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The Living Dead

Zombies, by definition, come back to haunt you. That is the danger inherent in the U.S. Treasury’s plan for taking over the toxic assets, i.e., bad loans, of the so-called zombie banks, financial institutions that continue to operate despite the fact that their liabilities far outweigh their genuine assets. In the end, the plan will leave us with still more zombie banks or even, worst of all, a zombie federal treasury. The plan for the government and private investors to buy up the bad loans is premised on the same kind of flimflam that brought the banks down in the first place. The bad loans will be bought up at a ratio of nine to one, public to private money. Many of those loans will never yield any profit, but losses on them will be guaranteed by the federal government. If in the end there are any profits, private investors will reap the bulk of the profit over the taxpayers.

That bankers love the plan is no surprise, but for the taxpayer there is no justice. Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist, writes, “This is an open invitation to play heads I win, tails taxpayers lose.” The plan amounts, said another Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, to “robbery of the American people.” The financier George Soros believes it simply won’t work. This is the same kind of overly smart, short-term and self-interested chicanery that brought on the economic collapse. We appreciate the determination President Barack Obama has shown in trying to avert a depression, but his Wall Street economic team has given us not a way to recovery but a road to even greater disaster. The Geithner Plan demonstrates they lack the mindset and the values needed to restore the economy to health. If they do not have a better idea, they ought, as former Treasury Secretary James A. Baker has suggested, to put insolvent banks in temporary receivership.

Three Little Words

At the recent Group of 20 summit meeting, President Obama explicitly linked the words leadership and listening. A third word could be added: learning, as in learning from others. Together, these make a wise triumvirate: Leaders listen and learn. A leader who learns might help to fend off slogans like ”It’s too European,” which are routinely paraded before the American public as a disincentive for needed reforms. Today, Germany and a few other nations have savings and financial reserves on tap that will make the economic crunch they too are experiencing much less severe. Why not learn from them?

Critics of the president’s health care reforms are already reverting to the stale scare-word “socialism,” another form of anti-European bias and a refusal to learn from others. In some Western countries, every citizen has access to health care at significantly less cost than in the United States; and U.N. data show that people in these nations also enjoy comparatively longer life spans.

We could also learn from the Japanese. Although electric cars and the need for charging stations were discussed in New York as early as 1912 (The New York Times, Aug. 11, 1912), the United States failed to develop either the stations or the cars. In the 1990s, though, Toyota developed, tested and sold the Prius, a hybrid. Honda also developed a hybrid, the Insight, but GM stepped away from its battery-powered car, the EV1. Finally GM and Ford are developing electric cars, as is Nissan. How sad it would be if our leaders in politics and business were to demonstrate a hubris that kept them from listening, learning and leading the way out of global crisis.

Venus or Space Station?

A few years ago in Abuja, Nigeria, after sunset a teacher pointed to a bright light in the west and asked the children, “What is that?” They answered immediately, “That’s the BBC satellite!” The teacher smiled and gently corrected them, explaining that it was the evening star, the planet Venus. But they were not far from wrong. A few weeks ago astronauts added the last array of solar panels to the International Space Station, completing the construction that began with its launching in 1998. Now, on certain days it will appear brighter than Venus will ever be, becoming the brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon.

How does one know whether that bright object is Venus or the I.S.S.? The I.S.S. is always moving, about 220 miles above earth, and its exact location can be found on the Internet. Visit and follow the directions to find out if and when it will be over your backyard in the next 12 days. On a clear evening or morning, in addition to thousands of stars, a few planets, possibly the moon and some aircraft, you may see how science is adding bright new lights to the night sky, competing with the heavenly lights the Creator placed there billions of years ago.

We might also think of the I.S.S. orbiting planet earth every 92 minutes as a sign of peaceful coexistence, since it is the product of international cooperation among five partners: Canada, Japan, Russia, the United States and participating countries of the European Space Agency. Currently astronauts from Russia, Japan and the United States are on board.

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