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Two seemingly unrelated news threads show starkly different attitudes in Congress about what it takes to keep America safe.
As autumn settles in, Congress is still in a multi-dimensional fight over President Biden's trillion-dollar infrastructure bill - this even as climate-related disasters mount, with more coming.
Late on Friday, the president ventured to Capitol Hill to try to weave some accord between House liberals and moderates deadlocked over the scope and spread of this overdue, decade-long push to rebuild the nation's aging physical and societal backbones.
At the same time, as always, funding for a different kind of infrastructure, our national defense systems, smoothly moves forward. Just days ago, the House passed a $758-billion defense policy bill boosting the Pentagon part of the budget $24 billion above Biden's essentially-flat $715 billion.
To me, one detail in that giant defense package is worth looking at in the context of the on-the-ground infrastructure debate.
That deal is just part of an overall $22-billion investment of taxpayer dollars to upgrade what is an old, but still-sturdy, component of our nuclear-weapons infrastructure.
Revamped and re-powered, these aged behemoths, once carrying bombs and now long-range standoff cruise missiles, are projected to keep flying well into the 2050s, joining America's expanding ranks of centenarians!
Whatever you think of our military strategy, that is an incredibly impressive commitment to the longevity and functionality of systems critical to keeping America safe.
Just ponder how that contrasts with perennial Beltway neglect and wrangling when it comes to federal investments that could protect thousands of communities downstream of dams that have similar ages to these fabled bombers and are known to be in danger of failure.
A significant chunk of the infrastructure bill is designed to rebuild or replace aging dams, levees, water systems and the like.
A 2019 Associated Press investigation, still a must-read overview, dug in on the dam danger: "The nation's dams are on average more than 50 years old and many are bedeviled by leaks, unrepaired erosion, burrowing animals and overgrown vegetation."
Yes, it's complicated. Most of the dams are privately owned, making it tough to figure out how to apportion the estimated $70 billion it'd take to cut the threat.
But some president, and some Congress, just has to make this work.
I'd love to get your input.
Why is it that Democrats and Republicans always seem content to go beyond White House spending proposals on national defense while neglecting domestic sources of security?
Redefining national security
I wish more lawmakers would look back a decade to when the Pentagon led on widening the lens on security to include, and prioritize, domestic sustainability. In 2009, the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, requested a report on ways to sustain America's security. The result, written by Captain Wayne Porter (USN, now retired) and Colonel Mark "Puck" Mykleby (USMC, now retired) was a 2011 "A National Strategic Narrative" centered on domestic sustainability and resilience as a foundational need.
Dam and flood dangers
Read the vital 2020 New York Times op-ed article by Paulina Concha Larrauri and Upmanu Lall of the Columbia Water Center that starts with this chilling opening line: "Two dams down, a few thousand more to go."
Here's the report they drew on: "Assessing the Exposure of Critical Infrastructure and other Assets to the Climate Induced Failure of Aging Dams in the U.S."
Watch the Sustain What webcast on "Urgent Lessons for Vulnerable Cities on a Heating, Flood-Scoured Planet" in which Upmanu Lall says this: "In the period before and after the Second World War, as a society, we had a lot of investment in flood control.... Since then, we've been sleeping. Basically, if you look at the investment in any kind of measures for flood control, it's been nonexistent for the last 30 or 40 years. The last dams that were in the United States, which were of any consequence whatsoever, were nineteen seventy six. So, you know, we've been sleeping and most of those things are old now and are doomed to failure."
Best wishes and please share this dispatch with friends and colleagues seeking an enduringly thriving nation and world.