America’s bridges, roads, and mass-transit systems are not exactly in stellar shape. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card for America’s Infrastructure—which gave the country an overall grade of “D” in its most recent report—estimates that, in the next five years, the nation’s funding shortfall for rail alone will approach $12 billion. Unfortunately, things may be about to get even worse. The last congressional bill authorizing funding for so-called “surface transportation” expired in 2009; since then, lawmakers have plugged the gap by passing a series of temporary extensions.
Yes, it was a few years too late. Yes, his hand was forced by Joe Biden and Arne Duncan. Yes, his statement is just a statement—it does not change any law. And yes, we shouldn’t minimize the role of an extraordinary civil rights movement—comprising millions of average Americans, gay and straight—in dragging our country over the past two decades toward the current moment, one where a president could feel politically able to take such a stand. But none of this should minimize the significance of what took place yesterday in Washington.
Politicians aren’t always especially thoughtful about, or even familiar with, information technology. George W. Bush used the term “Internets” during not one but two presidential debates. The late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens famously referred to the World Wide Web as a “series of tubes.” And John McCain drew ridicule in 2008 when he conceded that he was still “learning to get online myself.” Much worse than these gaffes, however, are some of the policies that have been promoted by lawmakers and candidates who seem to fundamentally misunderstand the importance of a free and open Internet.
The Affordable Care Act is the most important law enacted in at least a generation—the culmination of a reform effort, nearly a century in the making, to establish health care as a universal right. Now nine Supreme Court justices have the power to strike it down. Their decision, of course, will have major implications for the future of our country’s health care system.
Since the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year, the Egyptian military—which occupies a key role in the new government—has not exactly distinguished itself on questions of human rights. According to Human Rights Watch, security forces continue to assault and imprison activists who criticize the military. Protesters are regularly beaten and in some cases killed, and the government’s abhorrent treatment of women is becoming a major cause for concern.
The Virginia legislature has been attracting a lot of justifiably harsh criticism lately for its foray into abortion politics. First, it was an outrageous bill that would have required women to undergo a trans-vaginal ultrasound before having an abortion; then, following a national outcry, that measure morphed into a bill requiring only an external ultrasound.
Thousands of people have already died in Syria, and it appears likely that thousands more will die in the weeks and months to come. Bashar Al Assad’s forces show no sign of relenting, and the international community shows no sign of coming to the rescue of the Syrian people. China and Russia have effectively blocked any chance of working through the United Nations. World opinion is horrified, but world leaders are paralyzed. No lack of diplomatic effort has been expended in trying to get Assad to back down; but these efforts have done nothing to stop the bloodshed.
When Foster Friess, the billionaire backer of Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign, suggested yesterday that women should simply place aspirin between their legs rather than use contraception, it was the latest salvo of a culture war that has been raging for months. “Culture war,” in fact, increasingly seems too vague a term for the current conversation in the country about women’s rights.
In October, Mitt Romney delivered a speech at the Citadel in which he laid out his foreign policy views. “As president of the United States, I will devote myself to an American Century. And I will never, ever apologize for America,” he pledged. “Some may ask, ‘Why America? Why should America be any different than scores of other countries around the globe?’ I believe we are an exceptional country with a unique destiny and role in the world.” The speech was hardly an unusual moment.