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Posts Tagged ‘high speed rail’

Dear President Obama,

I hate to say it, but you’re no John Kennedy. I know you weren’t even born when JFK was elected, so I suppose you just don’t know what it was like then. Let me try to explain. I just read the news about your new mini-stimulus proposal – the one about building roads and railroads and runways. I understand you are talking about injecting $50 billion into the budget for this. Ummm… let’s see… there are about 300 million people who live in the U.S. so…  50 billion divided by 300 million comes out to be about $166.67 per person worth of stimulus. Pardon me for not leaping out of my chair.  Just what do you think $166.67 is going to do for me over the next ten years? Besides, since I am not a bulldozer operator or a truck driver, I actually expect my share of this new stimulus to be about the same as my share of your last stimulus – that is to say $0.00.

I think what we have here is a failure of imagination and perhaps a failure of boldness. Perhaps a certain lack of courage even. I get the sense that you are trying to fine tune the answer and strike a deal with the Republicans and the TP people. Take my advice: forget it. They won’t ever make a deal with you, they just want you gone so they can continue sending money to their big bank friends. Barack, listen to me. You give great speeches, but I think there is a certain lack of follow through – a desire to avoid a fight. You seem an awful lot like a lawyer or a Senator who is always looking to compromise. We didn’t elect you to compromise.  We elected you to lead.  If George (What me worry?) Bush could lead the country, you should be able to do it too.

Let me tell you about John Kennedy. At a time when we were fierce adversaries with the USSR, Kennedy went eyeball to eyeball with Nikita Khrushchev over the nuclear missiles in Cuba. We were on the brink of global thermonuclear war, but Kennedy didn’t back down, Khrushchev did. That’s leadership. But there was more than just that. Kennedy had vision and he followed through on it. He created the Peace Corps, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. He gave a sense of purpose to NASA: he set a goal of sending a man to the Moon and returning him safely to Earth by the end of the decade (the 1960’s). NASA went into full gear research mode, created thousands and thousands of high tech jobs, and spun off countless new technologies that now permeate our lives. And our astronauts went to the Moon before the end of the 1960’s. That’s vision. That’s determination. That was a stimulus that had far reaching economic effects for everyone.

So now you want to build some more roads. Boy, that’s exciting. Railroads too – maybe even some high speed rail. And we’re going to pave some runways. Do you see the difference?  Why not say something like this: We are going to use the full technical resources of NASA and America’s research labs to design and build the world’s first high speed supersonic train that will cross the country faster that the fastest passenger jet planes? Then we are going to build an entire high speed train system that will be the envy of the world in speed, comfort, safety, and cost. The project will cost $1 trillion – maybe $10 trillion, but it will be worth it. It will change the way we live and spin off a whole new generation of technical capabilities and products that we can barely imagine now, but they will form the basis of employment for  a good portion of the American people for the next fifty years. And by doing this we will reestablish America as the world leader in technology.

And…. Oh, by the way, we’re going to repave some roads too.

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I suppose we should have seen it coming when China launched its own version of the Apollo spacecraft – three Chinese astronauts circling the Earth – a few years ago.  It was at a time when the U.S. space program was, at best, going sideways, partnering with Russia, making short trips to the Space Station with the Shuttle. Not a whole lot of new things have been done by NASA recently, and now NASA’s most recent brainstrom, a return to the Moon, has been canceled. But this Chinese high speed rail deal is different. We’re not talking about the Moon anymore.

It has just been announced that China is in negotiations to build a high speed rail network connecting Europe and Asia. The trains that China will build, the fastest in the world, will travel almost as fast as a jet plane. People will be able to take high speed rail, using Chinese technology, from London to Beijing. China is now in talks with seventeen countries, among them England, Russia, France, and India to build the system.

So, how did the U.S. do in the competition for the job? Let’s be serious. Nobody even asked us. And why should they? We don’t make high speed trains. Our so-called high speed train, the Amtrak Acela, doesn’t come close to the performance of Chinese trains. We don’t build real high speed trains because we can’t. We don’t have the knowledge or the manufacturing capability. We are simply not a player in high speed rail technology. China is the clear leader with Japan a fairly close second.

It’s interesting that the U.S. press, to my knowledge, hasn’t even covered this story. I found it in the Irish Independent. So, does that mean that this isn’t part of the news that is worthy of print in America? Or does it mean something else? Could it be that our news media is unaware of this development? Or, could it be that, for whatever reason, they would just rather not tell us about it? I know; it sounds kind of paranoid, but I just went through eight years of Bush/Cheney, so don’t we all have a right to be paranoid? In fact, it seems that at least half the country is paranoid now, debating things like whether health care for all of us is good or bad (does that question even make sense?).

Meanwhile, China quietly pushes ahead on all fronts.  China’s economy is booming. China is already the primary manufacturer of most of the consumer goods that are sold in America. Oh, but that’s OK we said. It’s just low tech stuff. We don’t need those jobs anymore.  We’re a high tech country now. OK. So what high tech stuff do we make? Airplanes? Sure, if you count military planes (we’re really good at making things that kill people). How about commercial planes? Well, we’re down to Boeing now. Everyone else – names like Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, Convair – not to mention Wright – they’re not in the business anymore. Most of the planes you see in the sky in America these days are built by the European company Airbus, or by the Canadian company Bombardier, or by the Brazilian company Embraer. Boeing is fading too. My guess is that the 787 will be its swan song for commercial aviation. The last of the American commercial airplane companies.

We need to understand the significance of this new announcement about a Chinese trans – Europe and Asia high speed rail system. The handwriting is on the wall. We have been eclipsed.  China is about to become the technological King of the World.  Under Bush we were obsessed with military attacks and military expenses and nothing else.  Not even Katrina could capture his attention for a microsecond. We have built the most efficient killing machines in the world, but we have an economy that is struggling to recover from banking disaster and a seriously decayed civilian technological manufacturing infrastructure that can’t begin to compete with China. Our only hope is that there will be a need for financing for this magnificent rail system. Our banks could make the loans and then package them as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and then, just in case the borrowers don’t pay back the loans our banks could buy credit default swaps from our insurance companies and, of course, then sell the swaps on the derivatives market. Or at least create an options market for the CDOs and swaps. We’re pretty good at that.  We just need to figure out how the average citizen makes money this way.

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For America’s capitalists, it is the 800 pound, unacknowledged gorilla in the room.  China has the most successful economy in the world today. Despite the current worldwide economic meltdown that has caused the worst recession in America since the Great Depression, China has not had a recession.  The great engine of the Chinese economy has chugged along, continually churning out the goods that we have all come to rely on for our everyday needs – now that, it seems, almost nothing is made in America anymore. So, does this mean that Communism is superior to Capitalism? (I can almost hear John McCain and Sarah Palin choking at the very thought – not to mention the entire Republican Party. How can we even ask the question, they would say.  Isn’t it unAmerican to even ask questions like that?  I’m sure it is in Sarah Palin’s world.)

The question, however, is a valid one. What is going on here?  If capitalism is such a great economic system and communism is such a vile system why is China on top and not the U.S.?  In case you missed it, because the U.S. press tends to ignore economic successes in China, it was announced yesterday that China now has the world’s fastest high speed train. It travels at 380 km/hour (236 mph). Even more notable, China plans to build 42 more high speed rail lines in the next three years, covering 13,000 kilometers of track (about 8,000 miles).

If that isn’t enough, consider this: China is the world leader in Green technology. Even as President Obama is talking about starting a green tech initiative, and even while he is hoping to recharge our economy by major investments in green tech, China is the world’s largest producer of wind turbines, and it is also the world’s largest market for generating power from the wind.  It has 10 gigawatts of newly installed wind power generation capacity. So how much wind power generation capacity does the U.S. have? About 1/10 of China’s capacity – not much more than a gigawatt.

China is what the U.S. was.  China is the merchant to the world these days. China is the banker to the world too.  China has demonstrated capabilities in space that rival the U.S. Apollo program.  China recently hosted the Olympic games and put on a show that amazed the world.  So – do all of these accomplishments mean that communism is a superior economic system compared to capitalism? Not necessarily.  Consider for a moment a much smaller country that also made major economic advances in the past – a country that is primarily Chinese, yet is far from being a communist country. I am referring to Singapore. As small as China is large, Singapore was once a part of Malaysia. An island state, and now an island nation, Singapore was not much more than a port city – a stopover for merchant ships plying the far east trade routes. However, that all changed with the election of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.  Lee took control of Singapore and it’s economy.  Far from being a communist, Lee was a capitalist – except that he believed in planning. For Lee, uncontrolled capitalism made no sense. Under his guidance, Singapore’s economy flourished.  Singapore is now a major hub for international finance, technology, and tourism. Lee Kuan Yew implemented a carefully drawn plan for economic growth – a plan that included strict controls on business practices (as well as lifestyles).

The lesson that can be drawn from Singapore and China then is not that communism is superior to capitalism, or that capitalism is superior to communism when we are talking about economic systems. Both can produce good results and both can produce disasters. The key to success for both China and Singapore has been intelligent, responsible government.  It doesn’t take a lot of thought to realize that intelligent design will always succeed over random chaos.  Darwinian economics of the sort advocated by the most right-wing of politicians – every man for himself and let the government just stay out of the way – is a recipe for economic disaster and chaos.  The Neanderthal economic doctrines of Bush/Cheney of  “just let ‘er rip” led to the greatest financial disaster in eighty years.  The lesson we need to learn is that non-functioning, or dysfunctional governments inevitably lead to disaster.  Intelligent, thoughtful, responsible governments lead to success.  The key is not whether the government is communist or capitalist, the key is whether the people who are in charge have intelligence, integrity, and compassion for the people of the country – all of which qualities were lacking in the Bush years.

We are not out of the woods yet. Just one look at Congress shows the problem we face. Obstructionist Republicans in Congress use every trick that can think of to stymie legislation on almost any topic – except war – they like war.  Health care reform that might bring America into the civilized world of the 21st Century is held up so that the Republican cronies in the insurance industry can continue to feed off the people. Never mind that so many people suffer and die without health insurance. Anything for a buck.  Obstructionist Republicans create a situation where almost nothing can get done in Congress and the country is unable to move forward on any major initiatives whether they are related to health or the economy. That is the principle difference between China and America.

Once upon a time we had people in Congress that honestly worked for the “good of the country”. Today, the “good of the country” is a joke. It’s not about the country, it’s about power and control and money in your pocket from whichever lobbyist has the most.  China is our largest creditor. China is our major supplier of consumer goods.  China is growing while we are stagnant.  The reason for this is not the “isms” of economic systems; the reason is intelligence and integrity in government – both of which have been in short supply in our nation’s government for far too long.

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