Friday, March 18, 2011


I wasn’t exactly “shocked, shocked” when I heard fundraisers on a local public television station imploring viewers to urge Congress to support federal funding for PBS. I was, however, a bit surprised, since using public money to lobby for more government support seemed to me a clear no-no.

Apparently the “smarter-than-thou” haughtiness that oozes from NPR microphones has now infected folks charged with convincing people that a cultural Armageddon awaits if the Corporation for Public Broadcasting doesn’t get its annual federal fix of 432 million bucks.

Unfortunately for PBS aficionados, it was President Obama’s own bipartisan budget commission that last year recommended eliminating funding for CPB in view of the country’s massive 1.5 trillion dollar annual and 14 trillion dollar total debt.

Mr. Obama, however, promptly ignored the Simpson-Bowles report and continued to fund the organization headed, until her recent resignation, by former Senior New York Times Vice-President, Vivian Schiller.

Amid this budget battle, the firing of analyst Juan Williams didn’t help PBS’s insistence that it’s an impartial source for news. Williams only said out loud what almost all the flying public thinks when an individual with distinctive Muslim garb boards a flight. Under Schiller’s publicly funded regime, such honesty was a firing offense.

Recently a “news-sting” operation provided more evidence of what any politically sentient observer knows—that CPB’s culture is overwhelmingly leftist. This undercover operation involved two men posing as members of the Muslim Brotherhood and discussing a possible five-million dollar donation to NPR.

During their conversation with now-fired NPR executive Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian), the former Schiller accused the Tea Party and the GOP of being “fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian.” Schiller also called the Tea Party “a weird evangelical kind of move(ment)” and “xenophobic”—a group filled with “white, middle-America, gun-toting” and “seriously racist, racist people.”

After gratuitously taking off his NPR hat and expressing his own “personal” views, Schiller added that Republicans have an “anti-intellectual” bent and that “liberals today might be more educated, fair and balanced than conservatives.”

These “fair and balanced” thoughts probably strike most “gun-toting” Tea Partiers in North County and Riverside County as more than a bit obtuse. Schiller’s comments certainly won’t generate many donations from that quarter during the regular appeals made by those perky PBS hostesses.

In many respects CPB is a news and education version of the corrupt relationship that now exists between public-sector unions and governments at all levels—a relationship in which, as George Will put it, “Government sits on both sides of the table.” Except in this case government sponsors a pledge drive directed at itself.

Friday, March 04, 2011


Florida governor Rick Scott recently said “No thanks” to 2.4 billion federal dollars for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. The governor, based on empirically-grounded estimates in a Reason Foundation study, foresaw significant cost overruns and doubted the optimistic annual ridership estimate of three million.

In prior weeks governors in Wisconsin and Ohio also declined a small mountain of Federal Reserve Notes dedicated to high-speed rail in their states.

Then there’s New Jersey’s gutsy governor, Chris Christie, who last year pulled the plug on the nation’s most expensive public works project—an 8.7 billion dollar rail tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan.

For Democrats in Sacramento and bureaucrats at the California High Speed Rail Authority, these acts of fiscal sanity only mean more “free money” for California’s massive high-speed boondoggle.

Recently, Orange County’s PBS station (in between using federal funds to urge its viewers to support more federal funding) interviewed CHSRA’s Vice-Chairman, Tom Umberg--a long-time Democrat politician who got his position at the Rail Authority thanks to former California State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.

Though the government-funded interviewer did have a Reason Foundation representative present for balance, Umberg was never pressed on critical points like how much the project will cost Californians, how much the drowning-in-debt feds will be chipping in, what tickets will cost, what eminent domain issues exist, and whether Umberg can point to any history of success for federal rail projects in the U.S.

Umberg doubtless enjoyed the futuristic visuals of the system as he grinned broadly, stressed his free money scenario, and said the Spanish high-speed rail system from Madrid to Barcelona was a great prototype. (Viewers of government-sponsored journalism wouldn’t know that those tickets currently cost $330, round trip. Nor would they have information about the total cost of the project or its ongoing expense in a country that currently boasts a 20% unemployment rate.)

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey did pose these hard questions in the relative privacy of a subcommittee hearing a few weeks earlier.

Harkey said that what we now have is a “high-speed marketing machine…with absolutely no accountability.” When she asked Rail Authority reps, “At what point do you determine that…a segment of this line is too expensive to build?” She says she was told, “Never.”

Harkey noted that the plan “shifts and moves continually” and that one can’t get a handle on the dollars. Current estimates range from 60 to 80 billion dollars, plus operating expenses. Harkey also observed that some money, both for capital expenses and connecting facilities, are expected to come from impacted counties.

To those questions Umberg and Sacramento Democrats reply, “All aboard.”

Additional note from a Reader: Here's a clip from a Simpson's episode about a con man pushing residents to build a monorail in their town: