Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Transportation in America

Some good news about America's infrastructure, for a change. The freight railroad system in America is expanding with billions of dollars of private investment, as freight is being shifted from truck to the vastly more energy efficient rail system.

This year alone, the railroads will spend nearly $10 billion to add track, build switchyards and terminals, and open tunnels to handle the coming flood of traffic. Freight rail tonnage will rise nearly 90 percent by 2035, according to the Transportation Department.

Now if we could only get some more passenger rail! Here in Portland, we've got the new Westside Express commuter rail line to open at the end of the year, and another commuter rail line - to link Newberg or perhaps McMinnville (small towns of 20,000 and 30,000, respectively) to Beaverton (which has a light rail line that connects to downtown Portland.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Decline of America

The $20 hourly wage, introduced on a huge scale in the middle of the last century, allowed masses of Americans with no more than a high school education to rise to the middle class. It was a marker, of sorts. And it is on its way to extinction.

Two very interesting articles in the NYtimes today - one regarding the decline of the middle class and the $20/hour wage, and the other regarding the fact that the US has the highest dropout rate of almost any industrialized country in the world - roughly 1/3 of all high schoolers dropout.

Roughly a third of all American high school students drop out. Another third graduate but are not prepared for the next stage of life — either productive work or some form of post-secondary education.

When two-thirds of all teenagers old enough to graduate from high school are incapable of mastering college-level work, the nation is doing something awfully wrong.

It's no wonder that we have the largest disparity in wealth distribution in the world, and that the US suffered the largest growth in poverty of any nation in the world over the past 8 years.

Of course, its not like we entered the Bush Admin's era in the best of shape. Globalization and favorable tax policies for the wealthy had shifted the vast majority of wealth to the very wealthiest to begin with - but we've been seeing the bottom fall out over low-income and middle class wages over the past 8 years.

I don't even want to touch on the trillions spent on Iraq to date, and what that money could have been spent on.