Most East Coast media misjudge CA bullet train

Feb. 19, 2013

By Chris Reed

train_wreck_num_2The immense perception gap between East Coast and West Coast journalists when it comes to reporting on the Golden State was never in sharper relief than in 2003. If you were in California, the recall of Gov. Gray Davis felt like a political earthquake, a sign of vast public discontent and — at least if you liked the recall — an affirmation of the value of direct democracy.

To lazy East Coasters, it was an opportunity to paint Californians as flakes. When I whined to Boston Globe columnist Brian McGrory about his extroardinarily superficial column on the recall, he replied with a condescending, contemptuous email.

This disconnnect may be emerging on California’s bullet train. On this coast, the Los Angeles Times editorial page may be gung ho, and some other editorial pages are still all aboard. But it’s difficult to remember the last in-depth piece of any kind in the news pages of any California newspaper that didn’t carry the implication the California High-Speed Rail Authority was poorly run and unrealistic and that the project was on track for boondoggle status. Journalists are pretty liberal in general, but they’re also front-runners, in a sense. The non-pundits don’t want to seem to back losers, so coverage has turned negative as the insanity of the project has become clear.

Mr. ‘Wonkblog’ gives his blessing

ezraBut on the East Coast, the extent of Cali’s bullet train folly hasn’t really sunk in. The New York Times’s editorial page, whose writers show zero sign of having followed what’s actually happened in the Golden State, is in the tank. But so is the rising young media star Ezra Klein, who writes the heavily read Wonkblog column for the Washington Post and is a Bloomberg News columnist and MSNBC commentator. There has arguably never been an American pundit who in his 20s already has enjoyed more success and access to a bigger audience than Klein. Here’s what he had to say in a recent lengthy Post blog about President Obama’s accomplishments to date:

“A partial accounting of Obama’s first term reveals more accomplishments than most presidents secure in two. The health-care law, of course, is almost certainly the most significant piece of social policy passed since the Great Society. The rescues of the financial and auto sectors, though begun under President George W. Bush, were mostly carried out and completed under Obama. The Dodd-Frank financial reforms included the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The stimulus financed long-term investments in everything from weatherization to electronic medical records and high-speed rail.

The bolding is mine. I acknowledge that all the other things that Klein lists can be touted by liberals as achievements, even if conservatives disagree. People value different things. But Klein’s inclusion of high-speed rail as an Obama triumph — a funding category where by far the most federal money has gone to California — amounts to an indictment of his credibility. As I noted earlier, the newsrooms of California newspapers have turned on the bullet train because they worry about their reputations. Klein should worry about his, too, if he touts this fiasco.

Post editorial page vs. Post blogger

As it turns out, the editorial page of a major East Coast newspaper also sees its credibility at risk if it cheers for high-speed rail. And it turns out to be the newspaper that has Ezra Klein as a full-time employee — The Washington Post. This is from a Post editorial in November 2011:

“Things just went from bad to worse for high-speed passenger rail in California. After the Golden State’s voters approved a $9 billion bullet-train bond issue in 2008, officials said they could build an 800-mile system by 2020, for $35.7 billion. The cost projection now, as issued by the state Nov. 1: $98.5 billion, with a completion date of 2033.

“Time to pull the plug, right? Not according to Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The new ‘business plan is solid and lays the foundation for a 21st-century transportation system,’ he said. Equally upbeat, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood offered Mr. Brown his congratulations on ‘a sound, step-by-step strategy for building a world-class high-speed rail network.’

“This is unreal. Apart from the bond issue and $3.6 billion in federal funds already in hand, the cash-strapped state hasn’t credibly identified a source of funds for the system. The new report basically repeats previous assertions that, if California builds, federal and private-sector dollars will come. This is wishful thinking in an era of massive federal deficits, and if the opportunities for the private sector were really so great, where are the companies clamoring to invest?”

Yes, since then Jerry Brown has come up with a plan that purportedly shaves $30 billion off the cost of the project. But the complaints the Post went on to make about the stupidity of building the first segment in the Central Valley hold up as well as ever:

“U.S. and California officials tout this lonely corridor as the “spine” of a system that will connect big cities later on. After all, they argue, the interstate highway system started in Kansas. But that project had a dedicated funding source from the get-go: the federal highway trust fund, supported by fuel taxes.

“More realistically, Sacramento’s Legislative Analysis Office calls the Central Valley starting point a ‘big gamble.’ In the all-too-likely event that funding for the rest of the system never materializes, the report adds, ‘the state will be left with a rail segment unconnected to major urban areas that has little if any chance of generating the ridership to operate without a significant state subsidy.’ It would be a train to nowhere, but at least it would go nowhere fast.

“As questionable as this project is, we would have less business objecting if the only money at risk was California’s. But the Obama and Brown administrations are talking about devoting the nation’s funds to what looks more and more like a boondoggle. If the president and governor won’t slam on the brakes, then Congress or the California legislature must find a way to prevent the spending. Somebody, please, stop this train.”

So how could Washington wunderkind Ezra Klein not grasp the basic points his employer makes?  If you have a reputation as a very shrewd public policy analyst, that’s vastly difficult to square with being a bullet-train enthusiast.

The final twist: Klein was born in Irvine and went to UCLA. It didn’t take long for him to adopt the default East Coast media disdain for actually studying how the Golden State works before pretending to understand its twists and turns.


Write a comment
  1. doug
    doug 19 February, 2013, 07:48

    kinda like janet napolitano saying the southern borders are fine.
    and she doesnt live on a farm in the arizona border towns.

    thats okay, let’s not accept the truth, it’ll all pan out soon.

    Reply this comment
  2. Wacky wacky wacky
    Wacky wacky wacky 19 February, 2013, 08:19

    The over-educated urbane elite love high speed rail because it reminds them of their grand tours of Europe during the summer after they graduated from college.

    This culture’s most bizarre recent celebration of high speed rail was a fantasy map of high speed rail train routes across the country. This map is the graphic equivalent of Noam Chomsky. It’s driving the push for transportation based on the democratic public interest.

    Reply this comment
  3. Sue
    Sue 19 February, 2013, 09:02

    It’s not about the cost, it’s about the social change of the country – at any cost. People herded into high density villages and shuttled back and forth from their pod to their government job…. I wonder if anyone has figured out who is going to be supporting those government jobs.

    Reply this comment
  4. BobA
    BobA 19 February, 2013, 09:46

    Wacky wacky wacky:

    Realistically speaking, the only way the over-educated elite will ride the high speed rail is if it’s too expensive for the average person or there’s a compartment for the well to do.

    Mingling with the filthy uneducated masses is beneath them and slumming it is unacceptable in polite high society. Why, what would their friends think or say if they heard that they sat next to some (gasp) commoner? What would they say or do if one of those “commoners” spoke to them?

    Reply this comment
  5. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 19 February, 2013, 10:59

    “amounts to an indictment of his credibility.”

    Klein loses credibility every time he opens his pie hole and starts lisping.

    Reply this comment
  6. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 19 February, 2013, 11:06

    “This culture’s most bizarre recent celebration of high speed rail was a fantasy map of high speed rail train routes across the country.”

    The work of a man-child with electronic crayons.

    Reply this comment
  7. BobA
    BobA 19 February, 2013, 11:19


    I seriously doubt if those government jobs ever come to fruition. The number of people working is shrinking and in time the tax base will be such that even a confiscatory tax rate on those who still have jobs won’t be able to pay for more government spending let alone a 100 billion dollar high speed rail.

    The government does to American citizens everyday what Bernie Madoff did to his investors. The difference is that it’s legal for the government to run a ponzi scheme and spend money it doesn’t have and make promises it can’t keep yet Bernie Madoff is in prison for doing the same thing.

    Reply this comment
  8. us citizen
    us citizen 19 February, 2013, 12:51

    And this just proves what happens when people arent taught history in classes anymore. They are so stupid they dont know that history repeats itself unless they go out of their way to change it. So they will just go along believing the crap other dimwits preach and the rest of us have to put up with all their stupidity.

    Reply this comment
  9. Wacky wacky wacky
    Wacky wacky wacky 19 February, 2013, 14:02

    BobA – it actually might be a good business decision to have more expensive, plusher first-class travel cars.

    I suspect that many of the HSR riders will be people visiting their relatives at Corcoran State Prison, especially on the early operation segments. They will get subsidized rides.

    Reply this comment
  10. BobA
    BobA 19 February, 2013, 18:41

    Wacky wacky wacky:

    The high speed rail will have the same problems as Amtrak which is heavily subsidized by the government and still loses money.

    There won’t be enough wealthy people riding the train, or anyone else for that matter, to ever recover the costs.

    The idea of people commuting back and forth to work from one end of California to the other on a high speed rail that will cost a small fortune to ride is delusional at best and insane at worst.

    At best the bullet train will attract vacationers and the occasional riders and no more. It will attract the subsidized criminal class, though, who will prey on anyone who looks like they have money. And the way California’s economy is going and the way they’re letting criminals out of prison, it would be naive to think otherwise.

    Albert Einstein was once quoted to have said: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Mr. Einstein certainly understood politics and politicians.

    Reply this comment
  11. The Modified Ted Steele Methodologies (tm)
    The Modified Ted Steele Methodologies (tm) 21 February, 2013, 17:48

    Wacky— I think you may be correct on this! And besides Corc, there is Avenal, Wasco and one other!

    Reply this comment

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