Monday, December 13, 2010

All I know I learn from the newspapers

Some of these articles are from, let's face it, very local and limited-circulation newspapers. Others are from publications such as The Economist. We've recently seen articles in the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The New York Times, The LA Times, The San Diego Union Tribune and The Washington Post. Local, national or foreign, they are all important. Why? Because they exemplify the increase in the quantity of articles that are actually critical of this California HSR project as well as of high-speed rail projects worldwide. Even highly touted China's HSR system may have been over-built, we are now being told by the press.

It was not that long ago, say a year or so, that very few journalists took on the high-speed rail promoters. Most news articles about the California project used the CHSRA press releases for background, endlessly quoting profoundly erroneous and misleading so-called facts. In other words, most newspapers, especially those in California, continue to mislead their readership in the same way that the CHSRA misled the California voters in November 2008, when they supported the Proposition 1A bond measure.

Well, the tide is now turning, and here are some reasons. Until the end of 2009, all that everyone had to go on was a concept that had been very aggressively marketed with half-truths, exaggerations and lies. The politicians who have been pushing this boondoggle for so long became very effective marketeers, like those guys and women on late night TV infomercials that promise you the sun, moon and stars if you just buy their product. It's always much more difficult to challenge and refute a concept than to promote it.

But, with funding from the bond issue and from ARRA stimulus funds in hand, the rail authority had to get its feet (and facts) on the ground, so to speak. They needed to begin the design and engineering work in order to convert their rhetoric into reality. And that's when people woke up. "They're going to do what?"
"It's going where?" And the press followed suit.

Many of us have been making a fuss about this anticipated disaster for some time. However, when the rail authority became the target of investigation by the Legislative Analysts' Office, the State Auditor, the Inspector General, and most recently their very own peer review committee, the CHSRA incompetence cat was out of the bag. The litany of legal violations grows daily. Two Board members have been accused, legitimately, of conflict of interest. One resigned. Funds were spent undeclared. Junkets went undocumented. Petty and sleazy political gamesmanship.

The media are now documenting, on a daily basis, why this project has no reason to exist. It's a mega-billion dollar project and the developers are fumbling, improvising and making it all up as they go along. Now we are waiting for that reality to sink in for those in political office, particularly the unquestioning and supporting Democrats, who must come to realize that their political careers will go down with this sinking ship unless they abandon it.

Personal note. I stood in line in front of Meg Whitman, the failed Republican Gubernatorial Candidate in California, at the local post office today. We talked. She said that she would have either sought to divert those federal HSR dollars more severely needed elsewhere in the state, such as for infrastructure repair or urban transit, or, if not allowed to do that, refuse them. That's what Ohio and Wisconsin have done. I agreed that that would have been the right thing to do, especially in this economy. Of course, the FRA obeyed their White House marching orders and sent those funds to other states, such as California and Florida. More political pay-offs out the door just prior to slamming it shut on the HSR agenda by the new Republican House.