Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bullet [Train] To The Brain

Two news items inevitably caught my attention this week. In the early stages of a national election, both point out the need for liberal government to jam things down the public’s throat that they don’t need, don’t want, and can’t afford. One is about California, the other about the Obama administration. They both say a great deal about why liberals shouldn’t be in charge at the state or federal level.

IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A HOLE, STOP DIGGING. Commonsense advice which liberals routinely ignore.

First, we have California’s recent legislative action approving $4.5 billion in state funding for what many Californians call the Bullet Train to Nowhere. Anybody who has been conscious recently knows that California is for all intents and purposes bankrupt. The legislature brilliantly attempted to fix this problem by getting the $3.2 billion in federal funds which would have been lost if California hadn’t voted to throw bad money after worse to build a pie-in-the-sky train. In other words, a bankrupt state is getting money from a bankrupt federal government which is borrowing the money from China.

The picture accompanying this article is an artist’s rendering of the nonexistent train pulling into a nonexistent station in one of California’s bankrupt cities. Last year, the city of Vallejo filed for bankruptcy protection. Recently, Stockton, California followed Vallejo’s filing, becoming the largest city in America ever to file bankruptcy. Last week, the City of Mammoth Lakes filed. Not to be outdone, on Wednesday, the City of San Bernardino, population 210,000, added to the list. Two major credit rating agencies recently reported that 20% of California’s cities face bankruptcy within five years.

So what does a good government do when faced with major portions of its body politic going bankrupt? Spend more money. Currently, the first leg of the fast choo-choo is set to go from Bakersfield to Madera. That’s farmland. But even though the ecoweenies have badly damaged the Central Valley’s water supply by protecting a useless fish, there are still huge areas continuing to produce food items for America’s dinner tables. Those remaining stalwart farmers have been using every means available to them to derail this train. They have been temporarily successful in stalling it at least, because the proposed routes (there have been three so far) cut off farmers, their livestock and their crops from their daily activities and means of transport. In case you're wondering, they don't allow cattle on bullet trains (unless they're service or emotional support animals, I suppose).

But despite astronomical budget deficits and hearty opposition to the train itself, the geniuses in Sacramento went ahead with the project anyway. Why write bad checks by yourself when you have enablers in Washington DC who will help you out with IOUs? Three other states had the good sense to turn the federal high speed rail funds down because of budget deficits. Two of the three have instead cleaned up their fiscal houses and now have budget surpluses. But they won’t have super Casey Jones. How sad.

Never daunted, Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown praised the legislature’s action and promised a quick signature from the State House. Says Brown: “The money is there. We have the capability in California in a $2 trillion dollar economy to finance this thing.” Well, the state had that economy before the train, and it is still billions of dollars in the hole. The estimated final cost of the high speed line is $68 billion (and you know how accurate government estimates are). Brown is another typical Democratic politician who believes that you’re not broke as long as you still have checks.

The second headline news that caught my attention was the reaction from the Obama administration to California’s brilliant move. Basking in the glow of other green initiatives and government glory such as Solyndra and LightSquared, the Obamists are positively orgasmic over California’s approval of the nation’s first High Speed Railway to Nowhere. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took time off from praising the efficiency of China’s government by three-man dictatorships to extol the joys of the California action.

Here’s what LaHood had to say: “I congratulate the Legislature on taking this action, which will create thousands of jobs and strengthen the California economy. In the next 20 years, California expects more than 7 million additional residents. But, as the state’s residents know all too well, the highways between California cities are already congested, and short-haul takeoff and landing slots at Golden State airports are at a premium.” LaHood fails to notice that California is bleeding taxpayers and taxpaying businesses, so we can guess where those 7 million additional residents are coming from.

I have driven between the metropolitan Bay Area and the metropolitan Los Angeles area literally hundreds of times in my life. Interstate 5 is hardly congested, and I’ve had times in which I drove for half an hour or more before seeing another car. I drive because the waiting time and inconvenience of airports and airlines are outweighed by the convenience of traveling in my own car (though gas prices have changed that formula a bit).

Where does LaHood think these train stations are going to be located? They’ll be placed in exactly the same locations as the current airports. The congestion is not the travel time on either the airplanes or the trains, it’s the highways getting to the stations and airports. And whether the train goes 120 mph or 220 mph, the congestion getting to the stations won’t be any different. Then there’s the joy of leaving your car parked in high-crime areas while you take your high speed trip from crime-ridden Los Angeles to crime-ridden San Francisco. Poor San Diego has to wait for awhile.

So just remember next November that as California goes so goes the nation. Unless we make damned sure that the Democrats don’t win.


AndrewPrice said...

Well, the world certainly needs more bullet trains to nowhere. I see where the idea makes sense in theory between population centers but it sounds like none of this makes sense in practice. More money they can't afford down the drain.

TJ said...

"In other words, a bankrupt state is getting money from a bankrupt federal government which is borrowing the money from China." Yeah, that makes perfect sense - NOT!

The lunatics are truly in charge of the asylum in California it seems. You have my sympathy, Lawhawk.

Unknown said...

Andrew: It's one of those "it looks good on paper" projects which bears no relationship to reality in practice. It certainly bears no relationship to monetary reality. Even if the system could actually be built for $68 billion, that means the project starts $60.4 billion short. What it has now isn't even enough to finish the first leg from Bakersfield to Madera. Part of this is supposed to be paid from state bonds, which were already approved three years ago. They haven't been issued, nobody wants them, and the same voters who approved them now say by nearly 60% that they would vote to repeal the bond measure. Private investors take one look at the plan, and can't reach their wallets because they're bent over laughing. Even the state agency that originally said the system would be self-sustaining from ridership within five years now says it will probably never be self-sustaining. Other than that, it's a brilliant plan.

Unknown said...

TJ: I know some people (many people) see that California is such a mess that it might never recover. Certainly not in the near future. But I'm not stating the obvious with these articles on California foolishness for no reason. When the inmates take over the asylum, this is the kind of unrealistic nonsense that results. My crusade in pointing out California's bankruptcy of money and workable ideas really isn't about California at all. It's a warning. I'm like Cassandra--I can see the future but I can't do anything about it.

If the rest of the nation doesn't reject California politics and economics, it won't be far behind. And for that reason I point out both the California craziness and the enthusiastic approval of our current federal government. If it doesn't change in November it may be too late. California isn't an example of long term liberals politics gone wrong. It's an example of just how quickly leftist politics and policies can transform a wildly successful state into an economic miasma. The same thing could happen at the national level. Historically speaking, the transformation of California occurred almost overnight. The same could happen to the nation if Obama and his Democratic allies remain in power. It won't take decades. It could be a matter of a few years, or even months.

Joel Farnham said...

This bullet train is like Light Rail in Sacramento. I still don't think Light Rail is paying for itself.

tryanmax said...

I'd like to propose an alternate route for the high-speed train: starting in Sacramento and ending somewhere in the Pacific, preferably underwater. The Governor, State Legislature, and members of staff may have the privilege of riding on the train's inaugural journey. I think with these simple revisions, the project will be worth every penny.

Individualist said...


I think the legislature would be better off having the train travel from Compton in LA to the Sacremento courthouse. Stopping in HAight Ashbury and Berkely. This would allow the occupy movement direct access to their government.

Unknown said...

Joel: It's like light rail on steroids. BART is about the only light rail that even comes close to paying for itself, and it was designed in pre-political correctness days to get frustrated motorists from their homes in the suburbs to their real jobs in San Francisco. Light rail in San Francisco itself (the streetcars and Muni Underground) only works because San Francisco is a very tiny city, and even so, Muni consistently runs huge deficits.

Unknown said...

tryanmax: I like your plan better. The Bullet train from Los Angeles to Honolulu. And the beauty of it is that it will cost ten times as much. Spend, spend, spend. They should get the officials aboard the Bullet and send it hurtling down the tracks at 200 mph without telling them that the bridge supporting the railway ends abruptly about twelve miles out. We could call it The Oblivion Express.

Unknown said...

Indi: They shouldn't stop there. Continue the lines to the supply hubs--the marijuana fields of Humboldt County to the north.

Tennessee Jed said...

I think you are being just a tad harsh here, Hawk. Forget about the money. It's all about California being ultra hip and "out there." Look, this stuff is highly doable. I saw it in one of the Tom Cruise MI movies. Everybody else back east just doesn't get it.

And the math. What's the matter with you man? Are you dense? Why just the other day, I saw San Fran Nan and all her expensive jewelry wagging her finger and explaining very clearly how every dollar of stimulus welfare spending comes back in a multiplier fashion to the economy (at least I think it does.) And if that doesn't work, there must be enough millionaires and billionaires and corporate jet owners in just Hollywood and Silicon Valley alone to pay for a little train. Come on, Hawk. Have a freakin' heart. This one's for the kids.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: I needed that. Particularly when I forgot about the children, the children.

I have a great idea for rapid transit that I'm sure I can sell to the solons in Sacramento. First, shut down all the major highways to auto and truck travel, particularly I-5 between San Diego and San Francisco. Then re-pave them with user friendly and green materials. And then, the biggie. Provide each and every Californian, free of cost, with a Bullet Segway. It will be green, fast and simply fabulous. It gives us the best of mass transit and individual freedom of movement. I haven't quite worked out the details yet about what to wear when you're moving at 200 mph on a Segway, but I'm sure there are plenty of bureaucrats who can work out that kink.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Surely this bullet train to nowhere will make money hand over fist like Amtrak. Right?

"In case you're wondering, they don't allow cattle on bullet trains (unless they're service or emotional support animals, I suppose)."

Cattle provide me with emotional support. I need my steaks! They keep me sane!
Well, if I could afford them...

This really is insane. And I have a feeling the rest of us taxpayers are gonna get fleeced on this too since CA will quickly squander the federal loan.

Can Romney stop this? The federal loan guarantee that is?

Unknown said...

USSBen: Exactly like Amtrak. The money is already set aside and earmarked. Congress would have to de-fund it before it got to California's treasury. But it's possible. And for that reason, I see ribbon-cuttings and demands for the funds in the very near future. The worst part is that if the money isn't spent on the bullet train, it can't be used for any other purpose (like fixing existing facilities and tracks for more useful freight trains). So another ballot measure would have to be passed to divert the sums to useful purposes, and would still have to be approved by the feds. They sewed this up very nicely to avoid the people coming to their senses.

rlaWTX said...

the state gov't is broke and needs money.
so they are going to spend money hiring people to do something that doesn't need to be done and pay them with money the state doesn't have.
and this get the state more money how??????????

Unknown said...

rlaWTX: You tell me. I gave up trying to figure out liberal economics a long time ago.

wahsatchmo said...

Ah, good ol' trains. Our light rail in AZ was about as viable and appropriate as the bullet train to nowhere. The proposition was originally estimated at $500,000, then as construction began, it was determined that it was going to be closer to $1 billion, and now it's going to cost $1.4 billion to complete the first leg. Awesome way to get votes for the project, right? We Arizonans get to pay for it through some of the highest sales taxes in the US (which we added to the additional sales taxes on hotels and rental cars paying for the Cardinal's stadium). The federal government is on the hook for 1/2 of the costs, so take that, everybody else!

Better yet, the planning studies showed the train would not relieve congestion in the cities in which it would operate, but would hopefully create enough congestion to encourage people to ride the train. You know, that train that operates at a loss to the taxpayers of $8 per passenger into perpetuity?

As a final FU to the state of Arizona before she left for DHS, Janet Napolitano approved a $42 billion transportation package that would include commuter rail. I'm sure it will be just as cost effective as the light rail, especially since the original transportation package was proposed at $168 billion.

Why did the city and state planners want this so much? Sure, they paid lip service to "the environment", but it was more because they thought metro Phoenix was a premiere city, and as such should have light rail to show off. They also wanted to convert half of Phoenix into an extended campus for ASU, which was an idea they thought would save the ailing city before ASU West ran out of money and shut down.

So even in red states, Democrat influence produces this "if you build it, they will come" mentality in government that's about as likely to benefit the state in economic and environmental terms as it is to raise Shoeless Joe Jackson from the dead to fight crime.

Unknown said...

wahsatchmo: I hadn't realized that you had gotten stuck with one of these crazy light rail projects. It sounds like a real mess.

San Francisco doesn't do much right, which is why many people still can't figure out why BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is so successful and marginally-profitable. The answer to that question is that it was designed practically and logically to cover a workforce that was on different sides of a large body of water. Bridges and ferries just weren't enough. But the system was designed before light rail became a religion in which trains are good solely for the sake of trains rather than a practical answer to a genuine need. Now BART only has to figure out one thing to be nearly perfect--how to serve the East Bay, stopping nowhere in Oakland, without causing Eric Holder to send in the troops.

wahsatchmo said...

LawHawk - heh, that would be an ideal proposal for BART.

BART was held up so many times as an example of what our light rail would be that it was pathetic. Phoenix clearly just had a case of city envy, when we simply do not have the population density of workers nor businesses that can justify light rail.

Phoenix has consistently tried to enforce density creation through a variety of methods (all of which have been expensive and economically detrimental) so that they could implement the trappings of a big city. Problem is, it's a simple thing for a business to dump the high rent in Phoenix for a cheaper, better building in Scottsdale, or in Chandler, or half a dozen other cities without losing a customer or even significantly inconveniencing its employees. It's the nature of how the metro area developed, and you can't get it to change without private investment leading the way.

Phoenix has tried to bribe private investors time and time again through various incentives, but they've all failed to produce the desired density needed to support the light rail system. But we got it anyway, and when you examine how deliberately falsified the analysis and deliberation was to sell light rail to the public, there should be criminal prosecutions.

Unknown said...

wahsatchmo: I'm pretty sure the same planners behind Phoenix's failed light rail are now working diligently on the Bullet Train. I mean, how much ridership could they possibly get between Bakersfield and Madera?

I doubt that BART could even be built today. Environmentalists would keep it in limbo, and then the planners would have it going to all the wrong destinations. Then, it was to get commuters to their workplaces. Now, it would be planned to get the drug addicts to their suppliers, and nobody would be expected to pay for the trip. That's part of why the L.A. Metro system is so screwed up. It came long after BART. Like Phoenix, L.A. suffered from city envy. The route from Eastern Ventura County to downtown L.A. is the only one that actually gets working people to their jobs and back.

Unknown said...

Goody, goody, goody. I just got my weekly e-mail from Nancy Pelosi (who thinks I'm still a Democrat living in San Francisco). She's in her usual form, living on a cloud at La La Land, waiting for the Bullet Train to pick her up:

"Speeding toward the Future
Last Friday, the California Senate passed legislation to finance the start of construction of California High-Speed Rail. The vote is a victory for all Californians: clearing the way to create jobs now and building a world-class high-speed rail system. This victory could not have occurred without the hard work of Secretary LaHood, Governor Brown, Speaker Perez and Senator Steinberg, and I look forward to working with them hand-in-hand as we keep our state on course to create jobs, spur commerce and improve the environment."

wahsatchmo said...

Another Pelosi approved Oakland idea, someday to be incorporated into the future bullet train.

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