Mediocre Policies and People are Killing Us

I live in southwest Florida where we have a system of retention ponds to deal with the vast amounts of water that fall from the sky during fierce rainstorms. And these ponds then drain into swales. An untrained eye might see swales as mere ditches on the sides of roads, but that’s not the case at all. Those shallow trenches hold the water for a short period after a rainstorm, then the overflow slowly drains into bigger bodies of water. They help reduce erosion from storm water runoff. In our case, the water flows downhill to the Myakka River and then into the Gulf of Mexico.

Because alligators live and mate in the retention ponds, many communities like mine prohibit fishing in them. The insurance rates for these small bodies of water skyrocket when deemed recreational. Just the other day I saw a neighbors’ visiting grandson fishing in ours but walked on by, silently vowing I would say something if I saw him fishing there later. The next day he was at it again, and I politely informed the teenager of the prohibition. I don’t know if he stopped fishing, but I hoped he would stay alert and keep away from any alligator that came around. I saw something, I said something.

It might be too soon to talk about what went wrong in Surfside, Florida with the collapse of the 12-story condominium there, but it’s a great example of people not doing their jobs. According to the New York Times, “A consultant in 2018 urged the managers to repair cracked columns and crumbling concrete. The work was finally about to get underway when the building collapsed.” Yes, they waited for three years to address the problem. Maybe they just didn’t want to foot the bill. Some say the repairs would cost the condominium owners $9 million. So, what is the price of a human life?

I read a great op-ed by Nicholas Kristof about the true threat to America. He said “not so fast” while our new President cheered “America is back” at the G7 summit. The good news is a Pew Research Center survey found that 75 percent of those polled in a dozen countries expressed “confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing,” compared with only 17 percent a year ago. Gee, who was the president back then?

Kristof further says, “We must face the reality that our greatest vulnerability is not what other countries do to us but what we have done to ourselves. The United States cannot achieve its potential when so many Americans are falling short of theirs.” Yes, in things like math, quality of life and happiness we are lagging to the tune of one or two generations compared with other developed countries. So, what went wrong in Shangri-la?

Well, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out one reason. Kristof continued, “More broadly, the United States has lost its lead in education overall and in investments in children. The World Bank Human Capital Project estimates that today’s American children will achieve only 70 percent of their potential productivity.” Do today’s kids even understand what that means?

If you spend any time watching TV, you probably understand that many of our downfalls are caused by lack of funding, a dearth of personnel and scarcity of experts in certain fields. Speaking of which, farmers are losing millions and giving away or destroying their crops because of a backlog of applications for the H-2A visa program, the one that allows US employers to bring in foreign nationals to fill low-skill, temporary or seasonal agricultural jobs. Who are we? What are we doing?

Firesign Theatre

The Firesign Theatre was a funny group of 1970s comedians whose medium was recorded comedy.  One of their most famous record albums was titled I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus. That recording plainly indicates that most of the problems producing the greatest vulnerability for our citizens is not coming from somewhere else. We are the problem. Here are a couple of examples.

Policing: Derek Chauvin was just sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd. Through it all, he claimed he did nothing wrong and that he was trained to use his “kneeling technique.” He has never apologized for killing Mr. Floyd and his boss claims that particular use of force was not part of Chauvin’s training. It’s apparent we have a severe problem with the training of police officers. Saying it that way eliminates any issue of race, allowing a more productive conversation to take place. Despite training our officers how to deescalate situations, they somehow walk away with a belief that harsh force is okay. Do we have a case of poor training or lack of comprehension? We don’t allow student doctors who might kill people in hospitals to graduate, so why are we not providing effective training to those who wear a badge?

Infrastructure: Men and women in Congress have big debates but nothing ever gets done. We have bridge collapses and fallen buildings but they can’t seem to wake up and get serious. All this great stuff we built forty and fifty years ago is now crapping out and killing people.

We have a history of collapse tragedies. On July 17, 1981, two walkways collapsed at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City killing 114 and injuring 216. On August 1, 2007, with rush hour bridge traffic moving slowly through the limited number of lanes, the central span of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota suddenly gave way and the adjoining spans fell killing 13 and injuring 145 people. I could list more death by bozos, but you’ll stop reading.

I was fairly sure the kid fishing in the pond wasn’t going to encounter an alligator that would harm or kill him, but how could I live with myself if that happened? Would I be interviewed by the local TV station and say, “Yeah, I saw him fishing there the other day but it’s not my place to enforce the rules.” It’s like the condo inspector saying, “Well, I told them about the cracks and need for repairs, but nothing happened.” Maybe that Surfside, Florida building should have been torn down and replaced, but that’s just me armchair quarterbacking on Monday morning. That kind of the old shoulda, coulda, woulda is like pouring salt in the emotional wounds this disaster has wrought on so many families.

America has a short memory and a hearing problem. We didn’t listen to expert advice about a pandemic, and more than 600,000 people are now dead. We don’t listen to experts on the potential impact of laws and policies before we write them. We just write them and then wait for the bugs to surface. I’m tired of excuses. We need the best people in positions of power working within a culture of openness, so they won’t be fearful of presenting bad news. Maybe lives would have been saved had that inspector plainly stated, “If this isn’t taken care, of the building will fall and people will die.” You know, there are just too many bozos on this bus.


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  1. You hit on a lot of thoughtful points, here, Dwight, and it’s hard to pinpoint any one reason we are where we are. Obviously, there is way too much “let the other guy do it,” in our society and “Hooray for me, the hell with everyone else.” People who constantly rail against change that would improve the lives of others seem to fear most that the balance of their own lives will change in the process. For example, and this is, perhaps, a frivolous example, you personally lose nothing by warning that kid not to fish there, BUT suppose you know his dad is a hothead who will menace you and threaten a punch in the nose for daring to tell HIS child what he can and cannot do? “Come near my kid again and I’ll call a cop!” In that event, you might pass on by and hope the alligators aren’t hungry. Hard to imagine a parent would take that position, but sometimes, even when we know in our hearts the other guy has a point, it’s hard to admit that we might not only be wrong, but have failed to meet our responsibility in some. It’s easier to think everything will okay if you don’t rock the boat. After all, you wouldn’t want any bozos to fall out. ‘Gators might get ’em.

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