Tuesday, February 16, 2016

High-speed rail's "strategy change"

From Matier & Ross in the Sunday Chronicle:

High-speed trains would roll into the Bay Area from the Central Valley years before they start going to Los Angeles, under a dramatic strategy change that the state is on the verge of approving. One big reason: The Caltrain commute line between Gilroy and San Francisco is poised to get an early infusion of cash to help pay for its $1.7 billion conversion to electric power. That conversion is essential for high-speed rail.

Plus, the South Bay, Peninsula and San Francisco constitute a huge potential market for bullet trains. A promise of early Bay Area service could build political support for the overall system and attract private investment that is badly needed to build out the $68 billion rail line.

The "strategy change" is happening because even the High-Speed Rail Authority is now admitting that tunneling under the San Gabriel Mountains is unlikely to happen.

It's been known for years that there will be no "private investment" in this project. Of course Chinese and European companies would love to sell California rail cars and other technology and expertise, but that's not what is meant here. What the state wants is private investment to build the system.

Recall the fantastic numbers from the project's 2009 business plan needed just to build the system:

Federal Grants: $17-19 billion
State Grants (Prop. 1A bonds): $9.95 billion
Local Grants: $4-5 billion
Private Debt or Equity Funding: $10-12 billion

The Feds have put up $3 billion for the project, but that's all that will come from that source. "Local grants" refers to city and county governments, which is an obvious non-starter. And there will be no "private investment" in the project, which is explained in this LA Times story (See also this).

The deceptive hed on the Matier & Ross column: "High-speed rail on fast track to Bay Area." The item was about money to electrify Caltrain. Later in the item, we learn that even the electrification project is $400 million short.

What does Caltrain have to do with high-speed rail? The two systems are supposed to share tracks on the Peninsula---the "blended" system adopted to save construction money. The problem: sharing tracks with Caltrain will make it impossible for high-speed rail to make the LA to SF trip in 2 hours and 40 minutes as promised to voters in 2008.

The next day in the San Jose Mercury News: a cost overrun. Surprise!

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Any Obama nominee will be a political kamikaze

Sri Srinivasan

From Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

Just a quick note about who Obama is going to nominate for the Supreme Court: it has to be someone willing to make a kamikaze run. It's going to be a grueling experience for nothing, since Republicans will be happy to put the nominee through the wringer but plainly won't vote to confirm. In fact, it might be for less than nothing. Whoever gets picked probably can't be renominated if a Democrat wins in November.

Most likely, then, you're putting yourself through a punishing ordeal in order to ruin your chances of ever getting a Supreme Court seat. That's the kind of thing a party loyalist might do, but a circuit court judge? What's the upside?

Anyway, all this is just to say that Obama may have trouble finding someone willing to be nominated. Keep that in mind when you browse through all the lists of potential candidates.

Rob's comment:

There doesn't seem to be any reason Obama's nominee couldn't be renominated by President Hillary Clinton after the election. Obama could make an agreement with Hillary to ensure that happens.

Still, it would put the nominee on a political hot seat for the rest of this year and a good part of next year. 

Sri Srinivasan would be an interesting pick: he's young, a person of color---an Indian American---and was confirmed as a US Circuit Court judge by a 97-0 vote in the Senate. Even Rubio and Cruz voted for him!

Hence, if the Republican controlled Senate rejected him, it would be obviously done for political reasons, not based on his qualifications. 

From Politico:

A nomination of Srinivasan, 48, to the high court would make history: he was born in India and would be the first Indian-American Supreme Court justice. Srinivasan is widely viewed as a moderate. He clerked for Republican-appointed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. In a speech last October, Srinivasan seemed to relish maintaining stability in the law. He suggested that fears he and three other Obama appointees would dramatically change the balance in the D.C. Circuit were overwrought.

Later: Why Srinivasan won't be nominated.