Takeaways: April 2021

22 Apr, 2021



April 2021

A BRIDGE TO EVERYWHERE? Lobbying for a piece of the $2 trillion that the Biden administration wants to spend on infrastructure isn’t going to be as straightforward as it might first appear. Most of us probably think of highways, bridges and dams as infrastructure, which of course they are — and we think of them as federal projects, like the Hoover Dam, owned by the federal government and controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. But there is network infrastructure, too, which is privately owned. What makes all this so complicated is that the federal government owns just 5% of the nation’s $40 trillion in nondefense, nonresidential “fixed assets,” as infrastructure is often called. The private sector owns 65% of the nation’s infrastructure; state and local governments own 30%. President Biden understands all this and has explicitly warned against assuming “that the only thing that’s infrastructure is a highway, a bridge or whatever,” when it should also include, for example, high-speed internet. The administration has done itself no favors, however, by claiming its plan “would create 19 million jobs,” when the supposed source of that figure — Moody’s Analytics — in fact said 2.7 million.

WORTH READING: In The Politics of Our Time: Populism, Nationalism, Socialism, veteran political observer John B. Judis offers up an analysis that isn’t likely to comfort anyone looking for easy answers. The book’s strength might be its dogged refusal to come up with the kind of tidy neologisms supplied by Thomas Friedman and Malcolm Gladwell. Yes, Judis finds, the rural/urban divide is deepening, but even defining what constitutes a city these days is complicated — especially in the U.S., though similar patterns are emerging elsewhere. Consider Washington, D.C., with its outlying counties. These exurbs “in the last 30 years or so have been incorporated into the big metro areas — Loudon County, Va., and Frederick, Md., are centers for finance, business consulting, media, high tech and education, and health care delivery and research,” Judis tells us in an interview. They might look like Dollar Store and Waffle House territory on a map, but they “tend to be Democratic and socially liberal.” And parts of the country “that used to be centers of heavy industry, where much of industry has left, and where the largest employers can be the local hospital or Walmart, have become the center of Republican politics.” Some of these areas are very prosperous — the site of huge farms, for instance — while others are “dirt poor,” sharing “with the deindustrialized cities and towns of the Midwest or South some common cultural and political commitments. They are more conservative, do not see themselves as worldly or cosmopolitan, and are thrown back on the verities of country, faith, family and home.” The analysis, while acute, does not lead to five-point plans that will bring back heavy industry or a lot of jobs. But it can’t be ignored.

ILLEGAL ALIENS: Former California Gov. and Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger is the one public figure whom British adults say they would trust to keep us safe in the event of an alien invasion. The survey, reported by Deadline in mid-March, found former President Donald Trump far down the list at eighth, though he outranked Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who came in 12th. But both did much better than Joe Biden (20th), who trailed Kamala Harris (19th). A close second to Schwarzenegger was another actor, Will Smith of Independence Day and Men in Black. Sir David Attenborough, the animal authority with the soothing voice, came in third, though he turns 95 in May. Told the results, Schwarzenegger wished “to thank the people for putting their faith in me. I am ready to serve.” In October, Trump told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo that he would “take a good, strong look” at whether UFOs exist, but if he did, he has yet to reveal his findings. In a related development, nearly 50% of Americans want Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to run for president.

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