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Berliner Zeitung, Germany

Sandy Unites the US

By Damir Fras

Translated By Catherine McGuinness

4 November 2012

Edited Chris Hirokawa

Germany - Berliner Zeitung - Original Article (German)

A storm accomplished what the American president could not in four years: It brought together Democrats and Republicans. This is urgently needed in a country of constant bungling.

It is amazing how well people on the East Coast of the Unites States are dealing with the disaster after the treacherous Sandy passed by. Though they do grumble a bit at the lack of gas and power, which in many places will be unavailable for several days, it all seems remarkably relaxed. People are rolling up their sleeves and getting on with rebuilding their destroyed homes and repairing damaged power lines. The myth of coming together in the face of adversity — which Americans support so strongly — lives on.

In times of need, American society is apparently less divided. As President Barack Obama said, during a storm there are no longer Democrats or Republicans. There are only citizens. A storm unites. It sounds pathetic, but it's true. Yet, however earnestly they rebuild together now, Americans will soon part ways again, each following his own path. Even the hurricane of the century cannot budge the deep-seated individualism of U.S. society.

The Country of Constant Bungling

No one seriously expects that the country's infrastructure will be improved to reduce the consequences of the next storm that will inevitably come, but doing so is urgently needed. Most of power lines are above ground and often break, and the roads are littered with potholes.

This means that 160,000 of the 600,000 bridges in the country are at risk of collapse. The water pipes have not been renovated for decades. The state of the airports is pathetic. The railways, with a few exceptions, should have been put in a museum long ago.

If one were to describe, for instance, India in this way, the Indians would be offended. The U.S. is the country of constant bungling, forever repairing. Now, hardly any energy supplier would offer the idea of replacing the power lines in the trees with underground lines.

Why should he? Repairing the cable costs less than the upgrade, and therefore the overall profit for the company is greater. The customer is forced to sit by candlelight, waiting for the electricity to return. There is no alternative to the local power supplier, and thus no hope of competition that might improve the system. In fact, what is the difference between the U.S. and those countries, lost in history, in which the socialist experiment was tried?

Money Should Be Spent at Home

Several times throughout the election campaign, President Obama has made it clear that he is aware of the problem. He has spoken often about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which his predecessor George W. Bush paid for with a large credit card. Obama says that he has ended one war and will bring an end to the other. He will use the money for “nation building here at home.”

However, one can say anything — from machine guns to power lines, so to speak. The chances are small that a second-term Obama will become a successful infrastructure president such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The individualism in U.S. society will know how to use the pursuit of profit to block collaboration.

And, should Obama not be re-elected on Tuesday, there will certainly be no modernization of roads, power lines, bridges and schools. For Obama's competitor Mitt Romney, the government itself is a problem. Romney went so far as to propose abolishing the national civil protection authority, transferring the responsibility of all major clean-up efforts after the hurricane to the individual states. Even better is his vision to privatize civil protection altogether. Romney was serious when he said this, by the way, even if he no longer wants to discuss it.

Now, it would be easier to simply say, “Let the Americans do whatever they want. Our power lines are still — mostly — weatherproof.” That, however, would mean denying reality. Roughly speaking, it is rather simple but fraught with consequences. Greenhouse gases promote climate change and lead to more storms, which cause more damage to the infrastructure. The U.S. has no monopoly on storms of the century; Europe has also become more vulnerable. If a solution is to be found at all, the whole world must take part in the search, but in the current U.S., this is as futile an undertaking as the laying of power lines underground.



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