Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 13, 2007

Cause of Death: Greed and Fiscal Responsibility
I learned of the collapse of the 35W bridge when I tuned in to watch the Royals play the Twins in that Minneapolis monstrosity, the Metro Dome. Undoubtedly, many among the thousands seated in the stadium had used that bridge on their way to the game. During the twenty years I lived in the Twin Cities I crossed that vital link hundreds of times. I was relieved to find that close friends were not involved.

They’re still counting the death toll from the collapse. The investigation will take some time to complete but it is clear that metal fatigue and design flaws were major factors.

Pioneer major bridge builders in this country were a pretty conservative lot. They piled redundancy on top of redundancies. The Brooklyn Bridge, opened in 1883, the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 and the Manhattan in 1909, still span New York’s East River, carrying heavy loads of cars, trains, trucks, and buses. While there have been some maintenance neglect problems over the years their structural integrity remains sounder than the dollar.

During the Great Depression there was pressure to economize. Othmar Ammann won recognition for his thrifty construction of the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson and was awarded contracts for five more bridges connecting New York City boroughs. Others tried to imitate his methods–with occasional disasters such as the collapse of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940. Ammann absorbed the lesson of that catastrophe and immediately reinforced the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge as a result. Engineers again became more cautious.

When the 35W Bridge was built in the mid-sixties there was pressure to use expensive steel sparingly. Cocky engineers thought that new computerized calculations could free them from old school emphasis on redundancy. The bridge was built on the cheap.

They got away with this skin flint approach for forty years but the first failure of one component brought the whole bridge down. The builders didn’t adequately understand the threat of metal fatigue and certainly didn’t anticipate the swollen car, and especially truck, loads that came.

With this disaster there are hurried promises to inspect similar truss bridges. If actually followed through this is a good thing. Many should be closed for reinforcement or replacement.

But the infrastructure crisis developing in the USA is hardly limited to truss, or just bridges for that matter. Tunnels, airport facilities, subways, water, gas and sewer lines, over congested streets and highways are all at risk–sometimes fatal. Some of these problems flow from poor design. All of them are affected by curtailed maintenance due to “fiscal responsibility” such as imposed by Carter, Reagan, the Contract With America, and here in the Show Me State, by the Hancock Amendment.

CSI won’t be challenged by the carnage on the 35W Bridge or the inevitable future infrastructure victims to come. Cause of death: avarice and fiscal responsibility. Perpetrators: greedy bosses and their pet politicians.

Dems Have a (Very) Long Range Peace Plan
Those of us who have met with members of the Democrat peace majority in congress are always told that congress can’t really stop the war–they need control of the White House to do that. Perhaps that’s why a recent poll found only three percent of the public approved of congressional handling of the war.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that only congress can approve money for war let’s look at the major peace candidates for the donkey nomination for next president. Sunday’s New York Times has a prominent article, authored in battleground Iowa, entitled, “Democrats Say leaving Iraq may Take Years.” Here’s how they summarize the views of the four top candidates.

* Clinton. “would leave residual forces to fight terrorism and to stabilize the Kurdish region in the north.”

* Edwards. “would keep troops in the region to intervene in an Iraqi genocide and be prepared for military action if violence spills into other countries.”

* Obama. “would leave a military presence of as-yet unspecified size in Iraq to provide security for American personnel, fight terrorism and train Iraqis.”

* Biden. “has proposed setting up separate regions for the three major ethnic and religious groups in Iraq until a stable central government is established before removing most American troops.”

Representative Dennis Kucinich, who calls for “US Out, UN In,” was absent from Iowa and was not mentioned in the article.

The Times piece notes some antiwar groups are “giving the Democrats latitude to take positions short of a full and immediate withdrawal.” Among those mentioned are MoveOn.org and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq--a project of SEIU president Andy Stern.

If MoveOn and Chairman Andy get their way in 2009 a powerless congress will deal with a White House that doesn’t understand important parts of “all” and “now.” It is our duty to teach them what we mean through mass actions with a clear message--such as the September 15 March on Washington.

Serving Health Care for Kids With a Side of Pork
Last time we talked about a health care spending bill that was touted by the Democrats as kid-friendly while also enhancing benefits for older people in traditional Medicare. The legislation easily passed in the House. Included in it were at least forty special interest awards worth hundreds of millions to specific individual hospitals identified by the New York Times. One example“any hospital that is co-located in Marinette, Wis., and Menominee, Mich., is deemed to be located in Chicago.” Only one hospital meets this rather unique definition--Bay Area Medical Center. Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, who championed the provision, lives in Menominee. By billing at Chicago rates this rural hospital can increase its Medicare reimbursements at least thirty percent.

Meanwhile, the Texas AFL-CIO became the 21st state fed to endorse HR676, the single-payer health care bill modeled on the Labor Party Just Health Care proposal.

That’s all for this week.

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