The Breakfast Table

Why Are Any Reminders of Government’s Many Public Functions So Unique?

(This Breakfast Table entry was filed last night and posted this morning.)

Good evening, Jim,

I’m riding back on the Amtrak Acela, and this round trip from Washington to New York to Washington gives off a glimmer of what modern passenger rail travel could be like. Imagine if our country spent a fraction of taxpayer money on upgrading the rail beds, to allow even faster and smoother travel, that is poured into the badly designed (in a material sense) highways. Why would anyone want to take short-range airlines, with the crush of waiting lines, plus airport-to-city trips?                                       

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The next 12 months may be crucial to rail passenger service. Amtrak needs capital infusion to upgrade its facilities, not to cover its operating costs. A new CEO is on-board for Amtrak. He should allow and encourage, by leafleting and other means, the formation of a rail passenger group with a million dues-paying members to voice their collective demands for a national rail transport mission worthy of their needs—which includes energy efficiencies and decongesting airports and highways.

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Paul Farhi’s Washington Post piece appears as a unique reminder of government’s many public functions in our everyday routines. Why are his lists unique? Maybe years of corporate propaganda running down government’s regulatory safety protections and public services, while using government as their subsidy and giveaway agent, makes us say, “Yeah that’s right, Paul, come to think of it.” Maybe years of Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing talk show hosts, who dominate radio rhetoric and tout politicians who run against government in order to govern on behalf of corporate interests, maybe these daily drumbeats helped make Farhi’s article-of-the-obvious an eyebrow-raiser.

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Hey, Jim—you just added 28 more years to your prediction yesterday that the Catholic Church would end celibate, male priesthood. Maybe by then it will happen, but such a change would entail a most revolutionary change in the church’s history. Remember that rather than relent, Rome took major splits—including the Eastern Church and the Protestant Reformation rather than changing doctrine.

On the point made earlier about more civil lawsuits filed per capita in the 19th century than today, it was the cheaper cost of litigation to the plaintiff than today. But what makes this comparison even more amazing is that people today have far more interactions that could breed disputes than in those simpler bygone decades and still file fewer suits per capita.

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Try this one out, Jim. Next time you’re speaking to a large audience, ask for a raise of hands by people who have ever filed a single lawsuit (apart from a divorce action). Surprisingly few—even from upper-middle-income people.

Pharmaceuticals and drug companies are in the news today (Wall Street Journal, Page One, and Washington Post, Page One). The Journal reports how “Drug Makers Use Pharmacies to Push Pricey Pills,” while the Post reported that a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that newly approved drugs are riskier than older, similarly effective drugs with longer data records of experience regarding side effects.

Spending for drugs was up another 17 percent last year. This is not sustainable without giving something away.We’re arriving at Washington’s Union Station on Acela, and the rail bed is producing a bumpy ride—so much so that writing these words on a legal pad is getting very d-i-f-f-i-c-u-l-t!!

Over to you, Jim.

Ralph

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