Levees Not War
“The mission here is not accomplished.”

Archive for the ‘Infrastructure’ Category

Cool Digs! NYC’s 2nd Avenue Subway Tunnel in Progress

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

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Making Tracks on the Line That Time Forgot

Talking Points Memo posts some ultra-kool photos of the excavation of the Second Avenue subway tunnel under the East Side of Manhattan that is due to open for business in December 2016—only about a century after the need for an additional East Side subway line was first recognized. (More cool photos can be seen at the MTA’s Flickr page.)

At the same time, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is working on an East Side Access megaproject to connect the Long Island Rail Road to a new passenger concourse underneath Grand Central Terminal, which will ease pressure on the LIRR’s longtime (and congested rat-maze) terminus at Penn Station. (More about Penn Station [and high-speed rail] here.) Verily, the MTA’s crews and engineers are infrastructure heroes. We salute you!

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Gov. Cuomo cites “dramatic change in weather patterns”

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Sees Evidence of Climate Change, Need for Upgraded Infrastructure

In his 11:30 a.m. briefing the day after Hurricane Sandy, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a clear reference to climate change, or global warming, about 30 minutes into his remarks: “Anyone who thinks that there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality.”

There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That’s not a political statement, that is a factual statement. Anyone who says that there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality. . . . I said to the president kiddingly the other day we have a one hundred year flood every two years now. So, this city doesn’t have experience with this type of weather pattern. . . . I think it’s something we’re going to have to take into consideration, and educate ourselves. And as we’re going through the reconstruction and rebuilding, we’re going to have to find ways to build this city back stronger and better than ever before. . . . We have a new reality when it comes to these weather patterns. We have an old infrastructure and old systems, and that is not a good combination. And that is one of the lessons I’m going to take away from this. That and the courage of New Yorkers and the spirit of community of New Yorkers . . .

Thank you, Governor Cuomo. We have been making the same point ourselves (see here and here), but it makes a much bigger impact when the governor of New York says that climate change is behind the “dramatic change in weather patterns”—especially when the presidential candidates dare not face the fact or call it by its name.

Gov. Cuomo covered many other important points as well. More about his remarks here (see 12:56 p.m., Oct. 30).

Al Gore: “Dirty Energy Makes Dirty Weather”

Another heavy hitter spoke out today where candidates fear to tread. Former vice president Al Gore contributed a “Statement on Hurricane Sandy”:

Scientists tell us that by continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day, we are altering the environment in which all storms develop. As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful. . . . 

Sandy was also affected by other symptoms of the climate crisis. As the hurricane approached the East Coast, it gathered strength from abnormally warm coastal waters. At the same time, Sandy’s storm surge was worsened by a century of sea level rise. Scientists tell us that if we do not reduce our emissions, these problems will only grow worse. 

Hurricane Sandy is a disturbing sign of things to come. We must heed this warning and act quickly to solve the climate crisis. Dirty energy makes dirty weather.

Al Gore, “Statement on Hurricane Sandy

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Isaac Aims at Mouth of Mississippi, Greater New Orleans

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

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On exactly the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (Aug. 29), Tropical Storm Isaac is heading toward the mouth of the Mississippi River, likely to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, and possibly as a Category 2, with wind speeds up to about 100 m.p.h. Click on the diagram above, drawn by the excellent graphic artists at the Times-Picayune, to see details of the $14.6 billion storm protection system that has been put in place by the Army Corps of Engineers since 2005. Click NOLA.com to see periodic updates by environmental reporters Mark Schleifstein, Bob Marshall, and others. More details to follow.

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Framing the Case for Infrastructure Investment, Taxing the Rich

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Attn.: Pro-Infrastructure Activists and Democratic Strategists:

In a Feb. 4 letter to the editor of the New York Times, Rick Stone of Madison, Wisc., makes a point that more of us should heed:

If the wealthy knew with certainty that their increased taxes would make the roads they drive safer, resistance might be less. Yet higher taxes have generally not been framed as such, but rather as a fairness issue—that you make too much, so we’ll take some of yours to give to others.

He is responding to an op-ed piece by Cornell University economics professor Robert H. Frank titled “Higher Taxes Help the Richest, Too,” a somewhat abstruse argument that takes about 900 words to make a rather simple point about why the wealthy resist tax increases. Still, we agree with the basic point, perhaps best summarized in the final sentence, “when the anti-tax wealthy make campaign contributions, they are buying only the deeper potholes and dirtier air that inevitably result when tax revenue is low.”

Earlier in his letter, Rick Stone cites the “behavioral economics concept of loss aversion—the idea that people strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.” The impulse to avoid losses can best be countered by showing what the tax increases could make possible. And then—he doesn’t say this, exactly, but we do—change the discourse from a scarcity and austerity framework to a maldistribution-of-wealth argument.

Naomi Klein on The Rachel Maddow Show in October praised the genius of the “We Are the 99%” slogan and said the Occupy Wall Street activists were smart to take the protest to “the source of maximal abundance,” to put the lie to the discourse of scarcity. “It’s not a scarcity problem,” she said, “it’s a distribution problem.”

Mr. Stone of Madison is not talking specifically about reinforced levees or expanded public transportation, but his point applies there as well. When we push for raising taxes on the under-taxed Upper 1 or 2 Percent (and we do); when we try to generate support for what even sympathetic politicians timidly call “revenue increases,” we must show specific examples of what the revenues would pay for: stronger levees, repaired roads, expanded rail service, schools and post offices that are allowed to remain open, and so on.

We agree that arguments for higher taxes should be framed in terms of what they would make possible—that is why we are calling attention to this letter—but if Mr. Stone is saying that calls for higher taxes should not be framed as a fairness issue, then we disagree. He’s probably right that the benefits to the public (including the wealthy) should be at the forefront, but fairness should certainly be part of the argument.

What Would George Lakoff Say?

We have quoted before the advice given to us by U.C. Berkeley linguist and political analyst George Lakoff. He said that in promoting investment in infrastructure and other public goods, Democrats should not try to imitate Republican appeals to self-interest (and certainly not appeals to fear), but rather should argue for doing what is morally right. People will warm to the moral argument if it is presented simply and directly. It is right and fair for a government to collect some portion of people’s income to pay for the building of schools and roads and for monitoring food safety, etc. As we wrote in a piece on the social contract posted in Sept. 2009:

He said the moral appeal is always the best. It’s honest and it is more persuasive. Democrats and progressives, he said, always fall for the “Enlightenment fallacy,” the naïve belief that if you simply present the facts, people will see the light and support your cause. Not so simple. . . . Democrats should never try to imitate Republican appeals—it’s never believable. Instead, use the moral argument (the golden rule)—It’s the right thing to do. Expanding health care coverage, protecting our cities from hurricanes with reinforced flood protection is the right thing to do, morally and ecologically. 

Lakoff said Democrats and progressives are never persuasive with the appeal to self-interest—they can’t compete on that turf with Republicans. Part of the weakness of the self-interest approach is that it is fragmented, does not show how the various parts are connected, and therefore lacks a cohesiveness and persuasive force because it. To be persuasive, what we must do is show how seemingly disparate phenomena are related. Show, for instance, how the nation’s dependence on oil and the ravaging of the wetlands are connected; how the 10,000+ miles of oil and gas canals through the Louisiana wetlands destroy the storm-surge buffer that protects us from hurricanes, while the carbon emissions aggravate global warming, which intensifies hurricanes and raises sea levels, and so on. [Continue reading here.]

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Thanks to Rick Stone of Madison for taking the time to write the letter, and our best wishes for the people of Wisconsin—especially the embattled public employees and union members there. We stand with Wisconsin.

See also “Public Works in a Time of Job-Killing Scrooges

The Social Contract, Explained by Elizabeth Warren, Paul Krugman, and Robert Kuttner

Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline

Republican War on Working Families

‘Shock Doctrine’ in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, as in Egypt, ‘This Is What Democracy Looks Like’

 

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“Pass This Jobs Bill”

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

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“I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It’s called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans—including many who sit here tonight. . . .”

“This is the American Jobs Act. It will lead to new jobs for construction workers, for teachers, for veterans, for first responders, young people and the long-term unemployed. It will provide tax credits to companies that hire new workers, tax relief to small business owners, and tax cuts for the middle class. And here’s the other thing I want the American people to know: The American Jobs Act will not add to the deficit. It will be paid for.”

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President Challenges Congress to Act as if It’s Functional

President Obama did the right thing—about two years late—in asking for an address before a joint session of Congress. For only the second time in his presidency in a speech other than a State of the Union address (the other occasion was in September 2009 when he launched a big push for health care reform), the president pitched to the nation a plan costing just under $450 billion designed to avert a second recession and attack an unemployment crisis and economic stagnation that require action now. Economists say it could add almost 2 million jobs. Paul Krugman says, “significantly bolder and better than I expected.” Even conservative NYT columnist David Brooks says the plan has potential and is worth pursuing.

In “plainspoken, Trumanesque” language—no wonky terms or professorial manner tonight, not even the highfalutin word “infrastructure”—Obama pressed for a jobs and economic relief package with a memorable name, the American Jobs Act, that is 55% tax cuts, 31% infrastructure and local aid, and 14% unemployment insurance. (Detailed breakdown here.) He stressed the bipartisan origins of the proposals, and about a dozen times in 30 minutes he directed Congress to “pass this bill.” Obama was assertive, even imperative, yet his message was warmed by a progressive moral vision; if he keeps this up he just might win re-election.

What’s in the American Jobs Act?

Washington Post policy analyst Ezra Klein observes that “the plan, taken as a whole, attempts to include every single theory of how to address the jobs crisis. If you believe we need more direct spending, you’ve got the infrastructure component. More tax cuts? The plan has $250 billion in tax cuts. More help for the unemployed? Yep.”

Among the elements identified by Ezra that we find most appealing are:

•  “$35 billion in aid to states and cities to prevent teacher layoffs, and earmarks $25 billion for investments in school infrastructure.”

•  “$50 billion for investments in transportation infrastructure, $15 billion for investments in vacant or foreclosed properties, and $10 billion for an infrastructure bank.” (Why not the $50 billion for an infrastructure bank that Obama has proposed before?)

•  “$49 billion to extend expanded unemployment insurance benefits. $8 billion for a new tax credit to encourage businesses to hire the long-term unemployed, and $5 billion for a new program aimed at supporting part-time and summer jobs for youth and job training for the unemployed.”

The jobs act, crafted by the administration, not left to the tender mercies of congressional committees—is heavily weighted with originally Republican ideas that will make it politically harder for the G.O.P. to dismiss. They will invent reasons to reject it anyway, though House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did have the decency to release a statement that “The proposals the President outlined tonight merit consideration.” Maybe those golf games are paying off. Republicans do not want to allow this president any kind of accomplishment before November 2012, regardless of the deep and widespread suffering of millions of jobless, homeless, hopeless fellow citizens whose taxes pay the representatives’ salaries and health plans. (Note: The American Jobs Act “will not add to the deficit”: it will be paid for by cuts elsewhere. Even if it were not paid for, it would cost only about half of the projected $800 billion addition to the deficit incurred by extension of the Bush Tax cuts for million- and billionaires in Dec. 2010.)

“The people who sent us here—the people who hired us to work for them—they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months. Some of them are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. They need help, and they need it now.”

“Paycheck to paycheck”? Some 15 to 20 million would-be workers have no paycheck at all, not even unemployment benefits.

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Go Big, Obama: Give Us a 10-Year Jobs Plan

Monday, September 5th, 2011

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As Long as They’re Calling You a Socialist, Go All the Way

What does “Labor Day” mean to the 15+ million unemployed?

Below is our Happy Labor Day card to President Obama in advance of his address to the nation Thursday, Sept. 8, about proposals for alleviating the nation’s chronic unemployment crisis. The jobless rate is stuck at 9.1 percent, but it’s really over 16% counting the under-employed who find only part-time work or those who have given up looking. The unemployment rate is near 17% for African Americans and 18% among Americans under 24.

Barack Obama has been in office for 2 1/2 years. Republicans in Congress have blocked every effort to revive the economy, and anything that has passed they insist has failed (though they secretly like the stimulus). They figure more jobless = fewer votes for Obama and Democrats. Thus far, Obama has sought to “find common ground” with a party that blocks him at every turn. No matter what he proposes on Thursday, they will say America cannot afford it, that government is the problem, not the solution, and that only reducing “job-killing” regulations and taxes will kick-start job growth. Eight years of George W. Bush disproved that theory. Obama and Democrats—and we ordinary citizens who want the stalemate to end—must affirm that government can and must help create jobs because no one else will. U.S. corporations, enjoying record profits, are sitting on some $2 trillion in capital, reluctant to hire because of depressed consumer demand. Rational behavior.

We believe that in addition to a big, bold, WPA-style jobs program described below, the government should also extend federal unemployment benefits and the temporary payroll tax cut for employees beyond the end of 2011. Also, the highway trust fund should be reauthorized before it ends Sept. 30: that could prevent furloughs of current workers and create up to 120,000 jobs a year through 2014. See other proposals here and here. Some say the U.S. cannot “afford” government action. We say the U.S.—and the world—cannot afford our inaction.

The letter to the president follows after the jump.

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Republicans Secretly (Seriously) Like the Stimulus

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

Begin here, President Obama: Create jobs by approving all G.O.P. requests for stimulus funds.

Here’s the best new idea we’ve heard in a long time (h/t to Rachel Maddow): When HuffPo’s Sam Stein reported that “Michele Bachmann Repeatedly Sought Stimulus, EPA, Other Government Funds,” Steve Benen of Washington Monthly thought of something politically savvy that could jump-start new job creation:

How about a new stimulus package focused on granting Republicans’ requests for public investments?

Here’s the pitch: have the White House take the several hundred letters GOP lawmakers have sent to the executive branch since 2009, asking for public investments, and let President Obama announce he’ll gladly fund all of the Republicans’ requests that have not yet been filled.

This is especially important when it comes to infrastructure, a sector in which GOP members have pleaded for more investment in their areas. When pressed, these same Republicans will offer an explanation that “sounds like something out of the mouth of a Keynesian economist, rather than the musings of a congressman who proudly touts his support from the Tea Party movement.”

So, how about it? If these Republican lawmakers have identified worthwhile projects in need of government spending, which they themselves insist will boost the economy, why not start spending the money GOP officials want to see spent?

Steve Benen, this is brilliant. It could work.

Never Mind the Hypocrisy—Just Get It Started.

What Sam Stein found through a Freedom of Information Act request for federal records was that Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who poses as a fiscal conservative and has publicly denounced the “orgy” of federal spending and called the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act “fantasy economics,” has asked the federal government for financial help for her district on at least 16 occasions. Well, we can’t blame her: she knows that federal spending does create jobs by funding projects to build roads and bridges, hire teachers and police officers, and so on. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal (above) knows it, too. 

Steve Benen’s bright idea—and we should all push the White House (202-456-1111; comments@whitehouse.gov) and Congress to put this into action immediately—is to approve all the requests by congressional Republicans for federal funding of projects in their districts. Never mind the hypocrisy. This should come very easily to this president, who can’t seem to say no to Republicans anyway.

Obama should call in the press as he approves the projects in batches, day after day. He can use a big rubber stamp and say, “Yes to Republican Representative Bachmann who asked for funding for the Trunk Highway 36 bridge project over the St. Croix River to produce 1,400 new jobs. Approved. Yes to Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama who asked for stimulus money for an ethanol plant to create 750 jobs. Approved . . .” And then, after illustrating the point day after day, move on to approve Democrats’ requests.

[ Click for PDFs of letters from Republican members of Congress citing job creation in requests for stimulus funds for their districts (Bachmann, Sessions, Moran). ]

‘S’ Is for Stimulus—But Call It Whatever You Want

On the Rachel Maddow Show, Steve Benen said that it doesn’t matter whether we use the term “stimulus” or “jobs program,” which Republicans hate, or whatever. Just do it.

If this is a list that Republicans came up with, saying these are things that they believe will create jobs in their own communities, their own districts, their own states, then at a minimum, if Democrats want to make these investments and create jobs, then just start here. Now, one might say, well, at that point, you might look at job opportunities in blue districts and blue states. but fine, we can get to that later. If we just want to . . . inject capital into the system, create jobs right away, we want to create demand in this economy, we can start with the list Republicans came up with and make an immediate difference. . . .

[Bachmann] is one of many who have requested public funds . . . but then publicly rail against public spending. . . . So, to a certain extent, she’s not unique. But at the same time, she is uniquely brazen. She . . . requested funding from the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, for her district despite the fact that she doesn’t believe the EPA should even exist, and she actually wants to eliminate the agency altogether. And so, . . . trying to communicate to Republicans the importance of these kinds of projects, Democrats are in a position to say, well, [if] even Michele Bachmann believes that all this public spending can create jobs and help the economy, then other Republicans can certainly go along because she’s to their right.

Don’t Wait for Congress to Act, Mr. President. FDR Established the WPA by Executive Order, Employed 8.5+ Million.

As we wrote to President Obama (and to Democratic members of Congress in similar letters) during the debt ceiling crisis in July:

The millions who voted for you are begging you to address the nation’s real crisis and launch an ambitious WPA-style jobs program and lower the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 55. That would restore public and investor confidence, and would invigorate this lame, sucking economy. If tax rates were fair, this wealthy nation could afford it. You could help make it happen. 

Your reelection would be less in doubt if you gave America’s 15+ million unemployed and the nation’s crumbling infrastructure a comprehensive WPA-style jobs program at least 10 times as aggressive as the ARRA stimulus: public works, transportation (not just high-speed rail), public housing, environmental conservation (think CCC), schools, hospitals. Franklin Roosevelt didn’t wait for Congress: he established the WPA in 1935 by executive order. You could do the same.

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See “After Voting to Kill Recovery, 110 GOP Lawmakers Tout Its Success, Ask for More Money” •  “Freshman Republicans Lobby Federal Agencies for Millions Amid Spending Critiques” • “Stimulating Hypocrisy: Scores of Recovery Act Opponents Sought Money Out of Public View” • “Jindal Tours Louisiana Attacking ‘Washington Spending’ While Handing Out Jumbo-Sized Stimulus Checks” •  More links at Crooks and Liars’s coverage of The Rachel Maddow Show’s “They’re Not Embarrassed” • “They’re Not Embarrassed” video link

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New Orleans Is Most Likely Safe from River Flooding

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

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There’s a certain trepidation in writing that headline, but . . .

Despite over $2 billion in damages, possibly to reach $4 billion from the Mississippi River Flood of 2011, including dramatic flooding upriver around Cairo, Memphis, and Vicksburg—and despite scary images and headlines on screen and paper—the city of New Orleans should be safe from inundation from the historically high waters now coursing down the Mississippi toward the Gulf. The flooding is the result of normal springtime snowmelt compounded by record rainfall from two major storm systems across the U.S. during April. (See Mississippi River watershed map below; click to enlarge.)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already begun opening the Bonnet Carré spillway upriver from the city (photo below). There will be flooding in the Atchafalaya Basin—possibly around 3 million acres—once water is diverted from the Morganza Spillway, a decision that is expected soon from the Corps of Engineers. And deep-draft shipping may be temporarily suspended by the U.S. Coast Guard if water levels rise to just a little higher than they are now; Americans “upriver” may experience a spike in gas prices as supplies are temporarily interrupted by the halting of oil tanker traffic between Baton Rouge and the Gulf.

Read the Headlines with Some Skepticism

Under the ominous headline “Mississippi River Flooding in New Orleans Area Could Be Massive if Morganza Spillway Stays Closed,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Wednesday that based upon the best information available from the Corps of Engineers, the staggering volume of water making its way down the Mississippi could cause “levee failures and massive inundation of metro New Orleans, worse than Hurricane Katrina, if the Morganza spillway is not opened to divert river water down the Atchafalaya basin. The bad news for people living along the Atchafalaya: the Corps of Engineers predicts they will flood in either case.” Although the article itself was measured, not alarmist, the headline implied there was a possibility that the Corps might decide not to open the Morganza Spillway. Another headline warned, “Corps Officials Fear Flooding.” Note to the reader: It is the Corps’ job to fear flooding and to try to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Now, reporters don’t write the headlines, and the body of an article is often less alarming than the headline crafted by some news editor. But “Flooding Could Be Massive” sort of got our attention, so we checked around.

An engineer friend in the New Orleans area who knows people at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the Corps is monitoring the situation very closely all along the river, per established protocol, and just waiting for Major General Michael Walsh to give the word about opening the Morganza Spillway. Major General Walsh is president of the Mississippi River Commission and commander of all USACE districts along the river. Times-Picayune environmental reporter Mark Schleifstein writes that General Walsh is expected to announce his decision to open the Morganza spillway between Friday and Tuesday (May 13 and 17).

Our engineer friend says, “Walsh is going to wait until the last possible moment to give the order just in case something changes in the river or they [the Corps] discover a better alternative. And when I say, ‘last possible moment,’ that is taking into account the timeline between when the order is given and everything that has to happen to safely open the structure. This stuff is really well thought out. The hydraulics, structures and levee engineers there have been working this 7 days a week for the past two weeks. . . . New Orleans is safe for now. Never say never, but we have no reason to panic as of right now.”

[ Click here for City of New Orleans Emergency Preparedness / Flood Fight information ]

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