Slow motion collapse

I sense a trend…

US life expectancy now 42nd among nations.

Hartford Courant journalist Helen Ubiñas on her thirteen years covering Hartford.

When I first got here, there was no shortage of powerhouse community groups, relentless activists who held city officials accountable, who expected more. No, demanded more.

Now, even when a grandmother is shot dead in the middle of the day, about the only person to register any outrage is the Rev. Henry Brown. And his protests usually attract a grand total of one.

Can’t-Do Nation

But the bridge disaster also reflects a broader and more troubling problem. The United States seems to have become the superpower that can’t tie its own shoelaces. America is a nation of vast ingenuity and technological capabilities. Its bridges shouldn’t fall down.

The government is becoming hollowed-out, and increasingly unable to provide basic services and support. As mentioned yesterday, when a major hospital in L.A. closes after years of everyone trying to save it, then something has gone seriously wrong.


  1. One nation… indivisible from the Fall of Rome!” —Jello Biafra

  2. My take on what’s happening is a little different from yours.

    The problem the US is experiencing is that the citizens don’t understand, or choose to ignore, that bridges and roads need maintenance, that a single investment doesn’t last a lifetime. Ironically, as I read local assessments of development projects in Bolivia, the locals report similar observations on the ground there, that the foreign governments and foundations don’t supply the maintenance funds which are not available through local investment and savings. Not surprisingly, lots of bridges and roads in Bolivia collapse.

    The situation with King-Drew hospital is similar, but with some significant differences. I disagree with your assessment that everyone was trying to save the hospital. Or, perhaps to rephrase, that people were willing to do whatever it took to save it. What it took was fairly simple: fire the existing management, make new management responsible, and give them a reasonable scope of time and goals to accomplish, which would include shutting down parts of the hospital. This was never done; there was no accountability, and most of the efforts were spent in trying to avoid blame.

    There’s nothing new about having to maintain roads and bridges or having to deal with failing hospitals. The solutions are relatively clear: any capital assess needs a budget item for maintenance and repairs, and all management needs to be held responsible for results. When it becomes politically expedient to skimp or skip repairs and maintenance, or not to challenge poor management, disaster arrives sooner or later. The only thing that’s suprising about it is that people are surprised.

  3. While I think Joe is right, I also don’t recall ever taking a class in accounting in high school. And that was before Reagan/Bush gutted the educational system. If people don’t understand that infrastructure (i.e. capital assets) require ongoing maintenance expense, it’s quite likely they haven’t been taught, because that’s not something we’re born knowing.

    The principle of a republic is that our leaders, being better qualified than the average person, are supposed to ensure that such things are planned for. (In my understanding, that’s a fundamental principle in both conservative and progressive thought.) But apparently our leaders are either (a) not more qualified than the average person or (b) criminally negligent.

    In either case, Bob’s and Joe’s positions are not mutually exclusive. Bob’s looks at the what, while Joe looks at the why.

    IMO, it goes even deeper: we have become a nation of spoiled brats who want to get paid for doing as little as possible. (We don’t like immigrants because we can’t compete with them.) We’re addicted to credit, unable to plan past today, and certain that somehow it will all work out.

    Our nation reminds me of some children of wealthy people I have known: they’ve never had to face real adversity, never had to do a real day’s work, and always knew that Daddy would bail them out when times got tough. And when Daddy (and the money) were gone, they were clueless as to how to survive.

    While never wanting to minimize the sacrifice of any man or woman in uniform, I look at how upset we are over the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq, compared with other wars we have fought, and realize that we no longer know what real adversity is.

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