We Like Reich: Did the GOP Cause Death on Metro-North?

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Did anyone catch this Facebook squib by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich? He shoots, he scores:

We don’t know yet why a Metro-North train derailed yesterday in the Bronx, killing four people and injuring more than 60. The driver may have been at fault. But it’s worth noting that last May, a Metro-North train derailed in Connecticut after being struck by another train, injuring 73. And a study released last summer by the National Society of Civil Engineers pointed out the sorry state of the nation’s rail system, where deferred maintenance and congestion are costing the U.S. economy about $200 billion a year, or 1.6% of economic output. The rest of the nation’s transportation infrastructure is not much better: 1 in 9 of the country’s bridges are structurally deficient; our roads are crumbling; and of the 84,000 dams in the U.S., 14,000 are considered “high hazard.” While other nations are building transportation systems for the future, Congress won’t modernize our outmoded one – even though borrowing costs for the U.S. are near historic lows, the investment would spur growth and productivity, and millions of jobless Americans could benefit directly and indirectly from the work that would result.

Now, let’s see…who — maybe we should ask “what” — is not helping the obvious and evident cause of America’s rapidly disintegrating infrastructure? What political party fundamentally opposes government building or helping to build things in America, to maintain things in America, to do anything in America that might aid commerce or, heaven help us, alleviate our intractable jobs problem? What political party doesn’t bat an eye or shed a tear when a catastrophic weather event decimates one coast, refusing for weeks to allocate life-saving emergency funds, yet turns on a dime and demands those very same monies, those very same life-saving emergency funds, when another catastrophic weather event decimates their state? What political party, by their fetish for obstruction and inaction, therefore tacitly approves when their fellow citizens die — be it from a lack of health insurance or a lack of safe infrastructure — especially if it buttresses their point, their core belief, that if absolutely everything in the U.S. cannot be privately owned and privately operated for private profit, then nothing should run and nothing should work and no one should be healthy or safe? What coven, what group, intones obstruction as their legislative mantra?

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The Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon, Wash., collapsed last week.
The Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon, WA., which collapsed on May 13.

Hint: it ain’t the Democrats.

We know some of you will hit the ceiling with this post. That’s fine; please scrape off the popcorn ceiling while you’re up there. Yes, we know that human error — at least some kind of error — likely played a role in the terrible Metro-North accident Sunday morning that killed four and injured many dozens more. In this sense, the headline of this post deliberately inflames: no Republican, so far as it known, literally killed and injured those people.

At the same time, we are addicted to deferred maintenance at every level of government — local, state and national — like a meth addict drooling over The Golden Girls, and it is beyond question that the reason is Republican opposition to public infrastructure spending. The massive, monumental disintegration of our American infrastructure, once the envy of the industrial world, is unfortunately no joke and no myth and no exaggeration and no threat. The rest of the world has bullet trains; we have Amtrak. The wonder, frankly, is that we don’t have more bridges collapsing (as happened this past May in Washington) and more carnage like that being seen now in the Metro-North mess.

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Go ahead and click on this recent map from the Huffington Post to see some alarming details:

Courtesy of the Huffington Post.
Courtesy of the Huffington Post.

In another story, also in the Huffington Post, from just last week, one contributor argued that $1 trillion in available funding and leveraged funding remains on the federal table — enough to make another Metro-North disaster that much less likely, whatever the cause. Who will stand in the way? You know who.

Everyone except for the GOP seems to understand that we’re near a terrible inflection point on this issue. Everyone except for the GOP seems to understand that we’re near a terrible inflection point on a host of issues, from the federal budget to voting rights to gun safety to economic policy to foreign relations to the separation of church and state to tax policy to race relations to our socioeconomic stratification. When it comes to infrastructure, it’s sad but clear that the stench of blood and the stink of death will never take any precedence over radical-Republican ideology, even if the stench is of American blood, even if the stink is of American death. Same thing with guns: advocates keep asking how many kids need their little heads blown off in first-grade classrooms to get some common sense laws on the books — and yes, Virginia, preventing first-graders from having their heads blown off is not an evil assault on the Second Amendment. The answer is that there is no answer, and so more little kids are going to die. Thanks, Republican Party. Similarly, the Metro-North disaster means we must ask how many accidents need to occur, how many people need to die, or almost die, or potentially die, before the GOP sees that the role of government in repairing and restoring our infrastructure is necessary. The answer here, too, is there is no answer. It’s enough to make you believe that the so-called “party of life” is really just the party of death.