The Google Blogger application was down for repair and maintenance and not available yesterday.
This is an opportunity to attempt to lay out a big picture, meta-level analysis of the High-Speed Rail situation as it now stands. Call it a High-Speed Rail macro-analysis.
Imagine two layers. The upper layer consists of the entire train program both national and regional, like in California. The media are now filled with discussions about the needs for, and the adverse consequences of, building high-speed rail around the country. The lower level is the politics underneath, and what drives this program.
The train construction conversations are especially plentiful in California which has enough federal "seed money" to start construction in the Central Valley. At the same time, the CHSRA, which is the "builder" of the train and spender of the funding for it, is under ever greater attack.
The most recent and most visible is the attack from the Legislative Analyst's Office in Sacramento, accusing the rail authority of a litany of failings. The Legislature, especially Senators Simitian and Lowenthal, have been extremely vocal in their many accusations of mis-management and other severe shortcomings of the rail authority.
As we have pointed out before, for several years other state agencies in Sacramento have submitted reports listing the many problems caused by the rail authority. All of which is to say that there is an impressive volume of documentation from government agencies, testifying to the incompetence of the rail authority to do the job for which it is intended.
Yet, the predominantly Democratic Legislature has failed to take any actions other than holding repetitive hearings of the past several years, during which the rail authority has been chastised, warned to correct its way, and sent off to come back months later in order to testify to its improvements. However, despite this reprehensible rail authority track-record, no decisive actions have been taken to curtail their unsatisfactory behaviors.
Because all these discussions, reports and hearings are based on the upper layer -- the building, or not building, of a high-speed train. All comments, pro and con, study the train projects in California and elsewhere. But they don't acknowledge the politics which we have been discussing here for some time.
We already know that the HSR program falls along Party lines. The Obama Administration made $8 billion in ARRA stimulus funds available to promote the project. Vice-President Biden and Sect. of Transportation Ray LaHood have been the spokesmen and advocates, promising a golden era of prosperity and happiness if the rail program is built throughout the US. It will be, in Obama's words, "winning the future."
We also know that the Republicans oppose this project, foremost because it is Obama's legacy program. We can now see that play out in the House of Representatives. The Republicans have zeroed out the FY2011 remaining budget for HSR. They claim to oppose it on deficit reduction grounds. The real reason, I believe, is to castigate the tax-and-spend Democratic Party, and deny the Administration a highly visible legacy program that will be deployed as leverage during the 2012 elections.
Let's say that at this time and for the foreseeable future, high-speed rail is all about the 2012 elections. Not infrastructure, not transportation, not competition with other nations. It's about creating a highly demonstrative program -- Obama's legacy -- that will get federal funding into the states and congressional districts in order to support election and re-election of Democratic political candidates. It's also about trying to fix unemployment and the economy, at least in the short term. And it's about the Republicans trying to prevent all that.
Despite it's very prominent and public failings, the train project continues to enjoy Democratic support in California, beginning with our two US Senators, all the way down to the state Legislature and local politicians. They may grumble at the rail authority to appease their concerned constituency, and about the collateral damage that will be accompany the construction and train operation. But, they do support the train project. Why? They are driven by the basic Democratic premise that the most important thing in the US today is to fix unemployment and the economy in time for the November 2012 elections.
What we are arguing here is that high-speed rail is nothing more than a "football" kicked back and forth between two teams. It is the Democratic agenda to reduce unemployment and create a recovered economy if they hope to recoup the House, increase their majority in the Senate, and give Obama a second term.
It is the Republican agenda to prevent any and all of that in order for them to win the Senate and the Presidency; they already have the House, which they hope to keep.
Meanwhile, the LAO and the state legislature in California are debating the merits of the CHSRA and the train; the management, the process, the justification, etc. etc. Those are all irrelevant.
The train is not the true purpose of this HSR program. It's really not about building trains, as I keep saying. It's not even really about promoting Obama's Vision of the Future. It's not about infrastructure.
It's about the distribution of federal funds to create jobs and stimulate state and local economies. How will Obama be re-elected? His success will be based on the job picture improving sufficiently and the economy, at the Main Street level, recovering enough so that the voters can see it. This HSR Program is another label or disguise for the stimulus recovery program. It is intended to prime the pump of a moribund economy because that will be the test for Democrats' survival in 2012.
Given that perspective, and both Parties understand that, neither side can hear or understand the other. The prime objective of the Republicans is to defeat the Democrats. The prime objective of the Democrats is to survive and undo the Republican House victory of the last election, by making the economy recover and decreasing unemployment. The High-Speed Rail program is merely one political vehicle for that process to play out.
That's why, to LaHood and the White House, it really doesn't matter how fast the trains go, whether it's true HSR or Amtrak, or how the dollars are actually spent. The intention is to throw money at politically critical congressional districts and states. It has been, and will be, all about influencing local voting for Democrats by providing the "free" dollars that elected officials can run on with their constituency.
It has already worked in California. Remember Congressman Jim Costa last November and the sudden $700+ million for HSR which won him the election in 2010? Assemblywoman Galgiani, who is so aggressively promoting herself as the State Queen of high-speed rail, is another obvious case in point. Her re-electability and future political career are based on her success with bringing funds, both federal and bond, into her district. This ingratiates her with the Unions who will continue to support her. All her rhetoric are for purposes of supporting this case.
Focusing on HSR as a train project is the intentional distraction from what the project is really all about; PORK for Political Purposes. No wonder all the train impacts are raising hackles everywhere. No one really anticipated them.
Once the program is fully understood in those terms, a lot of other issues fall into appropriate perspective and priority. We voters are being asked to quarrel about the trains, but, as the mantra of this blog states: It's not about the train; it's about the money. This is the explanation of what that means.