from Renewing America

Morning Brief: Amtrak Picks Up Frustrated Flyers

Passengers board an Amtrak Acela Express train at South Station in Boston (Brian Snyder/Courtesy Reuters).

August 16, 2012

Passengers board an Amtrak Acela Express train at South Station in Boston (Brian Snyder/Courtesy Reuters).
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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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In the past decade, Amtrak has increased its share of travelers between New York and Washington, DC from around 30 to 75 percent (NYT). The launch of its Acela service in 2000 and increased airport security are seen as drivers for surging ridership. Amtrak’s national ridership is at a record 30 million with a third of that in the northeast, the only region in which Amtrak turns a profit.

Lawmakers continue to debate the costs and benefits of investment in the U.S. rail network, with high speed rail a key issue. This CFR Backgrounder summarizes the historical development of freight and passenger rail as well as policy concerns and options facing lawmakers.

Infrastructure. Read more on how upgrading the nation’s aging network of roads, bridges, airports, railways, and water systems is essential to maintaining U.S. competitiveness.


California’s Uneven Recovery

Silicon Valley is booming, but not everyone is sharing in growth (WSJ). Despite adding jobs faster than the rest of the nation, California continues to have an unemployment rate higher than all but two states. Even in the high tech sector, the successes of young social-networking entrepreneurs contrast sharply with unemployed semiconductor veterans. One economist said California is "an economy of haves and have-nots."

In the face of persistently high unemployment, policymakers and workers look to entrepreneurship, the primary engine of U.S. job growth over the past thirty years. This CFR Backgrounder by Steven J. Markovich discusses how entrepreneurs and venture capitalists create and finance startups and reap the benefits of innovation.

Innovation. Read more on how the U.S. capacity to innovate could play a chief role in economic growth.

Education and Human Capital

Read to Lead

Aspiring leaders in business and politics should find time to pick up a book argues the Harvard Business Review. As global literacy rates climb, surveys find increasing numbers of people eschewing literature. Studies show that reading relieves stress, strengthens intelligence, leads to innovation and insight, and improves leadership traits. Many of history’s great leaders were avid readers; Theodore Roosevelt averaged a book each day, and recent bibliophiles include Steve Jobs and David Petraeus.

Education and human capital. Read more from experts discussing ways to improve U.S. education and immigration policies.

Debt and Deficits

Giving Social Security Another Seventy-Seven Years

Earlier this week, Social Security reached its seventy-seventh anniversary, but it will exhaust its trust fund in only twenty-one more years ( To provide solvency for the program in the coming decades, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget argues that policymakers will need to initiate reforms that raise taxes, reduce initial benefits, and slow benefit growth. The situation is more pressing for the disability insurance program, which may be insolvent as early as 2016.

The United States is set to undergo a dramatic series of budget cuts and tax increases that could slash the federal deficit by $607 billion, but those fiscal actions could also derail the economic recovery. This CFR Backgrounder by Jonathan Masters examines the domestic and global implications of the coming fiscal showdown.

Debt and deficits. Read more from experts on the challenges in reducing U.S. debt.

Corporate Regulation and Taxation

Fannie and Freddie Send Bad Mortgages Back to Banks

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are closely scrutinizing mortgages they have purchased from banks and, in more cases, are requesting that banks buy back mortgages not meeting guidelines (Reuters). Experts worry that banks may pull back somewhat from the mortgage market in response, but Fannie and Freddie defend the importance of enforcing underwriting guidelines, because they ultimately bear the credit risk for loans they purchase.

Corporate regulation and taxation. Read more from top economists and business experts on solutions for addressing corporate tax reform.

The Morning Brief is compiled by Renewing America contributor Steven J. Markovich.

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