As the 1% sucks up ever more wealth, the US infrastructure is ready to implode. To cut taxes on the ultra wealthy, we've rotted the physical and cultural supports upon which our society depends.
The rapid decline in the financial, educational and institutional infrastructure of the United States represents the greatest threat to the safety of Americans today.
The United States currently lacks safety protocols and effective inspection regimes for the dangerous materials it has amassed over the last 60 years.
The current round of cutbacks in federal spending for low-visibility budgets for maintainence and inspection, combined with draconian cuts in public education, makes it even more difficult to find properly trained people and pay them the necessary wages to maintain infrastructure.
The recent cheating scandal involving employees of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex is emblematic of the problem. Nuclear officers charged with protecting and maintaining the thousands of U.S. nuclear weapons simply copied the answers for tests about how to employ the complex machinery related to nuclear missiles. The scandal is only the latest in a long series of accidents, mishaps and miscommunications that have nearly caused nuclear explosions and tremendous loss of life. As Eric Schlosser has detailed in his new book Command and Control, we have avoided inflicting a Hiroshima-sized attack on ourselves only through sheer dumb luck.
Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued its Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which painted a grim picture of America’s infrastructure. The average grade for infrastructure — covering transportation, drinking water, energy, bridges, dams and other critical infrastructure — was a D+. The failure to invest in infrastructure over the last 15 years, the report argues, bodes ill for the future and will guarantee further disasters.
The United States is peppered with all-but-forgotten chemical waste dumps, aging nuclear power plants, nuclear materials, oil rigs, oil pipelines and mines (active and abandoned) that require an enormous investment in personnel and facilities to maintain safely.
The U.S. nuclear energy system has generated more than 65,000 tons of spent fuel, much of which is stored in highly insecure locations. ”Even though they contain some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet, U.S. spent nuclear fuel pools are mostly contained in ordinary industrial structures designed to merely protect them against the elements,” writes IPS nuclear expert Robert Alvarez. “Some [of the structures] are made from materials commonly used to house big-box stores and car dealerships.” An accident involving any one of these storage facilities could produce damage 60 times greater than the Chernobyl disaster.
The unending demand for budget cuts is taking a toll on the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency, responsible for a large number of important regulatory activities, experienced cuts of more than six percent in both its budget and workforce…. at a time when environmental issues are growing more critical.
Cuts in budgets for maintenance, inspection and regulation will all but guarantee further disasters and tens of billions of dollars in damages. The poor state of American infrastructure would be a problem in any case, but the challenge of climate change has thrown a monkey wrench in all predictions.
The media-obsessed political culture that rules Washington today makes commitment to … support for maintenance and long-term safety the kiss of death …
… a few more major industrial or infrastructural disasters in the United States will be enough to bring the country to its knees. The American superpower will topple from self-inflicted wounds without a political rival like China or Russia even having to say “boo!” [emphasis mine]