Monday, February 27, 2017

Daily Kos


Sunday, February 26, 2017

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Democrats embarrass themselves

Willie Brown gets this one right:

The Democratic state Senate leadership’s decision to have GOP Sen. Janet Nguyen dragged from the chambers for her attempt to criticize the late Tom Hayden was one of the dumbest moves I’ve seen in a long, long time.

The Democrats knew the day before Nguyen tried to give her speech Thursday that she was going to go after Hayden for his opposition to the Vietnam War, and that she would technically be out of order. So it’s not like they didn’t have time to figure out what to do about it, if anything.

The smart answer would have been to let her speak. That way they might have picked up a friend on the Republican side rather than a confirmed enemy, which is what they have now.

So, let’s review. What should have been a three-minute speech that attracted zero media attention has turned into a national story. In the process, the Democrats managed to elevate an all-but-unknown Orange County Republican into a household name in California and beyond, cementing her re-election and probably turning her into a candidate for statewide office.

Rob's comment:
This is an embarrassment for the Democratic Party, and I say that as a Democrat and a draft resister during the US attack on and invasion of Vietnam.

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Trump events week 5
Daily Kos (click for larger view)


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Homeland Security study refutes Trump's travel ban

NY Daily News Covers
New York Daily News

From the Associated Press:

Analysts at the Homeland Security Department's intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump's travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States.

A draft document obtained by The Associated Press concludes that citizenship is an "unlikely indicator" of terrorism threats to the United States and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria's civil war started in 2011.

Trump cited terrorism concerns as the primary reason he signed the sweeping temporary travel ban in late January, which also halted the U.S. refugee program. A federal judge in Washington state blocked the government from carrying out the order earlier this month. Trump said Friday a new edict would be announced soon. The administration has been working on a new version that could withstand legal challenges...

The Homeland Security report is based on unclassified information from Justice Department press releases on terrorism-related convictions and attackers killed in the act, State Department visa statistics, the 2016 Worldwide Threat Assessment from the U.S. intelligence community and the State Department Country Reports on Terrorism 2015.

The three-page report challenges Trump's core claims. It said that of 82 people the government determined were inspired by a foreign terrorist group to carry out or try to carry out an attack in the United States, just over half were U.S. citizens born in the United States. The others were from 26 countries, led by Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan. Of these, only Somalia and Iraq were among the seven nations included in the ban.

Of the other five nations, one person each from Iran, Sudan and Yemen was also involved in those terrorism cases, but none from Syria. It did not say if any were Libyan.

Thanks to Rachel Maddow.

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Cheryl Brinkman

Woman on a bicycle with traffic and Civic Center buildings behind her.
Cheryl Brinkman

Cheryl Brinkman will be the next chairman of the SFMTA Board of Directors, not that it will make any policy difference, since the MTA will continue its often ill-advised "improvements" to city streets. 

I first heard of Brinkman in a Japantown newsletter(page 13, 18)  in 2003 when she and Mary Brown, representing the Bicycle Coalition, tried unsuccessfully to get parking removed on Post Street to make bike lanes. 

Brinkman's anti-car credentials got her appointed to the board by Mayor Newsom. She led the move to take away parking on Polk Street to make bike lanes by invoking the safety lie. She was furious after people from Polk gulch vociferously rejected the MTA's plan to take away street parking to make bike lanes:

I want the proposal that doesn’t minimize parking loss. I was at that (Middle Polk Neighborhood Association) meeting, and I took offense. Anyone who showed up in support of the SFMTA would have been completely 100% intimidated to speak up. That was the worst public meeting I’ve ever attended.

When a cyclist killed a pedetrian on the Embarcadero, in a muddled message to Streetsblog Brinkman blamed the lack of bike infrastructure for the routine recklessness displayed by cyclists on city streets!

In short, she'll be a suitable successor to Tom Nolan.

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Transit ridership falling?

From a comment to this story: "It's overly simplistic to say 'bus restructuring' leads to ridership growth. Actually, what leads to ridership growth is service growth, not a mere rejiggering of buses."


Thanks to Alternet.


Friday, February 24, 2017

President Obama sneaks out

From the New Yorker (Anthony Bourdain's Moveable Feast):

When the President of the United States travels outside the country, he brings his own car with him. Moments after Air Force One landed at the Hanoi airport last May, President Barack Obama ducked into an eighteen-foot, armor-plated limousine—a bomb shelter masquerading as a Cadillac—that was equipped with a secure link to the Pentagon and with emergency supplies of blood, and was known as the Beast. Hanoi’s broad avenues are crowded with honking cars, storefront venders, street peddlers, and some five million scooters and motorbikes, which rush in and out of the intersections like floodwaters. It was Obama’s first trip to Vietnam, but he encountered this pageant mostly through a five-inch pane of bulletproof glass. He might as well have watched it on TV.

Obama was scheduled to meet with President Trần Đại Quang, and with the new head of Vietnam’s national assembly. On his second night in Hanoi, however, he kept an unusual appointment: dinner with Anthony Bourdain, the peripatetic chef turned writer who hosts the Emmy-winning travel show “Parts Unknown,” on CNN...

The White House had suggested the meeting in Vietnam. Of all the countries Bourdain has explored, it is perhaps his favorite; he has been there half a dozen times. He fell for Hanoi long before he actually travelled there, when he read Graham Greene’s 1955 novel, “The Quiet American,” and the city has retained a thick atmosphere of colonial decay—dingy villas, lugubrious banyan trees, monsoon clouds, and afternoon cocktails—that Bourdain savors without apology. Several years ago, he seriously considered moving there.

Bourdain believes that the age of the fifteen-course tasting menu “is over.” He is an evangelist for street food, and Hanoi excels at open-air cooking. It can seem as if half the population were sitting around sidewalk cookfires, hunched over steaming bowls of phở. As a White House advance team planned the logistics for Obama’s visit, an advance team from Zero Point Zero, the company that produces the show, scoured the city for the perfect place to eat. They selected Bún chả Hương Liên, a narrow establishment across from a karaoke joint on a busy street in the Old Quarter. The restaurant’s specialty is bún chả: springy white noodles, smoky sausage, and charred pork belly served in a sweet and pungent broth...

At the appointed hour, Obama exited the Beast and walked into the restaurant behind a pair of Secret Service agents, who cleared a path for him, like linemen blocking for a running back. In a rear dining room on the second floor, Bourdain was waiting at a stainless-steel table, surrounded by other diners, who had been coached to ignore the cameras and Obama, and to focus on their bún chả. Like many restaurants in Vietnam, the facility was casual in the extreme: diners and servers alike swept discarded refuse onto the floor, and the tiles had acquired a grimy sheen that squeaked beneath your feet. Obama was wearing a white button-down, open at the collar, and he greeted Bourdain, took a seat on a plastic stool, and happily accepted a bottle of Vietnamese beer.

“How often do you get to sneak out for a beer?” Bourdain asked.

“I don’t get to sneak out, period,” Obama replied. He occasionally took the First Lady to a restaurant, he said, but “part of enjoying a restaurant is sitting with other patrons and enjoying the atmosphere, and too often we end up getting shunted into one of those private rooms.”

As a young waitress in a gray polo shirt set down bowls of broth, a plate of greens, and a platter of shuddering noodles, Bourdain fished chopsticks from a plastic container on the table. Obama, surveying the constituent parts of the meal, evinced trepidation. He said, “All right, you’re gonna have to—”

“I’ll walk you through it,” Bourdain assured him, advising him to grab a clump of noodles with chopsticks and dunk them into the broth.

“I’m just gonna do what you do,” Obama said.

“Dip and stir,” Bourdain counselled. “And get ready for the awesomeness.”

Eying a large sausage that was floating in the broth, Obama asked, “Is it generally appropriate to just pop one of these whole suckers in your mouth, or do you think you should be a little more—”

“Slurping is totally acceptable in this part of the world,” Bourdain declared.

Obama took a bite and let out a low murmur. “That’s good stuff” he said, and the two of them—lanky, conspicuously cool guys in late middle age—slurped away as three cameras, which Bourdain had once likened to “drunken hummingbirds,” hovered around them. Noting the unaffected rusticity of the scene, Obama was reminded of a memorable meal that he had eaten as a child, in the mountains outside Jakarta. “You’d have these roadside restaurants overlooking the tea fields,” he recalled. “There’d be a river running through the restaurant itself, and there’d be these fish, these carp, that would be running through. You’d pick the fish. They’d grab it for you and fry it up, and the skin would be real crispy. They just served it with a bed of rice.” Obama was singing Bourdain’s song: earthy, fresh, free of pretense. “It was the simplest meal possible, and nothing tasted so good.”

But the world is getting smaller, Obama said. “The surprises, the serendipity of travel, where you see something and it’s off the beaten track, there aren’t that many places like that left.” He added, wistfully, “I don’t know if that place will still be there when my daughters are ready to travel. But I hope it is.” The next day, Bourdain posted a photograph of the meeting online. “Total cost of Bun cha dinner with the President: $6.00,” he tweeted. “I picked up the check”...


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thanks to the Huffington Post.

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City's "transition to a new reporting system" on traffic accidents

Carolyn Tyler

In its new Collisions Report, the MTA offers a disingenuous explanation of what's been happening in the last several years about how the city has been recording traffic accidents:

Since the previous 2010-2011 Collisions Report published in 2012, production of this report was delayed due to problems validating data during the transition to a new reporting system that relies on local data rather than state data. 

Until 2012, the SFMTA received collision data through the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records Systems (SWITRS), which is maintained by the California Highway Patrol (CHP). California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 20008 requires that local governments send their police collision reports to the State. The CHP then enters the data into its own database and reports it as official data. However, there has traditionally been a one- to two-year lag for an annual set of data to be considered official by the CHP. Since 2013, collision data has instead been reported directly by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and validated by the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the SFMTA.

The false implication here is that it was the "lag" in reporting traffic "collisions"---aka "accidents"---that was the problem and that the city is now in "a transition to a new reporting system."

The real problem is alluded to on the next page (4):

While injury collisions tend to be reported more consistently than non-injury collisions, unfortunately not all injury collisions are captured by police reports. These include crash types such as solo falls by people on bicycles and certain types of pedestrian-involved crashes. The extent of this underreporting will be better understood with DPH’s comprehensive transportation-related injury surveillance system, which will be released later this year.

This paragraph footnotes the UC study only I've written about here in Progressive Land. (Since it's behind a paywall---why should a study by public employees be behind a paywall?---I've transcribed it here.)  It also footnotes a 2005 study that found the city was also under-reporting pedestrian accidents

Apparently the Examiner, the Chronicle, the SF Weekly, and Streetsblog found the implications of the UC study so disturbing to the official city pro-bike consensus---that riding a bike in the city was a lot more dangerous than the public has been told---they failed to even mention it, though the New York Times found it newsworthy. The Bay Guardian didn't write about the study, either, but Steve Jones at least acknowledged its existence in an exchange with me.

Seems like I've been more interested in the safety of city cyclists than City Hall, the local media, Streetsblog, and the Bicycle Coalition.

Look at the timeline: The UC study was published in December, 2012. The NY Times story on the study was published in October, 2013, which was the first I learned about it. The last Collisions Report---the one before this one---was published in August, 2012, and the rest was silence until late last year when this report was published with no notice or press release.

The Department of Public Health’s "comprehensive transportation-related injury surveillance system" referred to above is all about reporting/tallying traffic accidents---and Vision Zero. It doesn't do the kind of analysis Commander Ali did a few years ago that studied in depth all fatalities for a single year. Or even the kind of analysis the Collisions Report does of intersections on pages 15-24.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Polk and Masonic: Not so dangerous after all

Photo of MUNI - 43 Masonic - San Francisco, CA, United States. 43 Masonic to Geneva and Munich
Bennett Wong

Good to see the MTA hasn't scrapped its Transportation Fact Sheet and its Collisions Report that I've been worried about.

Like the Transportation Fact Sheet, the latest Collisions Report was released late last year with no accompanying press release or notice, which is odd, since these reports are among the most useful things the MTA does to inform the public about the safety of city streets---and what it's doing to make them safer.

Or maybe not so odd. This report doesn't exactly flatter the city's integrity about the claims it made about the urgent need for bicycle lanes on Masonic and Polk. 

Consider that neither Masonic Avenue nor Polk Street is listed on the "Highest Injury Collision Intersections" (page 13). (See Big Lie on Safety to justify screwing up Masonic from 2013 and The Masonic Avenue Derangement Syndrome #2 from 2015.)

The intersection of Masonic and Fell is on the "Highest Bicycle Involved Injury Collision Intersections" (page 38) with 8 injury accidents over a four-year period. Only two cycling accidents a year there shows that the city has been successful over the years making that intersection safer by installing a left-turn lane on Fell Street for motorists and a bicycle-shaped traffic signal. Of course there's no indication of who was responsible for those "collisions." 

More importantly, cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists no longer share a green light at that intersection. This has always been an intersection issue and doesn't reflect on the safety of the rest of Masonic Avenue, since no other Masonic intersection has had similar safety issues. (See Report debunks Big Lie about Masonic and Fell)

Consider also that neither Polk nor Masonic is on the "Highest Injury Vehicle-Pedestrian Collision Intersections" on page 30. (See Safety lie to justify Polk Street bike project and The Polk Street lie goes national.) 

But back in 2013, when it was pushing the Polk Street bike lanes, the MTA claimed that "Polk Street has some of the highest pedestrian and bicycle collision rates in San Francisco."

Long before the Vision Zero slogan/policy, the MTA started using the "collisions" term instead of "accidents." The term was probably adopted because it seemed to apply to all traffic accidents, not just those involving cars. 

But it doesn't really fit the "solo falls" that injure a lot of cyclists---those accidents that don't involve a motor vehicle. Presumably those are the 22% of "other" injury accidents to cyclists in the pie chart on page 32. What did those cyclists "collide" with? (see The Myth of cycling "collisions")

More on the Collisions Report tomorrow.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pic of the Moment


Crime in Sweden

Kevin Drum in Mother Jones

...Sweden has quite an excellent crime reporting website, helpfully offered in both Swedish and English. Here[above] are the crime rates in recent years for Sweden's three biggest cities...As you can see, Malmö's crime rate is higher than Sweden's, which is the usual case for big cities, but generally lower than Stockholm's. It's been trending slightly downward over the past decade...

Rob's comment:
Not surprising that President Trump is wrong again. Shocking to have a president so stupid that he thinks Fox News is a reliable source of information.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

MTA's new Transportation Fact Sheet

The MTA has finally released another Transportation Fact Sheet (2015 SFMTA Factsheet).

Since there was such a gap between the last edition, released in 2013 and revised in August, 2014, I assumed that the city had discontinued the informative document. When I asked the MTA about it, I was given the runaround by Paul Rose. Funny, but he never got back to me.

I only found out about the new Fact Sheet by searching the MTA's website, since there was no press release or other notification.

This edition has an October, 2016 date, and it was compiled by the Sustainable Streets Division of the MTA. (The bloated agency has seven divisions.)

Apparently Sustainable Streets does the reports now (including the last Bicycle Count Report, which I analyzed here.) Go to this site and click on "reports" to see a list that also includes a new Collisions Report (More on that tomorrow [later: no, my take on this new report will take longer]).

The  new Transportation Fact Sheet covers the same ground as the old but also includes some written material ("Key trends and statistics")---more on that below---and some unhelpful graphics in the first two pages. 

It's not encouraging that there's a couple of simple mistakes on page 2: Adding up the four numbers in the "Vehicles and Drivers" column, my calculator gets a total of 494,103. Sustainable Streets comes up with an unsustainable 496,118. Then in the "Data Year" column on the right, the wrong year is cited: those numbers are from the DMV's tally for 2015, not 2014. The source on page 12 cites the right year: "Retrieved summer 2016." (The DMV provides the numbers for the previous year in the spring of the present year.)

But on page 3 we have ACS data from 2014. If they can get the DMV's numbers for 2015, why can't they get the "Means of Transportation to Work" numbers for 2015? And why include "trailers" in the total just because the DMV requires licenses for trailers? After all it's the number of vehicles towing those trailers that are of traffic significance.

In any event, when you add up all those city residents who get to work via those wicked motor vehicles, you get a total of 208,984, compared to 21,068 who supposedly rode bicycles to work. The city now claims 4% of city workers supposedly commute by bicycle, which is a 100% gain from 2000 when only 2% did so. But the reality: after all the anti-car, pro-bike propaganda from City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition between 2000 and 2014, there has been only a 2% increase in bicycle commuters in fifteen years! 

On page 5 we learn that there are 3,556 "Total Active Transit Stops." (What would an "inactive" transit stop be?) The last Transportation Fact Sheet doesn't have this number, but it would be nice to know how many bus stops the MTA has eliminated in recent years. The MTA does that because Muni buses run faster when they don't have to stop so often for those pesky passengers.

The money the MTA gets from parking meters has actually declined a bit from the previous total: now it's $53,738,314 compared to the previous $53,856,001. But the big payoff on parking meters is the money from parking tickets: $88,261,220.

The city's parking lots and garages bring in $94.6 million (up from $85 million in the last fact sheet), and $11,550,409 in residential parking permits (up from $10,248,044).

The city issued 11,851 Red Light Camera Violations in 2015, but we aren't told how much money it made from those tickets

Add up the city's take on parking meters, parking tickets, parking lots, and parking permits, and you get a total of $248,149,943 the city makes every year off those wicked motor vehicles!

From the introductory material:

The city of San Francisco contains 277,283 on-street and an estimated 166,000 off-street public motor vehicle parking spaces. At a typical 17-20 feet in length, the on-street parking spaces alone are enough to line the entire 840-mile coast of California.

Okay, but is this included to provide the public some kind of reassurance for all the parking spaces the city has eliminated---or is in the process of eliminating---to make bike lanes and for other "improvements" to city streets? It would be nice to know exactly how many parking spaces the city has eliminated in recent years as it officially discourages everyone from driving motor vehicles, a major source of revenue for the city.

And this:

As of 2014, 58.7% of San Francisco residents commute to work via non-private auto modes, while 41.3% commute by driving alone or carpooling in private vehicles. This is a reversal since 2000, when 48.6% of residents commuted by non-private auto modes and 51.3% commuted in private vehicles. In that time, the percentage of San Francisco residents commuting by bicycle has more than doubled, from 2.1% to 4.4%.

What the hell is a "non-private auto mode"? It apparently includes bicycles and public transit. And, as I pointed out above, it took 15 years for commuting by bicycle to get from 2.1% to 4%.

But it's good to know that the MTA is at least trying to provide the public with information with its annual Transportation Fact Sheet. It needs to try harder to get it right. Surely among its 6,263 employees it can find someone to proofread this document before it's released.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

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Thanks to SF1st.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Reality check on the Vision Zero slogan/policy

Traffic is seen on Highway 101 in San Francisco, California, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Photo: Gabrielle Lurie, The Chronicle
Photo: Gabrielle Lurie, SF Chronicle

From the Chronicle on Wednesday:

...One exception to the increasingly deadly trend was in San Francisco, where figures collected by the Department of Public Health show that the city’s Vision Zero efforts to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024 could be making progress. The number of traffic deaths in 2016 was 30, a slight decline from 2015 and 2014 when 31 people were killed in each of those years in motor vehicle collisions. The figures also showed a one-year decrease in pedestrian deaths with 16 in 2016 compared with 20 in 2015. “It goes to show that our Vision Zero efforts are working, but not fast enough or aggressively enough,” said Nicole Ferrara, executive director of Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian advocacy group...(‘Complacency’ sends traffic deaths soaring in California and US)

This is the problem with the Vision Zero campaign: it just makes advocates and even those who write about it sound stupid. Obviously one traffic death in the city is such "a slight decline" it's not statistically significant. Neither is the decline in pedestrian deaths.

From another Chronicle story last November:

Despite San Francisco’s heralded Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024, the number of those killed or severely injured isn’t budging. So far this year, 11 pedestrians, three drivers, five car passengers, two bicyclists and a motorcyclist have died on city streets. That’s about the same total as this time last year, said Nicole Ferrara, executive director of Walk San Francisco, which advocates for pedestrian safety. “We certainly haven’t seen a big decline, which is why we launched this group,” Ferrara said. (Traffic victims’ families unite to make SF’s streets safer)

The truth is that the city has already experienced historically that "big decline." The Vision Zero premise---does anyone really believe it?---is that deaths and injuries on city streets can be eliminated.

Look at the historical record from the MTA's last---and final---Collisions Report on page 5:

Click on graphic for larger view

There were 64 traffic deaths on city streets in 1990, which went down to 28 in 2011. Since then the number has hovered around 30 deaths a year.

For even more shocking numbers, see pages 4-7 in this document, which show that more than 100 deaths a year on city streets were common in the last century!

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Pic of the Moment
Democratic Underground


Steve Bannon: Crackpot

Image result for steve bannon pictures
Steve Bannon

...Steve Bannon, on the other hand, is quite something. I’ve read and reread his 2014 speech at the Vatican to see if I can find any coherence in it, and I confess I failed. It’s a hodgepodge of melodrama, hysteria, and a defense of some kind of “enlightened capitalism” along Judeo-Christian lines, in the face of an imminent Islamist takeover of the planet. It’s the 1950s versus jihad, an attempt to convey the gist of the entire Drudge Report every day and turn it into a thesis. 

He argues that we are just “at the very beginning stages of a global conflict” that could eradicate 2,000 years of Western civilization. It reads like the apocalyptic, paranoid fantasies of someone who writes letters to the editor, single-spaced, in all caps.

Now go check out this Vice journalist’s impression of Bannon in 2014. It does not reassure: “He’s buzzing with intensity, with two pens clipped to his shirt collar. Over the next 90 minutes, he barely touched his food and never took off his coat.” He just prattles endlessly and manically on. 

Among the gems that emerge from the conversation: Ebola requires a massive immigration crackdown or we’re all going to die; ISIS is plotting to assassinate the Pope; and then this calm overview: “The world is in a meltdown right now. I mean, the world is on fire. And all of a sudden it’s going to dawn on people, this is not a problem for guys in the Middle East. This is a problem for you in Kansas City.” You begin to realize that he called himself a “Leninist” for a reason.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Beginning of the end for high-speed rail?

A 3,700-foot viaduct that is being built to extend over State Route 99 in Fresno County for California's high-speed rail line.
Los Angeles Times

End Times For HSR?

The end may be coming for the California High-Speed Rail project. The state's High-Speed Rail Authority is running out of the federal funding that has kept it going, and the Authority is getting pretty desperate. 

Katy Grimes, a knowledgeable observer of the project, has said the project is like the "walking dead," and renowned Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters has used the word "zombie" to describe it. This seems right on target. Despite its obvious failure to make any real progress, the project just keeps on coming! 

Maybe not for that much longer, however!

The nation's biggest boondoggle is now having to face three inconvenient truths. First, costs have spiraled totally out of control, and the project is massively behind schedule, as the Authority has vacillated on project design (first going North, then going South, now going North again, from its start in the Central Valley). Second, new federal funding is probably not on the way to bail out the Authority. Third, not only is new funding unlikely, the federal government may require the state to make the long overdue "matching fund" payments (totaling about $2 billion owing to the federal government) that should already have been paid but were deferred by the previous Administration.

In view of these financial challenges, how is the Authority trying to keep that zombie project going? Here's how. The Authority is hoping that the federal government will provide funding for HSR through a grant that seems to be for a positive project with political support; namely, the Caltrain "modernization" project. Caltrain is the official project applicant, but a grant award to Caltrain will mean high-speed rail on the Peninsula, and an actual reduction in the ability of Caltrain to provide expanded rail commuter service in the future.

As we wait to see what the new Administration is going to do, and whether the "fake 'em out" strategy just outlined is going to work, concerned residents and voters should be advised of three indisputable facts:

#1 - The "Caltrain" Grant Application Is For The High-Speed Rail Project

The High-Speed Rail Authority is hoping that the Federal Government is going to bail out its mismanaged high-speed rail project, but the Authority knows that Washington no longer believes in the high-speed rail fantasy that the Authority has used, in the past, to build public support for the proposed project. Everyone now knows that the project that the Authority keeps pretending is real is nothing but a boondoggle. In fact, the Republican Party Platform has specifically called for an end to funding for the California high-speed rail project for just that reason.

Faced with both the real failure of its project, and with the public's knowledge that the project has failed, the Authority is trying to pretend that the Caltrain "modernization" project is for local commuter service, something quite different from the state's proposed high-speed rail project. Not really!

In fact, the proposed project on the Peninsula depends on the use of $750,000,000 of High-Speed Rail, Proposition 1A Bond Funding. The upshot of the project, if it went ahead, would be a legal transfer of rights for the Caltrain right of way to the High-Speed Rail Authority. The idea is to confuse the public by portraying the Authority's zombie high-speed rail project as a Caltrain "modernization" project. It isn't.

Less costly modernization alternatives could go ahead and achieve the desired results for Caltrain commuters, but without the unsightly and unnecessary overhead catenaries demanded by the high-speed rail project. Those alternatives have all been rejected (at least for the time being), as an effort is made to get more federal money for high-speed rail in the guise of funding for local transit. Don't be fooled!

#2 - The "Modernization" Project Will Reduce Future Commuter Options

In return for the money that Caltrain would get from high-speed rail sources (money not really needed if lower cost modernization options were used), the state's High-Speed Rail Authority would get the legal right to displace future commuter expansion. Caltrain would, in fact, forfeit the ability to add up to four commuter trains per hour in each direction during peak hours. Instead, the Authority would use that capacity to provide for long-distance, high-speed rail service that does nothing to eliminate the traffic gridlock that a properly-designed Caltrain project could help correct. The way the project is currently structured, the best word to describe the traffic impacts of the proposal is paralysis.

#3 - There Has Been Apparent Bad Conduct In High Places

In view of the Authority's funding crisis, it is doing everything it can to siphon off "commuter" rail money to be used for the state's high-speed rail project. Incredible pressure is being applied to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), to get the Administration to give Caltrain a $600,000,000 "transit" grant that will in fact fund a high-speed rail project on the Peninsula.

The FTA grant application was sent forward with only two days left in the Obama Administration in an obvious effort to push it ahead before the new Administration could review it. Sending the grant notice to Congress was Carolyn Flowers, then the Acting Director of the FTA. 

Within two weeks after taking this last-minute action, Flowers left the FTA and took a job with AECOM, a Los Angeles based engineering firm that provides program management services to Caltrain for the electrification project. AECOM stands to receive major funding from the very same grant that Flowers approved and sent to Congress. This kind of ethically questionable behavior should not be rewarded [emphasis and AECOM link on Carolyn Flowers added]

If you want to do something about the push for an excessively costly high-speed rail project that smells to high heaven, and that is likely to result in diminished capacity for commuter rail service on the Peninsula in the future, let your local officials know what you think. 

You can also contact Elaine Chao, the new Secretary of Transportation, who is going to make a decision on the FTA grant application in the very near future. You can leave her a message at: 202-366-4000, or send an email to Secretary Chao by using the following email address:

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Future Eyesore of the Week

This "artist" is already lined up to deface the other end of Van Ness Avenue.

Below is the "art" planned for Masonic and Geary:

We should get a chance to vote on this stuff, since we're going to have to look at it for years.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Van Jones and Bill Maher talk about religion

Liberals try to interrupt Maher when he starts talking about Islam, but Maher is good at asserting himself. See him handle Charlie Rose when Rose, like Jones, kept interrupting Maher's unwelcome opinion of Islam: Bill Maher discusses Islam with feeble-minded liberal.

Thanks to The Friendly Atheist

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

San Francisco has "a predatory government"

David Chiu: Bike guy

A letter to the editor in the SF Chronicle by District 5's Ted Loewenberg:

Regarding “Cameras urged to capture speeding drivers” (Feb. 9): San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu thinks that adding speed cameras to our streets will improve safety. Like red-light cameras, the primary effect is to improve the revenue flow to city coffers and the private companies that make and operate these devices.

Across the country, automated traffic cameras have revealed the corruption of public officials who award these contracts and the illegal practices of handing out tickets to innocent drivers. Traffic safety comes from everyone in the public space paying attention “with due regard for safety.” Fleecing the public by using robot cameras does nothing to make our roads safe.

Ted Loewenberg
San Francisco

Our predatory City Hall supports Chiu's legislation, as Aaron Bialick, former Streetsblog editor, tells us on the MTA's blog. Bialick went from the anti-car Streetsblog to the anti-car SFMTA.

More on David Chiu when he was a San Francisco supervisor. For still more on Chiu, click on the "David Chiu" label below.

A 2014 Chronicle story on traffic cameras: Red-light cameras boost coffers, rile drivers

Of course the city's two anti-car groups---Walk San Francisco and the Bicycle Coalition---like the camera idea.

See also San Francisco has become a predatory government by the City Treasurer:

...According to emerging research, San Francisco levies more fines per capita than most California counties. Also, we assess more fines per capita than Philadelphia, Louisville, Ky., or Nashville, which are comparable city/county localities.

As treasurer, I’ve made a priority of protecting San Franciscans from predatory lenders, working with the Board of Supervisors to ban new check-cashing and payday lending businesses. As a gay Latino elected official, I couldn’t live with a financial system that preyed on people who look like me.

But I’m also the official debt collector for the city. I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable when our local government levies fines on people who cannot afford to pay them. Basically, we are guilty of a form of predatory government...

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Adlai Stevenson bares his sole

From Timothy Egan:

When Adlai Stevenson was told that all thinking people were with him in his race for president, he famously responded: “That’s not enough. I need a majority.”

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Latest on the Bowling Green Massacre

Kevin Drum in Mother Jones:
Now, before you all get too bent out of shape, I'd like to point out that there's some good news here: only 14 percent of Trump's supporters want to invade Mexico. Not so bad, eh? I'd also like to point out that a week ago I predicted that lots of Trump supporters would hear about the Bowling Green massacre but only a few would hear that it didn't actually happen. Well, I was right. Belief in the BGM outscored disbelief 51-23 percent. (emphasis added)

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Giving Trump too much credit

From an op-ed yesterday on CNN's website:

Welcome to the shock event, designed precisely to jar the political system and civil society, causing a disorientation and disruption among the public and the political class that aids the leader in consolidating his power. Those who still refuse to take Trump seriously cite his incompetence for the rough start in office. Yet this blitzkrieg was intentional. "Get used to it. @POTUS is a man of action and impact...Shock to the system. And he's just getting started" his counselor Kellyanne Conway tweeted Saturday. 

As Conway implies, these first days of the Trump administration could be considered a prologue to a bigger drama, and one that reflects the thinking of Trump and Bannon alike. From their actions and pronouncements, we cannot exclude an intention to carry out a type of coup. 

Many may raise their eyebrows at my use of this word, which brings to mind military juntas in faraway countries who use violence and the element of surprise to gain power. Our situation is different. Trump gained power legally but this week has provided many indications that his inner circle intends to shock or strike at the system, using the resulting spaces of chaos and flux to create a kind of government within the government: one beholden only to the chief executive (Donald Trump and Steve Bannon's coup in the making).

This gives Trump too much credit, which is typical of lot of smart people seeing complexity where none exists. Trump and Bannon may have some such power grab in mind, but their attempt has been so incompetent it can only be ascribed to sheer stupidity. They are still playing to their Republican base, as if the presidency is merely a continuation of the primary campaign. They apparently think their performance will expand that moronic minority into a national majority. So far the polls show that it isn't working.

The administration's incompetence in court was so glaring Ed Kilgore wonders if Trump/Bannon even wanted to win the case:

After last night’s defeat in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals of his efforts to get his travel ban reinstated, Donald Trump needs to come to grips with a fundamental question: Does he want to win this legal battle? Or does he want to use the frustration of his plans by the courts to score political points and enrage his followers? (Does Trump Even Want to Win in Court?)

If Trump hadn't picked so many unnecessary early fights---with the media, the intelligence agencies, and the judiciary, to mention only the most important---their "coup" might have been successful, if that's what they have in mind. If pigs had wings, they might fly.

Why did he pick those fights? Because Trump's most salient characteristic isn't narcissism, greed, misogyny, and racism, though he's also about all of that. It's stupidity. That's his real Achilles heel, though he might also be clinically insane and has avoided being institutionalized only because he's rich.

Given his severe intellectual and emotional deficiencies, we can count on President Trump fucking up most of what he tries to do. The easily refuted falsehoods, the personal insults, the conflicts of interest, the screwed up policy roll-outs, etc. will all continue, in addition to all the fuck-ups by the same kind of people he's put in his cabinet.

Kevin Drum worries about Trump's intellectual capacity:

Every new White House has lots of growing pains and plenty of leaks. But they never feature leak after leak after leak portraying the president as a boob. That's something new. At this point, I'm mostly curious about who's doing the leaking. Is it career staff from the Obama era who are still working in the White House until they get reassigned? Or is this coming from folks who were actually hired by Trump? If it's the former, it's still unprecedented but probably just represents lingering resentment. However, if Trump's own people think he's an idiot and are happy to let the whole world know it, something is very, very wrong. But I don't know which it is (Trump's Staff Sure Seems Eager to Tell the World He's an Imbecile).

After watching and listening to Donald Trump for the last 18 months, I know which it is: He clearly is a boob.

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