Late last week came news that even California progressives recognized as a sign of peak nonsense in the Golden State’s gold-plated misgovernment: San Francisco was beginning the planning process to build a single-toilet public restroom at a cost of... $1.7 million. Even Gov. Gavin Newsom, embarrassed by the publicity for this absurdity, has demanded the state funding be revoked. The toilet debacle is routine in today’s California, where in urban areas it now costs over $1 million to build an apartment unit, if you can get a building permit at all.
But all of these egregious examples of misgovernment pale before the greatest flushing of taxpayer cash of all time: California’s high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. After years of cheerleading from former governor and perpetual public employee Jerry Brown among others, the proposal to link California’s two major metropolitan areas with high-speed rail was finally launched in 2008 with a ballot initiative providing an initial $9.9 billion in bonds for the project that ludicrously claimed would only cost around $33 billion to complete.
No one under the age of reason believed that cost estimate, for the simple reason that virtually every rail transit project in America over the last 50 years has typically cost at least twice initial estimates, with ridership levels often less than half of forecast while operating costs inevitably balloon. Yet somehow the rail-consultant-engineering complex proceeds from boondoggle to boondoggle without embarrassment or consequence.
By 2012 the estimated cost of the project had doubled, and suddenly the “bullet” train that initially promised to whisk people between L.A. and the Bay Area at 220 miles per hour would be slowed down to an average speed closer to 150 miles an hour, as the route would employ some conventional tracking to save costs. And because of local opposition especially in the Bay Area that produced the predictable environmental lawsuits, the route began construction of a tiny portion of the line in a sparsely settled portion of the central valley, with the final route through geologically and seismically challenging mountains at both ends to be determined later. Meanwhile, ticket prices initially promised at $50 would now be about $125.
Now flash forward another decade, and the cost has nearly doubled again, to $113 billion—if the project is ever completed at all, which is now unlikely. It has become such a conspicuous disaster that even the New York Times finally took notice, with a long feature article recently about how California’s high-speed but low-intelligence project “went off the rails” and became “a nightmare.” The most shocking part of the Times takedown was not its recounting of the soaring costs, the appalling bureaucracy, and the petty corruption—facts that have been well known and widely reported in California from the beginning—but the comments of experienced foreign high-speed rail operators from Japan and France, who pulled out of collaborating with California early when it became obvious that the project was going to be comically inept:
“There were so many things that went wrong,” Mr. [SNCF’s Dan] McNamara said. “SNCF was very angry. They told the state they were leaving for North Africa [in 2011], which was less politically dysfunctional. They went to Morocco and helped them build a rail system.” Morocco’s bullet train started service in 2018.
You know things have reached peak absurdity when North African countries are more functional than California. Even if the medium-speed rail line could be completed at a reasonable cost, it was never a sensible idea in the first place, at any price.
The left’s fixation with rail transit in general, and high-speed rail in particular, is puzzling. Why a creed that purports to be future-oriented and about “progress” embraces a 19th century technology for 21st century mobility needs—whether intra-urban or intercity—tells us a lot about how progressive ideology consistently trumps facts. Progressives who envy the high-speed rail projects in Japan and Europe ignore one crucial fact about those systems (beyond their heavy ongoing subsidies): they are geographically compact nations with much higher population densities, making rail travel more convenient and cost-effective than air travel in most cases.
All aboard le Train à Grande Vitesse
France is the same size as Texas, and most of its intercity high-speed rail lines are much shorter than the LA-SF trip would be. Japan as a long high-speed line that takes 13 hours from Tokyo to Fukuoka, but unlike California’s line stops along the way at several large population centers, with short-distance riders accounting for most of its passenger traffic.
Even if California’s rail line traveled at 220 miles per hour for its entire route, it would still be much quicker and cheaper to fly from the Southland to the Bay Area. Amtrak’s Acela corridor in the northeast is the only rail route in America than competes effectively with air travel, as the two-hour forty-five minute trip from downtown D.C. to midtown Manhattan or Wall Street is preferable to flying the airline shuttle.
But basic geography along with time-and-distance calculation are lost on dreamy Lotus Land progressives. Think only of the initial version of the “Green New Deal,” where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez envisioned nationwide high-speed rail replacing air travel, which is as impossible as repealing gravity. Very few people are going to take high-speed rail from New York to Chicago, not to mention Los Angeles.
The left’s quest for the holy rail is ultimately of a piece with their love affair with European social democracy, with its more regimented and conformist society. It also likely reflects their hatred of the automobile and the individual autonomy it has enabled in our vast country for a century. “Getting people out of their cars” has been a deranged obsession of the left for decades, made more urgent in recent years by the left’s desire to stop Americans from listening to conservative talk radio. Rail is yet another dead-end, but it will take more than flashing warning lights from the New York Times to get progressives to wake up.
Merry Christmas from the Great Resetters
You know, the "conspiracy theory" that, according to the New York Times, doesn't really exist -- despite the fact that the Great Resetters are out and proud. Paul Joseph Watson nails the hypocrisy (and this video is even safe for work!)
Here's the American version of Pravda "debunking" the very thing that Klaus Schwab and others are advocating -- who are you going to believe: Pravda or Schwab's lying lips?
A baseless conspiracy theory about the coronavirus has found new life as cases surge once again. On Monday morning, the phrase “The Great Reset” trended with nearly 80,000 tweets, with most of the posts coming from familiar far-right internet personalities. The conspiracy alleges that a cabal of elites has long planned for the pandemic so that they could use it to impose their global economic control on the masses. In some versions of the unfounded rumor, it is only President Trump who is thwarting this plan and keeping the scheme at bay.
The narrative first took root in late May, when Prince Charles and Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, announced plans to convene world leaders and discuss climate change and how to rebuild an economy damaged by the pandemic. The meeting was branded as a “Great Reset,” and the false rumors about the tight-knit group of elites manipulating the global economy took off. Soon, far-right internet commentators with records of spreading misinformation posted about the conspiracy, collecting tens of thousands of likes and shares on Facebook and Twitter.
The partisan hacks at Pravda really need to look up the meaning of one of their favorite words, "baseless." On the other hand, maybe it's not a real "conspiracy theory" when it's an actual conspiracy, naked as a jaybird and squatting under your Christmas tree.
Best Way to Get Sick? Just Go Green
Psst -- wanna catch a fatal virus or a deadly bacterial infection? It's simple -- just go Green. John Tierney, a veteran science writer for the New York Times and an editor at the Manhattan Institute's publication, City Journal, has the scoop:
The COVID-19 outbreak is giving new meaning to those “sustainable” shopping bags that politicians and environmentalists have been so eager to impose on the public. These reusable tote bags can sustain the COVID-19 and flu viruses—and spread the viruses throughout the store.
Researchers have been warning for years about the risks of these bags spreading deadly viral and bacterial diseases, but public officials have ignored their concerns, determined to eliminate single-use bags and other plastic products despite their obvious advantages in reducing the spread of pathogens. In New York State, a new law took effect this month banning single-use plastic bags in most retail businesses, and this week Democratic state legislators advanced a bill that would force coffee shops to accept consumers’ reusable cups—a practice that Starbucks and other chains have wisely suspended to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus.
The COVID-19 virus is just one of many pathogens that shoppers can spread unless they wash the bags regularly, which few people bother to do. Viruses and bacteria can survive in the tote bags up to nine days, according to one study of coronaviruses.
You're supposed to regularly launder your shopping bags, but of course hardly anybody does. As Tierney notes, a 2012 study by the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Grocery Bags and Foodborne Illness found that after the city and county of San Francisco (they are coterminous) banned single use plastic bags, admissions to the city's emergency rooms shot up by 25 percent relative to its neighboring northern California counties that had not banned throwaway bags.
We examine the pattern of emergency room admissions related to bacterial intestinal infections, especially those related to E. coli around the implementation of the San Francisco County ban in October 2007. We find that ER admissions increase by at least one fourth relative to other California counties. Subsequent bans in other California municipalities resulted in similar increases. An examination of deaths related to intestinal infections shows a comparable increase. Using standard estimates of the statistical value of life, we show that the health costs associated with the San Francisco ban swamp any budgetary savings from reduced litter. This assessment is unlikely to be reversed even if fairly liberal estimates of the other environmental benefits are included.
Tierney has also criticized the nonsensical ban on plastic straws, most recently in the Wall Street Journal:
Why do politicians want to take away our plastic bags and straws? This moral panic is intensifying even as evidence mounts that banning plastic is both a waste of money and harmful to the environment. If you want to protect dolphins and sea turtles, you should take special care to place your plastic in the trash, not the recycling bin. And if you’re worried about climate change, you’ll cherish those gossamer grocery bags once you learn the facts about plastic.
During the 1970s, environmentalists wanted to restrict the use of plastic because it was made from petroleum. When the “energy crisis” abated, they denounced plastic for not being biodegradable in landfills. They blamed it for littering the landscape, clogging sewer drains and global warming. Plastic from our “throwaway society” was killing vast numbers of sea creatures, according to a 2017 BBC documentary series. The series prompted Queen Elizabeth II to ban plastic straws and bottles from the royal estates, and it galvanized so many other leaders that greens celebrate what they call the “Blue Planet Effect,” named for the series.
Naturally, the media bears a lot of the blame for plastic's bad rap, convincing the public that the bag you threw in the trash today somehow winds up in the Pacific Ocean tomorrow.
Popular misconceptions have sustained the plastic panic. Environmentalists frequently claim that 80% of plastic in the oceans comes from land-based sources, but a team of scientists from four continents reported in 2018 that more than half the plastic in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” came from fishing boats—mostly discarded nets and other gear. Another study, published last year by Canadian and South African researchers, found that more than 80% of the plastic bottles that had washed up on the shore of Inaccessible Island, an uninhabited extinct volcano in the South Atlantic, originated in China. They must have been tossed off boats from Asia, the greatest source of what researchers call “mismanaged waste.”
Of the plastic carried into oceans by rivers, a 2017 study in Nature Communications estimated, 86% comes from Asia and virtually all the rest from Africa and South America. Some plastic in America is littered on beaches and streets, and winds up in sewer drains. But researchers have found that laws restricting plastic bags and food containers don’t reduce litter. The resources wasted on these anti-plastic campaigns would be better spent on more programs to discourage all kinds of littering.
His conclusion? "Single-use plastic bags aren’t the worst environmental choice at the supermarket—they’re the best. High-density polyethylene bags are a marvel of economic, engineering and environmental efficiency. They’re cheap, convenient, waterproof, strong enough to hold groceries but thin and light enough to make and transport using scant energy, water or other resources. Though they’re called single-use, most people reuse them, typically as trash-can liners.... Once discarded, they take up little room in landfills. That they aren’t biodegradable is a plus, because they don’t release greenhouse gases like decomposing paper and cotton bags. The plastic bags’ tiny quantity of carbon, extracted from natural gas, goes back underground, where it can be safely sequestered from the atmosphere and ocean in a modern landfill with a sturdy lining."
The Left typically views their pet peeves and causes through a Manichean lens: either you agree with them or you're in favor of destroying the planet and poisoning small children. It never seems to occur to them that their cure can be worse than the disease -- and that it might, in fact, be the disease itself.