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The San Francisco Bay Bridge And an Ethics Revolution

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The San Francisco Bay Bridge is the artwork right outside my family room window. But, last night it was Van Gogh without his ear.

It was horrible to find out that two, newly-installed cables broke and that this left the remaining cables straining to hold up tons of bumper to bumper commuter traffic. Could they hold all those cars with less support or would they snap?

We can safely assume that skydiving without a parachute was not how anyone beginning the commuter slog home from work envisioned ending their day.

Without sounding pushy, don't you think it's fair to ask WHY those hundreds of lives were hanging by fewer threads yesterday?

Reporters where are you?

Here's the dialogue I heard:

Reporter: Jenny Martinez-Steinberg-Wo: "What happened to the cables?"

Caltrans officials: "Don't know yet, our investigators will find out!!!"

Reporter: Jenny Martinez-Steinberg Wo: "Uh, okay."

Then a short silence and an artless throw back to the studio. No follow up

I've been thinking about the mainstream media and its new role in our conformity conscious, televisual world. A world where it is considered rude to ask the "WHY" question, even when lives are in danger. I watched and listened and worried about those commuters, but never saw Caltrans feel any heat from reporters.

Amazingly, the only thing I learned from the coverage was that Caltrans and reporters are very nice and get along swimmingly. Caltrans got a chance to give the perfunctory "We'll be looking into this" public relations response, and reporters met their deadlines. Regarding both Caltrans and the reporters, I wonder if their families had been the ones stranded on the Bay Bridge ... held up by fewer cables ... if perhaps their questions and answers would have been more relevant?

Here are a few things to consider:

• Exclusive government bids
• Inadequate rods and cables
• Enormous bonuses for Caltrans for finishing the job early.

Let's take these one by one.

My sources are builders and engineers and architects, and I don't expect Caltrans to answer any questions honestly right now. But, they should still be held responsible. Reporters have to get their hands on evidence. That takes time. Blueprints and cable contracts might be worth asking for. Caltrans has to turn them over if asked by reporters, they are public records and, if they have not been altered, will tell us what we need to know.

Exclusive Government Bids: Remember that Caltrans, a public agency, has exclusive rights to award government contracts such as the Bay Bridge to whomever it chooses. Here's how that works to our disadvantage. No one bids against Caltrans. No scrutiny ... no comparisons. We have to depend on the unreliable to keep us safe. I wish the press would point this out.

Inadequate rods and cables? It is public record Cal-trans hired suppliers who sub-contracted the fabricated steel from China for the New Bay Bridge. Apparently the bids were lower than American Steel fabricators. Did that same steel used in the Labor Day repairs come from the same Chinese source? We cannot even trust pet food or children's toys coming from China. And just yesterday it was discovered that toxic Sheetrock from China has forced thousands from their homes in the Southeastern United states.

Early finish incentives: Caltrans received huge monetary incentives to finish before their scheduled date. Guess what? Lo and behold, twenty-two hours before the designated deadline. Voila! Caltrans took the bonuses and the bows. Holy bridge over troubled waters! The politicians and the press loved it ... praise be to Caltrans. Can you hear me laughing?

Final thought: Remember the New Bay Bridge is built by Caltrans, too. Even as the foundation piles were embedded deep below the water onto concrete blocks, it was reported that the concrete on the new bridge was "adulterated." That was good reporting at the time, but it was never followed up by public outrage or additional reporting.

And think of this: Anyone who's ever seen a concrete block that's pure knows how tough it is. "Adulterated" concrete is much weaker because it's been broken up and used in the past. Re-using concrete saves money. So our new Bay Bridge sits on piles held up by "adulterated," re-mixed and re-used concrete.

We need an ethics revolution in this country.

There are still those who believe American government agencies are there to protect the people. And, there are those who believe the government's an ATM machine with no limit. If you were sitting bumper to bumper in a very compromising situation last night and still are naïve enough to believe these government officials are looking out for you ... I've got a couple of bridges you might want to build.