Sunday, May 31, 2015

Something to Know - 31 May

Nick Anderson

This op-ed from the NY Times is one of the better columns I saved from this past week to pass on.   It brings the essence of the debate or discussion to the front and really shows that those in opposition are full of crap.  Because the demonization of the union movement by the conservatives and ALEC, our nation's labor market has suffered.   Lots of BIG money is spent undercut any regulations or work rules for the preservation of a living wage for our workers.   The only way things have been changed lately is for cities, counties, and states to stand up for its workers:

Can We Finally Treat Food Workers Fairly?

MAY 27, 2015

Two pieces of seemingly unrelated news last week show just how deficient our values are when it comes to the treatment of the lowest paid workers in our economy, the largest portion of whom are employed in the food chain.

First, Los Angeles followed Seattle and San Francisco in setting its minimum wage at $15 per hour. With New York looking as if it might join the club, $15 could become the new, de facto $7.25, the current federal minimum hourly wage. (As I've mentioned before, many tipped workers make even less than that.) A couple of days later, Walmart, among the worst offenders in the realm of labor abuse, announced that it would push its suppliers for improvements in ... animal welfare.

If Walmart's new rules are enforced, they'd be stricter and more humane than any set by federal agencies. But the standards are voluntary, vague and without a deadline; and the company has a history of not following through on its promises.

And what does it say that you can buy a can of tuna guaranteed to be dolphin-safe but can't guarantee that its human producers — fishers, processors, transporters, packers, sales representatives — haven't been abused?

It's difficult to cheer an announcement by a corporation whose labor- and farmer-crushing techniques are world renowned. Walmart specializes — indeed, is the leader — in driving down supplier prices regardless of true costs and in under-employing workers for a variety of deplorable reasons, like avoiding paying benefits or providing health care, making it difficult to unionize and making overtime pay out of the question.

The world's biggest food retailer and its ilk are a good part of the reason that our cities and states are stepping in and saying, quite simply, "Our workers deserve better." Though Los Angeles's new minimum is to be phased in over five years (that's a long time to wait if you're making $9 an hour right now), it will be linked to the Consumer Price Index in 2022, which means it could go even higher.

Yet Walmart insists that cost-cutting enables its "always low prices." (The slogan could as well be "always disproportionately high profits.") And opponents of a living wage will always break out the line that higher wages will close marginal businesses and therefore cost jobs.

But if you run a business that's dependent on labor at the poverty level or worse, and that business doesn't work if you pay workers something approaching a living wage, it isn't a viable business, from either the moral or practical point of view. (I wish the moral argument were sufficient, and it says a lot about the wayward path of our country that it isn't.) Practically: If the lowest-paid workers aren't on the job, there is no business.

I visited a big central California farm a couple of weeks ago, with 50 workers in a single field. Their days looked something like this: repetitive manual labor for two hours, then a 15-minute break; that same labor for two hours, then a 30-minute lunch; repeat, then a break; repeat, then go home. For this they were paid $10 an hour, or roughly $80 a day. This is seasonal work, but even if it were year-round employment, that $400 a week translates to $20,800 a year, barely above the poverty level for a family of four — and it carries no benefits. Yet without those workers, the rest of us don't eat salad.




This exploitative situation works great for the operation's owners and for those of us with money. It reminded me that the plantation system of the Old South benefited its genteel owners and consumers of its products. But it was enabled by slavery, which wasn't abolished simply because it was wrong, but because it wasn't sustainable. Paying people less than a living wage is the 21st century version of this.

Slaves, it might be remembered, were actually dislocated by abolition. Few would argue against freedom, but systematic discrimination, homelessness and unemployment were not exactly painless consequences. Thus thefallout from slavery and its aftereffects are still felt today, the core of Ta-Nehisi Coates's powerfully persuasive arguments for reparations.

When you look at who does the work in the food system, it is clear we haveinstitutionalized racism, we exploit immigrants to do the work citizens won't stoop to do, and we are as a society abiding the consequences of employers who underpay workers. These consequences will be felt for decades or even centuries in the form of an economy that features the further accumulation of wealth in a small fraction of society and a lack of socioeconomic mobility for almost everyone else. How much more money does the Walton family and their class need?


The mantras that raising the minimum wage is "bad for the economy" and "kills jobs and businesses" are gibberish. Report after report shows that higher wages throughout the system are a boost to the economy, not job killers. Higher wages are a stimulus, since low-paid people — unlike the rich — recirculate every dollar they earn, yielding a multiplier effect and supporting both local and national businesses.

There is no social contract or obligation to prop up businesses that pay starvation wages while shareholders become richer. In fact, the American proposition is that workers get the fair treatment their productivity merits and that we'd all expect were we in their place. Yet most workers areproducing more and earning less, and the differential between those two elements is what's enriching the Waltons and others like them.

It would be foolish to invest faith in capitalists leading the charge for better lives for laborers, but even Henry Ford famously doubled the minimum wage on his lines, recognizing that "unless an industry can so manage itself as to keep wages high and prices low it destroys itself, for otherwise it limits the number of its customers."

Ford wanted his employees to buy his products; yet there are McDonald's employees who can't afford its food. (Or rent.) And that behemoth's latest move, as it strives to become a "progressive burger company"? To buy back shares and give further profits to shareholders, rather than to raise wages throughout its system.

President Obama's attempt to raise the federal minimum wage to a still-paltry $10.10 is stalled. Last month, McDonald's magnanimously gave 90,000 of its workers a one-dollar raise. Yet this month, Los Angeles raised the minimum for almost a million people by $6.

That's a direct consequence of the Fight for $15. Considered nearly ridiculous and certainly pie-in-the-sky just a year ago, this has become the most successful labor movement in the country, relying on demonstrating, organizing, striking and even publicly shaming those who belong in some Dickensian 19th-century netherworld. To reverse the decline in the status of workers, to bring about positive change in people's lives, we'll need to see more of that.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Something Else to Know - 28 May

From the Albany (California) News Bureau - this just in.   This column from the San Francisco Chronicle really gets to the nitty-gritty of the bottom line of Iraq and our involvement.  This is a compelling narrative of why we should just be honest and throw in the towel.  Are we mature and adult enough to admit that there is nothing we can do to help a helpless situation?   Let's fix what is wrong within our own borders, and quit trying to support a failed state that was created after World War I.


Stand and fight, noble patriots, or maybe not

By Jon Carroll

May 28, 2015

As you may be aware, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the performance of the Iraqi troops at the recent battle of Ramadi was disappointing in the extreme. The troops had "vastly outnumbered" the forces from the Islamic State, yet they had still "showed no will to fight" and had fled the battle rather than engaging the enemy.

Joe Biden called the president of Iraq the next day, saying of course the Iraqi troops were brave and the United States honored the blah blah blah. It does seem, however, that Carter was telling the truth as he saw it.

Which fits right into a persistent American narrative, reinforced by a century's worth of filmmaking, that the little brown men of foreign lands will have no stomach for a fight and will say "Ai-yee" while putting their hands to their cheeks. Then they will hide in a rain barrel.

So hard to get good help when you're fighting a war.

But suppose it's true that the Iraqi troops did cut and run after encountering the Islamic State. Can we think of any reasons why that might be so?

Well, let's see. They were fighting for a corrupt and lackadaisical government, a puppet state kept alive by American money and American guns. Recent events have forced the Shiite government to be more inclusive, but nobody takes that seriously except American spin doctors.

Nor do the soldiers have any large popular support. According to interviews, some citizens can't seem to figure out which side is worse. They're both terrible: The Islamic State is killing indiscriminately and knocking down treasured landmarks. The Americans have bombed indiscriminately (they tried not to, but fog of war and all that), have locked up ordinary Iraqis in torture camps, and, worst of all, they've kept losing.

Did I mention that the Americans disbanded the old Iraqi army? All of them Sunnis, a lot of them Baathists, gone now. So any kind of esprit de corps, any invocations of a proud military tradition, were impossible. The new recruits were essentially agents of a foreign expeditionary force preying on their nation.

Our soldiers paid a price for that. Kids, mostly poor kids, who saw an opportunity for employment and advancement and stability were force-fed a toxic combination of patriotism and adrenaline and told that they were protecting their country, which was not true. They were betrayed by their leaders over and over, to our shame — and to the great sorrow of the Iraqi people.

So we ask why, in 2015, Iraqi soldiers may not want to die for their government. Perhaps they weren't cowardly so much as calculating. Perhaps they reached the same conclusion that we might: On the one hand, die on the battlefield or be captured by the Islamic State; on the other hand, try to find safe harbor and protect your family. Neither choice is great, but only one offers the continuing opportunity to keep breathing.

What we're doing in Iraq now is pointless, a series of political calculations. We're losing. We're wasting money and lives. The Islamic State is terrorizing the countryside. It would seem like, sometime around now, the world would become more upset about the Islamic State than it is about the other stuff, and some kind of coalition could be formed.

And we'd have to put those boots on the ground, and let's all find a different phrase for that concept. We'd have to fight a war of territory, just like World War II, and we're pretty darned good at that. We might be able to defeat the Islamic State and take back the land they've grabbed.

Or we could let it go. The Islamic State is now approaching the natural limits of its hegemony. It is boxed in by powerful nations. Shiite Iran isn't going to take any lip from some jumped-up Islamic State thugs, no matter how good their social media strategy. Turkey is a NATO country and has a formidable army. Jordan has many friends worldwide, and Israel has nukes and a bellicose government.

And we have done nothing but harm over there. The Western powers broke the Middle East up into fiefdoms at the end of World War I. They stole a whole lot of oil and supported sundry friendly dictators. It's still happening; we're selling arms to the current butchers in charge of Egypt. Egypt is fighting with our buddies the Saudis in Yemen against an Islamic State offshoot. We're all friends here; just don't ask about human rights.

So we get in or we stay out. We do anything other than what we're currently doing. Sen. John McCain is right about that; current policies are constrained by a conscientious search for peace and an equally conscientious effort to make the military ever larger, ever stronger.

That's the mixed message we're sending. That's the mixed message that the soldiers in the new Iraqi army are facing. Nobody worth fighting for; maybe it's still time to plant crops, or find a way to Lebanon. Honor has nothing to do with it.

"They all quarrel so dreadfully one can't hear oneself speak — and they don't seem to


Something to Know - 28 May

Rob Rogers

The story that broke yesterday about the 14 FIFA officials who were allegedly behind a host of sleaze and corruption is a significant development on a global scale.  However, as some have noted, why is it that with all the documentation of corruption and sleaze found in the inner workings of Wall Street leading up to the edge of financial collapse, NO official is in the slammer for all of the hurt and damage done?  The appearance that our political system can quash the Justice Department from going after Wall Street big money donors, while since FIFA does not appear to bribe our government officials, the Justice Department is able to dispense justice.  Not Fair!    This article by Nicholas Kristof alludes to some of the sleaze that smears its ugliness on us:

Polluted Political Games

MAY 28, 2015

I've admired the Clintons' foundation for years for its fine work on AIDS and global poverty, and I've moderated many panels at the annual Clinton Global Initiative. Yet with each revelation of failed disclosures or the appearance of a conflict of interest from speaking fees of $500,000 for the former president, I have wondered: What were they thinking?

But the problem is not precisely the Clintons. It's our entire disgraceful money-based political system. Look around:

• Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey accepted flights and playoff tickets from the Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, who has business interests Christie can affect.

• Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has received financial assistance from a billionaire, Norman Braman, and has channeled public money to Braman's causes.

Continue reading the main story
• Jeb Bush likely has delayed his formal candidacy because then he would have to stop coordinating with his "super PAC" and raising money for it. He is breaching at least the spirit of the law.

"For meaningful change to arrive, 'voters need to reach a point of revulsion.' Hey, folks, that time has come."

When problems are this widespread, the problem is not crooked individuals but perverse incentives from a rotten structure.

"There is a systemic corruption here," says Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money. "It's kind of baked in."

Most politicians are good people. Then they discover that money is the only fuel that makes the system work and sometimes step into the bog themselves.

Money isn't a new problem, of course. John F. Kennedy was accused of using his father's wealth to buy elections. In response, he joked that he had received the following telegram from his dad: "Don't buy another vote. I won't pay for a landslide!"

Yet Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's labor secretary and now chairman of the national governing board of Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group, notes that inequality has hugely exacerbated the problem. Billionaires adopt presidential candidates as if they were prize racehorses. Yet for them, it's only a hobby expense.

For example, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson donated $92 million to super PACs in the 2012 election cycle; as a share of their net worth, that was equivalent to $300 from the median American family. So a multibillionaire can influence a national election for the same sacrifice an average family bears in, say, a weekend driving getaway.

Money doesn't always succeed, of course, and billionaires often end up wasting money on campaigns. According to The San Jose Mercury News, Meg Whitman spent $43 per vote in her failed campaign for governor of California in 2010, mostly from her own pocket. But Michael Bloomberg won his 2009 re-election campaign for mayor of New York City after,according to the New York Daily News, spending $185 of his own money per vote.

The real bargain is lobbying — and that's why corporations spend 13 times as much lobbying as they do contributing to campaigns, by the calculations of Lee Drutman, author of a recent book on lobbying.

The health care industry hires about five times as many lobbyists as there are members of Congress. That's a shrewd investment. Drug company lobbyists have prevented Medicare from getting bulk discounts, amounting to perhaps $50 billion a year in extra profits for the sector.




Likewise, lobbying has carved out the egregious carried interest tax loophole, allowing many financiers to pay vastly reduced tax rates. In that respect, money in politics both reflects inequality and amplifies it.

The Supreme Court is partly to blame for the present money game, for
 its misguided rulings that struck down limits in campaign spending by corporations and unions and the overall political donation cap for individuals.Lobbyists exert influence because they bring a potent combination of expertise and money to the game. They gain access, offer a well-informed take on obscure issues — and, for a member of Congress, you think twice before biting the hand that feeds you.

Still, President Obama could take one step that would help: an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose all political contributions.

"President Obama could bring the dark money into the sunlight in time for the 2016 election," notes Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. "It's the single most tangible thing anyone could do to expose the dark money that is now polluting politics."

I've covered corrupt regimes all over the world, and I find it ineffably sad to come home and behold institutionalized sleaze in the United States.

Reich told me that for meaningful change to arrive, "voters need to reach a point of revulsion." Hey, folks, that time has come.☐


Monday, May 25, 2015

TODAY 11:06 AM

Louisiana Breaks Off Trade Relations with Ireland



BATON ROUGE (The Borowitz Report) – In the aftermath of Irish voters legalizing gay marriage, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has used his emergency powers to ban all Irish products from the state.

The sweeping trade sanctions will prevent popular Irish products, such as Jameson whiskey and Guinness Extra Stout, from being sold in Louisiana.

Jindal explained that breaking off trade with Ireland was necessary to protect the sanctity of marriage in Louisiana.

"Every time someone takes a sip of Guinness, a part of straight marriage dies," he said.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

South East Asia Cruise Photos

After much gnashing of keyboard, and this new system called Photo (replaced iPhoto while I was gone), I think I was able to find the pictures that wound up in "the cloud" and accessed them via Google Plus.   You should be getting something on your screen about viewing them.  However, if you do not have a gmail account, I have no idea as yet what this will entail.


Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.

Stephen Hawking

I wonder if Mr. Hawking ever had to deal with changes to Apple applications

South East Asia Cruise - 2015 (1).m4v

Juan Matute has shared the following video:
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Friday, May 22, 2015

Pictures of South East Asia Cruise

Been back just over a week.  Spent a lot of my time getting rid of a very nasty head and chest cold, and working on going through 1976 pictures plus another pile of short videos of the trip.    45 days of cities and countries.    They have been posted as a slide show (complete with music).  Photo captions did not get uploaded for some reason.  Anyway - they are out on Facebook.  So, if you are not an FB user, sorry for having you read all this for nothing.  


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Andy Borowitz

Biker-Brawl Suspects Only Slightly Outnumber Republican Candidates



WACO (The Borowitz Report) – Suspects in the recent biker brawl in Waco, Texas, only slightly outnumber the 2016 Republican Presidential candidates, leading some voters to have difficulty distinguishing between the two groups, a new poll shows.

According to the poll, voters who were presented the names of a biker-brawl suspect and a Republican Presidential candidate correctly identified both only thirty per cent of the time.

For example, fifty-seven per cent of voters erroneously identified the former Texas Governor Rick Perry as a member of the Bandidos motorcycle gang, while forty-one per cent believed he belonged to the Cossacks.

Adding to voters' confusion, the biker brawlers and G.O.P. candidates have identical views on a host of issues, such as gun rights and whether they would feel comfortable attending a gay wedding.

While the number of biker-brawl suspects stands at a hundred and seventy, if current trends continue, the Republican field could blow past that number by early summer, possibly deepening voters' confusion.

But, in one positive sign for the Republicans, they notched a higher approval rating than the Waco suspects, five per cent to three.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Something to Know - 17 May

You know that my wife and I travel as much as we can on ships (high seas and otherwise).   I gotta tell you, that this article below is representative of much of the discussions we have on board with Europeans,  Australians, and particularly the Canadians.   The views of this country from the small mindedness of an ideologue are much different from the regular people who live outside of the United States.    Is this all because we have been dumbed down by the incessant beast of FOX NOISE or are Progressives and Democrats just doing a piss poor job of getting the message across?.  Apparently the Canadians are currently living with a Prime Minister of the ilk of our George W., Scott Walker, Cruz, Louie Gohmert, and Rick Scott fame, and look to the USA for salvation:

MON NOV 10, 2014 AT 10:26 PM PST
Just when you think it's okay to open your eyes again - THIS.
You Americans Have No Idea Just How Good You Have It With Obama

Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections. Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country's adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling, there's no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing, the deficit is rapidly declining, and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money.

America is leading the world once again and respected internationally — in sharp contrast to the Bush years. Obama brought soldiers home from Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden.

So, Americans vote for the party that got you into the mess that Obama just dug you out of? This defies reason.

When you are done with Obama, could you send him our way?

Richard Brunt

Victoria, British Columbia

It's like pouring salt into a wound.

There is a bright side to Brunt's letter. We, at least, know other countries are paying attention toPresident Obama's accomplishments, even if the majority of Americans don't feel they're worth defending at the polls. It's a shame. The Conservative bullhorn was so loud, it drove out the desire for many people to vote. And Democrats didn't help. While pointing our fingers at the GOP (predominately our middle fingers) we forgot to blow our own horns. We forgot to build up our own President. We forgot to remind each other about what our own country looked like before Obama.

I have to believe the public really didn't understand the GOP gerrymandering that took place the last four years. They didn't see the many important and beneficial bills shot down by Republicans, one after another, out of spite. People wanted to see results, and the results were there. But half of America was blinded by the half-truths FOX 'News' and Conservative talking heads fed them, because you know, if you tell just enough truth mixed in with a bucket of lies, it causes confusion. And that can lead to a bad case of the FuckIts. Netflix marathons are way more fun.

Blunt's letter reminds me of one of my favorite Robin Williams quotes/memes:

Urgent Matter!

Your E-mail ID has won you (One Million Great Britain Pounds) In BBC NATIONAL EMAIL LOTTERY DRAW 2015,contact us via Email immediately for claims.

Promotions Coordinator
BBC ©2015

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Something to Know - 16 May

Rob Rogers

This piece from the New Yorker, is a great article.   It captures the essence of what is wrong with America.   There are big infrastructure works that we should be undertaking.   However,  we are hobbled by the small-minded ideologues who are hell-bent on preventing any government run project from gaining traction.   Having seen large projects for the last  two months, or so, I have to marvel at roads, bridges, sky scrapers, clean energy production, and all forms of public rail (light and high-speed) that are moving the economies, education, and standards of living of many millions of people forward at great momentum.   Unfortunately, those places are not here - they are in Asia.  We are stuck small-minded politicians who have no concept of the dynamics of what it takes to grow into the future:

The Plot Against Trains


The horrific Amtrak derailment outside Philadelphia this week set off some predictable uncertainty about what exactly had happened—a reckless motorman? An inadequate track? A missing mechanical device? Some combination of them all?—and an even more vibrant set of arguments about the failure of Americans to build any longer for the common good. Everyone agrees that our rail system is frail and accident-prone: one tragedy can end the service up and down the entire path from Boston to Washington, and beyond, for days on end. And everyone knows that American infrastructure—what used to be called our public works, or just our bridges and railways, once the envy of the world—has now been stripped bare, and is being stripped ever barer.

What is less apparent, perhaps, is that the will to abandon the public way is not some failure of understanding, or some nearsighted omission by shortsighted politicians. It is part of a coherent ideological project. As I wrote a few years ago, in a piece on the literature of American declinism, "The reason we don't have beautiful new airports and efficient bullet trains is not that we have inadvertently stumbled upon stumbling blocks; it's that there are considerable numbers of Americans for whom these things are simply symbols of a feared central government, and who would, when they travel, rather sweat in squalor than surrender the money to build a better terminal." The ideological rigor of this idea, as absolute in its way as the ancient Soviet conviction that any entering wedge of free enterprise would lead to the destruction of the Soviet state, is as instructive as it is astonishing. And it is part of the folly of American "centrism" not to recognize that the failure to run trains where we need them is made from conviction, not from ignorance.

There is a popular notion at large, part of a sort of phantom "bi-partisan" centrist conviction, that the degradation of American infrastructure, exemplified by the backwardness of our trains and airports, too, is a failure of the American political system. We all should know that it is bad to have our trains crowded and wildly inefficient—as Michael Tomasky points out, fifty years ago, the train from New York to Washington was much faster than it is now—but we lack the political means or will to cure the problem. In fact, this is a triumph of our political system, for what is politics but a way of enforcing ideological values over merely rational ones? If we all agreed on common economic welfare and pursued it logically, we would not need politics at all: we could outsource our problems to a sort of Saint-Simonian managerial class, which would do the job for us.

What an ideology does is give you reasons not to pursue your own apparent rational interest—and this cuts both ways, including both wealthy people in New York who, out of social conviction, vote for politicians who are more likely to raise their taxes, and poor people in the South who vote for those devoted to cutting taxes on incomes they can never hope to earn. There is no such thing as false consciousness. There are simply beliefs that make us sacrifice one piece of self-evident interest for some other, larger principle.

What we have, uniquely in America, is a political class, and an entire political party, devoted to the idea that any money spent on public goods is money misplaced, not because the state goods might not be good but because they would distract us from the larger principle that no ultimate good can be found in the state. Ride a fast train to Washington today and you'll start thinking about national health insurance tomorrow.

The ideology of individual autonomy is, for good or ill, so powerful that it demands cars where trains would save lives, just as it places assault weapons in private hands, despite the toll they take in human lives. Trains have to be resisted, even if it means more pollution and massive inefficiency and falling ever further behind in the amenities of life—what Olmsted called our "commonplace civilization."

Part of this, of course, is the ancient—and yet, for most Americans, oddly beclouded—reality that the constitutional system is rigged for rural interests over urban ones. The Senate was designed to make this happen, even before we had big cities, and no matter how many people they contain or what efficient engines of prosperity they are. Mass transit goes begging while farm subsidies flourish.

But the bias against the common good goes deeper, into the very cortex of the imagination. This was exemplified by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's decision, a few short years ago, to cancel the planned train tunnel under the Hudson. No good reason could be found for this—most of the money would have been supplied by the federal government, it was obviously in the long-term interests of the people of New Jersey, and it was exactly the kind of wise thing that, a hundred years ago, allowed the region to blossom. Christie was making what was purely a gesture toward the national Republican Party, in the same spirit as supporting a right-to-life amendment. We won't build a tunnel for trains we obviously need because, if we did, people would use it and then think better of the people who built it. That is the logic in a nutshell, and logic it seems to be, until you get to its end, when it becomes an absurdity. As Paul Krugman wrote, correctly, about the rail-tunnel follies, "in general, the politicians who make the loudest noise about taking care of future generations, taking the long view, etc., are the ones who are in fact most irresponsible about public investments."

This week's tragedy also, perhaps, put a stop for a moment to the license for mocking those who use the train—mocking Amtrak's northeast "corridor" was a standard subject not just for satire, which everyone deserves, but also for sneering, which no one does. For the prejudice against trains is not a prejudice against an √©lite but against a commonality. The late Tony Judt, who was hardly anyone's idea of a leftist softy, devoted much of his last, heroic work, written in conditions of near-impossible personal suffering, to the subject of … trains: trains as symbols of the public good, trains as a triumph of the liberal imagination, trains as the "symbol and symptom of modernity," and modernity at its best. "The railways were the necessary and natural accompaniment to the emergence of civil society," he wrote. "They are a collective project for individual benefit … something that the market cannot accomplish, except, on its own account of itself, by happy inadvertence. … If we lose the railways we shall not just have lost a valuable practical asset. We shall have acknowledged that we have forgotten how to live collectively."

Trains take us places together. (You can read good books on them, too.) Every time you ride one, you look outside, and you look inside, and you can't help but think about the private and the public in a new way. As Judt wrote, the railroad represents neither the fearsome state nor the free individual. A train is a small society, headed somewhere more or less on time, more or less together, more or less sharing the same window, with a common view and a singular destination.