Disclaimer: firstly, I am not sure whether it’s two cents or ten cents. If it’s actually ten cents I was not attempting to be fiscally conservative, represent fiscal conservatives or in any way lobby for interest groups on the Hill or in the dales.
The US is in the throws of deep party debate on its national budget. The fact that when seen from out of space, the US will soon have the words ‘Product of China’ emblazoned across it, is good enough reason for animated discourse. However, I urge you to take a closer look. The infrastructure is dangling by thread, and something needs to be done or someone is in for a shock.
When I first moved to the US and saw the electricity poles, cables and transformers amassing in back alleys and along side-walks I was amazed. I had not seen anything like it since I was a 19 year old backpacking in Africa. On my first night I had ventured out from the Nairobi compound to take a quick shot of a telegraph pole writhing in cables. I thought it very artsy and the photo is now buried in an attic somewhere. To discover the same poles in the US, the land of milk and honey, of the American Dream and of everything we have come to associate with progress was completely unexpected. I am not alone. The owner of a local DIY store in the French Alps told me of his trip to the States. He had been to visit Ground Zero but the thing that he really remembered were ‘les trasformers!’ dangling at every corner.
It is not as though one can argue with him either. One might, were the electrical grid simply eccentric but otherwise perfectly functional. As it is, it permanently on the brink of collapse. During the last snow storm, the flakes fluttered down while children made snowmen beneath transformers that popped and sparked like fire crackers. Our house was fortunate not to lose power this time but much of our neighbourhood had to decamp to the local ‘Embassy Suites’ hotel for a massive sleep-over, passing toothpaste and solace down its carpeted corridors. Other families opened their doors and took in frozen, damp friends for the 72 hours that it took to fix.
This happens all the time, summer, winter, autumn or spring. Typically a branch falls on a cable or wind rustles through a transformer from an injudicious angle. When we lost power for 47 hrs during a heat wave, I commented to a neighbour that all the wires should be buried. She was quick to remind me that the neighbourhood dates back to the 30s. I did not have the heart to say that in the town where I grew up, which dates back to 900AD, everything is interred as it is in almost any major European city. If it were just the electrical grid, it would not be so bad, but it is also the water pipes. The pipes beneath our aptly named River Rd, break repeatedly submerging the four lane artery into DC. Not far away, near the Embassy Suites an entire sidewalk and intersection exploded several months ago in what looked like a shell attack.
I can’t help thinking that an unquestioning assumption that the ‘US has it all’ is a useful sedative fed from on high and perpetuated through the media*. If the Americans were French they would take to the streets, amassing in hairy indignation, continuously demanding better even once they had got it. That is where we need the spark, not above the heads of children and snowmen.
As it is the local electricity company (Potomac Electric Power Company) has come under fierce attack. In response teams and teams of trucks have been dispatched to prune offending branches. They have been out there for weeks on full parade, very much like labourers who suddenly shovel furiously when a foreman appears. In the case of longer term relationships, PEPCO has been unable to extricate the tree from the loving embrace of its cables and has left dismembered limbs suspended for all to see. This unfortunate arboreal gallows is to be viewed on the DC border. To be fair DC is known for its lack of funding but Kenwood is one of the most affluent neighbourhoods of Maryland. It is famous for its cherry blossom and whilst its byways thronged of late with admiring visitors, a cable swung suspended at waist level, with a bright orange sticker saying “Not PEPCO’s”.
I can only compare the situation to a faltering computer. You patch it up and patch it up and put off the moment of big investment in a new one. It dies utterly and totally, legs in rigor mortis waving at the ceiling like a dead beetle. You berate your stupidity for not having recognized the signs and for having been too… cheap.
If taxing the over 250K income bracket means avoiding the sight of the US writhing on its back before finally kicking the bucket – I say go for it.
In deference to my Republican friends I suggest we launch with a battle cry on the fat pussy cat corporations first.
*This phenomenon which is not unique to the US, is a characteristic of ‘Soft Despotism’ – as coined by Tocqueville. Having just watched half of Revolutionary Road, I fear another post is welling on the subject.