Weekly Letter to President Obama
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INAUGURATION,   January 20, 2009

Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape

To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.

The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.

Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.

--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
---  Native American proverb
March 29, 2013

Mr. President:  When we turn on the faucet in this country, we expect water that is
safe to drink; we lavish it on showers, washing, cleaning, even watering our lawns.  It
is a luxury absent in most of the developing world; yet, we take it for granted.  We
seldom wonder about the source, how it was treated to ensure safety, or how it was
transported  -- which brings us to the new American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
report on our infrastructure.

Published every four years, the report now shows a modest improvement over this
period.  It grades infrastructure elements from A to F like a classroom grade plus an
overall evaluation, which was a positive change from the previous D to D+.  Bridges
have improved to C+; roads, aviation, schools, transit (45 percent of households lack
access) all received a D; energy remained a D+ and inland waterways a D-; returning  
to drinking water -- it improved from D- to D.

How could our clean, clear, safe water garner a grade of D?  Quite simply because its
infrastructure according to these experts is "nearing the end of its useful life" -- almost
a quarter of a million water mains breaks per year in pipes that are often more than a
century old and require replacement.  The American Water Works Association
estimates the eventual cost at over a trillion dollars.  The total cost of repairing
existing infrastructure is now estimated by ASCE at $3 trillion up from $2.2 trillion in
the last report.  By the time a serious stab is made at the problem, the cost is likely to
be in the $5 trillion range -- a colossal figure but not out of reach, given the true cost
of the Iraq and Afghan wars or the money doled out to the banks.

But all of this merely restores the infrastructure of yesterday.  What of the
infrastructure of tomorrow?  What of green energy, electric and fuel cell cars and the
ancillary network of charging stations?  What of the manufacturing and repair facilities
for these new devices and vehicles?  What of high-speed rail?  Will we ever in this
country see the likes of the sleek Hayabusa bullet trains of Japan, or the Zefiro 380
used by Chinese Railways?

About 200 years ago George Stephenson's Rocket pulled the first trains from
Manchester to the port of Liverpool.  The purpose?  To speed up the transport of
manufactured goods heretofore, carried on barges drawn by draft horses along
canals.  The age of steam had begun.  The factories could now run at full speed, and
the eventual returns of industry and a new infrastructure transformed the British
economy into a world leader.

The benefits of fast trains both ecological -- a much smaller carbon footprint than air
or road transport -- and economic are indisputable.  The real question is whether we
have the will and leadership, both political (State and Federal) and business.  After all
the Manchester-Liverpool railway was the brainchild of business leaders.  Ours, on
the other hand, export jobs hiding under the skirts of NAFTA and now TPP.

Infrastructure, however, as always, remains the back bone of a competitive nation,
and a stagnant economy, with 20 million short and long-term unemployed, is crying
out for large scale projects ... a marriage made in heaven, one would think, but for the
absent notaries.