Non-trivial pursuits: public works, well-being and war


President Obama dedicated $8.5 billion of the American Recovery Act to upgrading the nation’s passenger rail system.

It’s a sad reality of American industry that most of the rolling stock and infrastructure for these improvements will be manufactured in France, Germany and Japan. America long ago exported its right to pour the metal.
But consider this: We currently expend more in one month on the Afghan war than we will spend on all 11 new rail projects over the next several years. And a University of Massachusetts study has found that for each billion spent on public transportation, 19,795 jobs spring to life, while for every billion spent on the military, just 8,555 jobs are created.

Ohio’s Loss, Fresno’s Gain
The new, tea-steeped governors of Ohio and Wisconsin turned up their noses and refused $616 million allocated to their states for high-speed passenger rail development. Oh well, California doesn’t mind at all.
Allocated through The Recovery Act, the millions have been rerouted westward to the Green & Golden State’s central valley, where a high-speed line from Bakersfield to Fresno is already under construction. When completed, this “bullet train” will knock an hour off current Amtrak travel between the two cities.
Most exciting, the modest-length, 106 mph run is the first link in a future San Francisco to Los Angeles route, which will sport top speeds of 220 mph! It’s about time, folks.

Can We Cinch in this Belt?

At long, long last, the nation’s ultra-bloated military budget is on the whittling block — a $700 billion-dollar gorilla in the woodshed! Too bad the gorilla ever grew so large. The President’s recent defense request is 67 percent greater than an average year’s expenditure at the height of the Cold War.
In addition to reckless and futile warfare, our $700 billion also buys us a still-burgeoning nuclear weapons industry that threatens all life. Obama has promised $190 billion (to win Republican votes) toward “modernizing” our WMD stockpile and its delivery systems (more bombers, missiles and submarines).
Never mind that Sen. Jeff Bingaman had the “pile” competently studied in 2006 and those scientists and engineers found that our plutonium pit triggers are dependable for over a century — not the 45 years previously estimated. And never mind that Sandia National Labs found, in its landmark 1993 Stockpile Life Study, that “nuclear weapons … do not wear out; they last as long as the nuclear weapons community desires.”
So why build the new, so-far-$5-billion plutonium pit factory in Los Alamos, intended to turn out 80 triggers per year, while more than doubling the radioactive waste generated up there? And why build a new uranium processing plant at Oak Ridge, designed to produce 80 “canned sub-assemblies” yearly?
And, lordy, why build a new nuclear weapons production facility in Kansas City, where the remaining 85 percent of a nuke can be assembled (its guidance, arming, fusing, firing, tritium boosters, etc, etc.)? Keep in mind: this is your money and this is our country and planet.
But to further boggle the mind: Kansas City municipal government will own this national weapons production factory. Its private developers will pay back the municipal bonds; The city will lease the plant to a holding company, which will sub-lease it to the federal General Services Administration, which will then rent it to the National Nuclear Security Administration — for $60 million a year.
Is this shell game OK with you? Or, with our obese “military budget” finally on the table, will we start making some noise about common Americans’ priorities? How about education, health care, environmental protection, the arts? Let’s make some NOISE, people!

White House Champions Science
Late last year, President Obama kept a particular campaign promise and issued a long-hoped-for Scientific Integrity Directive. The executive mandate aims to rectify the effects of the Bush administration’s promotion of “junk science” — inaccurate, skewed or false data which tended to result in unsound, even dangerous, public policies.
The new directive orders that decisions of federal agencies always be informed by “best available science.” Obama noted that “scientific integrity” also requires that scientists have more effective access to media, so their vetted findings may be more broadly publicized.
The hope is that Americans can then better understand the research that shapes federal agencies’ policies and rule-making — especially where public and environmental health are concerned. All departments of government were instructed to draw up specific plans for achieving the Scientific Integrity Directive’s goals by the end of April.  

(Sources: Union of Concerned Scientists, National Association of Railroad Passengers, Nuclear Watch NM, Global Network Against Weapons in Space.)

Albrecht is a San Antonio, N.M., resident. She has written global affairs digests for New Mexican newspapers and journals for 12 years. Find her column on the last Saturday of each month in El Defensor Chieftain.