Don’t Get Me Started, Regulars and Shorts

Don’t Get Me Started: November 2007

By John deJong

The John Valentine Memorial Parkinglotway & Cuba: Another Meaningless Photo Op.
by John deJong
Senate President John Valentine and the Utah County delegation, which makes up most of the leadership in the house and senate of the Utah State Legislature, continue to put politics over the transportation needs of that smog bowl county. Now, given their way, they would impose its 20th century sensibilities on Salt Lake County as well.

In the late '90s and early aughts, legislators from Utah County routinely pursued politically motivated and often unconstitutional legislation to the near total exclusion of transportation projects. While Salt Lake County built light rail and rebuilt I-15, Utah County choked on exhaust fumes in the four clogged lanes of I-15.

A decision by the Salt Lake County Council of Governments (COG) to spend most of a new quarter cent sales tax  to fund mass transit projects-the Mid Jordan and West Valley light rail spurs and a commuter rail line in the south end of the valley-has provoked their anger.

The transit tempest was stirred up last month when legislative auditors  announced that the formula used by the Salt Lake County COG to determine transit project priorities had been miscalculated.

The audit also suggested that the Salt Lake COG had a "pro-rail bias," conspicuously omitting any mention of the legislature's pro-road bias.

The reason for the Salt Lake COG's pro-rail bias is no secret. Salt Lake County has run out of breathable air and is running out of space for roads. The prospect of the pollution from a couple of billion more vehicle miles traveled each year is unacceptable.

The source of the legislature's pro-road bias is less well-known. The road lobby is activeand effective at the legislature, plus it makes generous campaign contributions to the Republican leadership.

To top it off, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is for all practical purposes the Utah Department of Roads (UDOR). The institutional biases of UDOR run deep. The "Road" Commission is packed with retired legislators. The campaign contribution records of its chairman, former State Representative J. Stuart Adams, are rife with contributions from organizations that it doesn't take much imagination to see would be in favor of roadbuilding: The Utah Association of Realtors, the Northern Wasatch Home Builders Association, Utah Auto Dealers Association, and even Reagan Outdoor Advertising. It's easy to see how they would all be big fans and beneficiaries of the suburban sprawl that requires roads and single occupant vehicles.

Valentine, UDOR and their ilk believe we still live in the age of the automobile-an age before the effects of global warming, peak oil and the insideous effects of pollution from non-point sources (automobiles) were known, an age when building roads to last 30 or 40 years was still the best use of public funds. Thirty or 40 years from now, the best use of most roads, will be as on-street parking.

One of the main criteria the COG considered in allocating transportation funds was relief of congestion. Spending money on roads can no longer be seen as an answer to congestion. There will never be enough money to build enough roads to get two million people in single occupant vehicles from point A to point B. The Salt Lake COG realizes that the future lies in urban planning that features mass transit oriented development. The sooner the Salt Lake Valley is criss-crossed with light rail, the better. Congestion relief, cost-effectiveness, safety, community factors and even environmental factors – which come in dead last in the legislature's formula – are all maximized with mass transit.

Let Utah County stew in its own juices if they want to, but let Salt Lake County ride into the 21st century.

Cuba: Another Meaningless Photo Op

In another example of how removed the Bush administration is from reality, George W. Bush declared last month in a speech to a room full of Cuban exiles that the United States would not accept the undemocratic transfer of power in Cuba from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul. The speech had no practical effect other than to further endear the lame duck president (or rather, whatever Republican presidential candidate Dick Cheney, Karl Rove et al. have hitched their wagons to) to the Cuban exile community.

Some might say the Bush administration was asleep at the wheel, as Fidel's health deteriorated and Raul took over the reins of power. Others might say that the Bush administration doesn't give a  a rat's ass about Cuba-there are, after all, no known oil reserves anywhere close to the island-except to use the exiles as a loyal backdrop any time George needs one for a photo op.

The Bush administration seems to expect a miraculous democratic transfer of power after years of dictatorship. Sort of like the democratic institutions that fell into place when Iraq was liberated from the grip of Al Queda and Saddam Hussein, but without the billions and billions of dollars of transition funds given by Bush's corrupt administration to an equally (if not more) corrupt administration in Iraq. Not as many billions as Congress, in its infinitesimal wisdom,  appropriated.Showering the undemocratic regime with tens of billions of dollars does not give you a successful transition to democracy, presto-change-o. Instead, you've got your, or rather your country's, hand full of handouts caught in a wringer, with no clue whether to crank forward or backward.

(Clue: Smart money is on cranking backward, though even that is going to be painful and not exactly a "face-saving exercise.")

Is it any secret now that the extent of the Bush administration's understanding of democracy is limited to how to pronounce the word and how to subvert it? The undemocratic regimes backed by the Bush administration, by means legal and illegal, are legion: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and the United States of America-nearly equaling the number of undemocratic, oil-rich regimes it is trying to replace with Halliburton and the Hunt brothers.

This article was originally published on October 31, 2007.