While we're "debating" torture, access to basic health care and the veracity of climate change, the rest-of-the-world is simply advancing transformational infrastructure like you would not believe.
In Switzerland, the world's longest rail tunnel -- straight through the Alps -- is about to open.
At 57 kilometres, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which will travel through the Alps between the northern portal of Erstfeld and Bodio in the south, will become the longest rail tunnel in the world once complete, stripping the title from Japan’s 53.85 kilometre Seikan Tunnel.
Meanwhile, the ancient tunnels between New York City and New Jersey -- dating from 1910 and about 4,400 meters long -- are so old -- and damaged from recent hurricanes -- that they risk forced closure -- and economic catastrophe for America's largest city -- at any time.
Losing one of the current tunnels would be a commuting nightmare, but getting financial support for Gateway will be be difficult, said Len Resto, New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers president.
"The situation gets more dire day by day," Resto said. "You will get delays unacceptable to the riding public and it will become an economic factor. There's only so much that employers will put up with if people can't get to work on time."
Italy now boasts Europe's fastest high-speed train
-- capable of speeds up to 400 km/h (249 mph) -- that will cut travel times between Rome and Milan -- about the distance between Washington, D.C. and Providence -- to two hours and some change.
The high-speed electric-multiple unit (EMU), which is expected to be put into service on the Rome-Milan corridor by Trenitalia in 2015, is certified for speeds up to 360 km/h but is capable of 400 km/h running.
(And it's not just the sexy Italians who are leaving us in the infrastructure dust. As George W. Bush wouldn't want me to do: don't forget Poland!
Meanwhile, Amtrak still has no concrete plan -- and no government support -- to bring true high-speed rail to our most densely-populated, north-south corridor. Our "high-speed" Acela train runs slower than most "regional" trains in Europe and Asia.
On a 30-mile stretch of railroad between Westerly and Cranston, R.I., Amtrak’s 150-m.p.h. Acela hits its top speed — for five or 10 minutes. On the crowded New York to Washington corridor, the Acela averages only 80 m.p.h., and a plan to bring it up to the speed of Japanese bullet-trains, which can top 220 m.p.h., will take $150 billion and 26 years, if it ever happens.
Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, all led by Republican governors, canceled high-speed rail projects and returned federal funds after deeming the projects too expensive and unnecessary.
Even as Americans are stuck traveling on the MegaBus, China has agreed to finance
construction of a new high-speed line -- through the formerly war-torn Balkan states -- from Belgrade to Budapest -- by 2017.
China has signed an agreement with the governments of Serbia, Hungary and Macedonia for the construction of a new high-speed railway between Belgrade and Budapest.
Speaking after the signing ceremony, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the railway would be complete within the next two years. Feasibility studies are expected to to be carried out by June next year and the project completed by June 2017.
The new 200km/h line will reduce travel times from eight to around two-and-a-half hours between the two capital cities.
And that small high-speed line in the Balkans is just the tip of the exciting infrastructure plans China -- in collaboration with Russia and the European Union -- has for connecting Eurasia -- constructing a new "silk road" for the 21st Century
. Look at what just arrived in Spain.
The longest rail link in the world and the first direct link between China and Spain is up and running after a train from Yiwu in coastal China completed its maiden journey of 8,111 miles to Madrid.
En route it passed through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany and France before arriving at the Abroñigal freight terminal in Madrid.
The railway has been dubbed the “21st-century Silk Road” by Li Qiang, the governor of Zhejiang province, where Yiwu is located. Its route is longer than the Trans-Siberian railway and the Orient Express.
The first train was met by the mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella, and Spain’s minister of public works, Ana Pastor. It consisted of 30 containers carrying 1,400 tonnes of cargo – mostly toys, stationery and other items for sale over Christmas across Europe.
According to China’s ambassador to Spain, Zhu Banzao, it will return laden with wine, jamón and olive oil in time for the Chinese new year in February.
Meanwhile, outside Eurasia, Brazil -- the second-largest economy in the Americas -- is choosing to bypass the United States
-- and its tech companies -- in laying the groundwork for its high-tech future.
There's a new wrinkle in Brazil's plan to build a $185 million undersea fiber-optic cable that would connect it to Portugal and help the country avoid surveillance by U.S. intelligence authorities, reports Bloomberg: The cable will be built without the help of any U.S. companies.
While Brazil arguably led the world's outrage over the Edward Snowden disclosures, its ire has mellowed a bit in recent months. But that Brazilian authorities are still talking about a U.S.-free undersea link to Europe only underscores something that may be especially destructive to U.S. tech companies: Once you write foreign policy into fiber-optic cables, it stays that way for a long, long time.
These developments aren't just cool -- as in fast trains and long distances -- but they herald the end of American economic dominance; they are concrete symbols of our relative decline
versus the other great nations -- and regions -- of the world.
All these interlocked developments suggest a geopolitical tectonic shift in Eurasia that the American media simply hasn't begun to grasp. Which doesn't mean that no one notices anything. You can smell the incipient panic in the air in the Washington establishment. The Council on Foreign Relations is already publishing laments about the possibility that the former sole superpower's exceptionalist moment is "unraveling." The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission can only blame the Chinese leadership for being "disloyal," adverse to "reform," and an enemy of the "liberalization" of their own economy.
The usual suspects carp that upstart China is upsetting the "international order," will doom "peace and prosperity" in Asia for all eternity, and may be creating a "new kind of Cold War" in the region. From Washington's perspective, a rising China, of course, remains the major "threat" in Asia, if not the world, even as the Pentagon spends gigantic sums to keep its sprawling global empire of bases intact. Those Washington-based stories about the new China threat in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, however, never mention that China remains encircled by US bases, while lacking a base of its own outside its territory.
Yes, the rest-of-the-world has problems -- many of which are worse than our own: horrid unemployment in Italy, extreme gun violence in Brazil, horrific absolute poverty in China -- but, and this is crucial, even as they grapple with these challenges, they are still investing in the future -- in long-lasting ways. And, worst of all from the perspective of the United States, they are doing so to the exclusion of our nation: leaving behind our companies, our people, any concern for our relevance.
The United States is being left behind. We will -- absent major change -- never be able to catch up with the infrastructure of Asia and Europe, given current political conditions in this country. And the most tragic part of this decline is that it's being actively promoted by our leaders.
The clock is ticking. The rest-of-the-world is not waiting while the United States "debates" the future. It is building the future.