Monday, February 28, 2011

What Passes For Political Discourse

There is a blog site I read, which I choose not to name here, originally written by a conservative-turned-liberal but now containing posts by a dozen or so liberals, which has a commenting community which is so highly polarized that I seldom join in. They are of the “no Republican has ever done anything that was not stupid, evil and corrupt, and no Democrat has ever done anything that was not entirely an act of genius, noble and totally selfless” variety of political discourse.

There was one post to the effect that Republican governors declining federal money for high speed rail projects were doing so purely for ideological reasons, because it came from a Democrat, and that they were stupid and corrupt to do so. I decided to comment that such a governor might decline federal money because his state lacked the “matching funds” necessary for the project, or because the governor felt that the long term commitment to operating funds for the project was unwise. I dared to make the comment because I felt that the point was straightforward enough that it might meet with acceptance, or at least generate some reasonable discussion.

The first comment directed to me in response said that Obama tried to do something nice by providing jobs and money for states and the thanks he gets is to be called a Nazi and a socialist. Since I didn’t call him either one of those things, didn’t mention Obama directly or indirectly, I couldn’t see what that had to do with my point.

Another simply said that I’m an idiot, which may be true but is hardly relevant and in any case does not, in and of itself, invalidate my point.
And then it got more interesting.

The following are all comments that were directed specifically at what I had said, not just general discussion within the thread, and they are inclusive; I'm not just picking the silly ones.

Next a commenter said that Wisconsin got $800 million, which was enough to build from Chicago to Minneapolis but that “rail has those young bucks ride it so its evil.” I have no idea what the second part meant, but I doubted the first part and quickly found a reference in a Wisconsin publication, which I cited for him, which said that $817 million would fund Milwaukee to Madison, sort of a stone’s throw compared to Chicago to Minneapolis, and that Milwaukee to Madison high speed rail would not pay for itself.

Another commenter wanted to know “why should a state have to pay for building infrastructure within its borders,” which I took to be sarcasm, and said that the answer was simple, that the governor should take the money from the federal government and raise taxes. I’m sure that person could run for office and win handily.

I had mentioned in my comment that my numbers were not actual and that they should not be taken as fact, and that I was discussing principles not numbers, so of course someone immediately responded that I didn’t know what I was talking about because I didn’t “have any facts.” He ranted at some length about how Republicans win by saying that “I can’t prove such-and-such is true but I feel it should be true” and stating lies, but he didn’t actually dispute anything I had said.

Another commenter described a light rail system in Phoenix which was predicted to fail, but which “is continuing to grow year over year.” I’m happy for Phoenix, but that was intraurban mass transit serving suburban Phoenix rather than interurban high speed rail. Its maximum speed is 55 mph and it averages 25 mph. It was a city project rather than a state one, and it was funded and built starting in 2005, well before the economic collapse of 2008. He also fails to mention that cost $1.4 billion for a whopping 20 miles and that it is operating at a cost to the taxpayers of $140 million per year, which doesn’t include payments to retire the original investment.

Then another commenter provided a lengthy and rather incoherent statement about how busy the Milwaukee Amtrak station is with its “seven trains per day,” and said that adding high speed rail to Madison would increase ridership “by leaps and bounds.” Actual statistics as to the increase were a bit lacking, and according to the Wisconsin publication I had cited earlier, the increase would be insufficient to pay the cost of operation and retirement of the investment on said high speed rail.

Then we had a Florida commenter who said that after his “new criminal governor” turned down the federal money a consortium of private investors pledged to make up the loss. That hardly sounded to me like turning down the federal money was a bad idea, but… To each his own, I guess.

Another Florida commenter chimed in to the effect that had the governor accepted the federal money that state commitment would have been “not much money at all” as the projects would've required "large commitments" from private investment. I don’t think it was the same one who accused me of “not having any facts” due to my lack of numbers, and that commenter had nothing to say about the Milwaukee to Madison ridership increasing “by leaps and bounds” or about the Phoenix project that “continues to grow year over year.” It’s okay not to have any numbers if you’re a Democrat.

Neither of the Florida commenters said the investment had actually been received or that the rail project was currently moving forward with, you know, picks and shovels and stuff like that. Everything that I can find online simply says that the project is defunct.

As to private investment in high speed rail, I can only cite the California high speed rail project. Voters passed an $9.95 billion bond issue which assumes a federal commitment of $12 to $16 billion, private investment of $7.5 billion, with an additional $10 billion to come from local governments. The bond measure stipulates that any high speed rail be independent of public funding in any form for its operation in the future. The issue has proven to be nonsensical, since neither federal funding or private investment has been forthcoming and neither of them is at all likely, the possibility of any local funding is so unlikely as to be laughable, and studies have shown that operating revenue cannot pay more than a fraction of its operation cost, let alone provide for retirement of the investment. I would be very surprised if Florida’s situation was significantly different.

Note that those are actual numbers. As in facts. You can look them up.

A collateral comment said that Republican governors won’t raise taxes because they want to get reelected. I replied that Democratic governors won’t raise taxes for precisely the same reason, and got a response that “Democrats don’t raise taxes because Republicans have spent 30 years poisoning the well against any and all potential tax increases, no matter how small or necessary.” In other words, Democrats won't raise taxes because they want to get reelected.

I do believe it was a Republican Congress that raised taxes to balance the federal budget during the Clinton administration. Oh, yes, the “read my lips” president lost a second term because he raised taxes. He was of what party again? Right, he was Republican.

To quote President Obama regarding the Democratic Party during the 2010 campaign, “Already, we’ve given small businesses eight new tax cuts, […] That’s why we’ve cut taxes for 95% of working families. That’s why we’ve offered tax credits that have made college more affordable for millions…” Not exactly a big effort to raise taxes.

If this is the nature of our political discourse today, calling each other names and using a revenue-negative city project in Arizona during a good economy to justify a state project in Florida during a bad economy, then we are well and truly screwed and the problem does not lie with our elected representatives. It lies with the people who are electing them.

1 comment:

  1. All Hail Jayhawk
    All Hail Jayhawk

    I am a fan of his, to be sure, but what he says makes sense. And it is reasoned out and makes valid points. Whether you agree or not, is not a problem (for him at least). Just have some thought and reason behind what you;re saying.