November 17, 2021

John F. Kennedy
cargo ships

Ensuring the levees never run dry

50 years ago this month, American Pie was released on vinyl, and soon became an all-time classic – #5 on the Recording Industry Association’s Songs of the Century. Don McLean captured the societal angst of the time:  beginning with Buddy Holly’s plane crash, to the Cuban Missile Crisis, assassinations of our leaders, racial and political upheaval, the war on drugs and actual one in Viet Nam . . . a younger generation becoming disconnected from the older, disillusioned with the institutions and norms controlling everyday life. He noted the deepening cultural divisions and wondered if the innocent nostalgia and utopian vision of America was dying. The turmoil during the decade of the 60’s that sapped our spirit of which he sang, could be compared to the compressed period following the onset of the current pandemic – economic dislocation, George Floyd, January 6th, Afghanistan and the climate crisis. Poll’s show a darkening outlook and sentiment of our future.

The first known case of COVID-19 was traced back to two years ago today, to a 55-year-old man who visited a wet market in Wuhan. Since then, 5,135,096 people, including 786,451 Americans and 73,487 Californians are recorded to have died from the pandemic, with no doubt many more that have gone unconfirmed.  The American death toll far exceeds that of the Civil War, by far the most-deadly war in US history, and even in our current lull, the death toll continues to accumulate at the rate of a Pearl Harbor or 9/11 event every few days.

As we relax from the September Delta spike, signs are emerging of a new winter surge already under way. With hopes of a quick end to the pandemic long dashed, we struggle to adjust to a new normal. Stay vigilant, get your booster. We can’t simply get tired of the virus, because the virus doesn’t tire and doesn’t care.

On this day in 1869, one of the world’s most important infrastructure projects was completed and inaugurated. The Suez Canal opened up new shipping routes and significantly altered global trade. Earlier this year, we witnessed what the effects can be when a single piece of critical infrastructure is shut down for only a few days. A 200,000 ton mega-container vessel stuck in the canal for six days stranded 422 vessels carrying fuel, food, and other supplies, holding up $9B a day in global trade. Curiously, this wasn’t the first such experience for the Suez Canal. Today is also the anniversary of it’s first blockage, when the initial procession of ships entered the canal to celebrate its inauguration but ended up spending the night trapped due to a grounded ship that was anchored near its entrance.

60 years ago this month, President Kennedy envisioned a new model for foreign engagement, issuing an Executive Order to launch the US Agency for International Development. Since then, USAID has worked to eradicate extreme poverty and help build the developing world’s vital infrastructure in health care, energy, agriculture, education, election integrity, among others. This assistance fostered a new era of American global leadership and helped engender peace and international partnerships to address intractable societal issues. When traveling to some of the most remote and desolate locations on this planet, you’ll be amazed how often you see a water plant or solar grid or hospital displaying the logo of two hands clutched, and the words “From the American People.”

However, in recent decades, we’ve fallen behind on creating transformative new infrastructure here at home, even lapsing on required maintenance of our basic infrastructure. Monday’s signing of one of the largest infrastructure packages in our nation’s history is a major step toward addressing this oversight.

I was never so proud in my career as I was during the stint I spent advising USAID on such work abroad, and am now equally appreciative of this opportunity to do the same for the people and communities of CA. 

So, let’s get in our electric Chevy’s, help ensure the levees don’t run dry and never let the music die.

Scott Wu

S. Wu Signature