Amtrak's two recent catastrophes—the Maryland derailment and forced sidelining of Acela express trains due to mechanical problems—gave fresh fodder to critics who say it's time to face facts and let the old railroad take the deep six. Amtrak got $205 million in a short-term bailout earlier this summer and is seeking $1.2 billion over the next year. Up to now, the White House only has been willing to back $500 million.

If Amtrak goes down, the passengers can flee to the airlines, which in the wake of the Acela misfortune began offering cut-rate deals along the Washington to Boston corridor. But it's hard to believe capturing 10,000 daily Acela customers will save the airlines, which are just barely keeping their heads above water. At the same time, the airlines are going bankrupt or seeking aid to stay in business. After 9-11, Congress provided $15 billion to help them stay afloat. That wasn't enough, apparently. US Airways, the seventh largest airline, has debts of $7.8 billion and is seeking reorganization under the bankruptcy laws. American Airlines, the nation's largest, announced layoffs of 7000 in August, along with cutbacks in flights. United wants $1.8 billion in government-guaranteed loans.

Truth be told, much of the nation's vital transportation infrastructure will have to be nationalized—in all but name. Of course, in this age of the almighty "free market," no one dares say so.

Afghan Lives Worth Less to U.S.
The Calculus of Grief

With Saddam Hussein threatening to drag any U.S. assault right into Iraq's cities, it's worth considering again America's recent policies on the slaughter of innocent civilians. During the campaign in Afghanistan, for example, Yankee troops bombed a wedding party, forcing an official investigation. The U.S. position as defined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his minions:

OCTOBER 2001: "No nation in human history has done more to avoid civilian casualties than the United States has in this conflict," Rumsfeld said.

JANUARY 8: Referring to an area where U.S. gunships killed 93 civilians, an unnamed Pentagon official said, "The people there are dead because we wanted them dead."

JANUARY 9: Speaking in Concord, New Hampshire, Rumsfeld said, "With the disorder that reigns in Afghanistan, it is next to impossible to get factual information about civilian casualties."

JULY 8: Speaking in Greensboro, North Carolina, Rumsfeld called the Afghan war the "most accurate ever. I don't do body counts."

JULY 22: In reply to a question about a newspaper report of 400 civilian casualties at 11 different sites, Rumsfeld sighed and said, "I don't believe there's any way to know if that number's correct. Almost consistently, the numbers that we have been able to find, or anyone else has been able to find, have been less than what the initial reports were."

Forget those numbers. The actual price of killing civilians in a place like Afghanistan was cheap. Marc Herold, a New Hampshire professor who tracks civilian casualties, compared U.S. compensation to Italian victims of the tramway accident with Chinese victims in the NATO bombing of its Belgrade embassy, and with Afghan civilian deaths. It comes down to this:

• Italian: $2 million per victim

• Chinese: $150,000 per victim

• Afghan: $100 per victim

Research: Gabrielle Jackson and Cassandra Lewis

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