Monday, April 11, 2011

Pennywise and Pound-Foolish

U.S. domestic politics gets curiouser and curiouser when it comes to travel and transport - and everything else.

Last Friday, it was announced with great fanfare that Democrats and Republicans struck a deal at literally the 11th hour to slash federal spending by $38 billion. Believing he had done something wonderful, President Barack Obama dropped by the Lincoln Memorial to high-five startled tourists. On the third full day after the deal, political reporters, who till then had obsessed about details of the negotiations, finally reported some detail about what is to be cut; surely, this is one of the most serious failures of reporting on a major story in recent memory.

In the 11 April Washington Post, reporter Philip Rucker previews the cuts. Among them, Rucker writes, are "a roughly $1.5 billion reduction in high-speed rail grants, a signature Obama administration program.'' If true, this puts the U.S. on a fast-track to Third World status when it comes to our outdated, deterioriating travel infrastructure. It also adds weight to the derisive remarks Republican politicians made about high-speed rail after the annual State of the Union message, when rail became a conservative punch-line.

As for the notionally liberal President Obama, it's hard to know what to think of him. Elected in 2008 on a message of hope, vision and "change we can believe in,'' Obama seems ready to abandon his cherished programs, policies and principals at any hint of serious resistence. What does Obama stand for? What does he believe in? The only certainty is that he likes power very much and will do what he needs to do to cling to power in the election of 2012. Writing as one who didn't drink the Kool-Aid on Obama, I can't say I'm surprised.

So, badly needed rail is delayed at best, and perhaps derailed. As Rucker points out in the Post (, though, there is one kind of transport that is getting plenty of bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress. Writes Rucker:

"Meanwhile, funding for an alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter program is not expected to be included in the spending bill, according to a source with knowledge of the decision. The Ohio district of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R.) stands to gain from the costly and controversial defense project, and General Electric Co. (which paid no federal taxes last year on billions in profits - D.A.) was reportedly lobbying over the weekend to keep money for the project in the budget.''

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