On May 12, an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia on its way up to New York, killing eight people and leaving another 200 or so injured.
There are many potential reactions to a tragedy like this, and many of them have become reality in the week since the accident. Grief, of course, for the lives lost.
These all make sense and very much need to happen – eight lives lost is eight too many, and trains are something many of us need to use just to complete the mundane activities in our daily lives.
Then, of course, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives stepped in to have its say. A bill that aimed to bring Amtrak funding up to $2.45 billion didn't make it past the GOP members of the House Appropriations committee, which cut the funding down to $1.14 billion -- $251 million down from the current level.
This sort of decision is typical for the GOP these days. Prioritize spending caps and makes cuts when needed to preserve them – at the expense of infrastructure improvements that would give increased safety, security and convenience to Americans everywhere.
This particular bill would have gone toward installing additional safety measures and improving the Amtrak system in general, especially after what's been brought to light after the crash.
Things like speed controls exist and our tracks need them, but they hadn't been installed yet. Republicans, however, claimed the investigation hadn't yet pinpointed the exact cause of the crash, so they could put off making any changes.
Right, that makes sense: We don't know what caused the crash so, until we do, let's put off making the tracks any safer, yeah?
As troubling as this is, it's only the latest instance of a pattern that our country's politicians have of putting short-term, cheap fixes to the nation's infrastructure — Band-Aids to bullet wounds, essentially — over the long-term solutions that would require larger funding upfront but would end up saving the country both money and lives.
Public transport, Amtrak included, is one of the points where this is painfully obvious. Train systems in countries across the world are hugely more developed than ours – take Japan, which is putting a ton of money into developing trains that actually levitate, or the high-speed train network in Spain.
The Student Agency company, run out of the Czech Republic — hardly one of Europe's richer countries — gives passengers on the grand majority of their buses free drinks, reading material and headphones to watch the television screens in the back of every seat.
And in the States? Public transport in many cities is hardly reliable, the rail system is clearly in need of an upgrade, and long-distance buses? Let's not talk about long-distance buses.
It's not just in public transport, though, where our infrastructure could use a boost. The country's electric grid has long been a subject of conversation in government.
This is the system that moves electric power from one place to another, and it was built around the idea that fossil fuels are the main source of power.
That doesn't have to be the case any more, but pushing the country toward more reliance on renewable energy requires improvements to the system, which requires the government to spend money.
The current government is quite willing to do that, actually, with the new Smart Grid project that will add an element of computerization to the current grid.
If taken to its end, such technology could allow a wind farm in Nebraska to power an apartment building in Chicago, or a solar thermal plant in the Mojave Desert to light a scoreboard in Seattle.
Yes, building wind farms and solar thermal plants is expensive. But once they're built, the energy is free and won't run out as long as we've got sun and weather.
And, the technology for storing electricity created by renewable energy is improving by the day so that your lights won't go out just because it's nighttime.
Of course, once renewable energy finally overtakes fossil fuels as the main source of power in the world — which, let's not forget, it will have to eventually, assuming we don't want to go back to pre-industrial revolution levels of development — the people selling oil and natural gas will make a whole lot less money.
For that reason, you're seeing pushback to things like the Smart Grid, for example, from places like the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The Heritage Foundation, like the Republicans in Congress, isn't looking out for the future. The think tank is looking out for its own bank accounts in the present. It's using the excuse of saving the country more now to prevent us from saving a lot more money later – and it's not doing any one any good.
We're the ones who are going to have to deal with the consequences of these mistakes when they happen, when the cost of oil suddenly shoots up because of a disagreement with Saudi Arabia, for example, or another train crashes in the Northeast corridor and ends up killing even more people.
We're the ones who will have to fix the problems, so we need to be the ones getting visibly and audibly angry now.
At the risk of sounding like the latest entry into the Republican primary race, I'm going to say it: This is our country; let's fight for its future.