Monday, March 17, 2008

"It breaks my heart to see transportation in the American city whored out for a mess of pottage tangled up in a web of lies."

Courtesans, or Firing Mary Peters

Mar. 17th, 2008

Daniel M. Laenker
Copyright 2008

Where courtesans shed no tears
When men leave them high and dry,
They just go on, they just go on
To the next guy.

I've been listening to the new Magnetic Fields album, which is amazing, and I've also been following the news about Dulles Metro, which is disheartening.

For courtesans only want
Compensation for their time:
A few kind words, a few nice things,
They need not whine.

I hate to say it, but maybe we should go along with what the Teamsters want and fire Mary Peters. Not because I particularly care one way or the other about Mexican trucking - though the Teamsters are part of Change To Win, in solidarity with UNITE-HERE, a hospitality union I certainly do care for - but because getting rid of the current team of USDOT policy makers would do this country's urban areas a world of good.

A sable coat, maybe a hat -
How I wish I could be like that!

Since Peters replaced Norman Mineta, she has consistently penalized transit in order to force roads privatization, ostensibly in the name of "congestion pricing". Normally, I would be in favor of actual congestion pricing - so long as it was part of a comprehensive plan that affects every commuter equitably and has positive impacts on local infrastructure, putting the revenues back into alternatives such as transit expansion.

But courtesans are not like me.
They don't take love very hard.
Their hearts are free, their hearts are free
How avant-garde!

But from Washington to Los Angeles to Houston to Chicagoland and even now in Miami, she and her appointees in the FTA have stonewalled economically sound projects with revolving-door excuses that change almost every day in order to force local and state governments to sell or lease highly efficient roads to private interests.

These firms, often foreign multinationals such as Cintra or BAA, pay concession fees that are frequently well out of line with the actual value of the road. These practices overcharge commuters and provide local authorities with significantly diminished opportunities to use these revenues to improve their own infrastructure. Instead, public value in the U.S. often disappears into fungible, unrelated shareholder interests abroad.

If no one loves them when they're old,
They'll sit and count their chains of gold.

Like with the Trans-Texas Corridor before them, Peters and her appointees have been profoundly dishonest about their interests in these projects, as well as their reasons for pursuing or denying myriad proposals along their path - here, cutting transit funds even as ridership reaches a 50-year high.

And as with other Bush administration stories of corruption, collusion, and nepotism in providing no-bid awards and broad-reaching carte-blanche powers to such firms as Bechtel, Halliburton and Cintra, they stand to personally profit in the millions, perhaps even in the billions, from the conversion of public goods for their own benefit.

You say you'll love them till you die,
And they don't care if it's a lie.

Maybe we can afford to ride out the year or so until a new administration comes into power, but the quiet damage to urban infrastructure being wreaked by USDOT and the FTA is difficult to ignore.

I support marketizing our road network in principle and for greater public benefit, and none of this will undo the last decade's progress towards renewed American urbanism. But this is beyond irresponsible to me - this is personal to me, an affront to sacred things. And it breaks my heart to see transportation in the American city whored out for a mess of pottage tangled up in a web of lies.

For courtesans don't believe
In anybody but themselves -
And Santa Claus, and Santa Claus
And his twelve elves....

Fire DOT Secretary Mary Peters

© 2008, Daniel M. Laenker:

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