Don’t Know Much About …. the Economy

(Written the other day)

The other day my 12 year-old nephew’s social studies class (middle school) took the same citizenship test those who are to be naturalized U.S. citizens.  Of the 17 or so in his class, he was one of three who passed it.  For their efforts, each student passing received a red, white, & blue ‘rubber’ bracelet.  There was some ‘patriotic saying’ etched onto it as well.  But the thing that caught his attention was where the bracelet was made – where else?  China.  But then what ARE we producing anymore?  What?  Financial strategies? SUVs? Genetically altered seeds/food?  War weapons?

Like many other people my eyes will often begin glazing over as soon as Paul Krugman or anyone else for that matter starts talking about finance or the economy.  It is not that we or I don’t understand.  For me, I just think a lot of it is a bullshit, made-up game that’s just too testosterone-drenched for me to pay attention.

Ever since the news of $700 billion being needed to “bail out” Wall Street, I’ve been absolutely livid.  The Friday before last, there was the crash of the commuter train in the San Fernando Valley in California, Sept. 12th.  During a press conference in one of the days immediately following the accident, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, Kitty Higgins, spoke of a safety system that could’ve, would’ve stopped these two trains from colliding.  The cost?  Two billion dollars – $2 billion dollars.

The accident brought new calls on Tuesday to expand greatly the use of “positive train control,” collision-avoidance systems using satellites, transponders and other technology to automatically stop a train headed for a crash. Such systems are in use on a small fraction of the nation’s rail lines, mainly on high-speed segments of the Amtrak Washington-to-Boston run, and are being tested in several other states.

The National Transportation Safety Board has lobbied for years for these systems and has accused the industry of foot-dragging over the cost, which could exceed $2 billion to put on major lines nationwide.

Now here was a dramatic example of how our infrastructure needs updating, reinforcing, and revamping while that goddamned ‘war’ in Iraq rages on at an estimated $12 billion per month and the cost to be incurred in implementing it.  And yet we “can’t.”  I paraphrase Ms Higgins inquiry: Just how many deaths are acceptable before the technology is utilized?

“We regulate in this country by counting tombstones,” said Barry M. Sweedler, the former director of the NTSB’s office of safety recommendations. “If you don’t have enough people dead, not much gets done. The pressure isn’t there to do it.”

And just today Senators Boxer & Feinstein worked to get a railway bill readied for the vote and “grilled officials with Metrolink, the Federal Railroad Administration and Union Pacific in a briefing earlier in the day in Washington.“.

While the Commerce Committe with Senators Boxer and Feinstein were busy in their grilling, the Senate Banking Committee were raking Henry Paulson (Secretary of the Treasury) and Ben Bernanke (Chair, Federal Reserve Board) back and forth over red-hot coals.  Paulson appeared bored during many of the opening comments from senatorial members on the Banking Committee while Bernanke had the good sense to look interested with his attention usually focused on who was speaking.

We can bail out the greedy misfits who suckered up people to the tune of $700 billion dollars, but cannot reinforce, rebuild or otherwise insure the stability of our infrastructure to the tune of a mere $2 billion.  $2 billion vs 12 billion vs $700 billion.

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The Status Quo in Washington

What is IT about people who say things that are so quintessentially about them and they apparently don’t see that.  I was watching Larry King for a few minutes.  Up front he had Paul Begala, Michelle Bachman (R-Hell)(R-MN), and two others, political strategists: the Democrat, a woman (Hilary), the Republican, a man (Larry) – all discussing the attempted bailout of Wall Street.  (Chris Rock will be up later, but I’ll be back at work.)

The man had the nerve to say that people (that’s the common folks like you and me out here somewhere in America) aren’t so much angry at the Democrats or the Republicans.  They – or we – are really angry at the ‘status quo’ in Washington.  Now – I’m sorry – who’s been the “status quo” in Washington for the past, almost, eight years?

Really?  Funny thing listening to Washington Journal this morning AND yesterday morning on CSPAN, people were mentioning names and one specific political party and it wasn’t so much about the Democrats as it was about the free market-loving, deregulation happy smug asses parading around as ReThugs hoping to bilk the American taxpayers – yet again.