Either Our Boat Is Sinking … – P. Spencer

… Or The Bowl Is Draining

I went back to school in the mid-80s to reenforce my technical experience in foundries with graduate level work in Materials Science. One of the main funding sources for research was federal R&D money for improved reliability of welded steels for use in building/repairing bridges. The rationale was that many welded (as opposed to riveted or reenforced-concrete) bridges were nearing the end of their design, if not their service, lives.

That was 20 years ago. I remember, long before that, the increasing severity of road deterioration (potholes, slumping) across the country – especially the northern half that saw more frost-heaving. This was particularly true in the Northeastern and upper Midwestern industrial towns that were losing their manufacturing base – to the South and the West, then to Japan, Korea, Mexico, and so on. Losing manufacturing meant losing the tax base to support construction and maintenance.

Public transportation in our country is second-rate. The market may have spoken in the last 50 years, but convenience is now running headlong into petroleum reality, when it comes to near-total reliance on private transportation. Our trains are lucky to hit 70 mph on the Great Plains, and railroad accidents are much more common here than in countries where the bullet-trains go 130 mph.

Speaking of accidents, our traffic deaths are a national disgrace – the only “developed” countries that are statistically in our league are Italy and Australia. Part of the reason in all three countries is probably related to cultural attitudes concerning driving under the influence of you-name-it, but that’s another article. In this country, though, a major part is the high amount of vehicular traffic due to lack of effective public transportation.

Should high-tension and feeder electrical lines be underground? It seems likely that there would be a lot less storm-related outages, plus injuries from downed lines. In addition, if the jury is still out concerning the effect of electromagnetic radiation from high-voltage lines on health, it is certain that the radiation would be reduced under five feet of dirt.

Solar-cell and wind-turbine generation of electricity are rapidly catching on in Japan, Europe, China, India, and California. There are some problems still with efficient integration with the existing systems. Where are the development dollars for this work?

We have lost the major part of U.S. basic steel, basic aluminum, ship-building, textile, machine tool, and electronics manufacturing capacity to overseas sites due to “market forces”. The largest polyvinyl chloride plants, the major portion of silicon-wafer and computer-chip production facilities, many “high-tech” manufacturing plants, and even automobile assembly plants in the USA are owned by foreign capital.

We underutilize our timber, our human energy, and our ingenuity. We “own” a lot of nuclear technology (not to mention weapons), but – apparently – do not recyle nuclear fuel in our remaining nuclear-based electrical generation operations (France does). The list goes on and on. On a bad day it makes ex-pat look quite attractive.

The following quote, via Tomgrams, is a good summary of the current situation and implies the prognosis for the near-term: ‘Just last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country a “D” for “its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem.” The “problem,” put bluntly, is that the country’s basic operating systems are eroding fast and this administration, by all evidence, couldn’t care less.’

We are left with building houses for each other; brewing some of the best beers; buying unnecessary plastic objects (line borrowed from Nanci Griffiths – remember the 5 and dime in downtown Austin?) from China; and litigation. That is an unsustainable economic base.

Do I mean to imply that the USA should monopolize or dominate these fields? Nope. I mean to emphatically state that all of the endeavors mentioned above are part of a healthy regional economy. The people of this country should no more rely on steel from Korea (now China) than oil from Saudi Arabia or than lumber from the trees of the Amazon River rainforests. Part of the reason is in the nature of the word “reliance”, and part of it is the wasteful use of petroleum to transport these materials from far-distant sources.

Infrastructure and manufacturing go hand-in-hand: power, transportation, waste treatment and recycling are all necessary. In our current corporate ethos, however, anything that takes cash away from executive salaries and from net profit is waste.

And that is the essential point – we citizens are being flushed right into the septic tank of imperial decline – where the corrosive effects of greed and lust will dissolve and realign our organic molecules – by the biggest, smelliest shits in our world. Right now most of us are still circling, so centrifugal action is artificially supporting our position near the top of the bowl – but the bottom is dropping out, folks. I suppose that we all end up as fertilizer, but, personally, I take offense at being prematurely transformed.

So what’s my suggestion? It is not to recruit our sons and daughters to reenforce the imperial military. It is, as usual, to agitate and organize our fellow flushees; to attempt to rationalize (regionalize) our economy; to capture our local, regional, and national policy-making institutions. This particular case is just another angle of attack: infrastructure and manufacturing are being decimated in the U.S., and we will all suffer increasingly as a result. A lot of people see the symptoms; we need to help them make the connections to political organization and action.

In practice, then, this fits the PDS (People for a Democratic Society) program in the following particulars:

  • End poverty via progressive taxation to support provision of basic services (clean water, sanitation, basic food, healthcare, affordable housing).
  • Two-year, universal public service (military, healthcare service, infrastructure construction labor, emergency services).
  • Clean air, soil, and surface water.
  • Development of “alternative” energy sources (solar, wind, wave, etc.).
  • Affordable, environmentally-sensitive public transportation.
  • Socialism for “commodities” (insurance, banking, steel, oil, power).

Paul Spencer

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