like Schwarzman, Gates, Buffet, Zuckerberg, wasters that own sports franchises and others happy, is placed squarely on the shoulders of the US workers and middle class (another term that is used for workers here). 

What catastrophes exist on our own doorstep! In Flint and other urban centers people can’t drink the water. In some rural areas native people are being poisoned by uranium in their water. Oil is leaking in to our farmland and parklands. Hog and poultry production waste is polluting our rivers and some 200 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi Delta, is known as the “Dead Zone” as no life can survive there due to the runoff from America’s industrial farming and all the chemicals, fertilizers and pollutants it carries.

The reason millions of people are relying on elevators that are not regularly inspected, roads that are crumbling, bridges collapsing, dams bursting and so on, is that US capitalism is in decline, threatened with growing competition from China and Russia and globalization in general, it is forced to drive down the living standards of its own working class.

Nevertheless, the US is still the guy with the big stick, spending more money on weapons of mass destruction than its two greatest rivals combined. This is good for missile producing companies and the war industries especially as US capitalism has been known to sell weapons of death to both sides in conflicts itself has provoked. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our elevators, bridges and dams unsafe because Halliburton, Bechtel, Northrop, Raytheon and the investors that own them have to have their profits protected so the taxpayer will fork over close to $800 billion this year for that.

There is available labor power especially if the workweek is reduced which is entirely possible. People want good jobs, there is the technology, there is all we need to make sure elevators, roads, bridges, dams, in short social infrastructure efficient and safe. There is money and labor power and the technology to fix environmental problems and pick up that 2000 sq miles of floating plastic in the Pacific, but capitalism cannot do that. There are priorities, and capitalism will not put resources in this area, even more, it cannot do so and survive from their point of view.

So this has to be paid for by an ongoing assault on living standards, social spending and other important social issues like education, health care, decent and environmentally sound policies. Another aspect of this is that at some point as we have stated many times, despite nuclear weapons being a deterrent in preventing a war between major powers, at some point they will be used by some force. There is no such thing as a limited nuclear engagement. Even a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan, two minor players when compared to Russia the US or Israel, would kill millions and cover the planet in a huge radioactive cloud. This is inclusive of environmental catastrophes increasing through global warming and environmental degradation if the working class does not enter the stage and carry out the task history has set for it---------the building of a democratic and rationally planned socialist economy through a global federation of democratic socialist states.

I remember being in Morecombe England one time and looking at the beachfront. It felt like I was in the Victorian era. And so I was in a way as this was a popular resort for the English middle classes in the Victorian era. The end of British colonialism as world power froze this place in time.

We are seeing a similar situation here in the US except US capitalism has the ability to blow up the entire world and a nuclear war between the big powers would do just that. Meanwhile, watch out for those bridges and elevators.

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