Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Watching America Crumble Before Our Eyes

Recent Blackout Highlights Nation's Aging Electricity Grid

Experts say the cascading blackout that put millions of Westerners in the dark last week was no surprise: Major power outages have more than doubled in the last decade.

Blackouts disrupt power to at least a third of U.S. homes each year, and studies show the number of outages is rising.

The grid's shortcomings have been well-documented, but efforts to modernize it haven't kept up with demand. Many electrical transmission lines are outdated, and parts of the grid date back to the time of Thomas Edison.

The chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the nation's grid, acknowledged increasing problems with the system.

In a July interview with ProPublica, FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said that while the electric grid is reliable, it is degrading. "It's not getting better," he said. "It's getting worse."

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=recent-blackout-highlights-nations

America’s Internet service slips to #25 worldwide

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the U.S. has sunk to 25th in a global ranking of Internet speeds, just behind Romania.

Why? Because our nation's regulators abandoned an earlier commitment to foster competition in the marketplace for Internet access providers.

In the years that followed the signing of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, lobbyists working for powerful providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon pressured a compliant FCC to tear down all of the important safeguards established by Congress.

Under the Bush administration, the FCC tossed out competitive broadband safeguards such as open-access requirements, which opened lines to other providers. In 2002 the agency declared that high-speed cable Internet access would no longer be considered a telecommunications service that opened the network to competitors, but rather an “information service” that did not. Following a 2005 court decision, the FCC also reclassified broadband delivered by the phone companies as an “information service.”

These were radical policy shifts that went against the long-held assumption that open communications in competitive markets were essential to economic growth and innovation.

While the U.S. blindly followed a path of "deregulation," other nations in Europe and Asia beefed up their pro-competitive policies. The results are evident in our free fall from the top of almost every global measure of Internet services, availability and speed.

https://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/09/17-0

“Downscaling Ambitions and Finding Creative Solutions”: Infrastructure 2011: A Strategic Priority Warns of Strain on U.S. Cities to Maintain Assets & Build Infrastructure Projects As Federal Funding Declines

"For those who have read our infrastructure reports over recent years, one consistent finding is that the U.S. seriously lags behind the rest of the world in addressing its infrastructure issues" said Howard Roth, Ernst & Young's Global Real Estate Leader. "The US is facing increasing federal, state and municipal budget deficits, and lacks any type of comprehensive national policy or the political will to develop a long-term approach to funding the significant maintenance needs of aging U.S. infrastructure, much less the modernization and greenfield development of critically-needed new projects. We need to refocus our priorities: streamline the procurement process, attract private capital more efficiently, strategically invest in projects with national merit, and regain our stature as a global competitor. We need to take a page out of the playbooks of several nations around the world highlighted in our report, or we face the risk of serious deterioration of our country's economic and social well-being."

With $2 trillion needed just to repair and rebuild deteriorating roads, bridges, water lines, sewage treatment plants and dams, the nation’s infrastructure woes will only get worse, as the politically fractured government erodes support for both existing upgrades and new initiatives, noted ULI Executive Vice President Maureen McAvey. (Public spending on transportation and water infrastructure as a share of the U.S. gross domestic product peaked at 3.1 percent in 1963, then declined steadily to 2.4 percent in 2007, according to Congressional Budget Office data.)

http://www.uli.org/sitecore/content/ULI2Home/News/PressReleases/Archives/2011/2011PressReleases/2011InfrastructureReport.aspx

It’s pretty obvious to see where our tax money was spent instead:

Muffins costing $16 (£10) and biscuits at $10 were among the "extravagant and wasteful" conference spending by the US justice department, a report has found.

Critics voiced outrage at the spending shown in the internal audit, including $8 coffees and $32-per-person snacks.

The justice department said it accepted the findings, adding that it had taken steps since 2009 "to ensure that these problems do not occur again".

The US owes more than $14tn and has an annual budget deficit topping $1.4tn.

The report found that the justice department had spent $4,200 on 250 muffins at an August 2009 legal conference at a hotel near the White House.

A justice department spokeswoman told reporters that took place at a time when there were no strict limits on food and beverage spending.

The department spent $121m on more than 1,800 conferences in 2008 and 2009 - exceeding its own spending limits, according to the audit.

It spent $600,000 just on planning for five conferences.

Infrastructure Has Another Meaning Too
http://ecologicalheadstand.blogspot.com/2011/09/infrastructure-has-another-meaning-too.html

It seems like our social and cultural infrastructure is crumbling as well.

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