Category Archives: News commentary

A Lesson about Big Government

The resignation of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber after just a little more than a month of his fourth term in office could be seen as making a case for term limits. But really, it is a classic example of the pitfalls of using big government to solve social problems.

Oregon limits governors to two consecutive four-year terms. Kitzhaber was in the governor’s mansion from 1995 to 2003. Then, Putin-like, after letting someone else be governor for a couple of terms, he ran again and won in 2010. Despite warning signs from Pulitzer-Prize-winning Willamette Week reporter Nigel Jaquiss, Kitzhaber coasted to victory (endorsed by Jaquiss’ own paper, among others) over a Republican legislator who represented one of the least-populated, and therefore politically inconsequential, parts of the state.

What brought Kitzhaber down was clear evidence that his girlfriend, Cylvia Hayes, who called herself the First Lady of Oregon and bragged that she was his “policy advisor,” aggressively used her connections to the governor to get contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby the state on energy policy, among other things. Rather than attempt to show that Hayes was keeping her roles as First Lady and lobbyist separate, Kitzhaber stonewalled public access to emails and even reportedly ordered his staff to destroy thousands of such emails. It was this stonewalling, more than the corruption charges, that led major Democrats in the state to turn against the governor.

Kitzhaber is a charismatic man who has a reputation with working with people on both sides of the political aisle. Yet this is far from his first major political scandal that cost taxpayer millions and involved questionable actions on the part of his friends and associates.

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Late Night Boston

What gives transit riders such an incredible sense of entitlement? The state of Massachusetts has to close a $175 million budget gap. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA or “the T” for short) is still suffering from a huge maintenance shortfall. Yet Boston transit riders think they should get 24-hour transit service, no matter what the cost or how few people use it.

An experiment with late-night transit service–running certain buses and trains until 2:30 am instead of just 1:00 am–has attracted an average of just 17,000 riders per day, or less than 12,000 per hour, at an annual cost of $13 million. For comparison, before the experiment began, the T carried nearly 1.4 million riders per weekday, or close to 700,000 per hour for the 20 hours the system had been open. Plus, at least some of those 17,000 riders would have used the T anyway, just at an earlier hour.

Transit advocates say longer hours are needed to “retain talented young professionals and tech workers while boosting night life at the same time.” But when the T asked the “corporations that could ultimately benefit from the service by retaining young talent” to contribute to late-night operating costs, they got less than 7 percent of the cost of extending service hours.

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The Ideal Communist Climate-Friendly City

To stop climate change, Al Gore wants to spend a mere $90 trillion rebuilding all of the world’s cities so that everyone is living in such high-density neighborhoods that they don’t need cars. While a few curmudgeonly types might think that $90 trillion sounds like a lot of money, it really isn’t, say Gore and former Mexico president Filipe Calderon. After all, the world is probably going to spend the $90 trillion on something in the next few years anyway, so what’s wrong with spending it on this?


Gore wants to rebuild this dumb-growth city into. . .

Gore made the proposal at an economics conference in Davos, Switzerland attended by billionaires who fly in on private jets so they can tell other people they need to get used to consuming less. Of course, neither Gore nor the other millionaires and billionaires at the conference expect to be stuck living in a high-density apartment any time soon.

this smart-growth city (illustrations by Alain Bertaud).

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Liberals and Libertarians

Brutality on the part of overly militarized police forces. Too many people in prison due mainly to a war on victimless crimes. Routine torture. The national surveillance state. A president who believes he can remotely kill anyone he wants without trial or due process.

Assett forfeiture. States and cities that routinely take away people’s property rights without compensation or take people’s property with compensation to give to private developers on the pretext that, because the new owners will pay more taxes than existing owners, it is in the public interest.

These are a few of my least-favorite things about America today. This list heavily overlaps eleven reasons why liberal Dave Lindorff is ashamed to be an American. On most of these issues (except, perhaps, regulatory takings), liberals and libertarians are in full agreement.

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Champions at Making Promises

The White House has applauded Portland and fifteen other local governments as “climate action champions” for promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps the White House should have waited to see whether any of the communities managed to meet their goals before patting them on the back.

Take Portland, for example. The Northwest city’s modest goal is to reduce Portland and Multnomah County emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. Planners claim that, as of 2010, the city and county had reduced emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels. However, this claim is full of hot air as all of the reductions are due to causes beyond planners’ control.

Almost two-thirds of the reduction was in the industrial sector, and virtually all of that was due to the closure in 2000 of an aluminum plant that once employed 520 people. The closure of that plant hasn’t led anyone to use less aluminum, so all it did was move emissions elsewhere.

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ARTIC Chill

Next week, Anaheim California will open the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, which is a grammatically contorted and glorified way of saying “Anaheim train and bus station.” A recent article suggests that some people think the station is an architectural monstrosity, but the real question that should have been debated is cost: was it really worth $185 million to build a train and bus station?


All this could be yours for a mere $2,784 per square foot. Click image for a larger view.

At 67,000 square feet. the station’s cost works out to an incredible $2,764 per square foot. Can you imagine any private firm spending that kind of money on a building to serve even the most profitable business, much less a money-losing one?

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Racism, War, and the Environment

The Antiplanner grew up in the 1960s, when racism was rampant, we were fighting an undeclared and, many believed, immoral war on the other side of the world, and air pollution was so thick in American cities that visibility was often significantly reduced. By the time I was out of college in the mid-1970s, the war was over, racial discrimination seemed to be history, but the environment still appeared to be in trouble. I elected to spend my career working on environmental issues.


“My whole thing is that the world needs to wake the fuck up,” said 27-year-old Ferguson resident Darren Seals. “When a boy was just laying here dead, we didn’t get all this attention. Burn Quick Trip down and now everybody coming. That’s sending off the wrong message. We got to start valuing life more than we value material. It’s been more about the rioting than the boy being dead. His life is more valuable than any of that. It shouldn’t be money over everything. It should be life over everything.” Flickr photo by Youth Radio.

It turns out that was the easy choice. Today, air pollution is practically nil in all but a few major urban areas. Rivers and streams are also mostly cleaned up. At least 5 percent, and probably much more, of the land area of the United States is in a wilderness or other classification that will never be developed.

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Skeptical about Streetcars? You’re a Racist!

Count on someone at the Washington Post to play the race card in the postmortems over the Arlington streetcar. “Lower-income, racially diverse South Arlington has been counting on the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar projects to deliver a jolt of growth,” says Post columnist Robert McCartney. The county board’s decision to kill the streetcar will therefore “deepen” the “class and racial divisions” that afflict the county.

Yet the people who were against throwing close to $600 million down a couple of ratholes ($358 million for the Columbia Pike streetcar and $227 million for a Crystal City streetcar) aren’t racists. They were just unlike McCartney in their ability to see through the rhetoric and lies used to promote these boondoggles.

Compared with buses, streetcars are inferior in every way but one: they are slower, have fewer seats, add more to congestion, and when one breaks down they all have to come to a stop. The only thing that streetcars excel in is spending other peoples’ money. After seeing the county blow through nearly $1 million on a bus shelter that didn’t even shelter bus riders from the elements, voters were fed up with spending what was supposedly other peoples’ money.

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Columbia Pike Streetcar Cancelled

The county board for Arlington County, Virginia, has voted four-to-one to cancel all planning for a proposed $358 million, 7.7-mile streetcar line along Columbia Pike. This should also effectively shut down planning for a Crystal City streetcar that was projected to cost $227 million.

The decision came on the heels of board member John Vilstadt’s re-election with 56 percent of the vote. Despite being an incumbent, Vilstadt was running at a disadvantage as an independent in a strongly Democratic district. Streetcar supported had hoped that Vilstadt’s election in a special vote last spring was “a fluke.” Yet, by making the streetcar the centerpiece of his campaign, he was able to prevail against a strong Democratic challenger.

Local political experts predicted predicted that Vilstadt’s decisive victory would kill the momentum behind the streetcar. “There is no way” that board members who are up for re-election next year can win “if they’re running as pro-streetcar candidates,” said Ben Tribbett. Tribbett’s prediction has come true. At least three of the other Arlington board members could read the election returns and agreed with the board chair that “the only way to move forward together … is to discontinue the streetcar project.”

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Too Many Goals

Last week, the director of the Civil Rights Division for Denver’s Regional Transit District (RTD), Kenneth Hardin, was indicted for having allegedly “corruptly solicited and accepted money from a person intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with RTD business.” While no further details were provided by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Denver, it is reasonable to speculate that Hardin is being accused of accepting a bribe to give a minority preference to a potential contractor that wasn’t really minority owned.

Federal regulations require transit agencies that receive federal funding “To ensure nondiscrimination in the award and administration of DOT-assisted contracts.” The best way to “ensure nondiscrimination,” the regulations go on to say, is to set aside a specific percentage of contracts for “disadvantaged business enterprises.” By definition, a “disadvantaged business” is one that is at least 51 percent owned by minorities, women, or other “individuals who are both socially and economically disadvantaged.”

In other words, and something that will not surprise anyone familiar with American civil rights laws, the rules require that agencies ensure nondiscrimination through discrimination. In RTD’s case, the agency is committed to making sure that at least 15 percent of its contracts go to disadvantaged businesses, and Hardin’s job was making sure that happened.

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