Planes, Train|and Power Plants

     I once saw the doyenne of the Los Angeles press corps break through two U.S. marshalls who were blocking a door.
     It was because on the other side of the door were two pay phones, on the wall in the antechamber to Judge Takasugi’s courtroom.
     And she was stuck inside the courtroom.
     A jury had just acquitted carmaker John DeLorean of cocaine trafficking charges, even though the drug agents had shown the jury a video of DeLorean with a pile of cash and a glass of champagne celebrating the drug deal.
     The diminutive reporter from the Associated Press could see her much younger competitor, from United Press International, at another door where everybody was filing out. And in position to win the race to the phones by a good minute or two.
      On a big, international news story, that kind of advantage would be heralded by UPI and would be the shame of the AP.
     So the AP reporter broke through the cordon of marshalls twice her size – overpowered them would probably be unfair — and pushed through the door they were blocking to jump on a phone.
     She said afterwards that did not know what happened except she saw the phones through the glass and saw her competitor, and the next thing she knew, she was on the other side of the door.
     The news business was, and still is, a race.
     When our Washington D.C. correspondent filed a story this week on Obama’s restart of the nuclear power program, we were chatting about the historical significance of the move.
     But then he told me the New York Times had just posted the story. I hung up the phone and published the story on our web page within a minute.
     The discussion that had distracted me was about the fact that nuclear power had long been a green option to coal-fired, world-warming power plants. I was wondering why it took us so long to get rolling on that option.
     Because the economic race is now the great competition among nations. And we need that AP reporter’s fierce, competitive instinct.
      So Obama makes an announcement restarting the construction of nuclear power plants — with a single power plant in Georgia.The Chinese are currently building 21 nuclear power plants, the South Koreans six and the Indian five. One nuclear plant is not going to get us far in the big race.Same with trains.
     I had just read a news story about high speed rail in China.
     Having ridden on high speed lines in France during a summer traveling marathon with my niece and nephews, I am a fan of train transportation in general and high speed trains in particular.
     It is also because the tension, long waits and caged nature of airplane travel is something greatly to be avoided.
     Between those already completed and those under construction, China will have a total of 42 high speed lines running in 2012.
     The U.S. has started construction of a single high speed line over a short distance, Tampa to Orlando, to be completed by 2014.
     Our D.C. correspondent, Nick Wilson, commented that China is a repressive state, which it is. I answered that they have the ability to control both their economy and their political system with an authority we simply do not have.”
     And they have the money,” said Nick.
     I had forgotten that fundamental point.
      The Office of Management and Budget had, under Clinton, been projecting a decade of surplus. The young Bush changed all that with two big tax cuts, two wars and big medical money giveaway to drug companies, so that the OMB can now confidently predict a decade or more of enormous deficits.
     The kitty is empty. The bank account is overdrawn. We could not crank up public projects on the Chinese scale, or the Indian or South Korean scale, for that matter, even if we had the political will.
     I worry that the lesson of those last eight years is being unlearned at an astonishing pace, and that many Americans who are understandably frustrated with Congress and with the general state of things in the nation will vote to “throw the bastards out.”
     What they will get will be worse.

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