Sunday, April 23, 2006

Clueless Journalism...

The New York Times has now joined Porkbusters and the Instapundit in criticism of Senator Trent Lott's $700 million railroad to nowhere.

Let me first say, that although I would probably not see eye-to-eye on many issues with Glenn Reynolds, I am a big fan of his Instapundit blog and read it daily. Also, while I agree with goals of groups like Porkbusters (I think spending earmarks should be prohibited), I'm not that attracted to their message because the alternative to every bit of spending becomes an over-simplified quick-fix. Let's take a snippet from the Porkbusters article:

As for not being able to evacuate people, here is a novel idea, why not use the rail lines? Certainly it wouldn’t be too much to ask that a passenger train be sent to evacuate people in times of emergency. And it would be a solution for all the people who do not have a private vehicle to evacuate in.

That's an excellent idea and certainly quite plausible. Also, that CSX Freight line could've been used immediately after the disaster to ship things like diesel fuel, food, and supplies to places like Waveland, Mississippi. There's only one problem with that:

CSX Freight Line near Waveland

The only thing of notable value on this freightline was a house (you can see the rooftop in the distance), at least on the day I took this picture. It sure would have been nice to have this freight line available to the few groups who remained in Waveland when Hurricane Rita roared past us in the Gulf. Before I get too far off-topic, let's get back to the New York Times' editorial and examine their characterization of this vital freight line:

As the Senate returns from recess it will confront the year's prize porker blithely trotted out by Senator Lott — a $700 million earmark to relocate a Gulf Coast rail line, which was just rebuilt, post-Katrina, at a cost of $250 million. Invoked in the name of public safety, the project is actually a transparent attempt to tap already scarce hurricane reconstruction funds so the rail bed can be replaced by a touristy "beach boulevard" long sought by Mississippi to aid the casino industry and coastal developers.

Did I read that correctly? Did the author actually use the words "scarce hurricane reconstruction funds" to describe the government's approved spending for the Katrina recovery effort? According to the Heritage Foundation (a conservative anti-pork organization), government spending on Katrina could exceed $200 billion, not including tax incentives such as the one I took advantage of when I spent almost $1,000 to get myself down to Waveland to distribute food and help clear debris from houses. It's nice to see the New York Times is finally so concerned about government spending, but like the other groups that keep throwing around this $250 million number for a "rail line which was just rebuilt", they should try a little thing in journalism known as investigation. That $250 million includes reconstruction of the Saint Louis Bay Bridge that carries both the rail line and Highway 90 from Bay Saint Louis to Pass Christian, which by the way, has not been done.

Now, I'm all for scrutinizing these expenditures, especially where the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) is concerned. I'm also wary of government "paybacks" to labor unions. The federal Department of Transportation waived contracting rules to allow officials to hire contractors for the immediate rebuilding. Now, could the reasoning behind this $750 million project be a bone thrown to transportation unions? You bet it could, but I haven't seen any of the anti-pork slueths raising that question.

Despite my inclination to oppose earmarks and the opposition from a growing chorus of anti-pork voices, the fact of this particular matter remain unchanged. This freight line was taken out of action by Hurricane Katrina. Rebuilding infrastructure is expensive and a working freight line would've been a God-send when I was last in Waveland, Mississippi.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same rival rail line that CSX will be relocating to if Lott has his way was in working condition.

I am not sure what your point is.

Also CSX got repairs made in a timely manner.

4:39 PM  
Blogger The Indigent Blogger said...

Your post is an example of my point. I don't believe it has been decided that existing rails will be used... only the "Porkbusters" crowd and their ilk have decided that as far as I can tell.

Also, relocating CSX makes the current rail line available for State Highway 90. The current Highway 90 re-flooded when Hurricane Rita blew through while the CSX rail lines remained dry.

Look, I'm opposed to pork and earmarks. I don't think this particular earmark has any business being on a war-funding bill. But "Porkbusters" and that lot keep shooting off these half-assed flippant answers to serious problems. They also stoop to bring up the "developers" bogey-man when discussing this rail-line, when a re-location would more importantly make the current CSX line available to the State of Mississippi to relocate Highway 90.

8:46 PM  

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