This is always one of the toughest weeks of the summer as there is no real baseball for most of the week (the home run contest is fine, but it is more fun playing it on Sega or outside with a whiffle ball than watching it in real life). My brother is at the Twins game tonight in Texas Stadium in Arlington, so let's hope for a win and subsequent safe passage home for him and his family. The Twins have a few games to make up but I feel like their best baseball this season is yet to be played.

Enjoy this week's news. 

  • I'm just going to start with this bit of insanity and then work from there. I know our vice-president is known for, at times, speaking first and thinking later, but I don't think he misspoke (meaning, I think he believes it) when he said:

“And folks look, AARP knows and the people with me here today know, the president knows, and I know, that the status quo is simply not acceptable,” Biden said at the event on Thursday in Alexandria, Va. “It’s totally unacceptable. And it’s completely unsustainable. Even if we wanted to keep it the way we have it now. It can’t do it financially.”

“We’re going to go bankrupt as a nation,” Biden said.

“Now, people when I say that look at me and say, ‘What are you talking about, Joe? You’re telling me we have to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt?’” Biden said. “The answer is yes, that's what I’m telling you.”

Under current law, the federal budget is on an unsustainable path, because federal debt will continue to grow much faster than the economy over the long run. Although great uncertainty surrounds long-term fiscal projections, rising costs for health care and the aging of the population will cause federal spending to increase rapidly under any plausible scenario for current law. Unless revenues increase just as rapidly, the rise in spending will produce growing budget deficits. Large budget deficits would reduce national saving, leading to more borrowing from abroad and less domestic investment, which in turn would depress economic growth in the United States.Over time, accumulating debt would cause substantial harm to the economy. 

  • Okay - so things look tough, but we are committed to spending our way through it. That works in Minnesota, where there is no end to the critical projects that need to be funded. 
  • I love political opinion columns and read from all points of view, but have not often shared them here. I believe that the Strong Town movement is truly an American cause, not a Republican or Democrat cause. That disclaimer now on line, this column by Pat Buchanan really captured the frustration at the times.

China saves, invests and grows at 8 percent. America, awash in debt, has a shrinking economy, a huge trade deficit, a gutted industrial base, an unemployment rate surging toward 10 percent and a money supply that's swollen to double its size in a year. The 20th century may have been the American Century. The 21st shows another pattern.

"The United States is declining as a nation and a world power with mostly sighs and shrugs to mark this seismic event," writes Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, in CFR's Foreign Affairs magazine. "Astonishingly, some people do not appear to realize that the situation is all that serious."

  • This is a brilliant column in the Washington Post by Neal Peirce that lays out some of the rural/urban problem that we have discussed here in this blog. It asks the provocative question: Are States Obsolete?, and then goes on to describe the failed laboratories that our states currently are.

Brain-active states would be revamping their revenue systems, investing heavily in school reform and higher education to keep their populations–native and immigrant, rich and poor–internationally competitive. They’d be stepping up environmental protections and stopping wasteful sprawl development, while also reforming criminal justice systems to cut back on burgeoning prison populations.

Yet on most such indicators they’re not just inactive but headed downhill.

Example: States are using most of their federal stimulus transportation dollars on building and improving roads. And they’re cheating their metro areas egregiously: theNew York Times reportsthat of the 5,274 transportation projects approved so far, the 100 largest metro areas have received dramatically less than their population share.

The column goes on to describe the specific rural/urban problem quite precisely:

One critical problem: state legislatures are still heavily influenced by rural lawmakers, even decades after the Supreme Court decreed they had to redistrict for equally populated districts. Usually more conservative, the rural representatives tend to stay in office longer, control key committees.

This arrangement might have served our small towns well, but in an age when we are going broke and are no longer a rich country, it is now hurting everyone and weakening the country dramatically. 

  • There was talk at one point that the housing foreclosure crisis was over, or nearly over. This blog asserted that it was just beginning, which is apparently more likely (and logical) given the unemployment rate.

These days, homeowners who got fixed-rate prime mortgages because they had good credit can't make their payments because they're out of work. That means even more foreclosures and further declines in home values.  

  • And if you need further proof that a) we have dramatically grown beyond our means, and b) this is not your normal recession, you need only read this article.  
  • This blog post tries to see beyond the current shakeout to what a new housing market would look like. I don't agree with all of it, but it is an interesting read. 
  • Many planners hate Randall O'Toole, which may be why I find him fascinating. This article in the NY Times reviews the context for his recent testimony in front of a congressional transportation committee. O'Toole is a smart growth antagonist, and quite intelligent at it. For example, he correctly points out that transit and density schemes don't work (largely because they are a half-in measure....if you really want it to work and go all in, you would change land use regulation too). Instead of picking between highways and transit, we should fund neither. At least not locally. Ponder that thought while you re-read my blog post on College Drive.  
  • But as we started this news digest, odds are we will just fund both. At least that is the most likely way that this dispute gets resolved.  
  • Is there an anti-rural bias in the climate bill? The short answer: Yes. The more complete answer: The places that make the least efficient use of energy will pay the most and be the most dramatically impacted, and those are typically non-urban areas. The complete answer sounds a little different (and more logical) than the short answer, doesn't it?  
  • Those of you not in cold climates might find this article revealing in the way the movie Grump Old Men exposed millions of stunned Americans to the concept of ice fishing. (I had a friend in the Army from Georgia that refused to believe that we actually drive on the frozen lakes in the winter).