National Commentary

‘An Hour Late, A Dollar Short’

bentonmugComing out of his State of the Union message, President Obama’s scheduled announcement today to deploy $8 billion in stimulus funds for high-speed rail in 13 major U.S. transportation corridors is good news, even if it is the proverbial “hour late and dollar short.”

 

bentonmugComing out of his State of the Union message, President Obama’s scheduled announcement today to deploy $8 billion in stimulus funds for high-speed rail in 13 major U.S. transportation corridors is good news, even if it is the proverbial “hour late and dollar short.”

Better had it come a year earlier, and a magnitude far greater than what’s now proposed. Rail construction not only creates jobs, it’s a way to beat the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. The mantra is that rail can move a ton of freight 423 miles on a single gallon of fuel.

In fact, rail’s efficiency over every other form of transport is stunning. Some trace the nation’s current epochal economic crisis to the ill-advised decision by President Eisenhower in the 1950s, influenced by Big Oil, to direct the last great national infrastructure mobilization to an interstate highway system, rather than a massive rail construction program.

The inefficiency of truck transport compared to rail is so astonishing that it’s hard to believe that Big Oil could hold so much sway in the matter, and that the country, as a whole, would begin so eagerly to transition to a selfish, suburban consumer culture in that context.

But stimulus efforts now are simply not on a scale sufficient to steer the country back to long-term health. Were the massive public works efforts by FDR in the last Great Depression, which were critical to help set the preconditions for an eventual recovery, matched in the current economic situation, they would dwarf Obama’s entire stimulus package.

The 1930s effort included a huge public relations component, such as putting all the novels of John Steinbeck on film, helping the organization of labor unions, and engaging the entire nation in a push to address the needs of the huge waves of the unemployed and displaced.

Now, all the commentaries around the President’s State of the Union last night define the issues in the context of “Inside Washington” partisan bickering and not from the long-term perspective of the nation’s overall direction or, in terms of what’s really going on, a primordial struggle between the haves and the have-nots.

Beneath all the political posturing is the grim reality of class warfare, a fact that becomes much clearer, to some at least, during economic crises.

All the super-rich’s massive resources of cultural suasion are directed to preventing the general public from recognizing the class warfare underpinnings of the national political debate. Their news media, entertainment and related tools of social control work overtime to define reality in terms of political parties and other sports competition-like metaphorical substitutions for reality that serve as smoke screens, diversions and false flags dissembling the general public’s ability to figure out what’s actually going on.

Were the public to actually figure all this out, the 95 percent who are being systematically screwed by the ruling five percent would represent an overwhelming force for some very basic remedies to society.

Without that, however, things will only get worse, despite efforts by President Obama to take more, if modest stimulus steps. The chief of Elliott Wave International, Robert Prechter, was on national TV Tuesday forecasting that another steep stock market nosedive is on the horizon.

Prechter forecast the market crash of October 1987, and while he uses some exotic tools to make predictions, his call is grounded in “the long-term weakness” of the U.S. economy. Unemployment numbers are an outward manifestation of this, and will only get worse as one-time stimulus efforts to save some state and local jobs dry up.

It is obvious that the budget crises now facing state and local governments building into this spring will result in a deterioration of core services everywhere, ranging from infrastructure and aid to the needy to education at all levels, and a subsequent explosion of more under and unemployment. Combined with a further drop in commercial real estate values, existing unemployment levels and a huge wad of adjustable mortgage resets coming due, these factors will undercut any impulse toward an improved economic environment.

There’s no solution in the works. Obama’s rail initiative points in the right direction, but without anything like the scale needed.

 


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]