Thursday, December 18, 2008

Train Pulling Out of Station for Obama's Cabinet to Bring Real Reform

New York, NY -- President-elect Obama is  to announce today the nomination of Illinois Representative Ray LaHood as Secretary of Transportation, the New York Times reports

The Department of Transportation has been notable during President George W. Bush's eight years term for its astounding failures. The agency has overseen an unprecedented decline in the nation's infrastructure, best typified by the collapse of a major bridge in downtown Minneapolis; at a time when rising oil prices and growing recognition of the harm fossil fuels cause the environment, it has greeted the only nationwide passenger railroad with budget cuts and an ideological contempt; and its disembowelment of FEMA allowed New Orleans to fall apart while its lack of any vision or clout has prevented that major city from putting itself back together. Moreover, as anyone who's ridden a plane in the last year (almost anyone), our airports are antiquated and falling apart; and outdated logistics systems and lack of any expansion of runways (thanks, DoT, for pushing for that funding!) in recent years make flight delays the norm, not the exception -- an appalling circumstance.

The Lower Ninth: Brad Pitt has done more to rebuild infrastructure than the DoT.

Not only will the DoT have to fix those problems to restore itself to its pre-Bush functionality, but a sweeping set of new social, economic and environmental phenomena are facing it: In order to maximize our economic potential and reinvigorate our towns and cities across the country, we need to reconfigure our cities with light rail to make mass transit again feasible (as it was before the postwar Era of the Automobile); connect our dying Midwestern cities to one another with high-speed trains to allow for improved commerce and business (and social) interaction; and stamp out sprawl and reinvigorate the country toward dense, ecologically friendly and socially/culturally progressive transit-oriented development hubs, as David Brooks and others are fast realizing.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to stand with the rest of the world in making oil use a valued good, not a cheap commodity. That means increasing taxes on it to discourage its use (as we do with luxuries, cigarettes, etc.) and account for the damage and effects oil use has (on roads that need repairs due to car use, on the environment, on people's health, etc.). The best way to do that is via a (substantial) increase in the gasoline tax. The gas tax was increased consistently through the 60s, but then the Goldwater Republican Revolution and its acolytes put a stop to that. So for years we've stagnated in that regard. To move us from oil and toward high-tech sustainable solutions -- and to come up with funding for our roads and bridges so they don't collapse and kill us -- we need to tax gasoline like the rest of the world does.

None of these phenomena crept up on us overnight. They're all long-term trends. It's just that America has been utterly stagnant the last eight years and has failed to embrace -- or even acknowledge them. These things are not news for the rest of the world, and we, unfortunately, now need to play catch-up.

Moreover, these represent truly great opportunities to improve our short- and long-term economic prospects; to improve quality of life for millions; to instill people with a newfound civic spirit through mass transit; and to inspire smart kids to become engineers and scientists to work on grand projects -- rather than Wall Street turds. Though these agencies have historically been neglected, there is now, finally, an opportunity and impetus for them to take a world-leading role in advancing new technologies and changing the way we live.

Will LaHood be able to remake the country's infrastructure, transit networks and mode of living?

That said, you have to ask, Is a Republican representative who sat by idly during our infrastructure decline as a 14-year veteran of the House Appropriations Committee the man to do this? Of the articles that major newspapers have published about him, only the WSJ even mentions LaHood's transit creds, noting that his "resume on transport matters was seen as thin." Should it fall to someone who for years lacked the vision, political fortitude or just plain common sense to increase funding for infrastructure or to push for better (or just functional) mass transit to now be the person who remakes our transit system from scratch? Someone with no experience managing a large agency, no vision regarding the work before us, and no common sense to have pushed for any change the last 14 years?

This is a great, great disappointment coming after a day of disappointments. Senator Obama was elected with a mandate to change, open, modernize and liberalize the country after our 8 years of cultural, moral, economic and geopolitical stagnation; there is a great amount of work to do. There's work to be done at the Interior Dept, where destroying our national parks for the sake of drilling (which hasn't yielded any oil yet and only keeps us addicted to a fuel that's bad for us geopolitically, economically and environmentally) and engaging in drug-and-sex binges with the companies the agency is supposed to be regulated are the norm; and at the USDA, which acts as a clearinghouse for subsidies for billion-dollar food-production conglomerates and has seen the FDA turned to a shell of itself. 

Yet Obama inexplicably appointed fairly weak, status quo figures to these departments yesterday. Is a rancher whose claim to fame is that he wears a kitschy cowboy hat the man to stamp out a corrupt Interior Dept, preserve our parks and environment, and stand up to Big Oil and resources companies to drag us into a sustainable, high-tech 21st century? Are we likely to see a shakeup of the USDA to orient it, as Nicholas Kristof suggested, toward sustainable food production and higher standards and help farmers (not farming conglomerates)?  

"Delicious," piped Warren after eating yet another gay for brunch

No. Similarly, I thought we'd finally turn a corner on THIS century's civil rights struggle -- equal rights for gays and lesbians -- while defanging America's Hamas, the fundamentalist Evangelical movement, of unfortunate political clout. But it looks like Obama is setting the stage for an indefinite extension of confusion of Church and State by embracing a latter-day "Agent of Intolerance," Rick Warren. Shame on Mr Obama for having his presidency blessed by a man whose political beliefs are more Pat Buchanan than Pat Moynihan. Given that, I would've been much happier with the Rev. Wright saying "goddamn America" and pushing us to better ourselves and cast racism aside, than with a bigoted mega-church telecaster who may say he loves America -- but doesn't love its rights or freedom so much as to see them extended to all our countrymen.

I don't know what's happening to Obama, but I'm beginning to wonder if Cheney the Evil Wizard's baleful prophesy is coming true. 
Is Obama convinced when Charles Krauthammer intone that "America is STILL a center-right nation. Bwahahaha!" Those are crass lies, and Obama should know that: America is nothing but a country of people who want to do best for themselves, whether that means being "right" or "left." Our problems are abundantly clear now, and the solutions are also fairly obvious. Obama has mostly done well in his Cabinet choices, I think, but his recent appointments -- to agencies that, while usually low-profile, now demand vision and leadership to make up for our failings and take advantage of great opportunities -- seem a missed chance. America to Obama: WTF?

Cheney: still hanging out?

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