Sunday, December 18, 2011

Forget the high-speed train; this is election politics

The Obama Administration has made HSR one of the political chess strategies of this election.  So have the Republicans.

As you know, the Keystone XL Pipeline, which, at first blush would have nothing to do with high-speed rail, is also being hotly debated and a major bone of contention. Let's review.

The Democrats are defending the HSR project with claims of jobs, boosting the economy, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, improving the environment and so forth. 

Interestingly, the Democrats are rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline project, which the Republicans support,  discrediting those same phrases, indicating that such language is merely marketing hype and is not to be believed.  Sort of the way we are describing the high-speed rail project.

Needless to say, since the the Republicans are taking just the opposite view, defending the pipeline with the same terms that the Democrats are using for the train.  So, let's check the score: Democrats; one for the HSR, one against the Pipeline.  Republicans;  one against HSR, one for the Pipeline. Let's just agree that these have nothing to do with pipelines or high-speed rail. It's about politics and money.

Bottom line? The rail project (we will discuss the pipeline in our next life) is a political pork project and the Parties are fighting over it; that is, fighting over federal dollars and who gets them and who doesn't.  The fact is that neither project will accomplish any of the promised cures to what ails us, and will be horrendously harmful, each in their own way. 

As we can see in this article below, there is a new sound of desperation on the part of the HSR defenders; those include the White House, the DOT, the FRA and California's elected Democrats.  They all reiterate the CHSRA press release arguments, despite those having been demonstrably refuted.  Here is Nancy Pelosi's  defense of the HSR project:

"The Rail Authority’s recent business plan lays out a responsive, responsible, and realistic path forward. The facts are clear: over one million good-paying jobs will be created, operating costs will be surpassed by revenue from the start of passenger rides, and the alternatives would cost tens of billions more as our state’s population surpasses 50 million by 2050."

Congresswoman Pelosi's facts are not only not clear, they are totally wrong. Wrong about the millions of jobs, wrong about surplus revenue and certainly about that tedious, erroneous cliche that not building the train will cost more. That chestnut has been thoroughly discredited.

In effect, LaHood and Szabo are now saying that they don't give a damn how much evidence emerges describing the basic flaws and inadequacies of this project, they intend to fund it anyhow.

What that means is that this HSR program is now one of the chessmen in the election cycle and will stay in play until November anyhow.  Nothing will deter them from pushing those $3.3 billion to California. If the train doesn't get built for lack of future funding, that's not their problem or concern.  It's the next nine months that count.

Is this any way to build a railroad?

Here's my projection.  Construction will most likely start in September.  Not actual construction, but a ribbon-cutting ceremony with shovels wielded by prominent politicians making speeches that will mark the project's start.  National TV and other media coverage will make this as much of a spectacle as the Democrats can generate.  Just in time to demonstrate to the voters nationwide that the future is well in hand. That's all this project is for, after all. 

Obama administration stands behind California's high-speed rail system

•By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Critics say the project is riddled with political corruption
The Obama administration has declared that it will not back down from its support of California's bullet train project. "We are not going to flinch on that support," Joseph Szabo, chief of the Federal Railroad Administration says. Critics have maintained that the project has been rife with political corruption.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Szabo says his agency had committed itself to provide $3.3 billion for a construction start next year in the Central Valley. Federal law prohibits any change of mind about where to begin building the first segment of the state's high-speed rail system.

"The worst thing we could do is make obligations to folks and start to renege on our word," Szabo told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Szabo was asked repeatedly about why the project was starting in the least populated region the route traverses, an area one East Coast politician asserted had "more cows and crops than people."

Szabo said it was the state's application that determined the project's budget.

That decision-making process was sharply rebuked by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), whose district would be served by the rail line. Nunes led a charge of Republican criticism of the effort and claims that it would create tens of thousands of jobs.

"It is clear that high-speed rail is not about jobs," Nunes said. "It is about corruption, public deception and bureaucratic experimentation."

Nunes said the federal rail agency made a $700-million grant for the Central Valley construction segment on the eve of the 2010 election to benefit a local congressman. This comment appeared to target Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), who has pushed the project since his days in the California Legislature and then later when he was elected to Congress.

Nunes criticized that the Authority has spent $800 million over the last 15 years on studies, salaries and consultants without laying "a single inch of track." He noted that the authority pays its chief executive $375,000 annually, more than Amtrak pays its top executive.

"The high-speed rail authority has bankrolled a vast array of political consultants to curry favor with elected officials," Nunes said. "If the high-speed rail were widely supported, a multimillion-dollar PR campaign would not be necessary."

Szabo's insistence that the federal government will not back down from its funding plan for the project was also a target of lawmakers.

© 2011, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.

No comments: