Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Can We Lead Again?

In the echoes of what happened today, in the shadows of this transfer of power was the shift of generations. As it has been widely discussed, this campaign and this presidency will be seen as the throngs of the baby boomer generation wielding their power and influence to those of the post-boomer generation. However you want to categorize them; Generation X, Generation Y, The Millennials, The Joneses, etc… The significance of this transformation should not be overlooked, for good or for bad.

The post-boomer generation has the syndication of a movement towards post partisan politics; it has fermented the stamina to erase those divisions of its earlier generations that sought to drive the wedge between right and left ideologies. But what has always shown bright in this generation - that has been perilously coerced from the right by the implosions of the past administration and the party which begat its arrogance and disobedience - was its ability to draw its prosperity on the hopes of accomplishments in the future, and not by what its predecessors have stood on in the past.

There is a lot that will be asked of this post-boomer generation, and even more that will be pushed upon this generation of Millennials, specifically, but my hesitation rests in questioning this group's impetus to give to its country.

Can we work for a candidate that we believe in, that inspires us, that gives us hope for a better future of our country from the one we have been brought up to understand? Yes. But can we give, motivate, endure, and truly engage in a stimulus of service? Can those of us who have had the fortune to be given so much in our lives - privileged childhoods, countless material possessions, superior educations, and immunization to real sacrifice – reinvigorate a passion and a commitment to helping those less fortunate than us? Those who have never met or had the opportunity to truly encounter a person less fortunate than them. Can we find the provocation to sacrifice a night home parsing Facebook or enthralled in the shallowness of American Idol to instead give those hours to a local charity or non-profit, engaging with citizens with the same rights we have, but with less of a privilege to capitalize on them?

It is hard to say whether this generation can act on this call to sacrifice or how much it may be forced to. As the cliche says, time will tell. But in the backgrounds of President Obama’s calling for responsibility, sacrifice and commitment to rebuilding our nation on service and dedication in the cause and spirit of our countries history, are pauses to evaluate and articulate those who are being called. It is my hope that my generation can fill its history and legacy on the foundation that it had the same impulses of similar generations before it that understood sacrifice down to a cup of soup and a piece of bread… I haven’t felt this campaign 'hope' transfer to 'hope' in commiting to service towards a country and its citizens rather than a candidate and his rhetoric. I saw it in working to elect a man that we are privileged to have at this moment far and above any other. But I want to feel its hope in following his call to show a world that the United States will always breed those citizens who in times in which they are stirred by causality and crisis respond no different than generations before. There is a book written on the greatest generation – those of our grandparents – what will ours say?

I leave with this from President Obama's Inaugural Address:

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

China Isn't As Hungry for America Anymore

In the last five years, China has spent as much as one-seventh of its entire economic output buying foreign debt, mostly American. In September, it surpassed Japan as the largest overseas holder of Treasuries.

This from the NYT on China's waning appetite for holding U.S. debt, which has given both the federal government and individual investors the ability to leverage almost exponentially while procuring (essentially subsidizing) interest rates that have been kept at historic lows. With this combination greed ferments, as anyone would expect, but the bigger worry is the skewed interest, and overall psyche of an entire financial system that has been misaligned for such a long period and able to exploit its position for far to long.  

But now Beijing is seeking to pay for its own $600 billion stimulus — just as tax revenue is falling sharply as the Chinese economy slows. Regulators have ordered banks to lend more money to small and medium-size enterprises, many of which are struggling with lower exports, and to local governments to build new roads and other projects. “All the key drivers of China’s Treasury purchases are disappearing — there’s a waning appetite for dollars and a waning appetite for Treasuries, and that complicates the outlook for interest rates,” said Ben Simpfendorfer, an economist in the Hong Kong office of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Fitch Ratings, the credit rating agency, forecasts that China’s foreign reserves will increase by $177 billion this year — a large number, but down sharply from an estimated $415 billion last year.

Pending Derailment

An interesting post on how transit funding works and how it may be treated in this new economic environment in how it relates to proposed stimulus funds. The privatization plans being discussed in Chicago in relation to public transit, parking meters, and airports is a bit troubling. But as this account from someone very close to the Chicago Transit Authority explains, handing a service such as this over to a private company - in doing so eradicating subsidies that keep costs low and encourage transit use - the city would be selling out its problems. Bringing revenue sources such as congestion pricing into the fold eases funding shortfalls and positively discourages driving into the city while boasting ridership. Privatizing a public service (as vital as urban public transit) because of lack of creativity in efforts towards finding capital funding and more efficient operations...just looks lazy and does quite the disservice to our city and its citizens.

The funding mechanisms for transit are perverse--IL funds its transit systems' operating budget through sales taxes and a small amount through real estate transfer taxes. The feds stopped providing operating support to transit systems in 1998. Roads are funded (again, generally speaking) w/gas tax. There have been attempts to realign this crazy situation with congestion pricing and other more equitable arrangements but nothing has come of it. And to recover federal capital dollars a state usually has to provide a state match (and sometimes a local match). IL, unable to pass a capital program since 1999, has recently forfeited much of the federal transit dollars it was to receive in the last transp. law.

Transit is a money losing venture if you look at money put in v. revenues generated. And it SHOULD be. If we asked our riders to pay the actual cost of a ride, we're talking about $6 per ride. That is not only untenable, but exactly the opposite of how we should ask our customers to support us given the benefits we provide. We should find progressive funding mechansisms (congestion pricing) because the actual transaction for taxpayers and metropolitan regions continues to be one that greatly favors transit investment.