Saturday, August 04, 2007

It must have been a Republican bridge

Wednesday night at the Brewers game, our sister-in-law got a call on her cell phone. A bridge collapsed in the Twin Cities. The guy in front of us turned around and showed us a picture of the thing on his cell phone. After the initial shock, I turned to the Reddess with three words: "It's Bush's fault."

It has to be because there is no tragedy that we can't politicize. For years and years, experts tell us that New Orleans is built in a singularly poor location and, if the right hurricane hits, it will be devastated. Nevertheless, for all those years, local politicians prefer pork to protection. Finally, the storm hits. The death toll is high, but a fraction of what had been predicted. Notwithstanding astonishing inactivity in the face of danger by the leadership on the scene (Nagin and Blanco), Katrina is Bush's fault.


I have no doubt that politicians may have ignored road maintenance (although anyone who drives in the summer in Wisconsin might be skeptical about that). It doesn't buy votes and deferred maintenance is close to a universal human characteristic.

I am also fairly certain that, whatever the extent of neglect of our national infrastructure, it extends past the Iraq War, the Bush administration, even the GOP takeover of Congress. I seem to recall the Democrats, over the years, calling for spending money on all manner of things and, while I am sure that roads were in there somewhere (what wasn't in there?), I cannot remember Clinton, Gore or Kerry emphasizing the Moral Equivalence of War against our sagging bridges.

And, whether or not it was in there somewhere, I haven't noticed any discernible reduction in our spending for highways. In fact, construction crews were on that bride when it collapsed.

The problem with the I-35 bridge is that inspectors did not detect its imminent collapse. Maybe they erred. Maybe, as seems more likely, the principles of bridge inspection are not infallible and that, sometimes, very unlikely and very bad things happen.

It would, however, be nice if we could at least recover and bury the dead and have a clue about what actually happened before we roll out the partisan guns.

But since we just can't wait, the kneejerk "Republicans won't spend money" argument that we are starting to hear has nothing to do with the problem. Congress has been more than willing to spend money on infrastructure. As this morning's Wall Street Journal notes:

The hair-trigger political impulse, from states and Capitol Hill alike, is that this means the feds need to spend more money. But it's hardly the case that taxpayers have been stingy. In 1991, the five-year highway cost $151 billion. By 1998 it was up to $217 billion, and in 2005 a Republican Congress agreed to spend $286 billion and would have spent far more had President Bush not threatened a veto.

But, of course, both Republicans and Democrats preferred that the money be spent on new projects because that is what gets you in the paper back home. As the Journal notes, earmarks for pork projects were pervasive in the highway bills passed by the Democrat congresses as I am sure they were when the GOP had the majority.

I might point out that this is a corollary of the New Deal philosophy of, as FDR Harry Hopkins reportedly put it, "tax and spend, elect and elect." But that I suspect the sentiment, just like the tendency to avoid things that aren't vote-getters, is as old as democracy.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Of course there are no Republican bridges and no Democrat bridges. But there have been decisions made by politicians in both parties that have come home to roost. And the recent, relevant decisions by the Republican governor and his appointees there are cause for concern.

You need to read the Twin Cities papers, the Star Trib and even the conservative Pioneer Press online. Both have had quite a few (and excellent) stories already about the bridge inspections -- or lack thereof this summer, although it was supposed to be done -- the gov's veto of a gas tax for funding infrastructure maintenance, just who he appointed as DOT head, and much more.

And those stories make some of your post read as rather foolish, or at least uninformed. Much of it would be what might have been said a week ago. Not now, not with what already is known.

Kevin said...

Anon1: Please reconsider your ridiculous insinuations and tell me: who looks rather foolish, or at least uninformed? The Prof, or you?

Rather than insinuate that Pawlenty is responsible for the collapse, why not just say it outright?

Or, to show you how ridiculous your conclusions are, please answer the following questions:

(1) Had Pawlenty not vetoed the gas tax, would the money have gone directly to adding support for the bridge?

(2) Had Pawlenty had another MNDOT head, would the bridge have been saved?

(3) Had more inspections been completed, would the inspectors have found the bridge in danger of imminent collapse?

Before answering, please take a look here: (focus on the part about the U of M engineers recommending that the bridge not be "prematurely replaced") http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/08/02/bridgehistory/?rsssource=1

I think you may have a film career in your future -- I don't think Michael Moore could have better accused Pawlenty of being responsible for the collapse.

jp said...

Bicker. Bicker.
“Maybe, as seems more likely, the principles of bridge inspection are not infallible and that, sometimes, very unlikely and very bad things happen.”
Like the popular bumper sticker says, “--it happens”.

Anonymous said...

This is all pretty weird -Rick admits for some reason that sudden news of a disaster sends his mind reflexively to the Republican defense.

Kevin reacts nastily to the idea that the FACTS might lead to the conclusion that poor decisions by identifiable parties led to the disaster. Now, I haven't parsed the details - but if the actual history of inspections, maintenance, etc., demonstrates bad decisions by specific people leading to this - no amount of ideology can undo the facts. Its a factual issue, and nor more nor less.

And, to round things out, JP takes the apparent position that engineering is not a science and that catastrophic bridge failure is entirely random and unpredictable; a circumstance for which no one can possibly be responsible. Faith-based transportation policy? Why not, it would match whatever it is that's called "conservatism" there days.

Look, you right-wingers want ever lower taxes and government funding and supported spending scores of billions in Iraq meaning the funds were unavailable for other purposes. Fine, ok. But don't dare thunder with such indignation when the results of your own policies come under scrutiny.

Show me a conservative who is willing to be honest and say, its worth what we save not spending on infrastructure. "Acceptable losses" is at least a coherent (though painfully unpopular) argument.

And, Rick, your knee-jerk deployment of the Rovian tactic of responding to any evaluation of your side's policies as "politicizing"a disaster - is what is is. AMong other effects, it deflects the whole inquiry. And, of course, no honest person thinks that the suggestion that aggressive curbs on infrastructure spending could have something to do with, er, maybe, uh, deficiencies and failure - or in this case - disaster in infrastructure.

Only in the dark corners of the blogosphere does the foregoing seem like a crazy hypothesis.

And, of course Rick - your take on this is could be used to squash any examination of any policy outcomes. You are simple whore for the Republicans with a fancier vocabulary. And, you know better but don't care.

Anonymous said...

and, the fact that the strongest nation in the world couldn't get drinking water to Katrina victims was an act of god or a states' rights issue.

Rick Esenberg said...

My "reflexive" response was based in experience. As my links show, it was borne out by the comments of, not just the Kos-ites, but serious and intelligent liberals like Paul Soglin.

But what Republican "policies" are being examined? There is no GOP policy to let bridges fall down and, as the numbers show, no GOP policy to reduce - or even not to expand at a dizzying pace - spending for infrastructure.

There may be a tendency on the part of both Democratic and Republican politicians to spend that money on fancy stuff, although I don't know that even that was responsible for what happened here.

No one could possibly yet know what, if any policies were to blame for the bridge's collapse. The argument that, "gee, Republicans don't want to spend as much money as Democrats and, maybe, if we just spent enough money, some of it would have spilled over and used to make repairs that apparently no one thought had to be made immediately, so we can blame this tragedy on the Republicans before we have a clue as to what happened" strikes me as a tad lame. Calling me a Republican whore in defense of that type of "criticism" is a bit ironic, don't you think?

Dad29 said...

One would hope that road-dollars will be concentrated on maintenance/repair/replacement going forward, rather than Pave More Fields!!, which is the dominant mode.

But one would not bet actual real money on that.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, et al.: I repeat, read the last several days' investigative reporting by the Star Trib and Pioneer Press. There were many decisions made, and by politicians and political appointees -- of both parties, as I said -- that ought to be cause for concern for anyone interested not in knee-jerk defense but in preventing this from happening again.

There is backtracking, but fast, on the U of M study, Kevin. And look to the outside consultant's study rejected by MNDOT about putting steel plates on the problematic trusses, look to MNDOT's decision to suspend the annual inspection this summer -- the annual inspection required by MNDOT for almost 15 years now, instead of biennial inspections of that problematic bridge -- and more.

Or you can keep sending people over unsafe bridges and keep saying you didn't know. Your call.

John Foust said...

Your initial reaction was a cynical recognition that somewhere, some Democrat would blame the top Republican, the one who must suffer on the Cross for the sins of the rest of the Republicans who've made a reputation for asking to cut government spending deep into the bone, lest it raise any suburbanite's taxes. You are wise enough to see that this too is hypocrisy, that Republicans and Democrats alike were happy to spend and spend. Are you saying that you are glad the Democrats are free of hypocrisy in this regard?

When I look at the top campaign contributors in Wisconsin, I see several road-building and construction-related families at the top of the list, and they're donating most often to Republicans.

Yes, there's always been plenty of politicizing, and when it's frequent and fresh in our minds we tend to think it's worse than it's ever been. By acknowledging that both Republicans and Democrats have this OCD habit of blaming the Other for any tragedy, are you suggesting that it stop?

Anonymous said...

You are a Republican whore because you never hesitate to deploy the uniform spin that gushes from every Republican outlet at the same time. All the while trading on the fact that you are a lawyer with an annoyingly large and overused vocabulary.

Your typical stuff is not one whit different than that peddled by the other Republican operatives at exactly the same time. But - most don't slather pretentiousness all over the place and pretend to be engaged in deep thinking.

And, just like the others, you'll say anything to make your rhetorical point. So which is it this time: Republicans have traditionally supported spending on infrastructure development and maintenance or JP's theory that lack of maintenance is unrelated to the sudden collapse of large, complex feats of engineering that regularly face huge stresses.

You could even try for subtlety and simply declare that cutbacks in federal infrastructure and transportation funding to states did not affect states' ability to keep up.

In any case, you will have to continue to so eruditely and snidely issue you judgments all the while continuning to carefully avoid the actual historic facts (even when posters try to steer you right to them) Facts are fatal to all ideology which is why folks like you either invent them to suit your needs or ignore them entirely.

Kevin said...

Again, Anon, I ask: Had the one inspection been completed, would the inspection have revealed an imminent collapse? Perhaps, but I doubt it. The inspections had warned of a bridge in need of repair, but they didn't warn of imminent collapse. It's easy to say now, "We should have seen the warning signs and connected the dots." But then again, it's always easier to work backward from a result and connect the dots than it is to predict something (hence my Michael Moore reference, although perhaps a Loose Change reference would have been more fitting).

But your suggestion that only had (1) MN increased taxes by the billions, (2) Pawlenty appointed someone else, and (3) MnDOT not skipped one inspection, the bridge would not have collapsed, is patently ridiculous. It stinks of the ideological tint that you accuse the rest of us as employing.

Anon, your selective interpretation of the facts also befits my Michael Moore/Loose Change reference. Why did you fail to mention MnDOT's reasons for rejecting the consultant's suggestions (about putting the steel plates on the trusses)?

I guess the answer isn't as black and white as your ideological tint would make you believe:

"Officials were concerned that drilling thousands of tiny bolt holes would weaken the bridge. Instead, MnDOT launched an inspection that was interrupted this summer by unrelated work on the bridge's concrete driving surface."

(Link: http://www.startribune.com/462/story/1339411.html)

Anonymous said...

Kevin, you're being selective. Yes, there are engineers saying that this one inspection this summer that was delayed could have indicated exactly the stresses expected by the report to MNDOT that called for steel plates to reinforce the trusses.

Do I know this is the inspection that could have caught the problem in time? No, God has not spoken to me. Do you know it isn't? But since engineers, the state DOT, and others all decided in 1993 that the bridge was so structurally deficient that biennial inspections were insufficient and that annual inspections were necessary, then delaying -- not doing -- the inspection as required by the DOT itself was not a good decision by DOT.

Of course, maybe having the lieutenant governor also be the MNDOT head wasn't the wisest move, either. Have you looked into her experience and credentials for the job? Have you noticed the calls by the public for her to step down?

That's all replying to your first and last paragraph. As for the stuff in between, your reading comprehension also is problematic even in getting through comments here. You attribute to me nothing that I ever said . . . so you must be hearing voices in your head, Kevin.

Anonymous said...

And you anon 7:54 are a Democrat slut. Buy a dictionary.

Have a few anger management issue?

Anonymous said...

oops! Make that issues.

Anonymous said...

I didn't suggest a direct absolute connection between a single funding decision and the bridge collapse. I was simply gagging at this embarrassing frenzy to make sure no onr, in thinking about the disaster, began to wonder whether the Repub mantra of ALL TAXES OF ALL KINDS ARE ALWAYS TOO HIGH AND EVERY PENNY THE GOVERNMENT SPENDS EXCEPT FOR THE MILITARY AND FOR JAILS IS AN OUTRAGE!!! - might have a role to play in some of the deficits and defects in other areas, say the safety of infrastructure.

If the bridge was a random freak thing, so be it. It wouldn't change my point that Rick's faux sense of offense is typical sleazy off-the-rack Repub spin. And, in any case, large, well made and maintained structures usually do not simply collapse. and yeah, that kind of safety costs money.

Isn't there a single rightwing SOB among you with the balls to say that we are willing to deal with these occasional disasters to hold the line on spending? Or that whatever the hell your project is in Iraq is somehow more valuable?

Its one thing to be wrong; quite another to be a scumbag.

And who gives a damn about Pawlenty; the genius of the violent rightward tilt you folks have one is that every last one of you, with very very few exceptions, walk and talk in complete lock step. Its the rigid and unworkable agenda that leads to this kind of thing, not any one person.

Kevin said...

This, Anon, is why I challenged you to say something outright rather than intimating things and then accusing others of making things up when they accuse you of concluding what you insinuate.

Re-read your first post: you insinuate that the bridge collapse may have occurred because of "relevant decisions by the Republican governor and his appointees." Yes, you say those decisions are "cause for concern," rather than fully reaching your suggested conclusion -- that their decisions are responsible for the collapse.

I'll admit, it's a good debating tactic, and a good survival tactic for politicians. Never fully commit to a position. Then, you can deny that you ever said such things when taken to task by others (like you did in the last post by suggesting I lack reading comprehension).

And your comments regarding the MnDOT commissioner are as ridiculous as your earlier insinuations. What lieutenant governor responsibilities diminished Carol Molnau's ability to serve as MnDOT commissioner? She also served on the House Transportation committee before being elected Lt. Gov., which means she knows more about transportation than at least half the state. (By the way, is she any less qualified to serve as head of a state agency than Matt Frank, who Doyle just appointed to head the DNR?)

Kevin said...

Thanks, Anon -- you have now managed to suggest twice that Iraq may relate in some way to the bridge collapse (or at least to similar disasters).

Oh, speaking of walking and talking in lockstep: Bush lied, people died. Bush lied, people died. Bush lied, people died. No wonder Americans are already tiring of this Democratic Congress.

And you're right -- my fellow sheep and I are nothing more than scumbags. I must hate humankind if I find it offensive that you and others continue to claim more than a third of my annual income.

Such anger. And to think, coming from the party of pacifism.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, I can only "intimate" at this point because I don't have the information yet to make conclusions.

You, however, do have the information to whitewash everyone already. Amazing.

You can find the NTSB 800 number on the Strib site, so you really ought to call with all your conclusions that could save them a lot of time and close the investigation now! Of course, maybe you don't want an investigation, since it means asking questions -- and you clearly are against questioning anything.

While you're at it, look up the number for anger management. Of course, many of us are angry about what happened. Humanity requires that of us. But I'm managing my anger just fine -- and managing to avoid terms such as you use, too, as those are the sort of terms that indicate inability to manage anger.

As for a party of pacifism, we have no such major party in this country and never have had one. You really need to look up some history books, too, to see which party was in power when we went into, oh, World War I and World War II and the Vietnam War, just in the last century.

Resistance to abandoning our long-held American policy against pre-emptive action is hardly pacifism. There are times and places to go to war to defend ourselves and our allies. But then there are other times and places. . . .

Rick Esenberg said...

You are a Republican whore because you never hesitate to deploy the uniform spin that gushes from every Republican outlet at the same time. All the while trading on the fact that you are a lawyer with an annoyingly large and overused vocabulary.

Doesn't a whore get paid? Who do I talk to?

Dad29 said...

Rick, it's worse than that. See:

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=817

wherein the author states:

"Call me naïve, but it hadn’t immediately occurred to me that the dissolution of the Anglican Communion should also be laid directly at the feet of George Bush."

and goes on to cite a docmument which does almost precisely that...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is giving anonymous a bad name. In the name of all anonymous, I apologize for anonymous.

pv said...

Anonymous at the top failed to mention that the reason the governor vetoed the gas tax was partly because they had a tax surplus of over 2 billion dollars.

Anonymous said...

"During a committee meeting Molnau attended in May about funding for infrastructure, Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, expressed concern for the state. He said: 'What I am hearing here is just really starting to ... make me sad, because I'm seeing Minnesota deteriorate around me.'"

In May.

See just the latest . . . at http://www.startribune.com/462/story/1357661-p2.html

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