Going Nowhere Fast

Hailed as a high-speed road to the future, a jobs program and a symbol of America’s dedication to innovation, President Obama proposed Monday spending $8 billion on a bullet train — a down payment on a nationwide network that will cost $58 billion over the next six years.

But in the one state where the federal high-speed rail project is underway, critics say money is being misspent, ridership studies are inflated, the route is politically corrupted and the system will never be self supporting.

“They don’t know where they’re going to build it, they don’t have a mile of right of way under possession, it is not shovel ready, it is not even engineer ready,” said Richard Tolmach, with the California High-Speed Rail Authority. “It is still a work in progress where the line might go. Right now it is not somewhere the feds should be putting their money.”

But the feds are putting money into the project. Already California has received about $3.8 billion, mostly in stimulus money. But as the high-speed rail project that is furthest along, it stands to bring home the lion’s share of any additional federal money.

And that is where the controversy comes in. The first leg of the project is slated for the middle of Central Valley — not between major cities, or congested freeway corridors like San Francisco and San Jose or Orange County and Los Angeles. The Central Valley site is between Borden — a point on the map where no one lives — and Corcoran, a town where half the residents will never board a train because they’re in prison.

“We heard things like it’s the ‘train to nowhere’ and we tell people we’re not nowhere, we’re Mayberry,” Corcoran City manager Ron Hoggard said.

The train will never stop in Corcoran, but many locals want the jobs. However, city officials fear the noise, environmentalists fear for the wildlife, and farmers don’t want their land and irrigation lines bisected.

“So if it comes through town and it’s elevated, you know you have an elevated graffiti magnet at 85 decibels every six minutes. That’s probably not a good thing for this small town feel that we want to have,” Hoggard said.

But rail officials say they had no choice.

“We have to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes, that’s by state law. The only way to do that is through the Central Valley,” said Jeff Barker, with the California Rail Authority.

The state hopes to leverage the public money into billions in private investment. But so far the ridership numbers put out by the state don’t support profitability, thereby requiring a government guarantee. That is something supporters won’t admit, since it would likely sink the project.

Critics say the bullet train is a boondoggle and black hole of taxpayer dollars for decades to come. Advocates say it is a vital link in America’s transportation future, relieving congesting in the skies and on the freeways. They also say it will create thousands of jobs, helping justify the cost. But in California alone, with new estimates putting the cost at $65 billion, is it a luxury Congress feels America can afford.

Government Motors Says Screw the American People

General Motors Co. will pay more than $189 million in profit-sharing to 48,000 U.S. hourly workers and millions more in performance bonuses to salaried employees, according to company documents obtained by The Associated Press.

GM will pay most hourly workers more than $4,000 each as compensation for its strong financial performance last year, said a person briefed on the bonuses. The payments come less than two years after the automaker emerged from bankruptcy protection with the help of a huge government bailout. They’re more than double the previous record payment of $1,775 in 1999, at the height of the boom in sales of sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

“On the whole, we made tremendous progress last year,” CEO and Chairman Dan Akerson said in an e-mail message to employees announcing the payments on Monday. “With our collective teamwork, this can be just the beginning.”

GM’s 28,000 salaried workers, such as engineers and managers, will get bonuses equal to 4 to 16 percent of their base pay. Fewer than 1 percent will get 50 percent or more; another 3 percent will get from 16 percent to around 50 percent, the person said. GM is not giving annual pay raises.

GM made $4.2 billion in the first nine months of 2010 and is expected to soon announce a fourth-quarter profit. The company needed a $49.5 billion government bailout to survive a mid-2009 bankruptcy filing, and the government still owns 25 percent of GM’s stock. Chrysler, which needed a $12.5 billion bailout, plans to pay bonuses as well. The government owns about 9 percent of Chrysler stock.

Read more here.

Egyptian Army suspends constitution, parliament, Democracy, a Republic?

The Egyptian army moved to consolidate its newly-seized power today by neutralizing the political institutions of Egypt, at least for the moment:

The Egyptian military consolidated its control Sunday over what it has called a democratic transition from three decades of President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian rule, dissolving the country’s feeble parliament, suspending the constitution and calling for elections in six months in sweeping steps that echoed protesters’ demands.

The statement by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, read on television, effectively put Egypt under direct military authority, thrusting the country into territory uncharted since republican Egypt was founded in 1952. Though enjoying popular support, the military must now cope with the formidable task of negotiating a post-revolutionary landscape still basking in the glow of Mr. Mubarak’s fall but beset by demands to ameliorate hardships that percolated across Cairo on Sunday.

Since seizing power from Mr. Mubarak on Friday, the military has sought to strike the right note, responding in words and action to the platform articulated by hundreds of thousands in Tahrir Square. But beyond more protests, there is almost no check on the sweep of military rule, and while opposition leaders welcomed the moves some have quietly raised worries about the role of the army in Egypt’s future.

This is actually good news, at least from the American perspective. We want a transition to democracy, but one that doesn’t involve chaos and radicals from the Muslim Brotherhood to seize control in the midst of it. Egypt needs some time to allow alternative voices of democratization to organize into competing political parties that will keep the Ikhwan from asserting its current organizational advantage over other voices that the Mubarak regime suppressed more successfully.

The Obama administration seems to have belatedly realized this as well. They have recovered from their demands for an immediate transition to democracy and apparently have instead begun quietly acquiescing, at least, to transitional control by the army in the form of Omar Suleiman’s de facto regency. This gives the US the best chance to influence events, since the army gets a significant subsidy from the US, as well as acting as a brake on Islamist ambitions. The White House should be hoping that Egypt’s army will eventually position itself as a bulwark against radicalism in a democratic state, in the same manner as Turkey.

However, that depends on whether Omar Suleiman is a reincarnation of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk rather than a successor to Hosni Mubarak. There are few examples of military coups resulting in the birth of democracies; Ataturk’s was one of the few. Usually when armies seize power, they keep it, which is exactly what happened in Egypt in 1952, resulting in Nasser’s elevation to president-for-life in 1956. And in 1952, Nasser and the other leaders of the revolution ostensibly intended to establish a democracy in Egypt, too.

Israel ready to defend itself against Muslim Invaders, yet again.

The Israeli military is “ready for all eventualities” as the Arab and Muslim world undergoes “an earthquake,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday just days after Egypt’s regime collapsed.

“An earthquake is shaking the whole Arab world and a large part of the Muslim world and we don’t yet know how these things will turn out,” the premier said at a swearing-in ceremony for new army chief Major General Benny Gantz.

“We are ready for all eventualities because we know that the foundation of our existence, and our capacity to convince our neighbours to live in peace with us, is based on the Israeli army,” he said during a ceremony at his Jerusalem office.

Gantz takes over the post as Israel’s strategic stance in the Middle East undergoes a shakeup in the wake of a popular revolt in Egypt which ousted president Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power.

The Sound of Silence

For the second time in two years, tens of thousands of Iranian citizens are protesting in the streets of Tehran against their repressive government. Although thousands were jailed, tortured, and killed by Iranian security forces in the first waves of protests in 2009, a strong populist revolution is still alive and struggling in Iran.

As opposed to the revolution in Egypt, an overthrow of the regime in Iran could be staggeringly beneficial to the United States. Egypt is almost certain to move away from friendship with the US and the treaty with Israel, and toward an oppressive Islamic rule as orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. There are only potential disasters lurking in this regime change.

A change in governance in Iran, on the other hand, likely could result in a reduction in antagonism toward “The Great Satan” and “The Little Satan” (i.e., Iran’s characterization of the US and Israel). Even more importantly, it could significantly slow or completely halt their nuclear weapons program, which is the greatest single threat to global stability in human history.

The obvious question in regard to this revolutionary dichotomy is: Why is the Obama administration so vocally supportive of the populist revolt in Egypt, but so deadly silent about Iran? Why is Obama apparently silently supporting a regime that is our sworn mortal enemy over another that has been our steadfast friend and ally for over thirty years?

There is just not enough objective evidence to develop an educated conclusion as to the rationale for this foreign policy strategy. Since Obama himself will not tell us, we can only make blind assumptions based on his actions and behavior. And these appear erratic, inconsistent, and illogical for the leader of the free world.

It is almost as though his intentions are malevolent toward his own country, as crazy as that sounds.

We are assured by Michael Medved’s op ed headline in Monday’s Wall Street Journal that “Obama Isn’t Trying to ‘Weaken America'”. I feel much better now. Mr. Medved must be privy to some information not available to the rest of us, as the circumstantial evidence points toward the opposite conclusion.

Obama Wants What?

AL Jazeera is filled with anti-American propaganda. It is also awash in anti-Semitism. The material broadcast stokes terror and violence.

Why would the person who Barack Obama appointed to be the Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, Juliette Kayyem, advocate American cable companies carry the channel-a channel that cannot help but inflame tensions and anger and one that is not known for unbiased accuracy.

From an op-ed by Kayyem in the Boston Globe:

FOR THE past few weeks, a parallel plot line to the revolutions in the Arab world has been playing out in the media. With rare exceptions, the largest American cable and satellite providers simply do not provide viewers access to Al Jazeera English, the cousin to the powerful Qatar-based world news network. AJE has launched a full-fledged campaign – including advertisements quoting, of all people, major US news figures – to convince cable carriers to open their programming. But most have declined: Burlington, Vt., is the closest city to Boston where viewers can see the network on television.

AJE’s battle with the cable carriers is major news in the Middle East. Not carrying the network sends a message to the Arab world about America’s willingness to accept information, unfiltered, from the very region we spend so much time talking about. These television wars began not in Tunisia or Egypt, but in Iraq.

We have enough terror apologists in the media already without an entire station devoted to obscuring the truth being beamed into America’s homes.

Gaddafi tells Palestinians to revolt against Israel

I think the Palestinians are already doing a pretty good imitation of a “revolt,” don’t you?

Reuters:

Palestinian refugees should capitalise on the wave of popular revolts in the Middle East by massing peacefully on the borders of Israel until it gives in to their demands, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Sunday.

Gaddafi is respected in many parts of the Arab world for his uncompromising criticism of Israel and Arab leaders who have dealings with the Jewish state, though some people in the region dismiss his initiatives as unrealistic.

He was giving his first major speech since a popular uprising in neighbouring Egypt forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign, an event which electrified the Arab world and prompted speculation that other Arab governments could also be toppled.

“Fleets of boats should take Palestinians … and wait by the Palestinian shores until the problem is resolved,” Gaddafi was shown saying on state television. “This is a time of popular revolutions.”

Evidently, intifadas and terrorism just isn’t doing the trick of destroying Israel – one of Gaddafi’s “unrealistic” initiatives” that many in the Arab world actually support. Perhaps the Libyan leader ought to call on President Obama to lend a hand. What is needed is some good old fashioned community organizing. Obama may be a lousy president, but at least he has some experience in riling up the populace.

MSNBC Being Schooled

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