The recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis is the latest in a series of ominous warnings of infrastructural meltdown and inadequate maintenance that will lead to more death and destruction in the United States.
The most memorable and tragic signal of structural demise was the thunderous blast that provided the soundtrack for the breaking of New Orleans's levees, which despite pleas from city activists, officials, and workers in the US Army Corps of Engineers never received the repair and renovation that was so desperately needed. Many of the deaths of New Orleans residents fall partially on the heads of state and federal politicians who consistently wrote off protecting one of America's most treasured cities from a disaster that was inevitable. The reasons for this varied from well-meaning, but misplaced priorities to flat indifference.
The sordid and sad story of Hurricane Katrina has been thoroughly told in great detail. But, unfortunately governmental negligence does not end on the bayou.
One woman died, and forty five people were injured (two of them critically) on July 18 when a 24 inch underground steam pipe exploded in New York City. This now defunct pipe was installed in 1924, and had not been significantly monitored or renovated since then. Even if something is ingeniously crafted, over a period of 83 years it may very well become outdated, rusty, and rotting. Elementary logic this simple appears to evade many members of the US government.
This is the second recent, personal confrontation New Yorkers had with political priorities of infrastructure, or lack there of. The first being the Northeast Blackout of 2003 that also adversely affected millions of residents in New Jersey, Baltimore, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan and Ohio.
The cause of the biggest blackout in North American history was quite pale in comparison to the epic consequences. Apparently, a couple of trees brushed against a transmission wire in Ohio, which was like wind to a candle for almost the entire Eastern Seaboard and parts of the Midwest that saw their lights go out. Jason Makansi reflects on the peculiarly pathetic weakness of the American electrical system in Lights Out, and eventually asks, "How did a First World country end up with a Third World grid?"
Although, the answer is intricately complex, one important aspect is once again the lack of care, concern, and attention that structural problems are given by policymakers.
The consequences of this political indifference to infrastructure will continue to manifest themselves in ways that range from inconvenient swipes with potholes to horrific and surreal scenarios like the breakdown of the sewage system in San Diego that has been predicted for years by experts and journalists in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Also, one could face many sleepless nights after speculating about what may happen as a result of our antiquated rails public transportation that lags behind most of Europe and Asia.
None of this seems to be on the minds of commentators and analysts in the media, whose only reaction to the Minneapolis bridge collapse seems to be, "We don't know what the causes are. We're just glad it's not terrorism."
They are correct. The problem is not terrorism; it is decades of governmental neglect. While that may not seem like a great story or thrilling tag line, it makes no difference to the victims and their families. The belief that the only catastrophes worth preventing are those caused by terrorists, must not only end, but dramatically reverse course.
Since 9/11, more Americans in the United States have died from infrastructural failure than at the hands terrorists. The solution is not to stop fighting terrorism, but we cannot continue to ignore dire domestic needs. Otherwise, many more will become victimized and potentially pay with their lives.
In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt instituted a massive public policy program that sought relief, recovery, and reform during the Great Depression. The Public Works Administration employed thousands of people to build bridges, schools, and hospitals, along with many other vital entities. The Rural Electrification agency was established to electrify many parts of the South that were still in the dark, because utility companies refused to serve farmsteads.
Almost a century later it is time to resurrect the vision of FDR to repair what is broken, create what is lacking, and provide America with a brand New Deal.
David Masciotra was awarded with the first ever "Roosevelt Rabblerouser Award" by the Political Science/History Department of the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill, where he received a Bacherlor's Degree in Political Science in May of 2007. He has written a series of essays on the Midwest for PopandPolitics.com, is a member of the PopMatters DVD Review Staff, and is currently working on a full length, book version of his independently published pamphlet, "Lower Learning: Notes and Comments on the American University" ( http://nailthemuppress.blogspot.com). He lives in Dyer, Ind.