It must be comforting for statists to know that defenses of their failed
progressive policies and programs like the Affordable Care Act and
California's high-speed choo-choos no longer contain any of the old fig
leaves about controlling costs, granting equal access or how good this or
that will be for the environment. No, the mask has fallen, gratefully
so, and now our big government betters can finally admit to their core
philosophy and that's an undying love for authoritarianism.
But first let's take the opening paragraph of this article penned by Tom
Zoellner an associate professor of English at Chapman College up in Orange
County for the Los Angeles Times:
Who doesn't love a train? Who cannot fail to be seduced by the most
appealing vehicle in human history - the rail-induced sensuality of "Brief
Encounter," the desperate heroism of engineer Casey Jones, the creative
muscle of the Big Four railroad barons, the plucky fortitude of Thomas the
Tank Engine and the Little Engine That Could, all wrapped up in gleaming,
rocking steel, punctuated by a high, lonesome whistle?
How can we harsh this when this is pretty much the defense of high-speed
choo-choos we would expect to be given by an English major, a major of which
qualifies him to speak expertly on the most expensive public works project
in U.S. history.
Back to the article:
And yet California voters have been expressing morning-after regrets since
they voted for Proposition 1A, which promised them a bullet train from Los
Angeles to San Francisco. Backers said a Concorde-like fuselage would rocket
us to the Bay Area in 21/2 hours and for the low, low fare of $55. A
Disneyland ride for grown-ups! And did we mention that it's carbon-friendly?
Invoking an amusement park is a charming touch but what is the inherent
advantage to a 2-1/2 hour trip when the flight from L.A. to San Francisco is
less than half that. 2-1/2 hours on anything, be it Space Mountain or It's
a Small World is about 2-1/4 hours too long.
The carbon-friendly claim is
dubious at best. The raw material manufactured and transported way out
there in the Central Valley (where the first leg of the project will be
built) will not be delivered on the backs of unicorns and, further, this
claim appears to be blissfully ignorant to the fact that the overwhelming
source of electricity is still coal and fossil fuels and will remain so for
the foreseeable future.
The reality has proved more problematic. The California High-Speed Rail
Authority stumbled first by promising a smooth construction schedule and a
$32-billion price tag. The ensuing lawsuits and engineering revisions have
fouled up the timeline and bumped up the price to the current reckoning of
$67.6 billion (and it'll probably be more expensive than that). The rail
authority's latest business plan assumes ever more riders and ever less
revenue but still suggests the project will ultimately be self-sustaining.
Zoellner misuses "probably" for "will" because as we all know that $68
billion price tag is only for laying down the tracks and does not even include the
stations/depots, electricity-delivering infrastructure or even the
Zoellner then goes on to bemoan the rapid drop in
popularity of the project over the years. There is a simple reason for
this: the rail authority lies. They lie about the cost, they lie about
the projected ridership, they lie about private funding of the project and
they lie about how the construction contractors are chosen. They are liars.
We simply don't know what other term to use. Please get back to us if you
have a better one.
Before getting into the litany of real world problems faced by high-speed
choo-choos Zoellner offers up this gem:
And yet lessons from around the world provide some hope that this romance
can be saved. High-speed rail systems generally cost far more than was
promised, take longer to build than is logical, have multiple construction
headaches and require tempestuous adjustments along the way. But once all
the drama is over and the engines are keyed, high-speed trains mostly do
Admittedly, when defending the indefensible, falling back on romance is our
go-to as well.
But here is where all pretenses of legality, abiding by the rule of law and
general western-recognized trappings of a constitutional republic are cast
aside because, dammit, what we really need is some authoritarian
Not enough Mussolini. This is an unattractive lesson: Big trains like this
get built with an autocratic touch. Japan's Shinkansen train went online in
1964 after enormous domestic resistance only because of the bluster and
persistence of an all-but-forgotten bureaucrat named Shinji Sogo, nicknamed
Old Man Thunder by his underlings.
So far in California, the high-speed rail authority has hemmed and hawed
more than blustered. It planned for an early groundbreaking, to create a
physical reality that would be hard to stop, but that's been a no go. Gov.
Jerry Brown's two-fisted support for the bullet train, and his idea of
diverting carbon cap-and-trade revenue for high-speed rail, is the kind of
sharp-elbowed move that may be the only way a project like this could ever
The biggest persistence question is this: Will there be U.S. presidents for
the next 15 years who, like Obama, will keep stimulus money flowing for the
project, even through flying flak?
Will there be a president whom for the next decade and a half will keep
throwing tens of billions of dollars into a public works black hole because
of a combination of political expediency (CA's elite statist class has gone
all in on high-speed choo-choos - their very credibility counts not on this
thing actually working, only that it gets built) and a religious-like
fanaticism towards Keynesian economic stimulus.
As we alluded to before, when you are at the end of your rope and you have
nowhere else to turn, a good bet to rally the troops is to invoke Thomas the
Tank Engine and a brutal 20th century fascist dictator who was allied with
one of the most evil regimes known to mankind. Hey, we didn't go Godwin's
Law, Zoellner did.
We imagine there was a sigh of relief when Zoellner typed Mussolini:
There, I said it. It must feel good to out yourself with respect to a yen
for unbridled and un-checked top-down authoritarianism as it's a
characteristic we've known about the liberal-left for years now.
A huge hat tip to KT of The Scratching Post for giving us the head's up on this and the following commentary on the current state of California politics: