The year is young, but already there have been more than a dozen train derailments due to inadequate track and safety systems. There is a water main break every two minutes. Nearly one-half of our public roadways are in poor or mediocre condition. These are among the assessments of the American Society of Civil Engineers in its periodic report on U. S. infrastructure. It awarded a grade of C-, to these and other features of our infrastructure, yet these systems are essential to commerce and national security.
In addition to the condition of roads and bridges, we have serious shortages of investment in aviation systems. In January, the outage of the NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions) System resulted in the grounding of all domestic flights. We also have substantial needs for securing drinking water safety, solid and hazardous waste management, and seaports.
Related to these systems, we have major needs in climate mitigation, healthcare cost containment, energy alternatives, access to high-quality education, and cybersecurity.
This last is of huge concern to those who study the issue and should be of grave concern to us all. Imagine the vulnerability to attack and ransom demands of the military guidance systems, the electrical grid, banking transactions, and Air Traffic Control. Yet partisan gridlock limits the ability of Congress to address these needs. The 2021 infrastructure package signed into law by President Biden passed the House by 22 votes, with 206 Members voting “No.”
While these critical issues of public interest persist and worsen, some members of Congress and State Houses devote their attention to prurient interests of the bedroom and bathroom. They are cultural warriors who ignore the public interest.
Across the country there are attempts to limit the freedoms of gay citizens, same sex couples, and those who wish to transition from their birth gender to their truer identity. Family planning is “verboten”. Increasingly, legislators seem to pay more attention to national security and civil threats.
Another issue that garners more attention than infrastructure needs is the teaching of history. Legislators are acting to ban books and limit the teaching of American history because discussions of slavery, racist public policies, and lynching might upset White students and their families.
Even a train derailment in Ohio was deemed an attack on white people by some officials who should be paying attention to required rail braking systems.
Although the conditions of roads and bridges are visible, a safety hazard, and a daily annoyance, perhaps the most critical issue is cybersecurity and the vulnerability of our digital society and the “internet of things.”
The recently released “National Cybersecurity Strategy” calls for imposing federally mandated security rules on critical infrastructure, holding software manufacturers responsible for insecure products vulnerable to malevolent hacking.
While voluntary cybersecurity efforts by industry have been helpful, they are insufficient at a time of persistent efforts by ever more sophisticated hackers who wish to breach critical government and private networks. There are no national standards for data protection and comprehensive privacy rules, leaving the military, civil society, manufacturers, and individual citizens vulnerable to attack.
In addition to domestic security concerns, the Council on Foreign Relations has reported on international issues vulnerable to escalation by cyber interference and social media manipulation. These include the humanitarian crises in Afghanistan, Haiti, Lebanon, and Yemen, among others. Other international issues include rising tensions and even armed confrontation between major powers, not only in Ukraine but also in Taiwan and on the borders between India and China.
Finally, there is the possibility of an acute crisis over Iran’s nuclear weapons program or possible action by North Korea.
In years past, enlightened U.S. leaders have worked with leaders in other countries to create international agreements of universal benefit. These include the law of the seas, coordinated time zones, and shared weather forecasting, all essential to an interdependent world community.
However, a survey of pending congressional and legislative actions finds little attention to international cooperation beyond war or to issues such as cybersecurity, climate mitigation, mass migration, food insecurity and poverty, healthcare costs, gun control, and infrastructure needs.
Instead, we find much discussion about abortion, trans youth, and drag queens. There is more attention to banning books than to banning bombs. Our governments are not working on essential national priorities, and this should be cause for alarm and action.
Dr. Robert A. Scott, president Emeritus, Adelphi University; author, “How University Boards Work,” Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018, Eric Hoffer Awardee, 2019
Dear Dr. Scott,
You are absolutely spot on. Our elected officials are busy staying in office by quibbling over politicized and polarizing social issues than mass shootings with automatic weapons, tainted public water, our third world infrastructure and pork barrel riders annexed to budgets and legislation.
Education and women’s rights have been set back decades. Civil rights change in paper but don’t change in practice.
Truth has given way to “alternative facts”. Lying has become acceptable.
Not a very pretty picture of our leadership amongst the free and democratic nations and literacy rates sinking amongst the international rankings.