Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Great Unknown Known

"There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know."
Donald Rumsfeld, February 12, 2002

As the people of the Midwest know only too well, breached levees are not limited to pagan, Democratic New Orleans. The village of Gays Mill, Wisconsin (left) may be gone for good after the second flood in a year. Cedar Falls, Iowa, is preparing to evacuate. Indiana Republican governor Mitch Daniels has asked the Agriculture department to declare 44 counties disaster areas. The Embarras River flooded thousands of acres of southern Illinois farmland when levees there failed. New storms have knocked out power from nearly 300,000 Ohio and Michigan homes.

The thing is, the levee system is a small part of the overall problem of the rapidly disintegrating American infrastructure. As the people of Minneapolis-St. Paul will attest, it extends to bridges and beyond: School buildings, sewer systems, roads, dams, power grids and more all require upgrades and maintenance. This is a hidden issue and it's difficult to convey its urgency. Bad things have to happen to get people's attention. Even when bad things do happen, it's hard for people to conceive that it's more than an isolated problem. I mean, who wants to think that something like Katrina could happen to their community? Nonetheless, politicians have known about this for years. (Gary Hart raised it in his 1984 campaign for the Democratic party presidential nomination.) They simply haven't acted; as a result, we have something on our hands that even Editilla's good buddy Don Rumsfeld didn't consider: the unknown known. It's the 800-pound gorilla in the room that everyone sees but won't acknowledge because coming to grips with it is a gigantic challenge outside of the scope of our usual politics. As Democrat Felix Rohatyn and Republican Warren Rudman wrote shortly after Katrina in an op-ed piece that, I'm happy to say, gave props to Washington state, this means significant, sustained public investment at the federal level driven by the kind of bipartisan commitment that funded everything from the Louisiana Purchase to the interstate highway system.

The alternative is to elect so many Democrats into office that the Republican party has to stand on the sidelines and carp. Sadly, we've got a better chance of that happening than of the GOP freeing itself from the small-minded, no-government, no-taxes troglodytes who put ideology ahead of the country's needs. If you think I'm overstating the case, consider John McCain. He originally opposed the Bush tax cuts as being fiscally irresponsible. Now, he claims that Barack Obama will be bad for business because he wants to rescind those same tax cuts.

I'm not so naive as to believe that electing a sufficient amount of Democrats to office will lead us to a progressive Promised Land. The Democratic party has its own issues with corporate interests, issues that party leaders have brought on by soliciting corporate funds. That's why we at the grass roots have to support the election of genuine progressive. It's also why, should the party wind up controlling Congress and the Presidency, progressives must exert a great of pressure to ensure that meaningful reforms occur in just about any area you can think of. In the meantime, though, ask yourself: How good for business is a failing infrastructure? And which of the two presidential candidates is more likely to face up to the problem and treat our infrastructure as necessary investment in the future?

An open letter to white women who are thinking about voting for McCain out of pique at Clinton's defeat...

Quote of the Day:
"I think the boys in Korea would appreciate it more if we in this country were to pay our own way instead of leaving it for them to pay when they get back."
-Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House during the Korean War

More here.

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