Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Feedback

Murohama enshrined [The reply]

What keeps alive a story that could keep you alive? On Sunday, José Holguín-Veras' article, "The 1,000-year-old warning," explained how a venerable tale led the people of Murohama, on the east coast of Japan, to safety after last year's Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The ancient story told of a massive earthquake and tsunami that killed villagers who headed to high ground nearby but were nonetheless swept away. The particulars matched geologic and historical evidence, but what the people of Murohama remembered wasn't corroborating science but the story itself -- and a roadside shrine, tended for generations, near the site where the tragedy happened.  When the Tohoku earthquake hit, most of the people in Murohama heeded the story and headed to safer ground on the other side of town.

One commenter on our website, "clxLAT," said, "A picture of the shrine would have been nice." Holguín-Veras was happy to accommodate that request with a shot  he took of the roadside shrine on his research trip to Japan.  He also included a GPS map based on  Google Earth.  The "directions" on it start at "S" in the village and lead to "E" -- close to the roadside shrine. The safer high ground is south and west  of "S."  


Raising cyber-children -- safely

How will it end in Afghanistan?

Texas' solution in search of a problem

--Susan Brenneman

Photo: Murohama's roadside shrine. Credit: José Holguín-Veras’ / For The Times

'Creatocracy' and the Internet free-for-all

Author Elizabeth Wurtzel -- of "Prozac Nation" fame -- argues in a June episode of "Studio 360," which re-aired a couple weeks ago, for preserving the integrity of intellectual property. "Our GDP is now 47% intellectual property," she told host Kurt Andersen. Distributing artists' work free of charge not only threatens the existence of art and creativity, it also threatens a substantial part of our economy.

Rather than view the Internet as an environment that cannibalizes artists' work, some musicians such as Jay-Z have flipped the traditional music industry model on its head. Instead of relying on record sales for the bulk of their income, they use their albums as a marketing tool to get fans to buy concert tickets and merch. The easier their music is to access online, the better the promotion.

Many of the musicians I know don't mind this new model; some even prefer it. They post their new music on social networks, actively inviting fans to listen for free, banking on those listeners to help build buzz. Why wouldn't you adapt, they ask? There's been a similar shift in other creative fields too, with writers, photographers and designers, to name a few, using their personal sites to promote their work in hopes of spreading the word and getting hired.

That's crazy, says Wurtzel. "This is hard work," she told Andersen. "This isn't something people should be giving away for free." It devalues the product. For a "creatocracy" to work, she says:

Wurtzel: [W]e have the only Constitution that has intellectual property in it. […] I think the thing that [the Founding Fathers] did that was unique is that they didn't set up a minister of the arts; they set up a copyright system. They said you could profit from your creativity, they would not support it, there would not be patrons, there would not be the European system.

Andersen: Other countries have copyrights and patents. What makes our version of it special?

Wurtzel: I think that the government pretty much threw it all to the free market. […] They invented the concept of an audience supporting the arts as opposed to patrons of some other method.

Within the world of music, it would seem as though music-streaming subscription services would bridge the gap. Spotify, which is like Netflix for music, for instance, preserves intellectual property; artists get royalties and promotion; and fans get easy, immediate and inexpensive access to just about anything they want to listen to.

If only it were that simple. The editorial board recently took on this topic, writing:

To some labels and artists, the subscription services are little better than piracy. The royalties are minuscule -- about half a penny per song played on Spotify -- and the way they're calculated is maddeningly hard to understand. […]

For better or worse, the Internet makes music instantly available to anyone who wants to hear it. Many of the sources aren't legal, but they're free and easy to find. As a result, broadband has effectively ended the era when people had to buy an album to find out how good every track was (or wasn't). Consumers expect to be able to hear a recording before committing it to their collection. The challenge for artists and labels is to persuade potential fans to do so on legitimate, royalty-paying sites. At the same time, they have to find ways to introduce themselves to new generations of listeners. That means having a presence on the sites that millions of those listeners use, rather than trying to coax them to places chosen by the artist.

As a commenter, WaltMcKibben, writes on our discussion board, "an artist who can cross all the technological borders will define the century."


Why Chris Brown is no role model

Protest songs: Record labels aren't listening

Academy Awards: It's about art, not political correctness

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Jay-Z performs during a concert at Staples Center on March 26, 2011. Credit: Los Angeles Times

College: Just a six-figure day care? [Most commented]

CollegeA recent Op-Ed by NYU professor Jonanthan Zimmerman asked: "Are college students learning?"  He wrote that "the big open secret in American higher education: Most institutions have no meaningful way to measure the quality of their instruction." Zimmerman's commentary was a response to President Obama's State of the Union address in which he called on colleges to do "better" and proposed measures to lower tuition. But, Zimmerman asks, what did Obama mean by "better"?

[I] have a modest proposal for Obama: In addition to asking universities to lower tuition, ask them also to figure out what their students are learning. Some schools are already doing that. At Carleton College in Minnesota, for example, students are required to submit a set of papers that they wrote during their first two years at the school. Carleton then assesses each student according to a set of faculty-developed standards, and also provides assistance to the students who do not meet them.

On the occasion of Zimmerman's piece, readers have been commenting all week, mostly that attending college is a gigantic and costly waste of time. At least it is in our country, where students tend to favor liberal arts over math, science or anything that will keep our country competitive. (Their words, not mine.) Here's a sampling of their comments from our discussion board.

Stop subsidizing an easy-going culture

Those pursuing engineering, hard sciences, and other math-based degrees are learning.

The rest of the brats with ______ Studies majors are just burning through their parents' money while watching Jon Stewart and learning nothing beyond how to prepare for a life of professional victimhood and perpetual grievances.  Call it six-figure day care.

Here's a thought:  end all aid for fake majors.  I don't agree with taxpayers being forced to subsidize anyone's schooling, but if we must, at least limit it to B.S. degrees so we'll get some output from it.


Don't support "soft" degrees

American colleges/universities in general DWELL too much on progressive ideology. They neglect the STEM disciplines...because all the Asian (overseas, not Asian Americans), E Indian, and the few "nerdy" American students...who can handle them, pursue them. Watch what happens in 5, 10 or 20 years. America ain't gonna have headlines like, "first man to land on moon; breakthrough in cancer treatment; blind are given second chance to see again because of American researchers..."

Keep on dwelling on the soft degrees that got no pragmatism.


Get rid of general education

I obtained a BS degree in Engineering from a British university 30 years ago. From day one until finals we studied nothing but subjects that were essential to an understanding and practice of engineering. We didn't study anything that would be considered 'general education'. We graduated after 3 years, not 4.

It takes 3 years to get a BS in engineering (or pretty much anything else) if you leave out the fluff that is GE. If you want to broaden your studies, read a book. GE is by definition irrelevant to the major.

I am now paying for my 2 kids to attend college (UCLA). Most of what they study in the first year, and some of the second, in my opinion isn't worth my money or their time. They don't care, but I do as I'm paying for it.

So my suggestion is that US colleges could not only cut student costs but reduce time taken to get a BS degree by taking a huge ax to the GE requirements they currently require.


Stop fostering a party

The real problem lies with the students. You can feel the frustration of teaching if you liken the teacher to a faucet of information, trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it. The student must be motivated to learn in order to learn. You can invest in the most expensive new technology from smart boards to computer classrooms. You can recruit the brightest and best teachers. It will not make one wit of difference if the students are not motivated to learn the material being taught. So how does one create a culture on campus where the student feels compelled to learn? That is the key question. Unfortunately, most colleges focus on recruiting and retaining tuition-paying seat fillers by making campus 'fun', filling the day with delightful distractions; cable TV, games, events, Greek houses, all sorts of extracurricular activities which many students take more seriously than their studies ... no wonder the student sees their studies as the distraction.

--A thousand clowns

Hold colleges accountable

Want to stop the "Great American College Rip-Off"? Maybe parents (and/or the students) should sue the colleges for not teaching them marketable skills and getting employment when they graduate college. If a student doesn't have a meaningful well-paying job by at least 3-5 years out of college, then the college failed by defrauding the student out of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars. It is theft by deception. The college(s) should be on the hook legally if they are forcing students to expend hundreds of thousands in student loans and then provide no avenue to pay back those loans. The parents and/or students would then have a right to sue for false advertising, fraud and the like.


*For clarity purposes, spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected. 


America's waning influence

School nutrition: A kid's right to choose

Super Bowl: The right way to combat big-game pirates

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Illustration: Michael Osbun / Tribune Media Services

Who's in charge of the LAPD? [The reply]

Chief Charlie BeckMy column on Monday looking at a proposed change in the way the Los Angeles Police Department handles cars it seizes from unlicensed drivers drew the predictable response: Scores of readers wrote to complain that this is just another misguided attempt to make life easier for illegal immigrants, while a smaller number wrote to praise the idea as a moderate way to handle an overbearing and unjust system that deprives those immigrants and others of their vehicles for relatively minor traffic violations.

First, I should note that my larger point was not the policy itself but rather the question of what it says about who makes policy for the LAPD. It's my view that these proposed changes represent a change in policy and that the Police Commission, not Chief Charlie Beck, should therefore make them. That said, the proposal that the chief has advanced is one I agree with, despite the objections of some readers.

Take "divewizard," who wrote: "Anyone driving without a license should be arrested and the car impounded." That's true, but it avoids the question. The real question is this: Should everyone who drives without a license lose their car for 30 days, or should there be different standards depending on the offense? If the unlicensed driver also is uninsured or has been in an accident or is charged with a serious offense (driving drunk, for instance), that driver would continue to lose the car for 30 days under the chief's proposal. But if the driver carried insurance (yes, it's possible to get insurance without a California license) and was merely pulled over for speeding, shouldn't that be treated differently? Under Beck's suggestion, such drivers would have their car impounded but could pick it up the following day if they arrived with a licensed driver.

Similarly, "mypapa" argues that Beck's job is to enforce the law, and that because it's illegal to drive without a license, Beck should make sure his officers enforce the law. Simple, indeed, but Beck's broader responsibility is to protect public safety. The effect of seizing cars for 30 days for even trivial offenses is that it encourages those without licenses to drive inexpensive cars and discourages them from registering them or obtaining insurance, because they will simply walk away if the car is seized and they can't afford to get it back. Los Angeles would be safer if more cars were registered, insured and well maintained. And since Beck's job is to look after that safety, I think he's right to pursue this policy. I still think the commission should have the last word, though, and I respectfully disagree with Beck on that issue.

Finally, to the reader who argued that I was incorrect that the council can't override the chief, it's the reader who's incorrect. The council has the power to take over any action by a commission and veto it if 10 council members support that veto -- that's one reason supporters of this policy prefer not to have the commission act. The chief, on the other hand, does not report to the council, and it has no power to review his changes in LAPD procedure.


L.A.'s wasteful sprinklers

GOP candidates' immigration fantasies

The energy industry's disturbing influence on politics

--Jim Newton

Photo: Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Newt Gingrich's fiction [Most commented]

Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich's victory in Saturday's South Carolina primary gave the Republican candidate the opportunity to stand at the podium and spin a little fiction about how he's a Washington outsider.

"There's nothing new or particularly original about a candidate seeking to distance himself from the East Coast establishment," writes the editorial board in "Gingrich's 'outsider' gambit." "But it's particularly rich to have Gingrich attempt to position himself as an outsider." They continue:

Gingrich served 10 terms in Congress and was speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999. In that post, he was two heartbeats from the presidency, and he was the galvanizing force of the GOP's return to power. In other words, he was near the pinnacle of the rarefied Washington elite. As for the "New York" half of his sneering denunciation — a reference to the media he's been lambasting for weeks — it is worth recalling that Gingrich is a prolific book writer who once received a $4.5-million advance, which he was forced to return after ethics questions were raised about it. And need one even mention that he has made his fortune in Washington (he earned $1.6 million, for instance, giving "strategic advice" to Freddie Mac, the quasi-governmental mortgage giant) or that he and his wife maintained a credit line at Tiffany? Surely that qualifies as admission to some sort of elite.

Here's what readers are saying on our discussion board.

What do Gingrich and Bristol Palin have in common?

Listening to Gingrich rebrand himself as the authentic outsider is like listening to advice on teenage abstinence from Bristol Palin -- as she holds her baby.


What's wrong with Gingrich? Here's a list:

The right-wing nuts' talent for self-deception is astonishing. The Newt is one of the most deeply dishonest and immoral major candidates this country has seen, not to mention his hypocrisy and radical extremism.


Is Gingrich all that different from other politicians?

Gingrich can say anything he wants, all U.S. politicians have established that the truth is optional.


The rest of America is smarter than South Carolina, right?

If it weren't for the frightening possibility that Gingrich might actually become president, his astonishing hubris and hypocrisy would merely be entertaining.

Alas, his "I'm an outsider" shape-shifting is an old and tried Gingrich trick that's working once again.

Before he was an "elite" and then an "anti-elite," Gingrich successfully used deferments to avoid the Vietnam War era draft -- at 19 he married his 26-year-old high school teacher no less.

Then with no military street cred whatsoever, Gingrich went on to teach an officer war fighting course for the U.S. Air Force. He also served as an informal advisor to then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Talk about big ego, no shame.

So pretending to be what he isn't, dodging, weaving, obfuscating and attacking are standard operating procedures for this hypocrite.

Please, somebody tell me the American electorate is smart enough to see through this guy.

-- CarolineR2

If Gingrich is the nominee…

If Gingrich is the nominee, Romney and Paul should run as a third party ticket ... or maybe both as separate tickets.  I have been a Republican since 1976 and under no circumstances will I vote for that hypocrite Gingrich or the nut-case Santorum.  Romney should be the nominee. Period.


*For clarity purposes, spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.


McManus: Is Romney a true conservative?

A Newt seduced South Carolina's Christian electorate

Gingrich's best value among 'values voters'? Beating Obama

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Newt Gingrich speaks to supporters at the Hilton Hotel in Columbia, S.C., following his victory in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary on Jan. 21. Credit: Jeff Siner / Charlotte Observer/MCT

Meghan Daum: What's the key to civil discourse online?

Web user
Readers of my column know I'm fascinated by the basic, eternal comment-board questions: "Why are people so mean?"  "Is vitriolic spewing on the Web just another sign of the apocalypse?"  

Of course, plenty of others are just as interested in the way "instant response" (you know, typing fast and then clicking a mouse, rather than getting a pen, finding the paper, writing a letter, sticking it in the U.S. mail) has changed the nature of reading, writing and just being a person.

I heard from some of them last week via Patt Morrison's KPCC radio show. I was on it because I wrote a 5,000+-word essay, "Haterade" -- about the vituperative nature of certain forms of online interactivity --  for the January issue of the Believer magazine (which, by the way, doesn't allow for comments on its website).  Cheryl Cox in Woodland Hills posted this on Patt's KPCC page, "With all due respect to you authors, I learn as much from the discussion that follows an article as from the article itself."  Ryan Johnson  said,  "I'm horrified by the hate that people freely express" and added that "genuine discussion rarely happens in a comments section." Meanwhile, "Eleanor in Los Feliz" wrote that she appreciated the "meta" aspect of "comment-conversing on a story about comment-conversing."  Me too. 

Offline, lots of people  have told me they would like to take part in online discussions but that the ugly rantings of the few too often drown out the good intentions of the many, and it ultimately doesn't seem worth the trouble. Others pine for the days, pre-blogosphere, when conversations about political and cultural issues generally took place in person among friends or colleagues who knew how to combine vehement disagreement with respectful listening. Meanwhile, many young people, some of them fledgling writers, admit they sometimes censor their most original, daring ideas out of fear of the "haterade." 

No one wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater, not that we could  at this stage in digital history. As we learned last year, the anonymity of the Web can help topple dictators, but there's no foolproof way to prevent people from also using that cover to air their most venomous, gratuitous grievances in a manner they wouldn't think of doing in real life. Even comment-by-comment monitoring doesn't help much. It's impractical, and besides, whose standard should prevail; where do you draw the line?  

At The Times, comments on some blogs are implemented through Facebook, which may engender more civility than utterly anonymous threads. But is it fair to force people to join Facebook if they want to post a comment? (Personally, I think not.) Moreover, if someone is determined to spew invective while hiding behind a false identity, don't The Times' Facebook comments prove it's  pretty easy to do?  (Not to give you guys any ideas. ) 

If  you think you have the key to civil discourse, by all means let us know.  Meanwhile, read the piece, if for no other reason than to snicker over the embarrassing opening anecdote, which describes an ill-conceived, messily argued and (rightfully) lambasted (without benefit of comment boards) article I published in the mid-1990s when I was a fledgling kulturkritic/opinionator/navel gazer. No doubt my loyal haters will appreciate the opportunity to make up for the online pummeling I dodged back then.

Oh, and here's a comment footnote:  What's the real derivation of "haterade"?  I always thought it was coined by young, snarky blogger types, but I'm hearing that it is actually a hip-hop expression (the Urban Dictionary’s first entry calls it "a figurative drink representing a modality or thought" and doesn't mention hip hop). So if you know the answer, please speak up. Just try not to use all caps if you can help it.


Daum: Mitt Romney's dog days

Daum: Think first tweet later #duh

Daum: Christopher Hitchens gets the last laugh

--Meghan Daum

Photo credit: Christina House / For The Times

How Congress can save Social Security [The reply]

Social Security

Several readers have commented in recent days on the proposal to eliminate or raise the payroll cap as one means of assuring the long-term viability of Social Security. After my Op-Ed, "The golden trade-off," was put to bed, I came across an especially relevant comment from an especially relevant source, the Congressional Research Service, or CRS. 

The service has operated for nearly a century as a bipartisan helpmate for the House and the Senate. In September 2010, the CRS filed a report examining one of the specific issues posed in "The golden trade-off," i.e., what would be the fiscal impact if Congress in fact raised or eliminated the cap. Here is the bottom-line essence of the CRS report:

"Raising or eliminating the cap on wages that are subject to taxes could reduce the long-range deficit in the Social Security Trust Funds. For example, if the maximum taxable earnings amount had been raised in 2005 from $90,000 to $150,000 -- roughly the level needed to cover 90% of all earnings -- it would have eliminated roughly 40% of the long-range shortfall in Social Security. If all earnings were subject to the payroll tax, but the [taxable] base was retained for benefit calculations, the Social Security Trust Funds would remain solvent for the next 75 years…"  (My italics)

In other words, eliminating the cap on wages would place the Social Security system on firm ground for the next 75 years. In return, the benefits paid to high earners would no longer be capped; their taxes would rise, but so too would their benefits.

All of which gives an upcoming Congress the opportunity to achieve a stunning solution to a vexing political problem.

As a related aside, I'd like to respond specifically to commenter limitgovt. You state: "Since the benefits received under these programs are fixed and not adjusted for income, the tax is already extremely progressive when compared to benefits received." The CRS proposal would remove the inequity cited in the first part of your comment. As for the second part, allow me to disagree. It's true that the benefits paid by Social Security are progressive, i.e., lower-income workers receive relatively more in benefits compared to their contributions. It's equally true that the payroll tax itself is inherently regressive, and will likely be paid for decades before a single dollar in benefits is received. Fact: Social Security is progressive on the back end, but it's highly regressive on the front end.


Sensible taxation

Roth IRAs: A real 'fiscal Frankenstein'

Reorganizing government out of the subsidy business

--Gerald E. Scorse

Illustration by Paul Tong / Tribune Media Services

Arizona and an opinion that matters [The reply]

In response to my recent Op-Ed about the state of Arizona one year after the Gabrielle Giffords shootings, TimBowman comments: "Arizonans have a long history of being self-reliant and mistrustful of outsiders, and reading yet another diatribe from a sanctimonious Californian telling them how to live their lives only reinforces this." He's right. Many Arizonans indeed take a keen interest in the issues of the day and pride themselves in their willingness to be independent and plainspoken. I know this because I'm one of them.

My great-great-grandfather farmed cotton outside Phoenix during territorial days, and my family has been stubbornly rooted there ever since. I grew up in Tucson, attended school there, worked for the state's largest newspaper and have lived in five cities across the state over the years, from the big metropoli to the small county seat. I now teach at a California university, but (sorry, Tim) I have earned the right to talk about a place I know intimately. 

GregMaragos raises a question about whether an "attempt to explain crazy" really holds water, and I'd like to note that I'm making no attempt to explain how the deluded ramblings of Jared Loughner make any sense in the real world, only to point out what multiple researchers have concluded -- that the actions of a person suffering from paranoid schizophrenia are influenced by the totality of the culture that surrounds them. Ignoring the context of the Safeway shootings, and failing to do anything about it (such as keeping guns away from the mentally ill, improving mental health awareness and making the public dialogue more oriented toward pragmatic solutions and away from villain-making), would be a stumble on Arizona's part, and there is no sanctimony in pointing out these things. 


Burning America's future

The Peace Corps kids are all right

Public unions: What's the big deal?

--Tom Zoellner

Photo: This Jan. 8 photo shows newspapers, at a makeshift memorial, announcing the shooting rampage on Jan. 8, 2011, that killed six people and nearly took the life of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Credit: Lili DeBarbieri /AFP/Getty Images

Rick Santorum's 'verbal ooze' inspires new adjective [Most commented]

Rick Santorum
"[Rick] Santorum's near-victory in the Iowa caucuses last week raised the volume on some of his more paranoid kvetchings about the moral breakdown of society -- gay marriage being a slippery slope to marrying your pet, "Christendom" being under attack, birth control being "not OK" even for married couples, writes Meghan Daum in this week's column about Santorum, the "weird, pious wackadoo" running for the Republican presidential nomination.  She continues:

Sure, the wind that Iowa put beneath Santorum's wings was roundly knocked out from under him in New Hampshire. But the fact that pundits spent the preceding week pretending to take seriously the notion that Santorum could end up as the nominee shows the degree to which the Christian right has taken on an almost mythic quality in GOP politics.

Here's a sampling of comments from our discussion board.

New word: Santorumonious


Santorumonious -- maintaining an extreme and unreasonable belief in the piety or righteousness of one's own actions or opinions, despite clear evidence to the contrary.


Santorum doesn't speak for all Christians

Implying that Santorum speaks for all Christians is like saying that Al Sharpton speaks for all African Americans. It is offensive and just plain wrong. There is a tiny fraction of Christians to whom Santorum appeals, and yes, they vote.

Most Christians are not wackadoos, thank you very much. We are well-educated and came to our beliefs after much study and life experience. We are tolerant of other belief systems but are vocal in defending what we believe to be justice and fairness, particularly when it comes to children and the family. We are deeply protective of the innocence of children and the defenseless unborn. We promote and practice adoption as an option to abortion in unplanned pregnancies. We promote contraception but prefer abstinence in the case of unmarried people.

Frankly, we are tired of the vocal minority getting so much media attention when so many of us are working daily in the trenches of reality at our churches and in community organizations with people, feeding them, finding them homes, helping single moms, mentoring youth, and providing alternatives for pregnant women on a daily basis. The media ignores the day-in, day-out charitable work of Christian organizations because it doesn't serve their agenda of screaming-meemie crazy people with picket signs. So we quietly continue to do what we do and know that what we do serves people where they need it most.


Santorum's verbal ooze

It would give me some pleasure to see Mr. Santorum deprived of some of his supposedly righteous ammunition against liberal causes. One of the "jewels" in Santorum's thinking concerns the meaning and purpose of marriage. It seems to me, if we were just to "unhitch" marriage from religion, arguments over it would gradually begin to disappear. Perhaps I touched a nerve, but I cannot see the connection between these two. One is a philosophy, the other is a practical arrangement invented by our society with nothing "philosophical" intended.

Over many years, I have seen Mr. Santorum spill his verbal ooze in the House Chamber. His outlandish revelations of the "truth" as he sees it have caused many a Congressman, and no doubt not just a few TV viewers to gently nod off into sweet dreams. The reason why I avoid mentioning specific Santorum rantings is the same as Darwin's unwillingness to arbitrate "Evolution;" it is totally pointless and it fits the remark: "My mind is made up; don't confuse me with facts."


*For clarity purposes, spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.


Santorum's defense of bigotry fails on all counts

Santorum: Full of surprises from the beginning

Santorum, Gingrich fail to cut Romney down to size

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at the Springdale House and Gardens this week in Columbia, S.C. Credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

California can't afford the bullet train [Most commented]

Bullet Train
Dump California's bullet train. At least, that's the overwhelming sentiment among readers who've been responding to the board's most recent editorial, "Keep California's bullet train on track." The board wrote:

The project is unquestionably risky, far more expensive than voters were told it would be when they approved nearly $10 billion in bonds to build it in 2008, and unlikely to be finished until years later than promoters had suggested. Polls show that the public is turning against it, and if new information emerges forecasting more serious troubles, even we might be persuaded to dump it. But we're not there yet, especially because the latest report, from the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group, doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know.

Here's what readers are saying.

The state cannot afford it

This is the biggest boondoggle in CA history and should be permanently shelved.  The voters were fed a lot of baloney when the first "guestimates" came out and it turns out, as is typical of these projects, that the ridership was vastly overstated and the costs vastly understated.  The state simply cannot afford the luxury of building a high speed rail network no one uses and be stuck with billions a year in debt.  This is a virtual image of all the "city financed football stadiums" that plague the countryside with massive debts.  The very instant the pols and unions get involved, costs just triple every six months.  Brown would be nuts to allow this junk project to see the light of day.


Too much to pay for nostalgia  

This utter waste of taxpayer money can never compete with the airlines.  There is a fast Amtrak train between DC and NYC, yet the airlines fly full.  Who is going to spend 2 hrs and 40 min on a train when an airliner makes the trip in 1 hour and can take you to San Jose, Oakland or San Francisco?  It sounds like a wonderful nostalgic thing to ride the train but passenger trains are on the way out.  


Simple economics

It's really simple. Let's say these billions and billions are spent for this boondoggle. Right now you can fly Southwest between L.A. and SF or Sacramento for $200 round trip. It takes an hour each way. Will this train, which will take several hours for the same trip be considerably less than flying? $100 round trip? $75? If the answer is no, it shouldn't be built. Also, what if you want to take a family to SF? Even if it's $100 round-trip. That's $400 for four people. So I can pay $400 to take a train that takes 3 or so hours OR, pay 1/4 the price and drive and it only takes a few hours more.

As can be seen, all it takes is someone with a basic understanding of economics to realize what folly this project is. For some reason the millions being spent by the state and consultants to study this for some reason fail to come to the same conclusion. Oh wait, it's not their money, it's the taxpayers. There's your reason folks.


Kill the train

This is another Government boondoggle. The costs we were sold on originally have skyrocketed way over budget. No one will ride it for what the price of a ticket would have to be. Please just kill it now. We have an enormous budget deficit. We need to quit spending, not building trains to nowhere that no one will ride. Kill it now!


Send the bill to the fiscal fools

The Times writers and editorial staff remain consistent.  Throw billions of debt at every political issue.  There is not one high speed rail that makes a dime on earth.  The estimated $93 billion for this fiscal nightmare is just a start.  That does not even include employees, pay, benefits, infrastructure, or maintance.  There are no estimated annual costs for actual "operation."

Fiscal fools should be sent the bill if they want this.  There is no free lunch.


A better way to spend the money

Do we really need yet another public project that is way over cost, will take way longer to complete than planned, and will never make money?  I work in infrastructure and believe me, that money would be much better spent rebuilding our crumbling cities.


Scrap the train; build more airports

You promoters of the bullet train are a bunch of delusional knuckleheads. Not one passenger train system IN THE WORLD can exist without being heavily subsidized by government money. In Europe the passenger trains ONLY carry 6% of the population! The train system in America, AmTrak, is subsidized by the federal government and still loses money! 

If I want to go from Southern California to San Francisco, I can hop on a plane and be there in less than an hour and for less money than it would cost to go by the proposed bullet train.
Trains are 18th Century technology. If people want to get from point A to point B fast, just build more airports!

--Lion Heart

*For clarity purposes, spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.


Still on board the bullet train

Bullet train: Readers fire away

Timeline: California high-speed rail project

California's bullet train: Boondoggle or boon?

Blowback: Mend, don't end, California's bullet-train program

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: California High-Speed Rail Authority artist's rendering of a high-speed train speeding along the California coast. Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority / Associated Press



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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