Populist movements don't build themselves ...

... It doesn't matter what the "horse race" outcome of the campaign is, if we fight the campaign. Fighting it, we learn how to fight. Learning how to fight political battles, we become citizens again. Becoming citizens again, we reclaim the Republic that lies dormant beneath the bread and circuses of modern American society.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Night Train: Transporting a Lame Duck with the Oil Independence Tariff

Already up at:

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

We are in the Lame Duck Period. We have real unemployment rates of approximately 14% (counting headline unemployment, marginally attached, and involuntary unemployment as roughly 50% employed, 50% unemployed), and if the economy still sucks this bad in November in two years times, all manner of absurdly idiotic reactions could be elicited from an angry electorate by skillful corporate marketers.

And if the the Republicans are willing to sabotage the security on loose nuclear bomb making material for political gain, surely they will sabotage the economy, as they have been doing.

And with transportation from the Recovery Act creating 630,000 direct and indirect jobs ~ a larger share of jobs than share of funding ... attacking transport funding is a critical step in sabotaging the economy.

So, an idea on what can be done about it.

The Highway Trust Fund needs money

The central problem facing transport is "revenue" or, to use a five letter word, taxes. We have a Federal gas tax that has been frozen at under $0.19 over the last decade, with no adjustment for inflation, while on the other hand, the Federal Highway Trust Fund is facing escalating demands on its funding.

The problem is more than just the lack of an inflation adjustment, but its still fairly straightforward. When the Highway Trust Fund was launched, it was to be directed to Interstate, US, State, County and Township Highways ~ in other words, to most roads used in suburban and rural areas, but excluding most roads used in urban areas.

Of course, when it was launched, we had a dominant share of motorists doing most of their driving on unfunded city streets. So there was a tremendous cross-subsidy provided from urban street driving miles to rural and suburban roadworks.

And as we are all aware, this cross-subsidy is one of the things that promoted the growth of new rings of suburbs, and then outer suburbs.

So the share of the driving on subsidized roads has been increasing while the share of driving on subsidizing roads is shrinking. And the growth in use of the subsidized roads implies a delayed-fuse financial time bomb in terms of a growing maintenance cost over time.

And while the cost of maintaining our road system will be growing over time, a fixed dollar value Federal gas tax implies a shrinking amount of resources that can be devoted to the maintenance.

And each oil price shock that hits will:
  • Generate inflation, reducing the maintenance resources that can be bought with a given Federal Gas Tax dollar
  • Promote greater fuel efficiency, including pluggable hybrid electric vehicles that with care can get much of their driving done on electricity alone, and
  • Encourage use of oil-independent vehicles, such as all electric cars, which pay no gas tax at all.

So the roads need a new source of revenue.

Oil Independent Transport Needs Money

In January, a new Republican House is coming into place, elected on a platform of running the country out of the fantasy and science fiction section of a particularly understocked Barnes and Noble, and as reported at The Transport Politic (hint: bookmark) may be:
A New Political Reality Settling In For National Transportation Financing
Tanya Snyder of Streetsblog Capitol Hill broke the news last Friday that House Republicans are planning to push to "stabilize" the Highway Trust Fund by cutting back expenditures to meet revenues without raising any taxes in the process. The result would be a large decrease in overall federal transportation funding — a potential reduction in spending by $7 to 8 billion a year from around $50 billion today. According to Snyder’s sources, transit financing would be hit especially hard, seeing its annual appropriation cut from $8 billion to $5 billion.

Of course, investment in oil-independent transport is required by the objective situation we are facing ~ on national defense and business development grounds, as well as on ecological sustainability and Climate Chaos ground ~ and investment in oil-independent transport at this point in time would also generate much needed fresh employment in the short term. And since it insulates the economy from oil-price-shock inflation over the long haul, that is short term stimulus combined with long term inflation reduction and increased national standard of living.

Now, if it were for long term benefit at substantial short term pain, the House Republicans in the next session might allow the Democrats to pursue it. But long term benefit combined with short term gain absolutely contradicts the priority number one of sabotaging the Obama administration going into its re-election campaign.

So if we are going to have any funding for oil-independent transport over and above the just under 3 cent Federal Transit portion of the Federal Gas Tax, we need to get that funding lined up during the Lame Duck.

The Strange Politics of an Crude Oil Import Tariff

An increase in the gas tax during the Lame Duck is not going to get done.

However, there is an alternative source of oil-tax funding that has rather peculiar politics. That is the tariff on oil-imports.

We import roughly twice what we produce, so crude oil prices in the US are driven by the price of import oil. Therefore, a tariff on oil-imports provides windfall gains to oil produced in the United States, equal to the size of the tariff.

And the US oil producers are part of the entrenched opposition to an increase in the gas tax. ... But windfall gain ... but opposed to gas tax ... but windfall gain ...

... Louisiana oil production, Texas oil production, Alaska oil production, Montana oil production ... windfall gains ...

I don't know if it can be pushed through, but looking at that list of windfall gain recipients above, its the only form of oil revenue that I can see having a prayer of a chance.

And the Republican Party has invested massive rhetorical resources into the bullshit "Drill Baby Drill" frame ... but an import crude oil tax slides right into that frame, "encouraging exploration for our own domestic oil".

Split a Penny in Half

So, this is the idea. Add a 1% tariff on imported crude oil. Crude oil is not a "scheduled commodity" in the WTO system, so we are free under the WTO to put any tariff rate we want to.

Split the proceeds in half:
  • Half goes to a special "maintenance fund" in the Highway Trust Fund, distributed by standard formula, but restricted to maintenance of existing Interstate, US, State, County and Township Highways
  • Half goes to an Oil Independence Infrastructure Bank, to finance infrastructure projects that offer a demonstrable reduction in the oil dependence of our transport system

What is an Infrastructure Bank? Well, the way originally described, its like a piggy bank: put money into it, take money out of it. No leverage at all. However, ideally, the Infrastructure Bank would be set up along the following lines:
  • Half of revenue can be committed to long term finance
  • Long Term Finance can be interest rate subsidy for loans to self-funding public authorities
  • Long Term Finance can be interest rate subsidy for loans refunded through reduced operating costs
  • Long Term Finance can be up front grants refunded by a ten year commitment of Infrastructure Bank funding
  • If less than half of the revenue from a year is committed, the Infrastructure Bank can provide new Long Term Finance funding
  • The balance left after long term commitments are satisfied are provided to "shovel ready" annual oil-independence project funding

Now, suppose there is an oil price shock. Long term, the Oil Industry as a whole would prefer that we maintain our oil addiction and just hand over an ever increasing share of our national income to the Oil Industry. However, short term: windfall to US-based oil production.

Its a strange politics, a logroll that offers
  • the Progressive Caucus secure long term funding for oil independent transport, including a substantial increase in funding in the face of an oil price shock to start offsetting the recessionary impact without the recession having to hit first ~ and if the US Department of Transport is aggressive enough in funding projects out of the Infrastructure Bank, quite possibly preventing the oil price shock recession, and
  • the Domestic Oil Production lobby windfall gains that only get bigger in the event of an oil price shock

What kind of employment impacts are we talking, here?

Consider the nation's oil import bill for 2009: ~$188b (pdf: p. 9). 1% of that is $1.88b.

Half of that goes to roadworks, half goes to oil-independent transport, half of the oil independent transport funding is annual grant funding. So:
  • $1.41b = 3/4 of $1.88b to annual grant funding, and
  • $0.47b for long term finance

To keep things simple, assume half the long term finance is interest rate subsidy at 5%, and half is forward funding at 5%. The leverage on the interest rate subsidy is 20x, and the leverage on the forward funding is a bit over 8x, so the average leverage on a 50:50 split is about 14x, leaving:
  • $1.41b = 3/4 of $1.88b to annual grant funding, and
  • $6.58b in finance from $0.47b funding for long term finance
  • For a total of $7.99b in funding in the launch year

Estimates of the employment impact of public transport investment understates the impact of oil-independence investment, since it ignored the stimulus effect of diverting billions of dollars from oil imports into domestic spending. However, taking the American Public Transport Association modeling, the impacts of public transport investment are:
  • 8.2 jobs/$m direct job creation
  • 7.8 jobs/$m indirect (upstream) job creation and
  • 7.7 jobs/$m induced (downstream) job creation, giving
  • 23.7/$m total job creation

That is about 190,000 jobs, just from the spending itself. Its only a drop taken from the 14.8m bucket of unemployed, but on the other hand, non-farm payroll employment grew in September by ~150,000, so its more than one extra month of job growth added to the economy before the next election.

The real job impact kicks in when we have an oil price shock. In the face of an oil price shock, the proceeds of the tariff jump upwards, allowing a substantial increase in funding on oil-independent transport. And while the impact on gas prices is current, the impact on transport funding is front-loaded, so that the Oil-Independent Infrastructure Bank adds more to income than the oil price shock takes away.

How many jobs do we get from preventing an oil price shock recession? Hundreds of thousands from preventing the mildest of recessions ~ millions from preventing recessions as severe as the Reagan Recession of 1981 or the Bush Recession of 2007-2009.

Conclusion: Can It Be Done?

I have no idea if it can be done. But its definitely worth a shot.

Midnight Oil ~ The Power and the Passion

You take all the trouble that you can afford
At least you won't have time to be bored.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Half A Century of Empire: A Progress Report

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Arc of the Sun

You can also comment at crossposts at

We are sabotaging our main labor resource with mindless rote learning to pass "achievement" tests to avoid being punished for not being full of kids of upper middle class households, we are allowing our equipment resource to collapse through lack of demand and we are sabotaging our natural resource through treating nonrenewable resources as an excuse to destroy renewable resources and treating renewable resources as non-renewable resources, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In fifty years we have gone from technological leadership on all fronts to technological leadership only in some of those areas under the umbrella of War Department Industrial Policy, and from massive trade surpluses that demanded recycling via overseas investment and imports to maintain international liquidity, to massive trade deficits to allow the Chinese to export their unemployment to us.

In forty years we have gone from energy independence to importing twice as much oil as we produce.

And thirty years, we have shifted our record on land wars in Asia from 0-1 with one draw, to at best 0-2 with two draws, and at worst 0-3 with one draw.

If this damn Empire collapses soon enough, we might have a chance to start rebuilding from the catastrophe it represents, but an equally plausible outcome is falling apart into a squabbling series of small and mid-sized nation states, many harboring revanchiste dreams of re-establishing the Empire.

We built this Empire out of immediate and temporary needs, some of them in service of public interests, some of them in service of vested private interests. For the good of the Republic, it is long past time to tear it down.

The life of one American service man or woman is not worth all the profits that have been made by all the Imperial War profiteers in the last half century. And it has been about nothing but Imperial War Profiteers profits for decades now.

Burning the Midnight Oil ~ Forgotten Years

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Night Train: Losing HSR Battles while Winning the Transport War

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Last week I raised the certainty that Kasich will return $375m of Ohio's $400m grant for laying the 110mph 3C corridor track and running 79mph trains on them ... and the likelihood that Wisconsin's Governor-elect Jobs Walkabout will return all or most of Wisconsin's $810m for the Milwaukee to Madison Emerging HSR corridor.

Just today, I read that Governor Jobs Walkabout was a big recipient of road lobby money during the campaign, so after conning them into thinking that the $810m could be shifted into Wisconsin roads, the fact that its not possible, that another state gets the money, that Talgo may leave the state after its current contracts are finished ... that is being used to try to reverse his decision.

I do not have high hopes that he will reverse himself, but the stronger the fight against him, the greater the prospect of getting the connection between Rapid Rail HSR corridors and jobs implanted into people's minds. And it might result in a push to get some of the funds spent on the Hiawatha line to Chicago.

And the status of the Express High Speed Rail project in Florida ~ the Express HSR system that would have been completed before a prospective second Obama term could finish ~ seems to be up in the air: Despite "Cloud of Uncertainty," FDOT, Contractors Prepare to Move Ahead on HSR.

Thing is, even if the opponents of HSR killed three: they had to kill them all. Every HSR line that gets finished will undermine their case, and raise intra-regional and inter-regional jealousies as a force ensuring that HSR funding is provided at the Federal level and matching funds are raised at the state level.

Of course, RepubliCorp has control of the House of Representatives, and with it the purse strings, for the next two years, and even if there is a HSR authorization in a lame duck transportation bill ... that money is not going to get appropriated for two years. But as long as some corridors get finished, and the demonstration effect starts to take hold, the tide will turn back.

Where Should the Republican Rejection Money Be Recycled?

For my part, as a Buckeye, where I want the $375m 3C Quickstart Design Money to go is to the Wolverine Line in Michigan. Michigan applied for $830m in the round of funding that saw Ohio awarded $400m, while Michigan only got $40m. Then when $2.5b of money requiring at least a 20% state match was available, Michigan applied for $385m in projects, with a Federal contribution of $308m.

Well, give them Ohio's money. Nothing will do more to ensure that there is not "missing link" between the Eastern Seaboard HSR systems and the Midwestern HSR systems than the former Ohio money ending up in Michigan. Heck, since its ARRA money, which is allowed to be no-match, give them the $308m they asked for, and as much of the matching cost as the Ohio decision allows.

As for the Wisconsin $810m (it might only be $740m, if the Governor is clever enough to figure out a way to hold onto the $70m to be spent on the Hiawatha corridor), I'd say start by putting it at the other end of the Empire Builder line, in the Pacific Northwest. Washington applied for $850m for the Portland/Seattle/Vancouver line, and got $590m, so $260m could go to the Cascade Corridor.

That leaves $550m. First, ask Georgia if they still want the full $472m capital cost of their Atlanta to Macon line, and if the State Legislature is willing to guarantee operating costs, give it to them. That spreads the projects east to west and north to south across the country.

Now, if the Tea Baggers scare them from taking the money, then it'll have to go somewhere else. Someone is sure to want it, of course, but a southern project would be a fine thing to have as part of it.

If anything is left over, there are lots of individual projects included in the applications for the $8b ... there shouldn't be any trouble sorting out the smaller individual grant request, selecting the most shovel, and then awarding the balance to the best bang for the buck individual projects (excluding, of course, states that say they don't want the money after all).

What about the California HSR System?

I figure that the Express HSR corridor money was split between Florida and California, both in the $8b in ARRA funding and in the $2.5b of annual transport funding. So if Florida gives its money back, I think it ought to all go to California. Indeed, Florida should be told that up front: they got the largest chunk of Express HSR funds, and if they don't want it, the other Express HSR applicant, which promised 50:50 matching funds to boot, they get it.

Anyway, that's my re-allocation ...

... but the key thing is, there still are rail projects going ahead, and as long as some get finished, the demonstration effect is going to take hold. Even if it is a dry two years for further HSR funding ... as long as that two years is spent building systems, it will not be an unproductive two years.

So, what's your re-allocation?

Midnight Oil ~ Truganini

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Night Train: The Path for Ohio High Speed Rail

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

One of the consequences of the 2010 General Elections was the election of RepubliCorp Governors in Ohio and Wisconsin who politically neutralized the success of sitting Democratic state administrations in landing $400m and $800m High Speed Rail funding by demonizing the High Speed projects that were funded.

What that means for Wisconsin seems likely to be cancellation of the project but its certainly worth pushing back (and see below for further).

Ohio was completing the final Design this year, so never committed to the Build funds, so while Kasich is handing ~8,000 jobs to another state, there's no immediate budget impact to hit him with. Indeed, given the new make-up of the state board that would have to approve taking the Build money, after demonizing the "Quickstart", Kasich couldn't take the money now if he wanted to.

So where next for Ohio High Speed Rail?

The Wisconsin Republican Rail Cancellation Boondoggle

Whether stakeholders pulling the string of Wisconsin Gov. Jobs Go Walkabout balk at handing that money back and taking $100m out of the state budget to boot, or whether the Governor sticks to his Modern No-Nothing guns and gets a black eye for the egregious fiscal irresponsibility, its a fight worth fighting.

That is, the cancellation of the Federal Funding for the Madison / Milwaukee rail corridor will cost Wisconsin [http://www.wisgov.state.wi.us/docview.asp?docid=20612 cost $97.65m], versus the commitment to the start up rail subsidy of any amount required up to $7.5m/yr, which was the original promised state contribution to the project.

That promise of a $7.5m annual operating subsidy if required was the basis for the Republican charge that the rail corridor was a boondoggle. Yet canceling the project will cost enough for over three full Governors terms worth of that operating subsidy. And on the other hand, the actual need for the subsidy will drop over its first five years, as patronage is built on the new corridors ... and at the same time, speed upgrades to Milwaukee/Chicago anywhere in that dozen years would surely make allow the Madison / Milwaukee segment of the route to generate an operating surplus.

Why is it necessary to kill these projects?

And that is what these cancellations are about. It is not a high priority emergency for the Oil Lobby to kill these projects in their cradle because of a risk that they will fail to reach operating surpluses. Its a high priority emergency because of the much greater likelihood that they will succeed in reaching operating surpluses as they reach maximum speeds at or greater than Interstate Highway driving speeds, via raising the maximum corridor speed limits of 110mph and a combination of corridor and equipment that allows the train to be operating between 90mph and 110mph for the bulk of the trip.

What operating surpluses means is that advocates can push for operating surpluses to be dedicated to capital improvements of a state network. And then if there happens to be a source of Federal funds requiring a state match, banked operating surpluses can be offered for smaller grants, and revenue bonding can be used to generate state matches for larger grants.

And it is very hard for state legislators to say to constituents, "no, sorry, too expensive" when advocates can say, "oh, just make it self-funding".

Killing a transport system that generates operating surpluses and can provide the state/local matching funds to help finance its own extension and upgrade is something best done before those operating surpluses show up.

But, Wasn't the 3C Going to be a Permanently Subsidized Rail Corridor?

Ah, so what about the 3C Quickstart? Why did the State Legislature have to promise to provide up to $12m in operating surpluses over the next 20 years in order for the USDoT to give Ohio $400m to build the 3C Quickstart?

The Ohio Hub has always been planned in terms of a 79mph alternative and a 110mph alternative. And those speed are maximum speeds, not averages: a 79mph corridor can have a "transit speed" of 40mph~55mph, while a 110mph can achieve transit speeds of 60mph~80mph.

Population density is important for reaching operating surpluses. But not population density per mile: population density around the corridor stations, per hour travel time. So entirely independent of anything else, that speed upgrade to 110mph improves the demand for the service. And for cities too close together to have a large number of air passengers, "higher speed than driving" means that the service occupies the "high speed" segment of the market as well.

However, the flip side is capital cost. Broadly speaking, the infrastructure for a 110mph level HSR service can be divided into the track, signaling and level crossings required to operate passenger rail at 79mph, the additional track required to operate passenger rail at 110mph, the additional signaling for 80mph+, and the upgraded level crossings for 110mph+. And if you plan ahead, there is little extra cost in doing that by stages: for instance, if the new track required by the 79mph services are built at sufficient distance from the freight track, they will work perfectly well for the 110mph services.

So the idea of the "3C Quickstart" was to apply for enough money to build enough of the 110mph corridor to be able to run 79mph trains. Then over time, it was hoped that the state would be able to get Federal Funds with state matching funds to upgrade that corridor to 110mph. And once enough of it was upgraded, the schedule could be upgraded, additional services provided with the same number of trains, the system would hit operating break even, and attention could turn to the next stage of the Ohio Hub.

The Achilles Heel of the 3C Quickstart Strategy

Now, the Quickstart strategy was fine-tuned for the fact that $8b in no-match HSR money was in the offing. With the filling in of population in the middle of the 3C corridor since the Penn Central bankruptcy, which killed the prior passenger rail service, Ohio would be getting a quite substantial number of passenger-miles for less than the cost of its highway mowing budget.

And with $8b in the offing, Ohio could not hope to get the 3C corridor built as a 110mph corridor from the outset. That would cost between $1b and $1.5b, and 1/8th to 1/5th of the total national appropriation for a Rapid Rail level HSR corridor would be overly ambitious.

But opting for the "Quickstart" strategy opened the proposal up to partisan attack at the outset. The preliminary timetabling by Amtrak, had a transit speed of ~40mph ... widely publicized as 39mph to benefit from the "$3.99 magic number" effect ... and partisan opposition seized on that number to argue that it was a useless waste of money. Of course the final Design timetable has turned out to be substantially faster than that, at over 50mph ... but as unimpressive as 50mph+ sounds, that had very little hope of being heard over the din of a state gubernatorial election campaign.

Independent of the technical merits and demerits of the 3C Quickstart strategy, it has been successfully demonized, and a different line of attack will be required next time.

The 2C to 3C Strategy.

The 3C rail corridor is very much a corridor of two halves. As [http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/11/04/understanding-representative-john-micas-transportation-agenda/#comment-102003 Drewski comments at The Transport Politic]:
You don’t know much about the 3C corridor. The northern half of the 3C–Cleveland to Columbus–has great bones. It has good gradient, most freight traffic is on a parallel line to the west, and there’s strong traffic volume. If the 3C were funded for a first phase only between Cleveland and Columbus, the planned number of trainsets would’ve allowed for at least 7, maybe 9 or even 10 roundtrips per day. Also, remember that Cleveland-Hopkins is one of a very few American airports located on an existing rail corridor already identified for HSR potential. Adding a station at Crestline would’ve opened up connection to north central Ohio without wrecking the schedule.

The problem really lies with the alignment south of Dayton. The track is in poor condition, both the existing trackbed and the alignment. In honesty, this corridor might be better viewed as a strong conventional line, but true HSR might do better by using a largely abandoned r/w which runs southwest from Columbus, roughly parallel to I-71. Ultimately, at average speeds of 125-150 mph, the schedule from Cinci to Cleveland would allow for a 2-hour trip time or less.

Of course, there are two reasons this will only be a concept. One is that stopping the 3C at Columbus would be politically unacceptable to both southern Ohio and the state GOP (which is based in Cincinnati’s northern suburbs). The other is that incoming Gov. Kasich is hell-bent on killing this plan. Yet another example of Ohio becoming a shadow of its past.

Now, as far as bipartisanship, the Ohio State Republicans have pissed in that particular punch bowl. Any construction over the next ten years will start because the Ohio State Democratic party has gained the clout to push it through. So take that as the outset. And then remember why the Republicans had to be so creative in Gerrymandering Franklin Country (Columbus) and even then lost one and nearly two of their three gerrymanders in Democratic wave elections: swing Central Ohio and you swing the state.

A partisan advantage will be temporary unless it is parlayed into results. So we have to be ready to strike at any time. And the above should inform the planning ahead:
  • Give Columbus a 110mph rail service, to somewhere, no matter what else happens in Stage 1

That means Stage 1A of the Ohio Hub includes 110mph Cleveland/Columbus: strictly speaking, 79mph Cleveland Lakefront to Berea, then 110mph to Columbus.

What else? There are a package of "Stage 1B" improvements that can be spread through the state:
  • We will have a conventional rail corridor design for Dayton / Cincinnati, and with Cincinnati / Dayton at 1:36 or better on a three stop schedule, that is a 1:50 schedule even with additional stops. So a conventional rail corridor can be established with hourly service each way on the basis of basically two commuter trains and a spare.
  • Finalizing the preferred Youngstown alignment of Pittsburgh / Cleveland can put the Capital Corridor through Youngstown / Warren / Portage County / Summit County / Cleveland
  • Building the Toledo / Detroit link allows the Cleveland and Toledo to benefit from the ongoing upgrades to the Wolverine line in Michigan.

So, what good is that?

The State of Ohio (somehow) comes up with the operating subsidy to extend one Wolverine each way on the Erie Lakeshore to Pittsburgh, and to connect the Pennsylvanian through to Detroit. This gives one daytime and one evening connection to through Pittsburgh / Cleveland / Toledo / Detroit each way, with one running through to Chicago and one running through to New York.

The State of Ohio also needs to offer the required state subsidy to keep a Dayton/Cincinnati conventional passenger rail service operating. In formal transport terms, this conventional rail service is "independent utility" for a corridor developed looking ahead to linking up with the "2C" corridor. In political terms, this conventional rail service is a hostage: take away the Lakefront funding and lose the Cincinnati/Dayton commuter train.

And finally, the 110mph Cleveland / Columbus service. As the 110mph Cleveland/Columbus schedule from the Ohio Hub is 1:50, and the 110mph Cleveland / Youngstown is 1:17, I will assume that the 79mph Cleveland / Youngstown can operate in 1:50 as well. Then, with the three trains, the following seems possible (note that Youngstown / Warren / Portage County / Summit County also have one additional daytime, one additional evening and two late night connections to Cleveland per day each way via the Erie Lakeshore corridor):
  • Northbound
  • Columbus 6:50 / Cleveland 8:40
  • Columbus 9:20 / Cleveland 11:10
  • Columbus 10:50 / Cleveland 12:40
  • Columbus 11:50 / Cleveland 13:40
  • Columbus 13:50 / Cleveland 15:40
  • Columbus 15:50 / Cleveland 17:40 / Youngstown 19:30
  • Columbus 17:20 / Cleveland 19:10
  • Columbus 19:40 / Cleveland 21:20 / Youngstown 23:10 x
  • Columbus 21:20 / Cleveland 23:10 x

  • Southbound
  • Cleveland 6:50 / Columbus 8:40
  • Youngstown 6:50 / Cleveland 8:40 / Columbus 10:30
  • Cleveland 9:20 / Columbus 11:10
  • Cleveland 11:50 / Columbus 13:40
  • Cleveland 13:20 / Columbus 15:10
  • Cleveland 14:50 / Columbus 16:40
  • Cleveland 17:20 / Columbus 19:10
  • Cleveland 19:20 / Columbus 21:10
  • Youngstown 19:40 / Cleveland 21:20 / Columbus 23:10 x

This is only a notional schedule, and a detailed timetable for the Erie Lakeshore service would have to be determined to ensure convenient transfers with sufficient leeway for reliability ... but it gives an idea of the opportunity. Obviously if there are certain services in higher demand than others, Senior Citizen, Family, and Student discounted fares can be focused on the services that would otherwise have empty seats.

Cost? ... What Benefit do you want?

The Cost of each segment of the plan will go up with the pursuit of stronger benefit.

For example, the cost of the Cincinnati leg is heavily influence by the way that the corridor arrives in downtown. If it operates along the Boathouse alignment, slightly east of downtown along the waterfront, then extending the Streetcar out along to reach a Boathouse terminal station is cheaper than extending the heavy rail to terminate by the downtown transit terminal (which was deliberately designed to prevent use as a heavy rail station). If it operates along the Cincinnati Union Station alignment, then terminating north of the Cincinnati Union Station would be cheapest, perhaps by extending the Streetcar via the never-used Subway and operating as a Rapid Streetcar to reach the terminal. Terminating at Cincinnati Union Station, including works to avoid interfering with the heavy freight traffic in that section of the corridor would cost more, and extending from Cincinnati Union Station to terminate just west of the downtown transit terminal would be still more expensive.

I've already indicated my preference on that front: have Hamilton County vote on it, and do that. As far as the cost, the faster the access the closer to downtown, the better the patronage of the corridor, so capital investment up front will reduce the operating subsidy required.

For the northern Pittsburgh/Detroit corridor, the biggest bottleneck is the lack of a connection at all between Detroit and Toledo. Then improvements on the lightly used branch line connecting Youngstown to Cleveland to allow Cleveland/Youngstown service to mirror 110mph Cleveland/Columbus times. Then improvements between Cleveland and Toledo to improve reliability of both the daytime Erie Lakeshore and the overnight Capital Corridor service. Then upgrade of the Cleveland/Toledo section to 110mph. Then upgrade of the Cleveland/Youngstown corridor to 110mph. Then upgrade of the Youngstown/Pittsburgh corridor to 110mph.

Phasing of Stage One

110mph Cleveland to Columbus first. Then Toledo / Detroit. Then all that other stuff: at the same time if possible, in sequence if not.

This is, after all, about funding in a Ohio state administration four to eight years in the future, under an unknown White House, and unknown combination of Ohio Legislative and Congressional majorities and, therefore, unknown Federal HSR funding levels and unknown Federal/State matching fund splits.

But there are a number of things that are clear:
  • There will be at least one and possibly more 110mph Rapid Passenger Rail corridors operating somewhere on our side of the Appalachian Mountains before this comes into the frame ~ it won't be seen as "just for the East Coast" anymore
  • There will have been one and maybe more oil price shocks between now and then, since more oil price shocks are coming.

So assuming that the 2010 electoral victories spells long term postponement of HSR projects would be silly. Sometime down the track, there will be an opportunity, and Ohio progressives need to be beating the drum on "why do Republicans insist Ohio cannot have the good stuff other states have" so that campaigning on restoring the HSR program and providing "real faster-than-driving HSR" is the path of least resistance for the Ohio Democratic Party.

Stage Two: Connect to Cincinnati

With this system in place, then the incremental completion of the 3C corridor is straightforward. Sooner or later, the Cleveland/Columbus route will hit break-even, and to prepare for that day, the initial legislation that launches the project dedicates future operating surpluses to capital funding for completion of the 3C. If need be, that would include finishing the Cincinnati / Dayton conventional passenger rail corridor first.

Then the 110mph Columbus/Dayton link is completed. That enables the first full 3C services to run, albeit at conventional rail speeds between Dayton and Cincinnati, picking up the role of a Limited Flyer between Cincinnati and Dayton, supplemented by the conventional passenger services.

Stage Three: The Crystal Ball gets cloudy

Then where to next? From here, I would depart from the Ohio Hub script. I firmly believe by the time we get to the point of Stage Three ~ which is, after all, 2018 or later ~ there will already be momentum for a 220mph or faster HSR corridor between New York and Chicago. And the direct route for a 220mph HSR corridor or faster between Chicago and New York is the Fort Wayne alignment, then across the middle of Northern Ohio, then across Northern Pennsylvania on a general I-80 alignment to New York. Looking at that, and given State of Ohio and State of Pennsylvania balance of power politics, I would not be surprised if the 220mph corridor is pulled down from central PA to connect into Pittsburgh, then run along the old National alignment to Columbus, and then up to the Fort Wayne alignment.

With the routes already sketched above, a Toledo / Fort Wayne corridor would connect the Express HSR alignment to the Erie Lakeshore and to Detroit, while 110mph connection from midway along the Columbus / Dayton to Indianapolis would Connect Indianapolis into the Express HSR system via Rapid Rail HSR corridors to Chicago and Columbus.

But suppose that the Express HSR is actually through the center of northern Ohio? That implies a different alignment for the Ohio Hub Stage 3.

And supposed that the Express HSR is actually generally along an I-80 alignment all the way, so that it runs along the Lakeshore. That implies a different alignment for the Ohio Hub Stage 3 as well.

So given that, I'll worry about about Stage 3 if I should live so long.

Conclusions ...

Conclusions? Aint no ending here. We are not at the end. We are not at the beginning of the end. We are not even at the end of the beginning.

We have, in other words, just begun to fight.

Midnight Oil ~ Blue Sky Mining

If I yell out at night there's a reply of blue silence
The screen is no comfort I can't speak my sentence
They blew the lights at heaven's gate and I don't know why

But if I work all day on the blue sky mine
(There'll be food on the table tonight)
Still I walk up and down on the blue sky mine
(There'll be pay in your pocket tonight)

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Fight Ahead is the House Caucuses and the Senate Filibuster

Burning the Midnight Oil for Progressive Populism

So, what is a Progressive Populist to make of an election when with a 14% real unemployment rate (see below), where the House changes parties?

Is a Progressive Populist supposed to be surprised that a House Majority that fails to accomplish substantial jobs legislation for over a year in the face of a clearly Depressed recovery and real unemployment stuck in the neighborhood of 14% loses its majority in the next election?

Back in 1934 was the closest analogy, but back in 1934 the Majority in the House was clearly fighting for jobs bills, the President was clearly fighting for jobs bills, Republican Obstructionists and Nine Old Men were clearly fighting against jobs bills. The stakes were clear, and the result one of two first midterm swings to the President's party in the past century.

This is not blaming the House membership so much, of course: its the Senate that let us down, early in 2009, when they wimped out on filibuster reform on the "a bird in the bush is worth two in the hand" theory. Its not a matter of blame, just of what the situation was. A big House loss was guaranteed, and the only betting was how big.

Add in Citizen's United, probably worth an extra 10 seats for the RepubliCorp, and the winning bet was, "huh, that big."

Since the next election is in the future rather than in the past, the question is, what to do about the massive Corporate win last Tuesday.

14% Unemployment Rate? The Newspaper says 9%

Note that people do not vote the newspaper headlines when it comes to their own standard of living, they vote life as they experience it.

So the headline unemployment rate is not the one to use. In the headline unemployment rate, if you are not working and haven't applied for a job in the last four weeks, you do not count either way. That includes a lot of discourage workers and a lot of people following the help wanted but not finding anything they are qualified to apply for. When the headline rate is extended to "interested in gaining employment" and "have applied for work sometime in the last year", that is called "marginally attached", and that unemployment rate is 11%.

And of course, if you want full time 40 hours a week work and have 4 hours a week work, you are 36/40 unemployed, but count just as "employed" in the headline rate. The rate including people marginally attached and those working part time who want full time work is about 17%.

17%-11%=6% working part time who want full time work.

To be cautious, I take the people working part time who want full time work as "half employed, half unemployed", and add half of that number to the marginally attached:


That's where the "14%" came from above.

One Thing Not To Do: Primary The President

Y'all probably know that I am not now nor have I ever been President Obama's biggest fan. In terms of economics, I view him as a Hedge Fund Democrat, or what is known in the rest of the English speaking world as a "neoliberal" (remembering back to 1800's Liberalism, not the mid-1950's Social Liberalism of the US).

If faced in a primary with a challenger even slightly better that I view as equally likely to win, heck, I might vote in favor of that challenger.

But there's nobody on the Democratic side who can win the nomination and have an equally strong chance of winning the 2012 election who is any better than Obama. The fact is that a primary challenge will open a fight

If you're recruiting me for your candidate of choice for the 2016 Presidential Primary season, I'll listen ~ but just don't waste your time with me, either on the pro or con, on the "Primary Obama in 2012" argument.

See, in my own personal view, fighting on either side of that fight is a massive waste of time and effort as far as achieving any progressive result, so its not something I am going to bother with.

In my view, the Progressive Populist President who achieves tremendous successes and goes through eight years righting wrongs and breaking the chains of the past is a bedtime story for children.

In my view, the way that Progressive Populist change happens is that a Progressive Populist coalition is formed and through fighting and struggling, grows, and based on how well put together it is and how well it executes and, in part, on luck, it achieves some of what it sets out to achieve.

Given that view, I don't see a Progressive Populist movement that can decide between now and March of next year that its time to replace Obama with standard bearer "X". Indeed, I expect that getting all tied up into the pro or con of whether to Primary Obama is more likely to tear apart the small beginnings of the movement we need to have than to help grow the movement.

Mind, if I could support a primary challenge to Eric Holder, I would, but we don't have directly elected Attorney's General at the Federal level, so no opportunity there.

Right Now, Pass the Blue State Jobs Bill

This one is a little subtle. There is this regulation called a "feed-in tariff" that can be used to give much more certainty about investment in domestic renewable energy generation, both at the household level and at the utility level.

And the regulation works by setting a price that the power company has to pay.

And under US Federal regulations, states are not allowed to set prices like that any higher than "avoided cost".

As presently handled by regulators, that means the current spot price, which is the oppposite of providing the certainty required for high up front cost, low operating cost energy harvesting.

Now, there's no real chance of getting Federal feed-in tariffs passed: but that is not the lame duck target here. The lame duck target is passing permission for states to set feed-in tariffs if they so desire.

All that is required is legislation that defines "avoided cost" for long term stable feed in tariffs as the average cost of power over the recent past. In particular, I'd say anywhere up to the middle of the annual average cost of power over each of the past five years.

Further, for household feed-in tariffs, for levels of electricity that can be consumed within the local substation, that avoided cost can include the generator-to-substation transmission charges.

No Federal spending, no Federal taxes ... just a small dose of states rights to go into the sustainable energy future a bit faster if they so desire. Of course, it is a jobs bill, since any state that adopts it will see increased investment in both utility grade and household level renewable power, and that investment will come with people doing the installing and manufacturing and, for the utility grade power, maintenance and oversight.

Then to a growing extent in 2012 and 2014 and 2016, it will be possible to ask the residents of the states that do not have those jobs, well, why not? And why not will be because they have Republican Governors and/or State Legislators.

At the Same Time, time to start on 2012 House and State Legislature races

Not today of course. We can take our time to start. 9 November 2010 is soon enough.

We need to do an inventory of:
  • The surviving Blue Dogs at the State and Federal Level that are up for primaries in 2012
  • The seats lost in this election that will be up for primaries in 2012
  • The seats that were only narrowly lost in 2006 and 2008 that will be up for primaries in 2012

And we need to pencil in which seats are opportunities for social liberals, which are opportunities for economic populists, which are opportunities for rural progressives, and so on.

Step 2: ???

Step 3: Profit!

Seriously, after that is all the political tactics and strategy in identifying and encouraging likely candidates and identifying and recruiting possible candidates, and how in the hell would I know how to do that? I'm a fracking academic economist, after all, not a partisan strategist.

But it seems that we could get started by identifying former incumbents and challengers who we wished were holding those seats, and finding out if they intend to run again.

This is a one year task, since for a progressive populist campaign, if they don't know that they are running by Thanksgiving the year before the election, how are they going to be able to knock on all the doors of their district?

In January, Fix The Filibuster

Best is to eliminate it. Just ax it. But with 50 votes plus Biden to break a tie, the votes are not likely to be there.

So instead, make the filibuster real. Anytime 24 houra or more after a cloture vote has been taken, while a filibuster is in process, and after a quorum call has successfully concluded, then a motion for an immediate cloture vote is in order, and cloture requires 60% of those who answered the quorum call.

Force the filibustering minority to stay and sleep in cots and defend their filibuster night after night, and allow the majority to go back to their office and sleep at home, and leave a couple of night watchmen to keep tabs on how many filibuster defenders are there and to organize the strike for 60% of members voting if their numbers have dipped.

See, that is the big difference in the rules of the Senate that eliminated the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" filibuster: the change from a fraction of Senators voting, to a fraction of the Senators in the Senate.

Force the Minority to sleep in their cots for seven nights in a row, unable to go attend fundraisers, unable to dial for dollars, unable to get wined and dined by K-street lobbyists, while the majority gets to do all of that and wait for the will of the minority to flag ... and the "routine filibuster" can be beaten out of the toolkit of the Minority Party.

A real filibuster is dramatic. Its like reality television. People start to choose sides. And, hell, since it allows the majority to go home and sleep in their DC beds while the minority are chained to the Senate chambers ... what's not to vote for, for the majority?

Its not like the lily livered "New Dem" wing Democrats are going to filibuster anything minor when they are in the minority, so its not giving away any real power that the Democrats in the Senate would ever really be able to exercise in minority. The Democrats would only filibuster if they figured a majority were on their side and would stay on their side, and in those circumstances, sleeping in the cots for a week could be worth months of dialing for dollars.

And in conclusion ...

Just kidding. There aint no conclusion two years minus a few days from the next big fight. We haven't even finished the beginning yet!