Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Paradox of the Democrats, Republicans, and High-Speed Rail

The posting below is an opinion piece with which I really resonate. Russ Cohen is struggling with a dilemma.  It's my dilemma also.  I'm also one of those life-time Democrats with strong sympathies for the downtrodden and the working stiff.  

I oppose all those opportunities of exploitation that have made Wall Street obscenely wealthy and Main Street the place of joblessness and foreclosures.  

I believe that public mass transit in our cities and urban regions warrants tax-based, subsidized support.  And, I'm also a "greeny." I oppose the Keystone pipeline for various reasons, among them, that it's a boondoggle, just like the HSR.

And, I oppose High-Speed Rail, particularly this project in California.

I'm disgusted by my Democratic representatives for their HSR support and for their pandering to a number of HSR perpetrated myths which, upon closer examination have turned out to be untrue. You can include the straw-man problems of traffic congestion, foreign oil consumption, and population expansion demanding -- if not HSR -- then far more expensive alternatives like highways and runways.  All those claims disintegrate upon study. HSR won't cure any of them.  I smelled scam with this project long before 2008 when the high-speed rail issue came on the state ballot.

Today, for the Democrats, it's all about jobs. The relentless "jobs" claim for this project is fraudulent and is nothing like the hundreds of thousands numbers the rail authority keeps throwing in our faces.  The Unions are really kidding themselves if they believe this project will bail out the unemployed.

I did (and still do) a lot of homework and the more I read, the more I learned. And, it turned out, that this project, the California High-Speed Rail, has almost nothing really to do with the building of a railroad,  and everything to do with moving lots of money around. 

Call it a boondoggle, White Elephant, political pork or earmarks if you wish.  The train project is like those movie sets that are all detailed on the front side, and empty in the back.  They will never complete this project in the way it was promised to the voters.

But, with the sharp political polarization that Russ Cohen talks about in his opinion piece, I find myself stunned by the fact that, on the one hand, this train project seeks to build and operate a train that will offer the most expensive train ride you can buy. It will be a luxury train for the well to do; the affluent. Upscale professionals and managers with corporate travel expense accounts will ride this train.  So will all those who now get flight upgrades; that is, buy business or first class.  It's for the "suits with lap-tops." 

On the other hand, it's being promoted not by the "party of the rich;" that is, the Republicans, although you would think so.  It's being promoted by the "peoples' party" -- the Democrats.  What a paradox!

And that makes no sense to me.  Why would the Democrats, so determined to provide all the safety nets and social services for America's children, old people, and the ill, and so opposed to so-called "special interests" like the Big Oil or the Big Pharmas, be so enamored of a project that will tax all those less economically advantaged people in order to build a train that serves only the corporate wealthy and rich tourists? Because, make no mistake,  those will be the customers for HSR.

And therefore, all the ridership projections that fail to take the demographics and economic/class levels into account, will surely get it wrong.  The Democrats, who so believe in public mass transit, make the huge error of believing that this high-speed rail project is included in what we all believe to be mass transit, like commuter rail.  They could not be more wrong about that. 

I realize the cost and danger of dismissing both Parties. That is Russ's and my dilemma. Will I, this time, become a one-issue voter and vote against all my other interests? We'll see.

OP-ED: Turning a D to an R
April 14, 2012, 05:00 AM By Russ Cohen

Will high-speed rail turn a die-hard Democrat into a card-carrying Republican?

If there were an instruction manual on how to convert a (D) to an (R) look to the California High-Speed Rail project and how it has caused a great divide along party lines.

Clearly, the discussions about the merits of the program have devolved from “let’s bring California into the future” to “let’s create jobs right now.”

Democrats have been hiding behind the mantra, let’s do high-speed rail right and Republicans have recognized that you can’t do it right if it will cause great harm not only to the environment, the economy and the state’s financial solvency but will saddle our children (and quite possibly their children) with insurmountable debt, more reductions to education funding and a rail system that didn’t alleviate the gridlock it was promised to eliminate.

Here’s my concern about all of this. I’m a Democrat. I always resented the fact that Republicans pigeonholed us as “spenders” and themselves as “fiscal conservatives.”

I always thought of myself, a former elected official, as someone who would look at the issue and judge it on its merits — especially if it were a land use issue or public works project. I didn’t let political ideologies bias my decision. That doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to high-speed rail and I don’t understand why party politics has become the line in the sand. But it has.

I recently asked a local Democratic leader why he supported high-speed rail despite the fact that every independent study of the project suggests that it is wrought with unanswered questions and is filled with risk. He simply said, “Because I’m a Democrat.” Did he really mean — the governor, a Democrat, supports high-speed rail whole-heartedly and, as a Democrat, he wasn’t going to go against him?

Here is my plea: I mean no ill will toward Republicans, but I don’t want to be one. I’d like to remain a Democrat, but I won’t be able to if the state’s dems insist on falling lock step behind the governor and play into the stereotype that we dems will spend federal dollars — boondoggle or not.

To all elected Democrats: Stop hat dancing around the let’s-do-it-right sombrero. If you want to justify going against the governor, simply wave the pages of his own Legislative Analyst’s report or his own peer review report or the UC Berkeley Transportation Institute report, all of which prove that this is a project that carries much more risk than reward. Remind him that this project does not resemble what many of his fellow Democrats approved in 2008 and that recent polls indicate they are no longer enamored with the concept now that they know the costs to their wallets and their quality of life. Don’t allocate another dime on this project — don’t even consider it.

Please save one Democrat from jumping on to the train headed for Republican headquarters and more importantly, save California from a long-lasting train wreck. 

Russ Cohen, a concerned Peninsula resident, suggests you visit for more on the issue.

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