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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Damned Lies


America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?
-- US President Donald J. Trump, State of the Union speech, 1/30/2018


America is a nation of builders.

We built the Empire State Building in just one year.

Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years – ten years! – just to get a minor permit for a simple road?

If I had to pick one line from Trump’s State of the Union speech, one line that summarizes today everything wrong with America, that would be the line. That one right there: America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?

Begin at the beginning: America is a nation of builders.

What does that mean?

No. I’m serious. What does that mean?

“Builders” implies building things. What things? Houses? Skyscrapers? Bridges? Roads? That’s the context, isn’t it? That’s what Trump was talking about. Infrastructure. It sounds good, but what does it mean? All nations build those things. What identifies us as a “nation of builders” different from other nations who build things?

And I strongly suspect that those nations, such as Iraq, who have been on the receiving end of our artillery and missiles for the last decade and a half would argue this boast. For them, we are destroyers not builders. But I digress.

What does he mean, a nation of builders?

This is not a rhetorical question. Trump routinely makes statements of fact, that upon examination are anything but. This was supposed to be a Constitutionally mandated report on the state of the union, a summary of fact. So, who’s doing the building? When he says, “a nation of builders,” what exactly is he talking about? Public projects funded by the government?  Commercial construction financed by business and industry? Private homes? What? I mean, there’s a big damned difference indeed between the new 400 million dollar Pensacola Bay Bridge currently being built between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze by the State of Florida and the new Trump Hotel currently building in Cleveland, Mississippi, under Trump’s Scion brand managed by Eric and Donald Trump Jr.

That’s the very crux of this part: We built the Empire State Building in just one year.

We?

We who?

The Empire State Building was constructed beginning in 1930 by a group of wealthy investors, known as Empire State Inc. These people were accountable only to themselves and their investors. They intended to build a building on a two-acre plot in Manhattan, a city made of buildings and an area specifically zoned for buildings. Unsurprisingly, there was little resistance from the city or much need for public input. And in fact, the city and the public, in the grip of the Great Depression, were quite enthusiastic about building a big building on a site zoned for buildings in a city full of buildings using private money. So it didn’t take very long to get the permits needed to begin construction.

Now, compare that to similar public works of that time.

Public works such as the Hoover Dam. Construction of the dam began in 1931, but it took more than 30 years of speculation, design, review, regulation, planning, public meetings, litigation, acquisition of land via purchase and Eminent Domain, and legislation to get there.  Construction would create thousands of jobs, but if the dam failed, hundreds of thousands of lives would be at risk. Billions of taxpayer dollars would be lost. Environmental damage would be catastrophic and would likely alter the very geography of the region permanently. The dam would change the political balance of the Southwest and determine both electrical power and water rights (and thus everything else from industrialization to agriculture to raising up entire cities to things as prosaic as golf courses) for the next thousand years. In the face of that, 30 years of development doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.

It took six years to build the dam, two years less than originally planned, in harsh remote terrain far from any support.

The Hoover Dam went into operation in 1936. That same year, the Empire State Building was losing more than $1 million dollars per year and there was no public elevator service above the 45th floor because the building was empty between the 41st floor and 81st. As a matter of fact, the Empire State Building didn’t even start to break even, profit wise, until the mid-1950s. And that’s fine, when it’s private investor money they’re losing. It’s a whole different ballgame when it’s a public facility funded by tax dollars.

Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road.

No. It’s not.

And it’s utterly disingenuous, not to mention a logical fallacy, to compare construction of a private building to the permitting process for public works, especially across the span of a century.

Moreover, a “simple road” doesn’t typically take anywhere near a decade to get approved. And “simple roads” are rarely constructed by the federal government, those are usually state and local projects. For example, here in my area – the small Florida Panhandle town of Milton – a developer purchased several acres of land along my morning bike path and began the construction of a dozen houses. That developer got permits to build what will become public road through the housing development, connecting to existing roads. Now, obviously, a study needed to be done. Basic things: who would pay for maintenance and upkeep of the new road? The city? The state? How? Via new tax dollars from the new houses? A millage? How often will it have to be paved? Will this new road need lights, signals, signs, culverts, etc. You can’t just add new roads without some sort of planning, not if you expect the city and state to maintain the infrastructure. Not if you expect taxpayers to foot the bill. Not if you expect the city and state planners to be able to put together a budget. Not if you expect the police to patrol it. And the postal service to deliver mail. And the electrical co-op and Water & Sewage to run utilities. And so on. I looked it up, from the time the developer began purchasing the land to the time ground was broken for the first house was less than six months, including permits for that “simple road.” Hardly “ten years.”

This is true in large part all across the country.

But we’re not really talking about “simple roads,” are we? And neither was Trump.

We’re talking about major projects, public works. Like the Pensacola Bay Bridge mentioned up above.

That bridge, when completed, will replace the current bridge which is 60 years old. It will be more than three miles long and will carry more than 60,000 vehicles per day, in addition to bicycle and foot traffic. It will have to stand up to Category 5 hurricanes – and it is the major evacuation route for hundreds of thousands of people. It will have to last more than 50 years and it will have to support a growing population, not to mention vehicles and traffic we can’t even envision yet. If it fails, it will be catastrophic. If it damages the environment, it will be a disaster for the local tourist and fishing industries. If it can’t meet the needs of the future, it will be a chokehold on business, on populations, and on development. If it’s poorly designed, if it can’t stand up to the environment, it will be an endless drain on public money. And it has to be built around the existing bridge without impacting traffic, business, emergency evacuation routes, or sea traffic on the inland waterway.

Now, I submit to you that might take some study.

It requires extensive planning, design, public input, permitting, and review. And that may take years.

If Trump’s hotel goes bust, or burns down, or stays empty because he planned poorly, he can go bankrupt and stick it to his investors.

But perhaps a decade isn’t really all that long for development when you’re talking about a public project that costs $400,000,000, impacts the lives of 60,000 drivers per day not to mention the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands in the surrounding communities, and is going to be with us for most of the next century.

Let me give you an example of what happens when you don’t do due diligence, when you rush things.

A few years before construction started on the Hoover Dam, there was another dam.

You might, or might not, have heard of it.

It was a large concrete gravity dam, about 40 miles north of Los Angeles, built in 1926 by a guy named William Mulholland, a self-taught engineer, for the Los Angeles Bureau of Water Works and Supply.

Now, in 1926, at the height of the roaring 20s, the economy was booming. The stock market was at an all time high. The city of Los Angeles was likewise booming, the population nearly doubling from 1910. The city had planned to build a dam in Big Tujunga Canyon, but Mulholland was incensed by the prices owners in that area were demanding for their land. He considered it robbery, extortion, and an attempt to derail progress, and said so, loudly. 

This period was also known as the California Water Wars, with cities and ranchers fighting armed battles over water rights and land – much like today’s conservative libertarians fighting the federal government over use of federal properties.

Rather than accede to the land owners’ demands, Mulholland chose the San Francisquito Canyon in the Sierra Pelona Mountains and named his project The St. Francis Dam.

Construction began quietly, so as not to attract public notice. Despite some rather troublesome problems with the local geology, the dam was completed quickly and ahead of schedule and began to fill on March 12th, 1926.

Problems began almost immediately. Leaks. Cracks. Armed ranchers.

Over the next two years, the dam slowly filled, until it was at capacity, 38,000 acre feet of water, rising nearly 180 feet above the valley floor.

Cracks kept appearing at an increasing rate and the soil around the dam became saturated with water. Mulholland and his engineers were called repeatedly by the dam keeper for each new problem, but they dismissed the concerns and ordered various drains and patches.

On March 12, 1928, exactly two years from the day the reservoir began to fill, the St Francis Dam failed. Catastrophically. No witnesses survived the actual event. The dam failed so completely and so suddenly that the entire reservoir, 38,000 acre feet – that’s something in the neighborhood of 12 billion gallons – emptied in less than 70 minutes. A flood 140 feet high killed the dam keeper’s family a mile below the dam. Five minutes later, the deluge, still 120 feet high, destroyed the power stations and killed the electricians and their families who lived in a small town nearby. The flood roared downstream, wiping out ranches and electrical workers and the towns of Fillmore, Bardsdale, and Santa Paula, before pouring into the Pacific Ocean. Bodies were found as far away as Mexico. 431 people died. Tens of thousands were displaced. The environmental damage was catastrophic, as was the damage to property and infrastructure. The monetary loss was in the billions, in 1928 dollars.

Now, before you tell me that engineering has advanced greatly since then, try to remember that the Hoover Dam was built only 4 years later. And in fact, many of the nation’s great works stem from that time, dams, highways, bridges, and etc. 

That said, you don’t have to do much digging to find similar catastrophes, dam failures, bridge collapses, and so on. Hell, there are cable TV programs nightly showing an endless parade of engineering disasters.

One of the reasons permitting takes longer these days is because we, supposedly, have learned from our mistakes, learned from the past. For example: If you were paying attention up above, you saw where I wrote “self-taught engineer” after William Mulholland’s name. We don’t allow that any more either, engineers in every state must meet the requirements and accreditation set forth by their state board of engineers. In California, licensing of engineers began specifically because of Mulholland’s spectacular failure.

Yes, we are a nation of builders.

But nowadays, our buildings, our bridges, our roads, must carry a volume greater than any previous. More, they must anticipate what is to come. And now we must design skyscrapers to withstand the deliberate impact of a jetliner full of fuel, something our ancestors never had to worry about.

Still, our buildings, dams, bridges, and roads are safer than any project built in previous decades. And while jobs are a nice side effect of such works, they aren’t the reason for them. These projects are designed to serve the public, to benefit the nation, to advance future generations. And if they are to withstand the test of ages, then we must not only take the time to build them right, but take the time to ensure they best serve not only the current public interest and that of future generations as well.

America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?

Every major media outlet in the world has spent thousands of hours over the last two days analyzing Trump’s State of the Union Speech. I’m not going to repeat their work.

It’s just wasted motion.

There is no point in analyzing every statement from Trump’s State of the Union address.

Every point, every single one, is the same as this, empty statements wrapped around logical fallacies that say essentially nothing upon examination.  Each point of Trump’s address serves only to demonstrate Trump’s profound ignorance of history and the basic functions of both civilization and good government.

More, it demonstrates the shallow mindless unthinking patriotism of those who would cheer him.

And in that regard, ironically, Trump’s address is indeed a testament to the sorry state of our union.

123 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. There IS another more recent example of when there is insufficient oversight... in California even... it's callled the Lake Oroville Dam and its problems have massively started causing problems as of last year... and this was NOT supposed to happen. In California. Supposedly one of the "most" "overly regulated" states in the Union.... hmmmmm.....

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    2. We are all saddled with feelings of inferiority. It manifests itself in different forms. The need to correct grammar and spelling are just a couple. My pointing this out just happens to be fueled by mine. Because I have always been slow, I feel the need to show how well I can think. To the point of analyzing everything including myself, and it is not always pretty.:)

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  2. Typo...."Not if you expert " should be expect.

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    1. Jim, two instances of "expert" still appear. Also, spend s/b spent.

      Thank you for your essay.

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    2. Got room for one more? "has spend thousands of hours".

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    3. You have a minor typo. I expect you meant expect here :) "Not if you expert the city and state planners to be able to put together a budget."

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    4. Still another one. "Not if you expert taxpayers"
      Keep up the good work.

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    5. Enjoyed your piece. I'm not concerned about a few typos when your meaning is obvious. It's to bad some people are so enamored with his words they fail to grasp their meaning or lack thereof.

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    6. Jim crowdsources copyediting, Dan.

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    7. In the middle of the line 'around the existing bridge' I believe the word 'be' was left out.

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    8. Has to 'be' built around the existing bridge.Thanks.

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  3. Great article, as always. It looks like auto-correct got you in a couple of places:
    "That same year, the Empire State Building was loosing more than $1 million dollars per year..."
    "You can’t just add new roads without some sort of planning, not if you expert the city and state to maintain the infrastructure. Not if you expert taxpayers to foot the bill. Not if you expert the city and state planners to be able to put together a budget."

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  4. Well said!

    As one who worked as a code enforcement official for a large city, I am always boggled by those who gripe about permits and regulations. They are by and large, minimum standards. They are the least you can safely do.

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    1. I can never remember who said it but "codes were written to offend the least amount of people as possible while giving the appearance of safety."

      I'm a life safety tech, and run into customers regularly that barely do the minimum.

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    2. John, it's the same people that gripe about health inspectors. Ignorant of facts, they attack the process.

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    3. The original owners of our house did some really cool upgrades, without pulling permits. Things like knocking out part of an exterior wall to put in a door. When we bought the house, we had no idea that it wasn't original (although there were a few flags). A couple of years later, we had some leaking around the door and massive cracks in the stucco, so we brought in a contractor, and discovered that they hadn't put in a header over the door. This is why we need permits. So dumb-farks don't eff things up with their stupidity. Lesson learned.

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  5. I understand you appreciate quick grammar notes. "The Hoover Dam went into operation in 1936. That same year, the Empire State Building was loosing more than $1 million dollars per year..." should be "lose" not "loose."

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  6. Jim, you always bring a sense of calm to what is becoming a daily clusterf--k in Washington. Thanks.

    Also, loosing s/b losing, expert s/b expect in about 3 places around "...not if you expeCt the city..."

    Lastly, I wonder how many of our past Presidents' SOTU speeches, were more factual but equally vacuous. Time to start reading.

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  7. One of the primary reasons I read your work is because I always learn truth, with details. This essay is no different. Thanks for the history lesson.

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  8. I will be away from my keyboard for the next several hours.

    Comments will have to wait in the moderation queue until I get back.

    Apologies for the delay // Jim

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  9. Thanks for another eye-opener.

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  10. "Not if you *expert taxpayers to foot the bill. Not if you *expert the city and state planners to be able to put together a budget. Not if you expect the police to patrol it. " *Expect?

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    1. Read above; he already fixed it.

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  11. "Trump’s Scion brand managed by Eric and Donald Trump Jr." This is how the money laundering gets done. Seen it many times. You pad the costs to subs, or pay subs for work that never actually occurs. He's a fraudster, not a builder.

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  12. From the son of a city planner, thank you

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  13. All good points. Trump seems to assume he can wave his hands and infrastructure projects will roar to life like dragons or something.

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  14. My father, under the WPA project, supervised the re-planting of trees around Hoover Dam back in the 1930s. He was a young man born and raised on a farm in West Virginia and the government transported him and others by bus across the country to Arizona at no cost and paid them a decent wage, much of which was mailed back to family.

    Apparently the warm, dry air of Arizona appealed to him because 60 years later our family pulled up deep roots in New England and moved there. BTW, part of the way we traveled on roads built as part of the interstate highway system that our government created as well.

    Government may be the “slow way” of building stuff in America but what the government creates lasts a heck of a lot longer than those created by the private sector. Thanks for making that clear Jim.

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  15. Thank you for that. You've let another "loose loose" in the paragraph about the Hoover Dam: "That same year, the Empire State Building was loosing..."

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  16. America was Great in the 20's and 30's. Dams built quickly by amateur engineers failed in the 20's and 30's. Therefore, shoddy building practices that funnel money to Trump-style developers will Make America Great Again.

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  17. Behind every regulation is a body count.

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    1. As an aircraft technician with over 20 years experience , I agree . Every FAA standard and regulation has an incident or accident in the background.

      John Fremont

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    2. That's true of all the OSHA regulations too.

      Bill Flarsheim

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    3. In the fire service, we refer to it as "Tombstone Legislation."

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    4. Stealing this. Succinct, factual,repeatable .

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  18. Drumpf prefers the days when someone with a wad of money and a few 'hired hands' could forcibly remove anyone standing in the way of 'progress' with the backing of the U.S. government (railroads, etc.). Roy Cohen lives on through the Trump family...

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  19. About the speech: imagine someone close to you lied to you daily. Lied about big things. Lied about petty things. Lies that were intended to boost that person's self image. Lies intended to deflect blame. Lies that were utterly inconsequential.

    Every day, day in and day out, more lies.


    Then this person said: "I'm going to say something important and you need to come listen to me. I'll make a big important speech and I expect everyone to come and listen."

    What would be your reaction? What should have been the nation's reaction? The press?

    Anything but a "no thanks, some other time when I can trust you to say some thing truthful" would be morally wrong.

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  20. Nits:

    "new Trump Hotel currently building in Cleveland, Mississippi," - "under construction" maybe?

    " It’s a whole different ballgame when it’s a public facility funding by tax dollars." - "funded"?


    Really love the way you take phrases we let pass by thinking we know what they mean and ask: what does this mean?

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  21. Props as ever Jim. It is our sad failure to be soo quick to swallow empty words and simplistic notions unquestioned.

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  22. Your tale reminds me of the penny stock flim flam artist who used to fly around the Hoover Dam and pretend it wasn't a federal project.

    *What*was*his*name*?

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  23. I'm sure some one has already told you but there's a typo...
    Not if you (expert) taxpayers to foot the bill. Not if you (expert) the city and state planners to be able to put together a budget

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  24. Thanks again for more ammo in the fight against Trumpisms

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  25. And to tie into other issues, many of the workers on these projects were immigrants.

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  26. couple of spellcheck glitches 6 paragraphs up from bottom. Brilliant essay, as usual.

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  27. Jamie Hymas WarrenFebruary 1, 2018 at 6:13 PM

    You make me think with every single essay. Thank you.

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  28. Jamie Hymas WarrenFebruary 1, 2018 at 6:14 PM

    You make me think after every single essay. Thank you.

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  29. The Hoover dam had much repair work done underneath it. Water was saturating under it and the drilled holes (deep) and filled with grout. Many, many years of this. Bad initial work on the footings.

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    1. Notwithstanding it is still standing.

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  30. The same Mulholland for whom Mulholland Drive is named, or a relative?

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    1. Yes, it is the same Mulholland. Despite the dam failure, Mulholland was instrumental in bringing water to Los Angeles .

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    2. The very same... If you are interested, "Cadillac Desert" by Mark Reiser is a real eye-opener.

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    3. I believe the California Water Wars was the inspiration for the film "Chinatown" which revolved around the murder of fictional L.A. Water Commissioner Hollis "Mulwray".

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  31. I used to work for a contract archaeology company in Tucson, Arizona. They were often hired to survey for city- or state-funded construction of roads, housing projects, parking lots, etc. Seemed like they couldn't install a stop sign without uncovering significant archaeological remains. It is vitally important to do extensive research, surveying, and planning before undertaking any kind of project, private or public. The fact that 45 doesn't understand this is very telling, although unsurprising. I wish more people understood this. Great article.

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  32. A Truism: "every word of these policies and procedures has been written in blood."

    As you said, there's a reason we have these laws and regulations. To flout them is to spit on the people that have died due to the lack of those very rules and regulations.

    People forget that there is often a reason for why we do the things we do. Its so no more innocent blood be spilled because someone wants to make a quick buck.

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  33. Thanks for holding the standard against the storm. I fear we as a nation have lost the patience and the will for thoughtful consideration of anything. I've been thoughtfully considering how we get that back but I have my doubts.

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  34. Trump's spin is also a dig at those rotten liberals. who under Obama, have gummed up the permit process with their worries about safety and liability and not damaging the planet to the point where it takes ten years to get a minor permit for a simple road... because it's always Obama and the liberals' fault isn't it?
    Of course he's also speaking to those wealthy folks who could make even more $$ if they didn't have to adhere to these strict permits and safety requirements - he's on their side don't forget as he is one of them... or at least has been since he stopped being a Clinton supporting Democrat as few years back. I'm surprised he didn't segue into wall and pipeline building from there.

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    1. Given the opportunity, I suspect a considerable number of businesses would brush aside safety and labor rights/concerns under the threat of 'if you don't like it, go somewhere else'. Lest we forget that the child labor, at which we know recoil in horror, was pervasive in this country (and viscously fought to protect) not even 100 years ago. History provides some sobering context upon closer examination.

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  35. I appreciate your articles regardless of the presence of typos. I read them to be informed and to see your perspective and in this essay I must agree with it wholeheartedly. I listened to the SOTU address because it was the only thing I could get while traveling. I spent 100 miles yelling at my radio. How can so many be taken in by this buffoon?

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  36. You rocked it.....well done....please, PLEASE keep up the good work.

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  37. The Trumpkims HATE the government having their hands all over these things yet they don’t realize the government is actually protecting them from potential lethal hazards! All they can think about is profit vs. “unnecessary constraint”. They truly are deplorables and dolts and I sincerely wish we COULD put them all in a basket and get rid of them.

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  38. An exceptionally well-done essay (as per usual). I so appreciate your ability to deconstruct statements in such clear-headed fashion and to (gasp!) refer to actual historical and other data when refuting others’ claims. Everyone should be required to take a basic critical thinking/logic class so they could see for themselves how much some people (e.g., DT) enjoy pulling the wool over the eyes of the gullible.

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  39. "It’s a whole different ballgame when it’s a public facility funding by tax dollars." - funded?
    Thanks for the example of the Mulholland dam/n mistake. Trump's speech was full of his vague sound bites, as usual, which his speech writers have deliberately cooked up to please an uncritical audience. They hear what they want to. They will smile at the $5 more in the paycheck this month, and think he's their champion. I don't think his base want to look too closely, or think too hard about what he is, or says. They just want to Believe.

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  40. Trump is the gift that keeps on giving to corrupt developers and their bought and paid for politicians. A quick study in investor owned private water companies (see Aqua America) and how they operate throughout the United States should scare the holy hell out of anyone who believes an affordable, clean water supply will always be available. Great work once again, Jim.

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  41. Jim Wright you're my hero.

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  42. Who knew building could be complicated?

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  43. I'm not a fan of Mulholland, but to be fair, there was in fact a fault zone under that dam that could not be detected with the equipment they had at the time. It was only found in the last 10 years or so. Everything else, I would certainly lay at his feet.

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  44. As always, a cogent analysis.

    But it strikes me that the present inhabitant of the Oval Office has turned the meaning of the acronym POTUS into "Pefectly Oblivious Tower of Unmitigated Stupidity." That is, when he isn't being a "Piece of Totally Unmitigated Shit."

    We will survive the Trump presidency, but I suspect it will take decades to repair the damage he will be able to inflict on this nation in 4 years. And may all the gods in all the pantheons help us if it turns out to be 8 years.

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  45. Here's what you get with no regulation:

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-42909508

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  46. There is one thing we build at least as well as any other nation and/or people.
    Mythologies.
    We build big beautiful myths. Shiny, iron clad and staring off into the distance. Myths of origin, myths of founders, heroes.
    Myths of who, what and how we are.
    And then we defend those myths. We attack those who suggest reality more prosaic, or less than admirable, or ugly.
    We tell stories and make them truth. About how we are the best the greatest the strongest the wisest the luckiest. We tell stories and believe them until the stories own us.
    We have to believe. We haven’t left room for anything else.

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    1. Well said. This could almost be one of those myths you describe unto itself!

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  47. The last paragraph summed it up perfectly and echoes what I have said all along about him. My mom worked in government for over 20 years and it still amazes her how people think government can be run like a business and can't grasp why it can't. They don't understand that it's the PEOPLE'S money and they have to be accountable for how it's used and in what manner and how it will impact the people. Your essay perfectly explained why. Awesome job!

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  48. Oddly, Iraq had more electrical production under the US than it ever did under SH.

    Cell system? Ditto. Even in the middle of a war.

    Even though we fought an insurgency/civil war in the middle of urban Iraq, the death rate went DOWN once the US took over. There are literally millions of people alive in Iraq today who would not have been of we'd followed your prescriptions.

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    1. This is a complete load of shit.

      Go troll somewhere else, you're done here // Jim

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    2. First off is your amazing take on a what if scenario that never happened and will never happen.

      "There are literally millions of people alive in Iraq today who would not have been of we'd followed your prescriptions."

      Well that didn't happen, but what DID happen is the Invasion of Iraq. There was literally millions of civilians who were KILLED and are still getting killed because of that.

      THAT'S confirmed reality.

      Next is how America has "made Iraq a place SO much better than it was before. Cell system, electricity and....instability apparently.

      The one thing that Trumpians completely wish to deny is the fact that Bush and his American invasion are what brought ISIS into being through destabilizing the country.

      So yeah, throw that one in for the before and after comparison on how America has made Iraq SO much better!

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  49. Apologies. I was up against the clock tonight and didn't have time to do a complete proof read. All typos noted to this point have been fixed.

    //Jim

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    1. It was kind of fun seeing some of them. I suspected that you'd get to them soon, hit refresh, and watched them disappear.

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  50. Thanks again for the well-researched essay. Always amazing how the public expects stable, safe, servicable projects, but is so willing to show disrespect & disdain for the essential processes that insure their safety. Shalllow, unthinking patriotism, indeed.

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  51. I love your summary. Thanks for another good one, Jim.

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  52. As I started reading your post, I immediately thought "I wonder if Jim's read "Cadillac Desert" by Marc Reisner.

    When I got to the part in your essay about William Mulholland and the St. Francis Dam, I thought maybe you had.

    Well written and argued as usual. Bravo, sir - bravo.

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  53. Perhaps the only possible addition to your great piece of work could be a side note highlighting the number of immigrants involved in building the projects cited above ... (I didn't see any typos)

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  54. Thanks for another well-researched and well-written column.

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  55. Thank you for sharing your excellent essay, which I found on a friend's feed. One tiny typo, I think:

    Now: Tens of thousand were displaced.
    Should be: ... thousands ...

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  56. "Hell, there are cable TV programs nightly showing an endless parade of engineering disasters."

    The Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse (1940 - also known as "Galloping Gertie" was required viewing for us physics students in the mid-70s:

    https://www.google.nl/search?q=galloping+gertie&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b&gfe_rd=cr&dcr=0&ei=BT10WtDnMILZ8AfL8oCYBQ

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  57. I think that to understand anything about "Trump Talk' is to realize it's always about how it effects him personally, his three main criteria are, and will always be . . . I-ME-MY . . . that's what makes him appear to be playing the clown. . . I am a retired builder . . . I actually built stuff with tools and sweat and pride . . . Trump builds stuff too . . . and what a pile of bullshit it is. . . If he weren't the president he would just be another blowhard business man in a country filled with blowhards . . . but as it is, as an environmentalist, he scares me more than stumbling into an ambush while trying to navigate through pitch black jungle.

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  58. This part of the speech was a (very) thinly veiled plea for his wall. Just build it! After all, we build stuff in America don't we? Well here's something to build! Regulations- shmegulations.
    In my tiny town in Massachusetts, where none of our buildings are more than 2 stories, a developer waltzed in and tried to force thru a 178 unit condo complex on a postage stamp sized area of non-wetlands surrounded by unbuildable area. Our little towns planning board chairman carved them a new bunghole for coming in with Trump-like promises of "amenities" for the abbuters to enjoy, like access to the tennis courts (never mind most of them are elderly folks). They had vague plans submitted, came in under prepared and were handed their hats and shown the door. How did this happen? Massive turnout of the residents to each meeting.
    I can only imagine how little regulations will be followed when construction starts on his pet project.

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    1. Rynn, I agree that Trump’s statement was in reference to the wall. But apparently there are plenty of people who live in the areas that would be adversely affected that are up in arms about the project. While I think the whole idea was always just nasty rhetoric from Trump meant to feed the rubes, you make an excellent point about the power of local residents to affect outcomes.

      Leroy

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  59. Great as always, Jim! But you know what? I think you should put quotation marks around "patriotism" in your next to last paragraph. These folks cheering him aren't patriots, they're cult followers.

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  60. Excellent piece. I am constantly amazed at the ignorance of the public when it comes to infrastructure and planning. I attend zoning and planning commission meetings for multiple municipalities for a small weekly newspaper and the average citizen is not even aware of the very basics.

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  61. Absolutely spot-on Jim. A perfect response to "nation of builders."

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  62. I live in a state with little regulation and, even as a non-engineer, I can see future problems as they are building projects: raised highway--with no drainage--built with sharp curves in a state with a lot of torrential rain couldn't possibly cause accidents? pushing 8 feet worth of dirt over tree roots to build a path couldn't possibly kill them? building a "luxury" apartment complex (900 units total) right next to wetland couldn't possibly cause flooding and drainage issues, esp in an area that already has problems. It boggles my mind.

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    1. As has been pointed out by many who are studying the after effects of the Houston hurricane-caused flooding, most of it was directly due to the City's lack of protection of its wetlands, thus forcing floodwaters to be channeled into totally inadequate drainage systems. The floodwaters then reestablished those wetlands, which were, unfortunately, converted to housing, etc. Blame in on greed, poor planning, or stupidity, but mostly greed. County Commissioners where I live recently green-lighted a housing development on a relatively steep mountainside with solid granite just a few feet below the surface, no provable water supply, and no acceptable leach field areas. This, in spite of their own planning board recommending against it, and dozens of people from the area showing up to testify against it. Their reasoning: "Well, it's their property and we can't stop them from doing it."

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  63. As usual: WELL DONE. I read for content, not to critique. And I learned a great deal. Again, thank you for your diligent work, your research and your gift with words.

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  64. Thanks for this.

    People who don’t build, only see the endpoint or surface appearances of the thing being built. There’s no such thing as a “simple road.” A road looks simple, of course — a flat stretch of concrete, surely that’s not rocket science? But a modern road is a meter or two deep, supporting a moving and varying load from zero to many thousands of tons, so it can be expected to need to flex, even if that flex isn’t visible to the eye. The separation from one slab to the next has to be a certain distance, to minimize the chance of building up harmonics as the wheels of vehicles hit them over and over. The curves are subtly sloped so that vehicles of various sizes don’t just zip right off them when following the curve. Also, they are sloped such that rain will drain quickly. Roads are complex.

    But not as complex as buildings. We studied building waterproofing, (roofing, sheathing, etc) and what struck me was how easy it would be to screw up this most essential but invisible of construction elements. All other aspects of a building are at least as complex.

    But then, Trump wouldn’t know that. He’s almost certainly never built anything bigger than a sandwich, or even supervised plans of any of the buildings he proudly tries to plaster with his name. “Building codes” are just meaningless rules that unfairly siphon money out of his pockets.

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  65. What we DON'T need is a self-taught president. Even Abe Lincoln had natural smarts and some practice before taking that job. 45 has neither.

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  66. Another huge lie along the same lines that jumped out of the SOTU was Trump's inane, irresponsible and totally ignorant use of the term "Clean Coal". Which is an utter, idiotic fantasy, and a visciously dangerous one at that. The man will say any fucking thing at all.

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  67. Other studies have to be performed before road construction can start. I work for an archaeological CRM program. We do all of the archaeological surveys for my states DOT. Not just us, but a geological survey, and a natural history (environmental) survey also have to be performed. We usually get our survey limits and road plans about a year before construction and do our best to complete it in a timely manner, however if an archaeologically significant site is found, it slows things down considerably. There is so much more involved in building a road than just laying down pavement.

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  68. When I heard Trump talk about the Empire State building, I immediately thought that it was another justification for getting rid of regulations. He was talking about buildings, but I could see him thinking about pipelines and oil rigs and all of those irritating environmental regulations

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  69. I think your problem, Mr Wright, is that you don't speak Trump. I can proffer a translation:
    "America is a country of grifters, and it is just terrible how hard the marks make it for us to con them."

    -- EMH

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  70. Excellent as always, and very informative. You cut right to the core of the issue. Thanks!

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  71. I am a licensed Professional Engineer. This essay is the best defence of my profession that I have seen in a long time.

    I am sure that Trump mentioned building as a dog whistle to degrade those awful environmental regulations. I have designed many jobs where environmental regulations impacted my work. It usually took some thinking, but I've always been able to address environmental concerns and get my projects built. The environmental review process can be a slow, painful process. However, it always improves the overall project and more-times-than-not it doesn't increase construction costs. It's almost like the President doesn't know what he's talking about. But, we all know that would be ridiculous.

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  72. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/17/opinion/build-a-new-hudson-river-tunnel.html Chris Christie's political interests killed the project.
    Whatever happened to civic pride.

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  73. This has been building for a while. I saw it play out in microcosm during the Republican takeover some 20 odd years ago. I had just retired from the Army and moved into a place near an Army post. the county had been shifting from a rural, farm based economy to a suburban bedroom community for several years prior.

    the District Supervisor in our part of the county was a political independent, with s slow growth policy. He was defeated by a Republican with a "Build!
    Build! Build!" policy. Big, overcrowded subdivisions full of overpriced crackerbox houses immediately sprang up. Every single bit of open land sprouted a sign that said "zoning amendment pending".

    The pet project of the previous Supervisor was a mixed use area of single family units, townhouses, and apartments built within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and the county library. It was going along smoothly, although slowly.

    Once the new guy took over, a bunch of the crackerbox houses sprung up in the area. But the worst was a building that was supposed to be a row of shops, with residential space above them. The same thing had been built successfully under the old system. But this new one fell down twice during the construction. The second time, it killed a worker. After that it laid there, incomplete for years.

    That got me looking at the makeup of our board of supervisors. Every one of them except the independent, was a realtor or real estate developer by profession.

    The current situation has been building up on us for years.

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  74. Hi Jim. Been awhile since I commented on your site, and I appreciate the opportunity you offer for reasonable dialog. Thank you. I wish this column could be mainlined into the brains of every American. Not that Trump's base or Fox watchers could comprehend or concentrate for more than a couple sentences or understand > two syllable words.

    When I try to escape current events I listen to Michael Anniss' superb 'Space Rocket History' podcast (currently ep 241, Apollo 12 launch). His US centric episodes start with JFK's 1962 declaration "...We choose to go to the Moon in this decade..." Kennedy was a politician, he had no idea if the US could land Americans on the Moon and return them safely. (Most engineers said "WTF???") But he wanted to energize the country toward a goal to touch something every American could see in the night sky. And beat the Soviets while we were at it. He also did not know he would be dead the next year, or that Viet Nam would explode or civil rights would sunder the nation on racial lines he thought were on the way to being buried. In a sense "We choose to go the moon...." was JFK's "build the wall" or "Lock her up". A near throw away line for an unlikely outcome, but it sounded good. And despite technological, budget and political challenges, the US did land on the Moon within the decade.

    In the end the moon missions may not have actually been of overwhelming and lasting benefit. The tech would have been developed anyway for near Earth activities and satellite operations. But it was exciting and unifying for a nation seriously in need to a common cause. And we spanked the Russians, hard. That was largely the point. And we pulled it off in half the time it takes to deploy new airplanes and space missions now days. So yeah, we used to build it whether its necessary or not.

    Unlike Hoover Dam or the Apollo program landings, today we cannot gather the required unified sense of purpose needed to repair and renew those facilities that benefit communities or even all Americans. Texas pols deny funding to recover from Hurricane Sandy but beg for help after Hurricane Harvey. The mainland US forgets (or never learned) that Puerto Ricans are Americans. Bridges fail in one state blocking commerce in the next, but not one cent will be approved because one is Red and the other Blue.

    This is not new. But under Trump, and the GOP with Obama it has metastasized into a cancer on the nation where words, plans, pledges and promises mean nothing except to profit the few at the expense of the many. There will be no Mexican wall or infrastructure plan or national prestige projects, only billions of tax dollars handed to the owner class by their investment properties in Congress and state leg's. Builders my ass.

    Semper Fi - Tommy D

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  75. I am a professional environmental scientist and I get my clients permits for roadways and bridges. There is no such thing as a "minor permit". Well said, Jim.

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  76. What do I like about this site? One thing is that there are almost always – if not always – interesting historical facts in your postings that bear upon your chosen topic, things that put the “now” in perspective. Just what the study of history is supposed to do.

    And you cleared up a movie mystery for me. In “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”, the protagonists are saved from certain doom by a sudden wall of water. The shot of a bloodhound, languidly floating by underwater, was unforgettable. I never did get it, until now. Only problem is, the story took place in Mississippi, so maybe I’m wrong about the reference. But it sure seems to fit. Now I wonder if there were any catastrophic dam failures there, so I’ll check it out. What the hell.

    You cherry-picked one little statement from that abysmal speech, and made it into a thought-provoking essay. Thanks.

    Leroy

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  77. I think you missed the significance of this remark. Trump is a real estate developer, and has often referred to himself as a "builder." His comment was just one more in his endless habit of making it all about him. Americans are "builders," and as a builder of highrises and golf courses, he is a far more important American than everyone else. As usual, he was thinking of nobody but himself.

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  78. I am one of the mindless people who cheer him. I will say I didn't mind all the typos because it shows even you make mistakes. I appreciate that you have an opinion opposite of republicans or maybe just anti Trump but you have to admit that things were not perfect before. I for one am thankful for the health care penalties being dropped and will enjoy an extra 1000 dollars a year. Those are not crumbs at my house those are groceries that feed mny wife and 2 daughters.

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    1. I never claimed to be perfect, unlike Trump. And unlike Trump, I freely admit my mistakes and take action to correct them when pointed out by competent authority. That's what adults do. That's what leader do. Trump is neither, try to remember that next time you're cheering.

      I never, ever, not once, claimed that things were perfect before.

      As to the rest of it, eat well. And hope to hell your kids don't get sick.

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  79. This is so good, I wish I'd written it. Curious about how you learned of the doomed California dam.

    Other dam disasters should not be forgotten, but I'm sure they will be, including the dam at the rich guys' shooting club above Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and the Teton Valley Dam in Idaho. http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/state/idaho/article81898907.html

    Which disasters am I leaving out? There's the rub.

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    1. Mulholland's water projects, including not just the damn failure but also the desolation of the Owens Valley, was well documented in a PBS program called "Cadillac Desert". You can find it on YouTube.

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  80. Trump was referring in part to the building of a superpower. The State of the Union address is in some ways a State of the Empire speech. Keeping America strong is mostly about military spending. Domestic issues are not as important as ensuring that America can protect its economic interests across the globe. MAGA is really about imperialism, with China and Russia playing their roles as America's rivals. Can't let these upstarts dismantle what America has built.

    Trump pretended to be a populist to get elected. An isolationist America, focused on rebuilding itself at home, will have to wait. The fight against corruption - the rot from within - is being lost. But lessons have been drawn from the 2016 election. Populism and nationalism are on the rise. The left and the preservers of the status quo are on the ropes. Who will be the builders of the next mass movements?

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    1. Or it is just a pendulum. The saddest part of which is if a pendulum swings wildly enough; it will eventually destroy the whole thing. Forget mass movements; because that maybe the end of this whole experiment.

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  81. As I was reading your typically excellent essay, I was thinking "Wouldn't it be great if he could do this for the whole SOTU speech? & if everybody would read it?" But you anticipated this & said, at the end, 'wasted motion'. Damn, when are people going to WAKE UP?

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  82. Incidentally, minor point but when I checked wikipedia, it notes that it took "thirteen and a half" months to actually build the Empire State building - March 17, 1930 to May 1, 1931 - which admittedly includes the interior work so okay maybe close enough not counting that but still? Still seems predictably Trump got that "fact" wrong too. Amazingly quick I'll grant you and most impressive but a bit longer than just a year.

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  83. Like many major construction projects, Hoover Dam resulted in a number of deaths. IIRC from my visit under a full moon years ago, there were 112 construction deaths; most of the corpses are trapped in the concrete. Another 40 or so people who worked in the tunnels died of so-called pneumonia, although it was likely carbon monoxide poisoning from fuel burnt within.

    The stunning goddesses above the doors of the Bonwit Teller Building (originally a different department store) were sacrificed to the ego of Donald Trump. They were promised to the Metropolitan Museum of Art because they were spectacularly beautiful. Trump had his illegal Polish immigrant workers destroy them in the dark of night. Where Bonwit Teller once stood is a gaudy gold tower called trump.

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  84. Would like the Author of this piece to look at the number of people who died during the building of many of these projects. Yes, let's go back to that kind of "work ethic." Come, dear author, be my tool partner....

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