On bipartisan, dollarization, and oil

Posted: Nov 16, 2001 12:00 AM
In the newly terrorized world, things are happening essentially unrelated to terror. Among them - with comment direct or implied: Vaunted congressional bipartisanship, with Republicans and Democrats all warm and fuzzy since 9/11, is heading down the slippery slope. Trouble mounts on the tax-cut/stimulus package, with Democrats pushing a plan to give away 60 percent more in federal funds than the Republicans. (This, too: The post office wants handouts, Amtrak wants handouts, the insurance industry wants handouts, the airlines want more.) The two sides are squabbling over whether to federalize airport baggage screeners, for Heaven's sake. And on the left, reflected in (or caused by) Congress and the media, Democratic support is eroding (down 17 percent since early October) for President Bush's handling of the war. Amtrak has its hand out? Yes indeed - for $3 billion. What's more, the Republicans are behind a $71-billion package for high-speed (but not bullet) passenger and freight railroads. Sounds nice - but isn't. Except in a few niche markets, high-speed rail is inefficient and cannot pay for itself. A recent ride on Amtrak's Acela, put into service a year ago as the nation's first high-speed (75 to 80 average mph) passenger run, revealed a pleasant ride between Washington and New York - no question. Yet it can reach its maximum speed of 150 mph along just 18 miles of the 452-mile corridor connecting Boston and D.C. A solution better than more misplaced subsidies? The complete privatization of Amtrak. New York has elected a mayor and Virginia a governor of seemingly similar stripe. Both are nouveau zillionaire Democrats (though New York's Michael Bloomberg ran as a nouveau Republican and Virginia's Mark Warner posed as one), nouveau to elective office. Here's to their reputed business savvy translating into big gains on the public's bottom line. President Bush has given six past or present Republican governors high-profile jobs in his administration. Missouri's John Ashcroft is attorney general. New Jersey's Christie Whitman is director of the Environmental Protection Agency. Wisconsin's Tommy Thompson is secretary of Health and Human Services. Virginia's Jim Gilmore is Republican National Chairman. Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge is the new Homeland Security czar. Massachusetts' Paul Cellucci is ambassador to Canada. And it may not be long before Rudy Giuliani, though not a governor, winds up as Bush's dispenser of federal monies related to 9/11 when - in January - he concludes his term as New York City's mayor (likely on his way to running against New York's other senator, Chuck Schumer). Mademoiselle, among others in the evanescent magazine industry, is folding. Its departure leaves a hole in the culture, but small. Most can face the day absent the 1 million circulation "magazine for me" with for instance these recent cover lines: (1) Amazing Legs Yoga Workout: More Inner Peace, Less Inner Thigh, (2) Live Like a Rich Bitch for $75 or Less, and (3) Is Your Job Sabotaging Your Sex Life? Problems relating to petri-dish fertilization just won't go away. Earlier this year the issue was stem-cell research and the consequent destruction of embryos. Now it's gender selection. One group in the realm of reproductive medicine has changed its message from just two years ago, when it decreed that choosing embryos solely to have a child of a particular gender "should be discouraged." The head of the group now says it's OK to offer gender selection "when there is a good reason to think the couple is fully informed of the risks of the procedure and is counseled about having unrealistic expectations about the behavior of children of the preferred gender." Says the head of a still-resistant competing group: "Sex selection is sex discrimination" and "unethical." And: "It is not ethical to take someone off the street and help them have a boy or a girl." In case you missed it, the D.C. government has conducted a door-to-door survey of 15,000 households, and found that 60,000 District residents (or 10 percent) are addicted to alcohol or illegal drugs - a rate about double the national average. No word on the percentage of the 60,000 working for your federal government. From the education front, this tidbit of good news: A new study confirms remarkably high levels of student performance at Department of Defense schools on military bases here and abroad. Argentina is thrashing around for a way to salvage its collapsing economy. Ecuador has shown how: dollarize. Since adopting the dollar in place of its sugary sucre last year, Ecuador has ended its currency crisis, restored economic confidence, and turned from a failing to a growing economy. Why not Argentina? Why not Russia, too? In particularly the latter, the dollar already is the off-market standard. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Interior Secretary Gale Norton are arguing for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Both are right, and the sooner the better. Damage to a minuscule area (just 2,000 of 19.5 million acres) of the ANWR would be minimal. The 9/11 attacks ought to be a wake-up call regarding America's 60-percent reliance on overseas oil - mostly from Saudi Arabia (though we now buy 700,000 barrels a day, at a cost of $4 billion annually, from Iraq). U.S. and West European oil dependence on tottery and malignant regimes is absurd.