National Parks Require Restoration

The National Park System protects more than 400 natural, historic, cultural, and recreational sites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories.

In 2016, as the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its 100th anniversary, many of these cherished places are showing signs of age: crumbling roads and bridges; neglected historic buildings; eroding trails; and deteriorating electrical, water, and sewage systems. Decades of congressional underfunding, combined with the inherent challenges of maintaining aging infrastructure and diverse properties, has led to an estimated $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance projects, and the price tag for addressing high-priority assets is nearly $2.4 billion.

The NPS needs reliable resources to satisfy its congressional mandate to protect and conserve these scenic, natural, and historic places in perpetuity. Parks with poorly maintained infrastructure or closed facilities can detract from visitors’ experiences—and from spending in the gateway communities, many of which depend on park-related revenue. In 2015, NPS sites recorded 307 million visits, and park guests spent almost $17 billion in nearby cities and towns. That spending supported 295,300 jobs and contributed $32 billion in economic activity nationwide.

The NPS needs guaranteed annual funding to address its maintenance needs so that future generations can enjoy and learn from our national treasures.

With a substantial number of our Congress-critters considering themselves well above the rest of us – economically, socially, culturally – there is little surprise at the trend for decades of offering short shrift to essential costs of maintaining our national park system. After all, with pundits, politicians and, now, a president accustomed to gilt-edged resort life and recreation, there isn’t motivation for them to care about the rest of us enjoying our nation’s natural beauty as key to recreation.

By the same token, ain’t a lot of reasons for the rest of us to re-elect these useless corporate class pimps.

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A Republican solution for Potholes? Go Back to Gravel Roads


One of those roads turned to gravel – and more potholes

❝ After living more than 40 years along a road plagued by potholes, Jo Anne Amoura was excited to see city crews shred her block of Leavenworth Street into gravel.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is great. We’re going to get a new street,’” Ms. Amoura recalled. “And then we waited and waited and waited.”

Fresh pavement never arrived. Only after the asphalt had been ripped out almost three years ago did Ms. Amoura and her neighbors learn that their street had been “reclaimed,” Omaha City Hall’s euphemism for unpaving a road…

❝ As in many big cities, the infrastructure here is crumbling, a problem exacerbated by decades of neglect and a network of residential roads, including Ms. Amoura’s, that have never met code. But Omaha’s solution is extreme: grinding paved streets into gravel as a way to cut upkeep costs…

❝ While President Trump has called for extensive investments in infrastructure, federally funded efforts are likely to go to decaying interstate highways and airports and dams. Some experts estimate that $1 trillion is needed to repair roads, bridges and rail lines over the next decade.

But infrastructure is also decaying at the most local levels — on cul-de-sacs and in neighborhood playlots unlikely ever to see federal funding. So cities like Omaha have resorted to unusual solutions…

“This isn’t something that happened over one year or two years,” said Brooks Rainwater, a senior executive and the director of the Center for City Solutions at the National League of Cities. “This has been decades of not investing in our infrastructure.”

Thing is, taxpayers have been paying their taxes. The ordinary citizens who have been living and working in America’s cities for generations. Politicians keep trying to attract industry by NOT collecting taxes from the new guys at the top of the scale. Maybe promising lower taxes for their executive class, as well.

Yes, it’s not just a Republican problem at the front end. Both clubhouses in our incompetent 2-party private political association are less than understanding of economics beyond slogans. But, the right-hand side of that 2-party equation ain’t about to begin supporting legislation and regulations that fill life’s needs for folks who work for a living. That’s reserved for the important people.

RTFA for the details, folks. It ain’t a surprise, anywhere in the GOUSA.

Infrastructure, roads, bridges, airports — all suck, all need repair


Michigan fixes road the way they fix water supplies

❝ The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the nation’s highways and bridges face an $808.2 billion backlog of investment spending, including $479.1 billion in critically needed repairs. More than two-thirds of the nation’s roads and nearly 143,000 bridges are classified in “dire need” of repair or upgrades. U.S. ports are clogged and need dredging to improve the flow of goods; railroad tracks need modernizing; airport communications technology needs updating and expansion; and urban mass transit is old and inadequate. As president, Trump wants to rebuild America’s core…

If you think the whole of these needs or a significant portion will produce a campfire singalong between elite Democrats, Progressive Democrats, Opportunist Democrats, Teapublicans, Trumpublicans, Hoover Republicans, elite Republicans — I might offer you a deal on one of those bridges. In Brooklyn.

Six maps that show America’s vast infrastructure — much of which is past its sell-by date


Click to enlargeRAILROADS

Probably 99% of these rails and roadbeds aren’t suitable for any traffic more demanding than 1950. Most industrial or wannabe-modern nations work at keeping the capability of their national rail system up-to-date. Or better.

We don’t.

Lots more in the article. Trump and the TeaPublican Party assign themselves the mantle of modern with their proposal for advancing, rebuilding infrastructure. It’s about 10% of the commitment the Chinese government has assigned for that nation.

Don’t worry, we’ll show ’em. Guaranteed we can spend more for less than anyone in the world.

Trump’s infrastructure program sounds like a con, smells even worse!

❝ Trumpists are touting the idea of a big infrastructure build, and some Democrats are making conciliatory noises about working with the new regime on that front. But remember who you’re dealing with: if you invest anything with this guy, be it money or reputation, you are at great risk of being scammed. So, what do we know about the Trump infrastructure plan, such as it is?

❝ Crucially, it’s not a plan to borrow $1 trillion and spend it on much-needed projects — which would be the straightforward, obvious thing to do. It is, instead, supposed to involve having private investors do the work both of raising money and building the projects — with the aid of a huge tax credit that gives them back 82 percent of the equity they put in. To compensate for the small sliver of additional equity and the interest on their borrowing, the private investors then have to somehow make profits on the assets they end up owning.

You should immediately ask three questions about all of this.

❝ First, why involve private investors at all? It’s not as if the federal government is having any trouble raising money…

❝ Second, how is this kind of scheme supposed to finance investment that doesn’t produce a revenue stream?…

❝ Third, how much of the investment thus financed would actually be investment that wouldn’t have taken place anyway? That is, how much “additionality” is there?…

❝ …All of these questions could be avoided by doing things the straightforward way: if you think we should build more infrastructure, then build more infrastructure, and never mind the complicated private equity/tax credits stuff. You could try to come up with some justification for the complexity of the scheme, but one simple answer would be that it’s not about investment, it’s about ripping off taxpayers. Is that implausible, given who we’re talking about?

Paul Krugman has it wired. Trump chumps thought they were one up on the system voting in someone they knew was a crook and a liar. They were silly enough to believe he was “their” crook and liar. They missed the lecture on Capitalism 101 which states the greedy bastards in charge aren’t interested in sharing the wealth – except with co-conspirators.

That doesn’t include you.

United States’ last best chance to fix infrastructure, refinance debt


Sure has been a while…

❝ There are times when a confluence of events creates a rare opportunity. The U.S. now is at one of those moments…

❝ Campaign promises were made by the president-elect to upgrade infrastructure;
The U.S. federal debt is almost $20 trillion;
The U.S. has both a high credit rating and a stable, growing economy;
There is a worldwide shortage of sovereign, A-rated bonds;
Negative interest rates are prevalent around the world;
The U.S.’s infrastructure is outdated and deteriorating;
Interest rates are very low, but will likely rise in the near future;
The president-elect comes to office with a background in real-estate development and understands the use of debt.

❝ If this were an equation, the above points would result in an obvious answer: the refinancing of long-term debt and obligations at the lowest possible rate for the longest possible time. I am suggesting that the U.S. issue bonds that mature in 50 or 100 years…

❝ Improving U.S. roads, highways, bridges and tunnels as well replacing or constructing new transport systems is a two-part project: first, commit to making the basic repairs to counter the effects of wear, tear, weather and age. One part of the solution is to fully fund the national Highway Trust Fund by raising the federal gasoline tax. Second, use long-term bonds to upgrade the transportation system, electrical grid and water works that are so crucial to the U.S.’s well-being.

RTFA for the details of Barry Ritholtz’ outline in the issuance and sale of bonds up to 100 year term. We wouldn’t even be the first in North America on the street. Doesn’t lessen the sensible character of his proposal.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

New Asian infrastructure development bank approves their first loans

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A new Chinese-led development bank has approved its first loans and expects to suffer no impact from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the bank’s president said Saturday at its first annual meeting.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, launched in January with 57 member governments, already has received expressions of interest from possible additional members, said Jin Liqun at a news conference. He said observers from 24 other nations attended the meeting.

The bank reflects China’s rapidly growing financial might and desire for a bigger voice in global finance, which is dominated by the United States and Europe.

Despite initial U.S. opposition, the AIIB attracted unexpectedly wide support from American allies including Britain, France, Australia and South Korea.

Washington and Japan have refrained from seeking membership…

No doubt Obama is happy at least one client state is obedient.

The bank’s board approved a total of $509 million in loans Friday for a power project in Bangladesh, slum-upgrading in Indonesia and road-building in Pakistan and Tajikistan, according to Jin, a former chairman of China’s sovereign wealth fund…

China, the world’s second-largest economy, has the bank’s biggest voting stake with 26 percent of shares and has pledged to put up most of its initial $50 billion in capital but has no veto power. India has the second-largest voting stake at 7.5 percent and Russia is third with 5.9 percent.

“AIIB is owned by all its members,” said Jin. “This is not China’s bank.”

China has chosen not to borrow from the AIIB to avoid “crowding out” other borrowers but might do so in “special cases,” Jin said…

The AIIB initially was seen as a potential rival to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank…But the Asian bank forged cooperative relations with them and pledged to adhere to global standards.

In a reflection of that cooperation, the World Bank contributed to the Indonesia project. Money for the Pakistan project also came from the ADB and the British government. The Tajikistan project is co-financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Golly. Cooperation working somewhere. Which is not a surprise, of course, unless all your news only comes from sources inside the Beltway around Washington, DC.

Former central bank adviser says China needs to invest in, expand, the nation’s infrastructure


Click to enlargeAssociated Press
Taking a road trip this summer?

Increasing infrastructure investment is the best way to boost economic growth in China and doing so doesn’t undermine efforts to overhaul the economy, according to former central bank adviser Yu Yongding.

“If China does not increase infrastructure investment now, it may miss a historical opportunity,” Yu said Saturday at an economics conference in Beijing….

The time is right because of the global economic downturn, falling commodity prices, the low interest rates in Western countries and overcapacity in China, said Yu, now a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Regional debt surged in China after the 2008 global financial crisis, when the government urged provinces that were then banned from selling bonds to boost infrastructure spending with a $611 billion stimulus package.

The stimulus was right to do because without it “China would have experienced a hard landing,” Yu said. “At the time it was hard to avoid the increase in debt and leverage.”

There are small bits here and there unique to China’s context. Inevitable. What struck me when I listened to Asia-centric economists discussing the Beijing conference – and Yu Yongding’s comments – was similarities to the economic situation in the United States.

If anything, the need to direct dollar$ and boots onto the path of rebuilding infrastructure – rather than China’s need for expansion – is more imperative. You can’t redirect an economy into healthier modern avenues if the streets and bridges are crumbling. You can’t retrain workers into new relevant skills, building new crafts and companies if the heart of government enterprise is gutted by Congress.

The company behind California’s methane disaster knew the well leaked 24 years ago

Last fall, a 7-inch injection well pipe ruptured 500 feet below the surface of Los Angeles, after ferrying natural gas for six decades. The resulting methane leak is now being called one of the largest environmental disasters since the BP oil spill, has pushed thousands of people out of their homes, and has quickly become the single biggest contributor to climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions in California. But it’s not the first time this well sprang a leak—and Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), which owns and operates the well, knew it…

So who’s to blame for a leak that cannot be stopped? Aging natural gas equipment may have contributed. According to documents filed with the California Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, this particular well, referred to as Standard Sesnon 25, was originally drilled in 1953, and showed signs of leakage 24 years ago, in 1992. Inspectors reported that they could hear the leak through borehole microphones.

Gene Nelson, a professor of physical science at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, California who has seen the document, said that he found it “appalling that SoCalGas did not identify this as a well to shut off,” after receiving this feedback.

There have been other problems documented at this facility before. And in 2014, inspectors at the wells documented corrosion and negative integrity trends…

Other safety issues have been pointed out recently, too. Earlier this month, The LA Times reported that attorneys representing some of the 1,000 residents suing SoCalGas over the leak claim the company failed to replace an important safety valve that was removed in 1979 — a valve that could have stopped the current leak in its tracks. The plaintiffs also allege that the company again identified leaks at the site five years ago, but never implemented plans to fix them…

So far, some 2,300 homes have voluntarily evacuated and several schools have been closed, with many residents complaining of headaches and nosebleeds from the foul-smelling chemical additives. These include radon, hydrogen sulfide, and an odorant called mercaptan, which is added to the gas both before and after it leaves the storage field.

The well, which funnels natural gas to 22 million customers in the Los Angeles Basin, is expected to take another three months to plug. O’Connor says that the disaster is a telling sign about the viability of natural gas in a country of aging infrastructure.

The methane released into the air will take about 10 years to convert to slightly less of a danger to the climate. Just one more example of crap infrastructure – private and public – crippling the economic and environmental life of our nation. Infrastructure our elected officials refuse to regulate or repair.

Beancounters in Congress say don’t worry about bridges and roads

Version 2
Pickup truck crashed into collapse of Interstate 10 bridge

All traffic along a major freeway connecting California and Arizona was blocked indefinitely when a bridge over a desert wash collapsed during heavy rain, and the roadway in the opposite direction suffered severe damage…

The collapse Sunday of Interstate 10 in southeastern California left one driver injured, stranded numerous motorists and complicated travel for countless others for what officials warned could be a long time.

The closure will force drivers seeking to use I-10 to travel between California and Arizona to go hundreds of miles out of their way.

The rains came amid a second day of showers and thunderstorms in southern and central California that were setting rainfall records in what is usually a dry month. Forecasters expected scattered rain through Monday as the remnants of a tropical storm off Baja California continued to push north…

One driver had to be rescued from a pickup that crashed in the collapse and was taken to a hospital with moderate injuries…

Hundreds of other cars were stranded immediately after the collapse, but the California Highway Patrol worked to divert them and it wasn’t clear if any remained, Kasinga said…

Saturday’s rainfall broke records in at least 11 locations, including five places that had the most rain ever recorded on any day in July, said National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Sirard.

July is typically the driest month of the year in Southern California. Because of that, Saturday’s 0.36 inch of rain in downtown Los Angeles exceeded the 0.24 inch recorded July 14, 1886, which had been the wettest July day in nearly 130 years.

The storm brought weekend flash floods and power outages and turned Los Angeles County’s typically packed coast into empty stretches of sand when the threat of lightning forced authorities to close 70 miles of beaches.

Rebuilding, repairing infrastructure across the nation was a non-starter when President Obama and his economics advisors suggested the process in his first term. He could have suggested the sun rise in the East and Congressional Republicans would have opposed the concept. The amalgam of racism, contempt for working people, fear of science and real change has kept the Republican Party tightly bunched into a herd of cattle stupidity for several years, now.

Ayup. No problems from climate change either. As long as you have sufficient money to relocate to a McMansion further inland – on a mountain top – with no fire danger.