America’s current financial crisis explained in a single picture

My friend Nick sent me this…they say a picture is worth 1000 words…this one certainly is.

This financial crisis is forcing State and local agencies to make some tough decisions. If things continue for much longer, there’s a real risk that we may have to lay off Jose.

Ben Franklin Preferred the Turkey as our National Symbol

With the Thanksgiving holiday right around the corner I have been thinking about turkey…of course lately I think about turkey more often as it is now available all year, everywhere…even on the menu at Cheeseburger in Paradise!

I wonder if the turkey had been chosen as the symbol of our country as Ben Franklin originally proposed would we still be eating them as the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving day feast?

Here is an excerpt of Franklin’s Letter to His Daughter regarding America’s choice of the eagle as its symbol.

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

“With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

“Because of their size, bald eagles are not concerned about threats from other birds. However, eagles are often chased by smaller birds, who are trying to protect their young. . . ”

It was Benjamin Franklin’s observations of a bald eagle either ignoring or retreating from such mobbing that probably led to his claim of the bald eagle’s lack of courage.

Where were you on 9/11?

I still can’t believe it happened. Do you remember where you were on that day? I was in Tuscany on Sting’s back porch preparing to hear a beautiful concert…we went from having not a care in the world to wondering what would happen to the world in a day. We were all in shock including Sting.

Now 9 years later what do you think of the world’s situation?

Day One, Global Summit for Ecology

al gore with Gerald gentemann
Al Gore kicks off the Summit with passion. He introduced some of the initiatives that the new administration under Barrack Obama will begin as priority one!

Here is the press release from Waseda University’s P,resident
“An Honorary Doctorate was presented to Mr. Al Gore – the 45th vice-president of the United States of America – in Okuma Auditorium at Waseda University.

Waseda University awarded Mr. Al Gore an honorary doctorate at a presentation ceremony held on November 19, 2008, under clear autumn skies. After receiving the degree, Mr. Al Gore addressed the audience. He expressed how honored he was to have been presented with an honorary doctorate by Waseda University, and he congratulated the university on its long and proud history that spans more than a century. After the ceremony, Mr. Al Gore gave a special lecture entitled “An Inconvenient Truth”. It was both the commemorative lecture for the doctorate and the keynote lecture for the Global Summit for Ecology.”

The Politics of Fear

Kudos to the New Yorker for putting the “The Politics of Fear,” as the cover is called, with all of its upsetting realities, on the table. I think it’s an amusing satirical illustration for a piece that dissects all the prejudice and misinformation that is out there.

Chinese Revolution Fueled by Capitalism?

Snapshot 2008-07-07 06-11-21
In 2003 Communist leaders planed to amend China’s constitution to formally enshrine the ideology of Jiang Zemin, the recently retired leader who invited capitalists to join the Communist Party. Despite sweeping economic and social changes, the political status of China’s entrepreneurs is still ambiguous.

They included the communist era’s first guarantee of property rights. Certain amendments are still needed to promote economic and social development, said the party newspaper People’s Daily. It said the changes were meant to cope with accelerating globalization and advances in science and technology.

Jiang’s theory, the awkwardly named “Three Represents,” calls for the 67 million-member party to embrace capitalists, updating its traditional role as a “vanguard of the working class” and for the constitution to formally uphold property rights and the rights of entrepreneurs. Anyone who has visited Shanghai since and saw Beijing last summer will attest to the populace there embracing capitalism for sure.

As someone who has more than a passing acquaintance with China, I see this is as a big change indeed. Even under most dire oppression you cannot entirely stop people exchanging goods and services.

And so it was in the countries of the former Communist bloc, although the private sector was not officially recognized, there were shades of grey in the ‘socialist worker economy’.

Former Yugoslavia, for example, ventured furthest in its recognition of private enterprise and some semblance of property rights and in return relatively prospered. Also in practice, Poland and Hungary were kinder to their small landowners and tradesmen than the communist ideologues allowed.

Nevertheless, there was no question of formally acknowledging property rights and any form of private enterprise by governments whose grasp of economics was based entirely on Marxism. It was one thing to tolerate existence of non-state markets and even benefit from them, but changing their opposition to individual’s property rights, so firmly embedded in political systems that were barely surviving, would have been a political, ideological and social suicide.

China’s development has been very different to that of Eastern Europe, politically and economically, although both were waving the Red Flag. The proposed change to the China’s constitution may have amounted to a symbolic amendment given that China’s entrepreneurs have driven its two-decade-old economic boom. But then, symbols can be very powerful. Once the gates are open as they were during the Olympics it will be nearly impossible to close them.
Snapshot 2008-07-07 06-13-23ts
The young Chinese love and embrace capitalism, heck they have downloaded Avril Lavigne’s music and images 38 million times. And that love affair with consumerism has created a new non-violent and more powerful revolution than Tiananmen or the West could ever have hoped to achieve with sanctions and posturing.

This blog was inspired by two icons I pinched from “Wheretonext_quotes”…thanks again for finding them
Snapshot 2008-07-07 06-12-22

Rail Privatization, a Lesson from Japan

Even though passenger rail is supported by national governments in the rest of the world, the Bush administration proposed shutting down U.S. intercity passenger rail service by zeroing out funding for Amtrak in fiscal year 2006. The Bush budget proposal came during a fierce debate over how to reform the U.S. passenger-rail system.

Some proponents of privatizing Amtrak have pointed to privatization efforts in other countries, including Japan, as proof that Amtrak could also be privatized. Are there lessons U.S. policymakers can learn from the Japanese experience with privatization?
In the mid 1980s, Japan National Railways (JNR) was a monolithic national monopoly with an operating deficit, huge debt, declining ridership, high fares, poor service and political interference. In other words, JNR had many of the same problems that plague Amtrak today. In its place, the Japanese government created six separate private passenger-rail companies to serve different regions of the country.

Three of the six companies that served rural areas would be eligible for a yearly operating-deficit subsidy from a revolving government fund. The other three companies, which largely served urban areas, were expected to cover their operating costs. Each private company would be responsible for both rail operations and infrastructure management.

By most measures, privatization in Japan has been a success. Since privatization, yearly profits for the three main companies have increased to between $600 million and $2 billion, accidents have decreased by close to 50 percent, fares are stable, the number of rail employees has been reduced by 50,000 and ridership as measured by passenger-kilometers has risen by nearly 20 percent. However, any discussion of Japan’s privatization efforts must also note the Japanese government’s role in financing rail infrastructure projects and the operating deficits of rural railroads.

While the Bush administration’s proposal would effectively destroy passenger rail in the United States, the Japanese government has launched an ambitious effort to expand high-speed rail service over the next 10 years. The cost, close to $30 billion, will be funded by the national government, local governments and revenues generated from existing high-speed lines. When construction is complete, the new lines will be owned by the government and leased to the rail companies.

The same private rail company that manages operations will also manage maintenance for the new high-speed lines. Obviously, there are limitations in comparing the U.S. and Japan rail systems. Japan is especially well-suited for rail because of its high population density and short distances between major cities. Furthermore, in the current budgetary climate it is impractical to believe that the United States could build the type of dedicated high-speed rail network in its high-density corridors that Japan possesses. Yet the main difference between the Japan and U.S. rail systems is political.

The United States has never had the political will to make the necessary infrastructure investments to create a competitive rail system. Instead, from the time Amtrak was created in 1971, Congress has given the struggling railroad barely enough to survive from year to year. As a result, Amtrak does not have enough money to fix its growing backlog of capital maintenance or promote a true high-speed rail system.

In the Northeast Corridor alone, it is estimated that $28 billion is needed for rail infrastructure over the next 20 years, and billions more would be needed to implement higher speed rail. As U.S. highways and airspace become more and more congested, the lack of investment in rail infrastructure has made it difficult for passenger rail to compete successfully with these other transportation modes (all of which receive much more federal subsidy).

By contrast, Japan has consistently poured billions of dollars into its rail infrastructure (even after privatization) and has created a competitive transportation alternative to plane and automobile travel. The lesson from Japan is obvious: Intercity rail systems, whether private or public, need stable sources of public investment to be successful.

Unfortunately, this simple fact is often ignored by advocates of privatization in the United States. The administration’s legislation to privatize Amtrak does not guarantee any specific amount of federal funding for rail infrastructure. Without a specific dollar amount of stable, guaranteed funding, promises from the administration to rebuild the nation’s rail infrastructure ring hollow. This could change after Obama’s State of the Union address…perhaps we will have a “Shinkansen Moment”?
An empty federal financial commitment in the name of “flexibility” for the states is a recipe for disaster. As Japan has shown, successful passenger rail systems need more government investment, not less.