Monday, May 11, 2015

Deferred Maintenance

When parents are raising their children, one of the most important and difficult lessons they must convey is responsibility for choices and actions. Use up your allowance on some toy that falls apart and…, leaving your bike unlocked at a public park, not doing your homework… to more serious, hanging out with the corner crack dealer… well we know the drill. The problem is that no one seems to have required such lessons from our elected officials. You don’t even see campaign promises linked to future consequences.
Because those elected – for offices like House representatives where a term of office is a mere two years – only have legal responsibility for what sits before them; consequences (however severe) that may occur in the future fall under some future SOB’s watch. These current officials will never be held accountable, no matter how badly they may be depicted in history books, by the future damage they wreak from bad decisions hastily decided. American politics doesn’t work that way, perhaps because our horrific general public educational system after years of budget cuts has increased public ignorance to unprecedented levels. The body politic blames the current incumbents for all wrongs, even if they inherited the worst decisions imaginable.
Indeed, even our vernacular has embraced this notion to new heights (depths?). “Kicking the can down the road,” “deferred maintenance,” “clean coal” (shoving the toxic effluents underground for future generations to deal with), etc. are simply business as usual within state legislatures and Congress. “We can’t afford that,” but we need “low taxes and loopholes” for the rich to stimulate job creation (despite the fact that that job creation has not occurred in the three plus decades that people have been touting that false mantra). If parent were to have raised a child with these values, it would be viewed by society as profoundly failed parenting. But we allow our elected officials to behave this way and usually reelect incumbent miscreants simply because they have higher visibility than outside candidates.
Bad inner city education is simply all we can afford, they say, but their numbers do not count the costs in the criminal justice system of processing and incarcerating dropouts with no serious job prospects outside of criminal activity. Hard costs from failed highway maintenance and expansion are hard to calculate, although if you live in a big city and have to drive, exactly how much time do you waste sitting in heavy traffic or repairing a vehicle pummeled by potholes and poorly maintained roads? We declared a badly-motivated (WMD) war on Iraq, dropped our efforts in Afghanistan, in 2003 and have spent trillions of dollars dealing with the aftermath of that decision ever since. The latest battles are all about ISIS, but issues extend way, way beyond.
The costs of the summer 2005 Hurricane Katrina are reasonably well-known. Hey, it just happened. But a recent court decision lays much of the blame – and hence a whole pile of costs that are going to have to be paid – on our government’s willingness to cut or defer maintenance. “The federal government must pay for some of the flooding damage from Hurricane Katrina caused by failures of the hurricane protection system in the New Orleans area, a judge ruled [May 1st]… Judge Susan G. Braden of the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington focused her decision on a navigation project built by the Army Corps of Engineers, a canal known as the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet and nicknamed MR-GO.
“The canal has been linked to devastating flood damage in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans and damage to nearby St. Bernard Parish after the hurricane struck on Aug. 29, 2005. The canal has since been closed.
“Judge Braden referred to the 76-mile canal, which had ‘substantially expanded and eroded’ over the years, as a ‘ticking time bomb.’ She praised the Corps of Engineers in the suit, saying that it had been ‘open, transparent and helpful in educating the court to understand what happened.’ She was harshly critical of the Department of Justice, however, stating that it had ‘pursued a litigation strategy of contesting each and every issue.’” New York Times, May 1st.
In the end, one way or another, American taxpayers are going to pay through nose for all of those “kicking the can down the road” decisions, usually at a vast multiple of what it would have cost to do the right thing when the decision was initially faced. We know bridges and levees will fail – common knowledge. We know our roads suck – common knowledge. Most educated people know that massive changes in weather patterns – from fires and droughts to floods – are a direct consequence from not getting a global handle on containing greenhouse gasses. Oh, and we know our public school system is no longer globally competitive.
We subsidize industries by letting them pollute the general public environment without paying any of the sizeable costs. Congress will dispense tax dollars for defense and reduced taxes for the rich, but under a false belief that they are implementing “fiscal responsibility,” won’t act to prevent billions if not trillions of future costs in our inevitable future. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we just do not have the financial resources to keep doing this “can kicking” anymore! We need our elected officials to accept the consequences of their actions just the way we teach our kids to understand their need to take responsibility for their decisions.
I’m Peter Dekom, and if we don’t vote for people who understand the connection between their immediate decisions and longer term consequences, we must share the blame for the mess all around us.

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