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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Baghdad on the Hudson

Militarily, the first five months of the American troop surge in Iraq have produced nothing but more American and Iraqi casualties. Instead of allowing more American forces to engage and eliminate terrorist forces, the surge has simply chased those terrorist forces out of known enclaves to new territories within Iraq or (worse) outside the country. The troop surge and its failure to achieve any degree of measurable progress in stability within Iraq has also been accompanied by a surge in commentary from people outside Iraq obliquely or not-so-obliquely "tut-tutting" officials of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people themselves on their failure to "come together", forget their differences and get on with enjoying the "democracy" the United States has so selflessly and charitably bestowed upon them.

The condescending attitude is nothing new. A search on Google of "Iraq compromise faction" produces numerous news reports from 2004 to the present with similar commentary. What is new is the degree of hypocrisy in the condescension, particularly from the United States. Hypocrisy captured perfectly by two events just in the past week.

Doing Nothing on Immigration -- Both President Bush and members of the House and Senate made efforts to resuscitate a bill to address illegal immigration and its consequent effects on social spending, jobs and potentially national security. Everyone with an opinion on the issue could identify at least one aspect of the problem they felt was CRUCIAL to the fate of the republic or their favorite bloc of voters. However, no one could identify a SINGLE proposal that a majority of House members or a super-majority of Senators could approve reaching a vote, much less actually enacting into law.

Doing Nothing on the Power Grid -- Nearly 385,000 citizens of New York City found themselves without power for 49 minutes on June 28. On June 29, Con Edison officials stated the outage was caused by a lightning strike on gear at a substation in Astoria which triggered monitoring systems to shut down the substation. New Yorkers had fears of a similar failure like the outage on July 18, 2006 affecting 50,000 Queens residents for seven days or the catastrophic fault in 2003 which killed the power for 40 million Americans in the Northeast and Midwest. Many of the power outages in North America are due to three very simple, very predictable problems:

1) aging transformers and transmission lines well past their expected lifespan
2) generation facilities and transmission lines operated at the peak of their designed capacity
3) insufficient tree trimming around transmission lines

No complicated, highly nuanced political pitfalls to navigate. No "moral issues" to decide. Certainly no religious overtones to consider in the solution. The solution involves very straightforward economic calculations that show the costs for replacements, upgrades and maintenance can be safely, predictably covered at a fair profit by an ever-increasing demand. Despite that, America has done virtually NOTHING to change the behavior of power companies who seem bent on extracting every last penny of short term profit by running their networks to the brink of failure and beyond.

Two examples of an obvious problem with well-understood causes, well-understood impacts to our economy and society and well-understood strategies for addressing the problem. Two examples where the most advanced society and democracy in the world has been completely PARALYZED by fringe political and business interests from doing even ONE SINGLE THING to address either problem.

Sound familiar? You can probably think of at least a handful of other similar issues met with similar paralysis. At the rate things are going domestically, we could be experiencing Baghdad on the Hudson far sooner than the Iraqis might experience New York on the Euphrates. At this point in our political history, America has very little justification for lecturing any other country about seeking compromise, working for the greater good, and moving forward as a people. We have a great deal of work to do in that category here at home.