LA Times Opinion Round-Up

Today is Los Angeles Times intensive.

On high-speed rail. The Times appears to misunderstand the concept by complaining that the current federal funding for high-speed rail is debt financed, as part of the stimulus bill. Debt-financing is half the point. On the other hand, their point about gas taxes being insufficient for current infrastructure is valid, and is why I’ve previously discussed the need for mileage taxes, allowing gas taxes to be shifted toward clean energy investment and climate change mitigation. Of course, that the Secretary of Transportation was talking about mileage taxes over a month ago goes unremarked upon.

On torture. The Times nails the description of the memos, “Orwellian horrors”, and rightly calls for Obama to close a loophole suggesting that the CIA might not be bound by the Army Field Manual. However, I fail to see how that could possibly be seen as being “in the same spirit” as announcing CIA operatives wouldn’t be subject to war crimes prosecutions. And, of course, how the Times could endorse that announcement after reading the memos is baffling. But the Times has been weak on the prosecution issue all along. In a classic example, in a point-counterpoint discussion of prosecutions, both sides argued against prosecutions. Good job picking a diversity of opinions.

Tim Rutten on a truth commission. While I agree that a full report on whether actionable intelligence was gained from torture is necessary, we also need to determine the full scope of law breaking and what, if any, sanction is received from Congressional leadership. More importantly, we already know that torture didn’t work on Abu Zubaida – apparently Rutten missed that article. Of course, torture’s unreliability as an interrogation technique has been known for almost 400 years in the West as that appears to have been missed by almost everyone over the past eight years.

As an aside, Rutten’s ongoing opposition to prosecutions (he once referred to the decision to torture as a “policy difference”) should give the lie to his claim of being a civil libertarian. That, or he is too cowardly to stand far enough outside of the mainstream media to call for them.

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Bobby Jindal: Liar

In his response speech to Obama’s address, Governor Jindal lied, plainly, when he said that stimulus bill contained funding for a maglev train from “Disneyland to Las Vegas”. As has been remarked upon all over the place, that is not one of the approved high-speed rail corridors.

High Speed Rail Corridors from the Dept. of Transportation

High Speed Rail Corridors from the Dept. of Transportation

More importantly, why is this such a bogyman for the right? In many ways, that would be an ideal corridor, relieving a great deal of traffic between Southern California and Las Vegas without disrupting too many communities along much of its route. It would also be able to connect with the current California high-speed rail plan which calls for ultimately expanding the Los Angeles (Anaheim)-San Francisco line to San Diego through the Inland Empire.

Update: Here is video of David Shuster calling Congressman Darrell Issa on exactly this issue, yesterday.

Stimulus: Mass Transit Slashed for Tax Cuts

This news has been making its way around the blogosphere, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents. Congressman Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is indicating that spending for mass transit in the stimulus plan was slashed to make room for tax cuts.

But he also said his proposals to distribute billions of dollars for infrastructure through the Army Corps of Engineers, the national passenger rail network Amtrak and other programs, were sliced during negotiations within his party over spending and tax measures.

‘The reason for the reduction in overall funding … was the tax cut initiative had to be paid for in some say,’ [sic] he said.

This is a bad idea. On the purely economic implications of tax cuts instead of spending, I’ll point to this post by Paul Krugman and this one by Brad DeLong. Instead, let’s place this another context. In November, Los Angeles residents, some of the most car-friendly people in the world, voted to increase the sales tax to fund an expansion of the county’s subway and light rail lines. A similar measure passed in Santa Clara County. Californians also approved $10 billion in bonds for the construction of a high-speed rail line. Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal, such ballot propositions passed all over the country.

Americans want more mass transit. And yet, even today, when the Los Angeles MTA board finally approved a study for the subway that would connect downtown with Santa Monica, they also discussed cutting 160,000 hours of bus service in the face of budget cuts.

We should be investing more in mass transit – local, regional, and multistate. This stimulus package is the ideal opportunity to do so, revitalizing urban life and combating climate change, while generating jobs. However, even if concerns about the ‘shovel readiness’ of mass transit projects prevents a massive investment, we should use the money to fill shortfalls in transit authority budgets, so that existing service can be expanded rather than cut.

There is a clear disconnect here between the American people, who less than three months ago were willing to pay higher taxes in order to build more mass transit and Congress. It is depressing that even Democrats apparently have their priorities wrong.

Welcome News?

Welcome news.

With the economy in recession, California’s plan to ask the federal government for billions of dollars to help build the nation’s first high-speed rail system might seem like wishful thinking rather than a feasible financial strategy.

But transportation officials say that California’s high-speed rail project seems to be on a fast track to a hefty federal contribution – perhaps as much as $15 billion to $20 billion.

This is the kind of stimulus needed in California and nation-wide: public works projects that dovetail with a clean energy economy. Unfortunately, I’d expect that the private funding portion will be the hardest amount to acquire in this economy, and with lower oil prices, it’d seem like a less likely investment even in a good economy.

Of course, in the short-run, I’d rather see a federal bailout for the State to stave off the immediate budgetary crisis than money now for a project that won’t start for several years, if such a choice must be made.

Published in: on December 26, 2008 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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