June 24, 2009

Thank You Buckeye Institute (Report: High-Speed Rail a Waste of Money)

Filed under: Economy,Environment,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 2:13 pm

BuckInstNoToHSrail0609.jpgReally, of all the dumber than a box of rocks ideas Ted Strickland has gotten behind, “high-speed rail” — especially the Ohio portion of it, which should be called “car-speed rail” — is among the very worst.

I’m copying the Buckeye Institute’s Executive Summary from its full report (“Why Ohio Should Not Build High-Speed Rail”; a 2.2 mb PDF), because I haven’t had a chance to rip into this particular pet peeve, and it deserves the thorough thrashing The Institute administered (bolds are mine):

In February 2009, Congress dedicated $8 billion of stimulus funds to high-speed rail projects. In April 2009, President Obama released his high-speed rail “vision” for America, which includes 8,500 miles that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) had identified as potential high-speed rail routes in 2001. In June, the FRA announced its criteria for states to apply for high-speed rail grants out of the $8 billion in stimulus funds.

Yet the FRA has no estimates how much high-speed rail will ultimately cost, who will ride it, who will pay for it, and whether the benefits can justify the costs. A realistic review shows that high-speed rail will be extremely costly and will add little to American mobility or environmental quality.

The best available data indicate that the FRA plan will cost about $90 billion, or roughly one-fifth the inflation-adjusted cost of the Interstate Highway system. This plan will provide trains with average speeds of 140-150 miles per hour (mph) in California, 75-85 mph in Florida, and moderate-speed trains averaging 55-75 mph in Ohio and 30 other states.

The average American will ride these trains less than 60 miles per year, or about 1/70th as much as the average American travels on Interstate freeways. In fact, most of the taxpayers who pay for high-speed trains will rarely or never use them.

Because of a premium fare structure and downtown orientation, the main patrons of high-speed trains will be the wealthy and downtown workers, such as bankers, lawyers, and government officials, whose employers pay the fare.

A true high-speed rail system, with average speeds of 140-150 mph connecting major cities in 33 states, would cost well over $500 billion. Meeting political demands to close gaps in the system could bring the cost close to $1 trillion. At twice the cost of the Interstate Highway system, such a true high-speed rail system would provide less than 1/10th the mobility offered by the interstates.

These costs include only the projected capital costs. States that decide to build moderate- or high-speed rail may be responsible for cost overruns, operating losses, and the costs of replacing and rehabilitating equipment about every 19 years. Upgrading the 450 miles of Ohio tracks in the FRA plan to run trains at 110 mph would cost taxpayers close to $1.6 billion, or nearly $140 for every ohio resident. Subsidizing passenger trains over those routes will cost more than $30 million per year. Yet the average Ohioan will take a round trip on such trains only once every 17 years.

Far from being an environmental savior, high- and moderate-speed trains are likely to do more harm to the environment than good. In intercity travel, automobiles are already as energy-efficient as Amtrak, and the energy efficiencies of both autos and airliners are growing faster than trains. The energy cost of constructing new high-speed rail lines will dwarf any operational savings. As the state of Florida concluded in 2005, “the environmentally preferred alternative is the No Build alternative.”

To add insult to injury, the administration is likely to require states that accept high-speed rail funds to regulate property rights in a futile effort to discourage driving and promote rail travel. These regulations will deny rural landowners the right to develop their land while they make urban housing unaffordable and disrupt neighborhoods through the construction of high-density housing.

For all of these reasons—high costs, tiny benefits, and interference with property rights—Ohio should not attempt to provide high-speed rail service. Instead, it should use its share of the $8 billion stimulus funds solely for incremental upgrades, such as safer grade crossings and signaling systems, that do not obligate state taxpayers to pay future operations and maintenance costs.

The idea of almost-empty trains rumbling along at the same average speed as a car, with most passengers getting to and leaving from their pick-up and drop-off points in, um, a car — and dressing it all up as environmental improvement — should be fodder for late-night comedy. Instead, our governor takes it seriously.

Urban mass transit in “vertical cities” like New York and Chicago makes sense. As to high-speed rail, there are some parts of the country where it might work. LA to Frisco may be one, but that’s because that corridor probably has five times as many people as Ohio’s 3C corridor, and I believe much higher potential speeds.

Here’s a better idea, President Limos for Ice Cream and T-Shirt Ted: Instead of wasting untold millions for years to come in Ohio on car-speed rail, make I-70, I-71, I-75, I-80, and I-90 at least three lanes in each direction throughout the entire state, and raise the rural interstate and limited-access highway speed limit to 70. Those two steps would actually do something to promote efficiency and commerce, something a state with a 10.8% unemployment rate could sort of use — in case you guys really care about that.

Boston Globe Story Describes MA’s State-Run Health Care As ‘Trailblazing’ As Its Problems Deepen; Will OBC/ABC Notice?

RomneySignsHealthBill0406.jpgThere may be no limit to how far establishment media reporters will go in their attempt to prop up the public perception of failing state-run health care programs.

The latest example comes from Massachusetts. The Bay State’s CommonwealthCare (aka RomneyCare, so nicknamed because Governor Mitt Romney, rumored to be a Republican and pictured at right, championed the legislation’s passage and signed the bill in 2006) continues to implode — as anyone with a brain could have predicted, and as many, including yours truly (fourth item at link), did predict.

Despite deep cuts, which essentially amount to large-scale rationing of care and cash-starving of providers, the Boston Globe’s Kay Lazar, in an allegedly straight news story, felt compelled to describe the state’s health care arrangement as “trailblazing,” and to characterize a 12% budget cut as “trimming.”

Here are key paragraphs from what amounts to Lazar’s lament, with “rationing” tags added by yours truly for emphasis:

State cuts its health coverage by $115m
Board to slow enrollment in Commonwealth Care

Overseers of Massachusetts’ trailblazing healthcare program made their first cuts yesterday, trimming $115 million, or 12 percent, from Commonwealth Care, which subsidizes premiums for needy residents and is the centerpiece of the 2006 law.

….. The largest share of the savings will come from slowing enrollment. (rationing) An estimated 18,000 poor residents who qualify for full subsidies, but who forget to designate a health plan, will no longer be automatically assigned a plan and enrolled and thus could face delays in getting care. (bureaucratic rationing)

The board also eliminated dental coverage for the poorest residents enrolled in Commonwealth Care, roughly 92,000 people who currently are the only ones in the program who receive that care. (rationing) Regulators said that would save $10 million. Dental coverage was retained in the budget approved by lawmakers last week, and now it falls to the governor to decide its fate.

Also hanging in the balance is the health insurance status of 28,000 legal immigrants whose Commonwealth Care coverage was dropped in the budget lawmakers approved for the fiscal year that begins July 1. (rationing) Governor Deval Patrick has until Monday to decide whether to veto any of that budget, which set aside $116 million less for Commonwealth Care than he proposed.

….. But Kirwan said the $115 million in cuts the Connector Authority board approved yesterday were merely to deal with shrinking state revenues and the rapid growth in enrollment in Commonwealth Care, which has 177,000 members and was projected to grow to 212,000 in the next year.

….. Patrick Holland, the Connector Authority’s chief financial officer, said enrollment spiked during the last three months, from 165,000 to nearly 177,000 members, because so many workers are losing their jobs and, with that, employer-provided health insurance.

The progress of the Massachusetts healthcare initiative is being closely watched in Washington, where Congress is crafting national legislation to extend coverage to more Americans. The Massachusetts law, cited as one model in the national debate, requires nearly everyone to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.

….. Leaders of Health Care for All, one of the state’s largest consumer groups, said the changes will be especially hard on residents whose first language is not English and who have difficulty understanding the complex enrollment paperwork. (bureaucratic rationing)

….. Much of the rest of the $115 million in savings, $32 million, comes from slowing payments to the managed-care health insurance companies that won bids to offer insurance through the Commonwealth Care program.

“Trailblazing”? How about “earth-scorching?”

When’s the last time anyone in the establishment media described a 12% cut in a government program as “trimming”? Much smaller cuts, or even reductions in projected spending that are actually increases, have usually been accompanied by descriptive adjectives like “slashing,” “stripping,” “slicing,” “gutting,” etc. But there is apparently no cow more sacred than state-run health care, so a 12% cut is only “trimming.”

Two other points:

  • The $32 million in “slowing payments” looks like a cash-flow gimmick that saves no long-term dollars. But it does reduce capital available at the managed-care companies, who will have to consider how cavalier the state is about paying its bills on time when quoting premiums for future coverage.
  • We can only hope that Ms. Lazar is right that “The progress of the Massachusetts healthcare initiative is being closely watched in Washington.” If it is, people will reject what President Obama and Congress are proposing, which in many ways, including the odious penalties for not buying insurance, mimics the Massacusetts mess.

One of the litmus tests today and tonight at OBC — er, I mean ABC, where they’re getting quite testy — will be whether anyone dares to cite the train wreck in Massachusetts, and whether anyone in the administration is forced into a coherent explanation of how the federal program will somehow work out differently. If it comes up, I’m afraid the answer will be on the order of “Poor little Massachusetts, they’re trying to do something as one state that will only work when managed nationally. We’ll do it right.” Horse manure.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Lucid Links (062409, Morning)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 10:18 am

Noteworthy Net-Worthies:

From the Federal Housing Finance Agency (PDF) — “U.S. home prices fell 0.1 percent on a seasonally-adjusted basis from March to April, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s monthly House Price Index. The previously reported 1.1 percent decline in March was revised to a 1.4 percent decline. For the 12 months ending in April, U.S. prices fell 6.8 percent. The U.S. index is 11.2 percent below its April 2007 peak.”

Hmm. I seem to remember CBS MarketWatch’s Rex Nutting sending me scary graphs telling me that the housing bust was going to be as bad as NASDAQ’s 75% plunge in the early 2000s. Not exactly. I thought prices would drop 5% to 10% at worst. I’m a bit closer.

The fact is, it’s still pretty bad, it’s just not Rex Nutting, Dutch tulips bad. The shame is that if it weren’t for the Democrat-inflicted, electoral victory-motivated, country-be-damned onset of the POR (Pelosi-Obama-Reid) Economy a year ago, the worst of the housing mess would be in the rear-view mirror.

But it’s not over, and as long as this administration thinks that time-delayed, historically ineffective and comparatively ineffective government “stimulus” is the way out, it won’t be over, or it will at best continue to drag out over several years.


Michelle Malkin is calling Michelle ObamaFirst Crony.” The shoe fits.

A few days ago, doing work the establishment media won’t do, Malkin noted that “Michelle Obama’s installation as the face and voice of the government volunteerism boondoggle only deepens suspicions about the role she and her staff may have played in (Gerald) Walpin’s sacking. So does Michelle Obama’s past exploitation of the “community service” mantle to reward Chicago politicos (see “The Obama horror story you won’t hear“).”


Unemployment rate prediction watch — President Obama moved from saying it will hit 10% on June 16 to “unemployment will end up going over 10 percent” in yesterday’s press conference.

At least on that one one, he’ll be right no matter what, even if the rate goes to 11%, or 12%, or 13% ….

Positivity: The USS New York (aka ‘The Never Forget’)

Filed under: Positivity,US & Allied Military — Tom @ 5:57 am



Big 3 Nets’ Evening News: It’s Summertime, and the Viewers Are Leaving

Media Bistro broke it Tuesday morning, and gave us all of the details shortly after noon. The news: CBS and ABC’s evening newscasts both came in with record low viewerships during the week of June 15.

ABC’s fall to less than 6.5 million total viewers is probably more of a surprise than CBS’s plunge below 5 million. Is there a health care propaganda backlash?

But the biggest news, as usual, is the combined audience drop, this time to barely 19 million. As usual, Media Bistro didn’t note that.

Here’s a chart comparing the overall and 25-54 demographic audiences during the week of June 15, 2009 to those of the previous weekJanuary 26, 2009 (a combined high-water mark during the first week after Barack Obama’s inauguration) and June 16, 2008:


Media Bistro charitably notes that Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric were on vacation, and that the transition to digital TV may have been a factor. The digital TV claim actually makes a bit of sense, because the previous week-over-week percentage drops in the 25-54 demo have usually been larger than the overall audience declines. This time, the overall drop was larger than the 25-54 demo drop. But if some older folks have lost the use of their TVs, how sure can anyone be as to the percentage that are going to come back? The next few weeks will determine whether the two excuses just named are valid.

CBS’s fall may be a bit of a milestone, in that its June 15 weekly average audience was less than the 8 PM combined cable news channel audiences of Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and CNN Headline on MondayTuesday,Wednesday, and Thursday of that same week. That may very well be a first-time-ever occurrence.

There are plenty more hazy, lazy, crazy weeks of summer remaining. All-praise-Dear-Leader, all-the-time doesn’t seem to be working out very well at the Big 3 Networks.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.