Bail Out

I‘m no economist, so I’m not going to make the mistake of pronouncing one way or another on the proposed $700 Billion Wall Street bailout that is currently being discussed in the U.S. But I’ll say this, if economists Marcus Alexis of Northwestern University, Jeremy T. Fox of University of Chicago, Matthew Kahn of UCLA, Steve Pejovich of Texas A&M University, and Caroline Fohlin of Johns Hopkins University – along with almost 200 other academics – feel it’s bad enough to sign this online petition against it, then maybe it’s not such a great idea.

Doomsayers claim they’ll fall into another 1930s-syle “Great Depression” if the banks are not bailed out. People who are sick and tired of corporate welfare and backroom shenanigans between Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue say they should stick it to ’em and let ’em sink.

Nobody wants to see the economy fail, but the real question seems to be “what would make the economy fail?” Given the extraordinarily high profits the major banks have made year after year over the past decade, will it really crush the economy if they have a bad year? Maybe; but I’m not an economist, so how would I know?

But what else could you do with $700 Billion? What if they said “screw the banks, let’s invest that money in America?” This MSNBC article proposes seven better uses for $700 Billion, and my inclination is to believe what it says over what a bunch of guys in blue pinstripe suits say.

According to the article:

  • The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it would cost $180 Billion to fix the various bridges in the U.S. that are in need of repairs. A month ago, $180 Billion seemed like an astronomical amount. Now, compared to the Wall Street bailout, it’s chump change.
  • The American Society of Civil Engineers also estimates it would cost $185 Billion to bring the U.S.’s rail infrastructure up to speed. The U.S. is a big country, and getting around by rail will likely become a more popular option for both people and cargo as flying becomes less and less viable (due to high fuel prices and overzealous and misdirected airport security). The basic infrastructure is there, but it has faded and degraded over time as the almighty car and the almighty jet plane have taken over. But we’re in the midst of a sea change in how stuff gets around. Rail is already there; doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of it?

The article goes on to talk (unfortunately briefly) about other ways to spend some of that $700 Billion, such as investment in renewable energy and reduced-consumption technologies, investments in health care and education, and even national security (hopefully, in a way that makes sense).

One big advantage to that kind of $700 Billion spending is that it provides a good return on investment. These are all thing that really must be done, one way or another, and best of all, they create jobs. It’s not like those bridges are going to rebuild themselves.

But what do I know? I’m not an economist. Hell, I’m not even a U.S.er. Whatever happens, it’s going to be expensive, and I hope that the money is spent in a way that strengthens the nation and its people, and not just the Wall Street economy.

Sold! Advanced Book Exchange and Cirque du Soleil

A few Canadian businesses have been sold recently. For example, the outstanding Advanced Book Exchange (ABE), the Victoria-based clearing house for hard-to-find used and rare books, has been inhaled by Amazon. ABE claims they will continue business as usual and will not relocate.

On a more acrobatic note, 20% of Cirque du Soleil has been sold to interests in Dubai (at least it’s only 20% — for now).

Big Sur in Flames

Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn is one of the beautiful properties under threat from the wildfires raging along the central California coast. According to this article, the inn was evacuated on Sunday, and the fire was so close that a burning log rolled into one of the rustic cabins, although it was quickly extinguished by fire fighters.

Loyal readers of this blog will remember Deetjen’s. That’s the place where Martine and I stayed during our trip to California in 2004. It was my second time at Deetjen’s and Martine’s first. The reason it was so special (besides the obvious — that Deetjen’s is a gorgeous, laid-back inn in a stunningly beautiful location) was revealed in this blog post. (Check item number 5.)


One of the beds in the room where we stayed. (Photo courtesy JLT on Flickr.)

I hope they get the fires out soon, and I hope Deetjen’s and other places in Big Sur, such as the Henry Miller Library, along the coast are saved.

No Vice President Job for Hillary Clinton

Unless you’ve been living on the moon, you’re aware that we’ve recently seen the end of a five year battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to secure the Presidential nomination for the U.S. Democrats. (OK, it was actually about 16 months, but it felt like five years.) Although the campaign itself was excruciating and felt endless, it was in theory an amazing and historically significant race. The U.S. has had neither a black President nor a female one, so those who were looking forward to something really different could see it as a winning scenario, no matter who won.

But oh, that campaign. After all the sniping, with each side taking swipes at the others’ experience, judgment, and credibility, Obama has emerged the winner. The burning question that immediately arose is whether he will offer Clinton the opportunity to run with him as Vice Presidential candidate.

A lot of people think that would be a great idea, that together they’re be a juggernaut of difference and change. However, hope is fading for those who think so, as Obama immediately distanced himself from Clinton as soon as he clinched the nomination. And frankly, I can’t say I blame him.

After all, they both – although Obama in particular – campaigned on the idea of keeping things “real,” of not just playing the same old Washington political games. While most of us saw through the bull and recognized that virtually everything each of them said was 20% “real” and 80% campaignspeak, the fact remains that in the midst of all this “keeping it real” they spent a year and a half tearing strips off each other. Clinton’s campaign was particularly guilty of this, to the point that Democratic party members are reportedly concerned she has provide a goldmine of anti-Obama ammunition to the Republicans.

So now what? If Obama offers the Vice Presidential candidate position to Clinton, it won’t say “I’m burying the hatchet” or “we’ve made up and now we’re a great team.” It will say “I’m swallowing bile for the sake of getting votes.” Clinton, if she accepts, will be shouting “I’ll hold my nose and put up with him; anything to get me closer to that Oval Office!”

And ultimately, running together will destroy the credibility of both. Think about it. How could Clinton legitimately support Obama and his ideas after spending the past year or more trying to slay them? How could Obama legitimately embrace Clinton as a running mate knowing (and knowing she knows and we know) the things she said about him?

Talk about awkward!

On the other hand, the answer is easy; by putting on a show of mutual support (emphasis on “show”) and by shouting out a bunch of well-timed, five second sound bytes, it would probably work, at least on some level. (U.S.ers are notorious for their short political memories, especially when sentiment enters the equation.)

But the cost of that false camaraderie is the loss of the thing we wanted most from both of them; something different. Something real. A break from the old Washington political games.

You can argue that I have a small sense of history; that I’m not thinking of the historical significance of having a President and Vice President team that cross ethnic and gender barriers. Maybe so, and I admit that I have more concern for what happens over the next few years than for someone’s legacy and their place in the history books.

I am concerned that a Democratic administration in which the two principals not only dislike each other, but have a public history of disliking each other, would be a poor and ineffective team. It would be a Presidency mired in conflict and back stabbing. We would all suffer.

The sad thing about it is that Hillary Clinton would, I think, have made a fine President or Vice President. But that campaign, that mud-slinging, attack dog campaign, ruined it. It ruined her. The style of that campaign was Hillary Clinton’s one big error in judgment. It was her Monica.