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BY CHARLES FREDEEN — Crunch, shake and jerk with thoughts of whiplash in the back of your mind. That’s what American drivers encounter daily on our streets. High-speed trains that are anything but high-speed. Train stations that look like they should be out of a Dickens’ novel. Landing at U.S. airports and entering terminals conjures up visions of third-world facilities, especially compared to what China and India have created for fliers. And it’s not right for our cities and mayors.
Just another pothole that threatens your axel as you navigate this country’s broken streets and highways. What has happened to this country, that under the Eisenhower Administration, pieced together one of the most effective transportation modes ever in the form of U.S. Interstate highways? And what has happened to the money that should keep the U.S. infrastructure functioning?
Well, look overseas. The infrastructure drain on funds is our current wars and the billions that flow out to — and I’ll say this, currently, because who knows where we’ll be next — to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan (although nobody really wants to say that, but everybody knows especially the Pakistanis), Libya and Somolia, just to name a few.
About $2 billion alone goes to fighting in Afghanistan and rebuilding that country’s infrastructure each week. That’s about $198,412 every minute. After the September 11 attacks on American soil, U.S. forces routed the Taliban and most of Al-Queda from the country. Because of errors by the Bush Administration, the terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden escaped capture. But bin Laden was subsequently killed by Navy Seals in Pakistan. The primary mission would seem to be accomplished. But money still flows overseas, while our mayors and municipalities struggle to find a buck to fix sidewalks or fill a pothole.
During a recent meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Baltimore, the mayors, for the first time since the Vietnam War, and after lengthy and serious discussion, passed a resolution calling for the end to a military engagement. The mayors’ resolution said that the approximately $125 billion the country is spending on our various wars should instead be used at home to create jobs, rebuild infrastructure and develop sustainable energy among other needs. I couldn’t agree more.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was named the Conference’s new president during the meeting, questioned sending money overseas to rebuild Afghani and Iraqi infrastructure when it is clear that America’s is literally collapsing around us. (Anyone remember the deadly August 1, 2007 Minnesota 1-35W bridge collapse that killed 13 and injured 145?)
“How did we get to a deficit and a debt larger than at any time, not only in U.S. history, but in human history?” Villaraigosa asked the audience. “We got involved in two wars that, no matter what you think about those wars, we haven’t paid for.
“That we would build bridges in Baghdad (Iraq) and Kandahar (Afghanistan) and not Baltimore and Kansas City absolutely boggles the mind,” Villaraigosa said.
And that really is the point. Why have we lost more than 5,000 young American lives, kids who could have been working here at home on engineering jobs, teaching students in our hapless schools or simply trying to piece together a fractured nation?
I look at this quagmire, and yes it is despite what some might say, that is Afghanistan and think back to my cousin. Patrick and I used to glue together model airplanes at my grandpa and grandma’s place in St. Paul, Minnesota. We were just kids. Patrick’s name is now engraved on the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. after he was blown apart in the Vietnam War. And what was the point?
Just like Vietnam, money is flowing out of this country to a corrupt Afghan (substitute Vietnam) regime and our blood is flowing. It’s called “blood and treasure” for a reason. We insist on rebuilding a country that was never really built. Someone once famously said that we’re not going to bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. We’re going to bomb them “up” to the Stone Age.
Take a stroll through your town or city and look around – just don’t trip on that crumbling sidewalk. Think about that $2 billion a week we’re spending to try and maintain a foreign country that has never, and will never, be maintained and what that money could do in your neighborhood.
At the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, Villaraigosa brought up a similar point.
“We urge Congress to honor our soldiers by putting ‘boots on the ground’ in cities across the country to create jobs for our men and women in uniform to come home to,” he said. “We need to use the billions of dollars we are currently spending in Afghanistan to rebuild our domestic economy.”
I think about that bridge collapsing in Minneapolis. I used to drive across it myself. And I think about those billions we invest in countries that hate us and once we eventually leave, will probably destroy whatever work we did. The accomplishments there will never be considered as such. But we can invest in this country’s cities and municipalities to actually realize accomplishments. That concept is not a bridge too far.