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The Terrorism of Neglect

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Message Elizabeth Schoettly
You read that right. The greatest, immediate terrorism we have to fear in this nation is not the violence and death carried out by the Bin Ladin Boys, nor the violent and fanatical "folks" (Gawd, I hate that term) who have no legitimate claim to a religion of peace. We need not fear nearly so much as we do, swarthy men wielding box cutters or shoe bombs (although allowing cigarette lighters on planes is just asking for some idiot to light a terrible and terrifying cigar in the loo). In America, you have a better chance of winning the Lotto or getting struck by lightning than you do of becoming a victim of "the folks" that brought planes crashing into buildings. You have a greater chance of dying while eating a peanut (choking on it or finding you are allergic) than you have of being a victim of violent terrorism. That's right. But you have, on any given day, a 50 percent chance of dying while using infrastructure that has been systematically ignored for decades. The I35 Bridge Too Broken proved that. That particular bridge had, for over two years, been out there, available to public use, all while having a 50 percent chance of catastrophic failure. Like collapse. Like killing people due to that not so benign neglect. Let it sink in. A huge chance, right up there in league with flipping a coin. Nick Coleman, Twin Cities Curmudgeon in Residence put it well in his Star Tribune piece
Would you drive your kids or let your spouse drive over a bridge that had a sign saying, "CAUTION: Fifty-Percent Bridge Ahead"?
. "This Bridge might or might not get you to the other side. Verify by coin flip -- if you dare". Of course, the flipped coin won't affect the structural integrity of the bridge, won't guarantee safe passage, won't do anything but make you feel that you've done something in the nature of rubbing a talisman as you take your life, and the lives of your family and friends in hand as you cross. Gee, I feel safer already. I can use toll money for those long trips for double duty. Pay as I travel through Illinois, and check the odds on living to cross a bridge. That's monetary multitasking run amok. Sadly it all does come down to money. Twice in his administration, Governor Pawlenty has vetoed bills that would have guaranteed money dedicated to transportation (read preserving the safety of infrastructure) and now is trying to claim the Republican controlled Legislative Branch in Minnesota had nothing to do with it. Nope. Not his fault. Blame the Democrats. Ditto President Bush. The Republicans were in control for six of the past six and a half years, and money has been spent like drunken sailors on everything from Pork A to Pork Zed, plus a War to Nowhere and the infamous Bridge to the same place. But it's the Democrats fault. Yep, in the past seven months, the Democrats were supposed to fix all that was wrong, and vote on new legislation, all while dancing the tarantella on the head of a pin. No, no, no, no, NO!!!!! It is the fault of all of us, and those in control of government that have forgotten even a well built house that is not maintained, will fall. We have built our financial priorities on sand. We allow government to spend money like crazy, and if we pay attention, we know that the spending we do indicates our priorities. We've studiously avoided spending on infrastructure, including the most recent budgets from the President, where he again proposed nothing even close to what is needed to repair and maintain (or replace) necessary bridges.
The budget I've sent to Congress fully funds America's priorities. It increases discretionary spending by 6.9 percent. My Cabinet Secretaries assure me that this is adequate to meet the needs of our nation.
According to ABC News:
Highway engineers say the neglect of America's infrastructure costs lives every day. More than 40,000 people die in highway accidents each year. Road conditions, the engineers say, are a factor in almost one-third of those deaths. America's most important road system - 46,000 miles of interstate highway - is now half a century old. A report card two years ago from the American Society of Civil Engineers said that 34 percent of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition. And that's not all. The civil engineers say the number of unsafe dams has risen by more than 33 percent in the past two years, and in that time, there have been 29 dam failures. Power capacity isn't keeping pace with demand, and the power grid needs $10 billion a year invested over the next five years. And, according to civil engineers, 27 percent of U.S. bridges are structurally deficient.
In other words, it's not just a collapsing bridge incident killing us due to poorly maintained infrastructure. Each of those deaths, every injury attributable to unsafe roads, shows our priorities. We spend according to what is important. Public health and safety at home is far down the list for the present administration. President Bush allowed, no encouraged, pharmaceutical companies to write Medicare Part D, which is costing over 3 times what it should if government were allowed to negotiate prices for drugs needed by the elderly and disabled, while 47 million go uninsured. (The population of the US is just over 300 million, so that's about one sixth of all of us without insurance.) Of course, President Bush can come up with billions for mercenary soldiers in Iraq, for equipment that is destroyed and for cost plus contracts, but our roads are neglected. We've cut spending, in real dollars, for education, healthcare, food inspection, drug safety and pollution control. President Bush has made a religion of sorts out of cutting revenue while infrastructure, such as the poorly maintained levies in New Orleans collapsed in the wake of Katrina. It is more important for us to give tax cuts to the wealthy as the nation crumbles from within. What of those that died Wednesday? Were there any potential millionaires in that group that could have become one of the recipients of Republican largess? We'll never know now. To be totally fair, it's not just been the Republican religion of not so benign neglect of the structures that provide safety and are key to the economy. But these past six years, the policies of the Bush Administration and their Congressional cronies, and Republican controlled state houses have made the problems worse as the roads we depend upon reach the end of their 50 year lifespan. There was no indication of terrorism in the sense of bombs or bombers, in the collapse of the Bridge Too Broken. Except for this. Every time you ride across a bridge, are you thinking 'I wonder--is this one gonna go too?'. If so, you have been terrorized. Rightly so. And the Republicans currently in positions of power are pointing fingers everywhere but at themselves. Once again, with the cooperation of Republicans in power, neglect has caused multiple fatalities and a sense we are not safe. Not even driving to grandma's house. Be afraid. Be very afraid. The effects from this terror of neglect are just beginning. How many needed to die to show us our folly in ignoring public safety? How many needed to die to show us we need to repair roads? In truth none. At least, if we are honest, we would admit that. And we would begin a War on The Terror of Neglect this very moment. If we fail, once again, the terrorists will win, more bridges will truly go 'nowhere' and more will be injured and die.
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Elizabeth Schoettly is a musician whose very heart is a violin. Currently, she lives in the Twin Cities where she teaches musicians to find and open hearts around them with music.
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