Investing in Infrastructure

Repair wanted, photo: cmh2315fl/flickr

On September 6, President Obama announced an infrastructure renewal project in the US. According the White House press release, the plan aims to create a long-term framework for the renewal and expansion of a major part of America’s transportation infrastructure (roads, railways aviation and transit infrastructure.) Its broader objectives are to contribute to the economic stimulus of the Recovery Act with a front-end investment of $50 billion.

Specifically, the plan aims to do the following in the coming six years:

  • Rebuild 150,000 roads
  • Build 4,000 miles of railroads and introduce high-speed rail systems
  • Reconstruct 150 miles of runways and upgrade the air traffic control system
  • Establish a permanent infrastructure bank to leverage capital investment in the nation’s infrastructure

This contribution is a step in the right direction, but only a step. The plan addresses only four of the 15 issues outlined by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which produces an annual report card  on the state of US infrastructure, assessing bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, public parks and recreation.

According to the most recent ASCE report, the US scored a dismal D (approx. 1.0 out of a possible maximum of 4.0.) This same report estimated a 5-year investment of $2.2 trillion would be needed to significantly improve these areas, including some 1,800 high hazard and over 4,000 structurally deficient dams, as well as 72,868 and 89,024 functionally obsolete bridges.

But, as the mid-term elections draw near, calls to reign in federal spending have grown. Republicans have vowed to oppose the plan and support among Democrats may be weak.

Ultimately, infrastructure renewal in the US will depend on murky congressional back-room deals, tough legislative cycles and the fickle political trends of the coming years.

Despite the Obama administration’s attempt to bring the issue to the forefront of domestic policy, quick action on a vital issue seems increasingly unlikely. And this is bad news for America.


From Cybercrime to Cyberwarfare: The Dimensions of Cybersecurity

New weapon of mass destruction? Photo courtesy of ktvyeow/flickr

Defence IQ has published a very interesting podcast on cybersecurity with Dr Nigel Inkster. He is the Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risks at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

The talk clarifies some important dimensions about the spectrum of activities from cybercrime to full blown cyberwarfare. The context of two major cybersecurity events, a cyber-attack in Georgia during the 2008 South Ossetia war and a 2009 attack in the UK on MI5 are considered.

The talk addresses the potential dimensions and impact of cyberwarfare (on military vs. civilian targets) For the most extreme forms of cyberwarfare, Dr Inkster notes, “…none of these attacks are going to be confined to the military domain, all of them are going to have a significant impact on civilian populations.” He further outlines areas of potential vulnerabilities to infrastructure.

The podcast ends with a consideration of the efforts that governments are making to develop defensive and offensive capabilities.

Defense IQ is a cyber security forum that provides military personnel and the defence community throughout the world with information regarding current military and defence issues. It offers focused content such as podcasts and presentations, and hosts webinars, conferences and summits on defense issues.

Please also check out our Special Report on cyberwarfare.

Illegal Loggers, Beware

Illegal logging is a complex problem, photo courtesy of Claire L. Evans/flickr

On July 7, the European Parliament voted 644 to 25 to ban the sale of illegally logged timber and timber products from the EU market from 2012 onwards when the rule takes effect.

The passage of this ban is a tremendous achievement, the culmination of more than a decade of environmental activism and lobbying on the issue. While the ban is an important step in the right direction, the general public should not be lulled into a comforting, but false belief that the problem is getting better. The legislation affects only 20 percent of the global market for illegal timber; a significant move, but there is much more to do.

Like many environmental issues, logging is tightly bound to other problems, many endemic to developing countries (such as corruption, organized crime, poverty, environmental destruction) that are difficult to address individually, but must still be tackled with approaches that can generate multiple beneficial outcomes, such as greater transparency, better information management, the implementation and strengthening of legislative, enforcement and monitoring frameworks. As well as the creation of collaboration and information exchanges, the importance of changing consumer perspectives and demand for cheap timber and timber products cannot be overstated.

How Tolerant Should Democracies Be?

Limits to tolerance? photo: code poet/Jim/flickr

Since US President Obama was elected, the far right has embraced radical fringe movements that do little to hide their desire to expound revolution in the US. A recent article, Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason has brought attention to the activities of armed militia groups in the US.

Militias have always been part of the American landscape, well before the American Revolution, where they played a decisive role in the US gaining its independence. Contemporary militia movements like the Oath Keepers regularly draw on this association as a source of legitimacy (as the “true keepers of liberty”) and as a justification for their rejection of the federal government in general and the Obama administration in particular.

What is striking is that these armed militias are confident enough to publicly describe their recruitment, training and mobilization activities and to express their hostile intentions toward the US government. In fact, it is in the realm of public activities that the perception and tolerance of these groups is a change from the past. Oath Keepers receive local support from the Tea Party-movement, which, in turn, enjoys support at the national level from state governors, congressmen and senators, as well as regular coverage by the mainstream media.

This is a telling reflection of the political imbalance in the US. While ordinary citizens protesting the war in Iraq were allegedly investigated and harassed by the police and the CIA, right-wing armed militia groups (made up of former military and policemen) can verbally attack the president, the federal government, and call for rebellion; all with the implicit (and in some cases explicit) support of public figures and political leaders. Analysts who dismiss the contradiction as “just national politics” or as the far right’s “desperate” search for voter support in populist movements may be underestimating the depth of the political divide in America.