Manila On 9/11


MANILA — The sun rose here to another towering and impressive Asian skyline. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, while the world joins the United States in honoring a terrifying moment, I see skylines here and in China that describe in clear line and form just how far that day blasted us off course.

One measure is the scant alterations in the skylines of big American cities in the last decade. Another is that in Washington and most state capitals the stupid party has no clue how to stop the evil party from damaging the economy and America’s capacity to reckon with big problems. We’ve become a nation of ‘no’ — no progress, no money, no change, no chance.

Meanwhile, the growing nations of Asia are all about ‘yes.’ In Shanghai, new subway lines measuring 35 kilometers and more, take four years to construct. It takes that long to consider permits for big projects in the U.S.

Yesterday I boarded a maglev train from downtown Shanghai to Pudong Airport, a $6.50 ride at 431 kilometers per hour (267 mph) that took less than 10 minutes. A cab takes 50 minutes and costs $30.

In the U.S., the evil party views trains the same way they view gay marriage, as an ideological affront. Two of our conservative governors in the Midwest earlier this year returned to the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the regional passenger rail network.

Manila is no Shanghai, now very clearly competing with Tokyo and Hong Kong for the honor of being viewed as the capital of Asia. For that matter, Shanghai at this point is competing with New York to claim distinction as capital of the world.

Manila has its own aspirations. Demographers report that 20 million people now live in the largest metropolitan region in the Philippines. That’s more people than live in all but two American states — California and Texas. Traffic is intense 24/7. A lot of the office towers seen from my room on the 26th floor of the Malayan Plaza hotel look new. The air today is cleaner than what I breathe in Beijing and Shanghai. Donald Trump, the newspaper reported this morning, just reached agreement with a big Manila developer to put his name on a new mixed-use luxury tower.

Still, third world menaces exist here. They are reflected in the “security advisory” that greets guests on the desks of their rooms in the Malayan Plaza, which is located in a well-traveled commercial district. The advisory warns of “friendly strangers” who “can lure you into their vehicles and then offer drinks spiked with gammahydroxybutate, which induces immediate sleep and subsequent memory loss.” It advises “never walk alone at night if you can avoid it,” and to be wary of taxi drivers “who want to charge a flat rate.” Avoid wearing heavy jewelry, eat in reputable restaurants to “minimize risk in safety, security, health and sanitation,” and be ever wary of who has use of your credit card because syndicates working with retail and restaurant staff can copy the details. “The information is then transferred on to forged cards which are sold or exported.”

There’s more. Use the door latch and check all visitors to the room. And watch out for “various con artists and tricksters” seeking “loans” that quite obviously won’t be repaid.

It’s a useful recounting of safety suggestions, a kind of informal Manila street-level operating system designed for new arrivals.

I wonder if we can’t write something similar for dealing with the con artists and tricksters who’ve driven America to post 9/11 stagnation and frustration. Advisory number one: Get real, people! Gay marriage. Abortion. Guns. Lower taxes. Deficit reduction. Hate radio. That’s like cleaning up a sewage spill with a soup spoon.

— Keith Schneider

Obama, His Shorthand, Energy, and the Frustration of Self-Interest

SAN FRANCISCO — A couple of people I know out here in the Bay Area attended one of the San Francisco fundraisers more than a week ago, during which Barack Obama talked about white working class Americans in Pennsylvania and the Midwest who “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

The comment attracted no attention at all among the liberal, well-heeled Democratic donors gathered in the  handsome homes near the Pacific where Senator Obama posed for pictures with guests. The reason is that Senator Obama, taking a page from the Republican handbook, was speaking in shorthand. Guns, religion, and “antipathy,” an Ivy League word meant to describe racial fear and prejudice, form the contours of a certain kind of voter that utterly baffles wealthy liberals. A voter that puts his or her economic interests second to moral, social, and cultural interests.

San Francisco and its suburbs, after all, are a great showcase of the value of public interest idealism and investment. Decisions to tear down an urban freeway and replace it with modern rapid transit have helped spur billions of dollars in new housing and business construction. The great universities here, funded all or in part with public money, produce an astonishing assortment of well-educated and qualified job applicants. The digital revolution continues apace. Environmental protections and land use policies have cleaned the air and water and surrounded the region with a green belt of mountains, forests, and scenic open spaces. Salaries are high. Housing is higher. Opportunity is everywhere.  People embrace the notion that government has a role to play in ensuring prosperity.

Senator Obama talked a lot in San Francisco about his economic plan and especially the energy strategy he’s fashioned with the help of the Apollo Alliance, where I now work. It calls for 25 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025, and for 30 percent of the federal government’s electricity to come from renewables by 2020. He also proposed investing $150 billion over 10 years in renewable energy and biofuels, efficiency, and developing technology to burn coal more efficiently and with far less carbon pollution.

It’s an economic development strategy that will produce millions of new green-collar jobs to replace those high-paying manufacturing jobs lost in Pennsylvania and the Midwest.

But there are all these other voters in California and elsewhere, people not nearly as well-off, many who’ve been displaced, who aren’t listening. They’ve allied themselves with the wealthy to form a Republican governing coalition that has ruled America since 1980. And though they support certain liberal ideas — mass transit, open space conservation, clean air and water, Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment compensation come quickly to mind — most would never vote for a Democrat, regardless of whether his economic and energy strategy made sense.

Some of my friends and most of my wife’s family from northern Michigan fall into this camp. They’re lovely people. The ideas and candidates they support for state and national office just don’t make much sense to me.

It’s those voters that Senator Obama characterized as “bitter” and clinging. I’m not sure he used the right words. “Resigned” is how I’d put it. Regardless, though, neither he nor Senator Hilary Clinton are likely to get more than a smattering of their votes. It’s not that he’s African American or she’s a woman. It’s that they’re Democrats and those bitter, clinging, resigned white working class voters don’t cast their ballots for the  Donkey party.