Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Los Angeles and the Great Interstate Highway Conspiracy Part Two

This is only the second time I can remember writing a 'sequel' post on this blog.  The first time, of course, was when I posted a 2nd edition to the original American Judas post regarding the conspiracy to blow the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame.  But in the five years that I've been updating this blog, one of the posts I've received the most verbal feedback on is one I wrote 2 years ago titled Los Angeles and the Great Interstate Highway Conspiracy.  I think what makes this post so fascinating is that encompasses so many elements of what drives my passion for writing: politics, conspiracy, corporate malfeasance and an intersection with energy and population issues that writer James Howard Kunstler describes as "the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world."  To synopsize, before Los Angeles became the poster child for smog and gridlock, it had a trolley system called the Red Car that was clean and efficient.  Everything was running smooth until...

In 1922, when only one in 10 Americans owned a car, GM launched an undercover campaign to destroy the then-dominant public transportation system. The campaign, which took 30 years to fully implement, focused on the country's clean (powered by electricity) and safe (accidents were infrequent) streetcar system.
GM, in partnership with Standard Oil of California and Firestone, began by buying the largest busmaker in the U.S. It then secretly funded a company called National City Lines, which by 1946 controlled streetcar operations in 80 cities.

Despite public opinion polls that, in Los Angeles for instance, showed 88 percent of the public favoring expansion of the rail lines after World War II, NCL systematically closed its streetcar systems down until, by 1955, only a few remained.
A federal antitrust investigation resulted in both indictment and conspiracy convictions for GM executives, but destroying a public transportation network that would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to reproduce today cost the company only $5,000 in fines.

Talk about a slap on the wrist!  I've always thought it was a pretty incredible story and have always received similar responses with those I've shared it with.  I just happened to bring it up again this morning with my wife.  She surprised me with a mysterious reply: "You know, there's another chapter to that story you haven't told yet!"  So with her inspiration and a little research into a company she mentioned named Alweg, I came across this fascinating follow-up:

LA's Worst Transit Decision
another Monorail Society Exclusive!
by Kim Pedersen

Fanciful art rendering of proposed LA monorail station, circa 1963.

In 1963, Los Angeles politicians were given an offer too good to refuse. The Alweg Monorail Company, which had gained world-wide recognition for its demonstration monorail at the 1962 Seattle Century 21 Exposition, was looking to establish a major foothold in the world of urban rail transit. "We are pleased to submit this day a proposal to finance and construct an Alweg Monorail rapid transit system 43 miles in length, serving the San Fernando Valley, the Wilshire corridor, the San Bernardino corridor and downtown Los Angeles." So wrote Sixten Holmquist, then President of the Alweg Rapid Transit Systems in his June 4, 1963 letter to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). He went on to detail the financing aspect, "this is a turn-key proposal in which a group will share risk, finance the construction, and turn over to MTA a completed and operating system to be repaid from MTA revenues." The entire system came to $105,275,000, "plus any applicable sales tax." Alweg also agreed to conduct feasibility studies for expansion of the system over the entire Los Angeles Metropolitan area if the offer was accepted. Undoubtedly, if the monorail had been built, it would by now have been expanded to all major LA destination points and beyond.

Outline of 1963 Alweg proposal for Los Angeles, California.
Most people in Los Angeles today are totally unaware of Alweg's offer. The subway system that today parallels only a tiny portion of what would have been the LA Monorail alignment is an extraordinarily expensive joke. An unfortunate joke that has cost USA and California taxpayers billions of dollars, not millions, and yet it still doesn't travel far enough to be of any great value to most LA basin citizens.
What happened to the Alweg proposal? In their infinite wisdom, Los Angeles supervisors at the time rejected the wonderful offer in favor of no rail. A former Alweg engineer once told me that there was much excitement for the proposal at the time, that is until Standard Oil got involved. Practically overnight support for the project disappeared amongst LA politicians. What could have been the start of monorail construction all across the USA was stopped cold before it even got started.

How about full-scale Alweg trains slipping in and out of LA buildings?
Ray Bradbury, world-renowned science fiction writer and futurist, recently wrote in Westways Magazine about the terrible decision in an article on the future of LA. He wrote...
"on New Years Day 2001, let us pour 10,000 tons of cement into our never-should-have-been-started, never-to-be-finished subway, for final rites. Its concept was always insane, its possible fares preposterous. Even if it were finished and opened, no one could afford to use it. So kill the subway and telephone Alweg Monorail to accept their offer, made 30 years ago, to erect 12 crosstown monorails--free, gratis--if we let them run the traffic. I was there the afternoon our supervisors rejected that splendid offer, and I was thrown out of the meeting for making impolite noises. Remember, subways are for cold climes, snow and sleet in dead-winter London, Moscow or Toronto. Monorails are for high, free, open-air spirits, for our always-fair weather. Subways are Forest Lawn extensions. Let's bury our dead MTA and get on with life."
Well said Ray.

 What a coincidence, Standard Oil again!  I found it interesting that Ray Bradbury had participated and claimed to advocate his support for this project.  Another blog focused on Walt Disney's fascination with the monorail provides further details:

Along with Walt, author Ray Bradbury was also a big fan of the monorail technology. Bradbury tried to encourage the City of Los Angeles to build a system. He formed a citizen’s group called Save Rapid Transit and Improve Metropolitan Environments. He had admired the multi-modal and successful transit system in San Francisco and thought a layered system like that would work in Los Angeles. He said, “Look, the psychology of the monorail is what makes it superior. First of all, it’s not elevated like the old trains in Chicago. It’s up in the air, but it doesn’t make noise…you hardly hear it.” Bradbury added, “The important thing is that it’s above the traffic, and would glide past the traffic.”

The Alweg Monorail Company agreed with Bradbury on the merits of the technology and proposed a demonstration system for the City of Los Angeles. After the success of the system at Disneyland and the experienced gained at the 1962 Seattle Century 21 Exposition, Alweg was looking for a way to expand the business. So, on June 4, 1963, President of the Alweg Rapid Transit Systems, Sixten Holmquist, approached the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and made them an offer.

The press release said, “We are pleased to submit this day a proposal to finance and construct an Alweg Monorail rapid transit system 43 miles in length, serving the San Fernando Valley, the Wilshire corridor, the San Bernardino corridor and downtown Los Angeles.” The offer was for “a turn-key proposal in which a group will share risk, finance the construction, and turn over to MTA a completed and operating system to be repaid from MTA revenues.” The budget for the initial monorail network, including rolling stock, was estimated to be $187.5 million. Alweg would also conduct feasibility studies for expansion of the system to cover the entire Los Angeles region. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1965, Walt said, “A monorail would be a natural attraction to thousands of people who would just ride it because it is something new and different. And it is needed. It’s not something that would be scrapped after two years.” Another competitor proposed a 75 mile suspended car system at a cost of $182.3 million.

Both companies promised to build the systems for “free” in exchange for the next 40 years of passenger revenues to bond against. The offer meant that the Los Angeles region would have had the backbone of a revolutionary mass transit system for no cost to the taxpayers. Political pressure from the Standard Oil Company dampened the Board of Supervisors and the LAMTA enthusiasm for the project. 


I feel very deprived that this possibility did not come to pass. The end result of this stonewalling by the industrial fossil fuel titans is that, to bring this back to James Howard Kunstler's insight, “We’re literally stuck up a cul-de-sac in a cement SUV without a fill-up”.  For those of you who haven't seen The End Of Suburbia, you'll understand the full context of that quote when you watch it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Long time, no write!  In the past 9 months since my last blog entry, I have been true to my word, in a fashion, and have developed a stand-up comedy routine.  There have been a few stand-up comedy clubs that I have haunted with my presence, but unfortunately I have not been able to devote the kind of time I would like to sustain an open-mike regimen to become a stand-up artist and have had to settle for being a stand-up dabbler.  As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans".  But for those who would like to see an example of my act, here I am, complete with mispronounced last name, at the Comedy Store:

I realized after talking with a friend that among other things I had also scaled back on my writing in general.  My book idea still sits on my desk awaiting further inspiration and this blog has been rusting in peace despite a plethora of political events happening this year.  I don't know how much of this is due to writer's block or just a personal gravitation to procrastination, but last night I made a conscious decision to break it.

That decision stemmed from a piece I watched last night on The Rachel Maddow Show.  On it, Maddow talked about how Romney foreign policy advisor Robert O'Brien regarded the Obama Administration focus on Romney's lack of foreign policy experience as "another distraction" from the President's economic record.  While I found that quote typical of the Romney camp "born with a silver foot in his mouth" cluelessness, I was shocked to find out later in Maddow's segment who was actually briefing Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan on foreign policy today: Jamie Fly and Reuel Marc Gerecht. Fly is a former National Security staffer from the Dubya misadministration.  I believe I may have come across his name while doing research on the 1st or 2nd edition of American Judas, but I definitely recall Gerecht.  He was the director of the Middle East Initiative for the Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

Looking back on previous blog entries over the last five years, I'm surprised I haven't written before regarding the PNAC.  I think SourceWatch provides the best overview:


The PNAC was co-founded by William Kristol and Robert Kagan in 1997[2], with roots in the 1992 Pentagon. PNAC's original 25 signatories were an eclectic mix of academics and neo-conservative politicians, several of whom have subsequently found positions in the presidential administration of George Walker Bush. PNAC is noteworthy for its focus on Iraq, a preoccupation that began before Bush became president and predates the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In 1998, the group wrote a letter to President Bill Clinton, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott (then Senate Majority Leader) and Newt Gingrich (then Speaker of the House of Representatives), demanding a harder line against Iraq. By then, the group had grown in numbers, adding individuals such as former Reagan-era U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, and long-time Washington cold warrior/pro-LikudRichard N. Perle.
According to William Rivers Pitt, "Two events brought PNAC into the mainstream of American government: the disputed election of George W. Bush and the attacks of September 11th. When Bush assumed the Presidency, the men who created and nurtured the imperial dreams of PNAC became the men who run the Pentagon, the Defense Department and the White House. When the Towers came down, these men saw, at long last, their chance to turn their White Papers into substantive policy."[3]
Several original PNAC members, including Cheney, Khalilzad and the Bush family, have ties to the oil industry. Many other members have been long-time fixtures in the U.S. military establishment or Cold War "strategic studies," including Elliott Abrams, Dick Cheney, Paula Dobriansky, Aaron Friedberg, Frank Gaffney, Fred C. Ikle, Peter W. Rodman, Stephen P. Rosen, Henry S. Rowen, Donald H. Rumsfeld, John R. Bolton, Vin Weber, and Paul Dundes Wolfowitz. It should not be surprising, therefore, that while the group devotes inordinate attention to Iraq, its most general focus has been on a need to "re-arm America." The prospect of mining oil riches may explain part of the group's focus on Iraq, but this motivation has been buried under the rhetoric of national security and the need for strong national defense.
To justify a need to "rearm" the country, however, reasons must be found. In the more peaceable world of the late 1990s, with no rival super-power in sight, Iraq and "ballistic missile defense" against "rogue states" were the main games in town. The group's links to advocacy for ballistic missile defense came through Donald Rumsfeld, who in 1998 chaired a bi-partisan commission on the "US Ballistic Missile Threat" and Vin Weber, a registered lobbyist for Lockheed Martin and other Fortune 500 companies.
According to a February 27, 2003, editorial by William Rivers Pitt, PNAC
has been agitating since its inception for a war with Iraq. PNAC was the driving force behind the drafting and passage of the Iraqi Liberation Act, a bill that painted a veneer of legality over the ultimate designs behind such a conflict. The names of every prominent PNAC member were on a letter delivered to President Clinton in 1998 which castigated him for not implementing the Act by driving troops into Baghdad.
PNAC has funneled millions of taxpayer dollars to a Hussein opposition group called the Iraqi National Congress, and to Iraq's heir-apparent, Ahmed Chalabi, despite the fact that Chalabi was sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to 22 years in prison on 31 counts of bank fraud. Chalabi and the INC have, over the years, gathered support for their cause by promising oil contracts to anyone that would help to put them in power in Iraq.
Most recently, PNAC created a new group called the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Staffed entirely by PNAC members, The Committee has set out to "educate" Americans via cable news connections about the need for war in Iraq. This group met recently with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice regarding the ways and means of this education. ...
The Project for the New American Century seeks to establish what they call 'Pax Americana' across the globe. Essentially, their goal is to transform America, the sole remaining superpower, into a planetary empire by force of arms. A report released by PNAC in September of 2000 entitled 'Rebuilding America's Defenses' codifies this plan, which requires a massive increase in defense spending and the fighting of several major theater wars in order to establish American dominance. The first has been achieved in Bush's new budget plan, which calls for the exact dollar amount to be spent on defense that was requested by PNAC in 2000. Arrangements are underway for the fighting of the wars.[4]

Key positions

Among the key conclusions of PNAC's defense strategy document (Rebuilding America's Defenses) were the following [4]:
  • "Develop and deploy global missile defenses to defend the American homeland and American allies, and to provide a secure basis for U.S. power projection around the world."
  • "Control the new 'international commons' of space and 'cyberspace,' and pave the way for the creation of a new military service--U.S. Space Forces--with the mission of space control."
  • "Increase defense spending, adding $15 billion to $20 billion to total defense spending annually."
  • "Exploit the 'revolution in military affairs' [transformation to high-tech, unmanned weaponry] to insure the long-term superiority of U.S. conventional forces."
  • "Need to develop a new family of nuclear weapons designed to address new sets of military requirements" complaining that the U.S. has "virtually ceased development of safer and more effective nuclear weapons."
  • "Facing up to the realities of multiple constabulary missions that will require a permanent allocation of U.S. forces."
  • "America must defend its homeland" by "reconfiguring its nuclear force" and by missile defense systems that "counteract the effects of the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction."
  • "Need for a larger U.S. security perimeter" and the U.S. "should seek to establish a network of 'deployment bases' or 'forward operating bases' to increase the reach of current and future forces," citing the need to move beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia to increased permanent military presence in Southeast Asia and "other regions of East Asia." Necessary "to cope with the rise of China to great-power status."
  • Redirecting the U.S. Air Force to move "toward a global first-strike force."
  • End the Clinton administration's "devotion" to the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.
  • "North Korea, Iran, Iraq, or similar states [should not be allowed] to undermine American leadership, intimidate American allies, or threaten the American homeland itself."
  • "Main military missions" necessary to "preserve Pax Americana" and a "unipolar 21st century" are the following: "secure and expand zones of democratic peace, deter rise of new great-power competitor, defend key regions (Europe, East Asia, Middle East), and exploit transformation of war."
According to the PNAC report, "The American peace has proven itself peaceful, stable, and durable. Yet no moment in international politics can be frozen in time: even a global Pax Americana will not preserve itself." To preserve this "American peace" through the 21st century, the PNAC report concludes that the global order "must have a secure foundation on unquestioned U.S. military preeminence." The report struck a prescient note when it observed that "the process of transformation is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event--like a new Pearl Harbor."

Prescient indeed, especially if you take into account the discrepancies in the official story I have documented on this blog through the research of Paul Thompson's The Terror Timeline and the evidence Michael Ruppert uncovered that PNAC signatory Dick Cheney orchestrated the 9/11 attacks in his book Crossing the Rubicon.  But it concerns me that Paul Ryan, described alternately as the Tea Party darling and the intellectual policy leader of the GOP, is getting his foreign policy direction straight from Ground Zero of the neo-con war machine.  Researching whether those crafty neo-cons had been as successful in co-opting the Tea Party as it seemed, I came across this article that showed how this was being done as early as 2010:

How the Neocons Are Co-opting the Tea Party
by , November 12, 2010 
This battle has not broken out, and there is little reason to think it will soon. Neoconservative tactical flexibility and ingenuity is unmatched by their rivals within the conservative movement. And they have deployed a number of familiar tactics in their efforts to blunt the Tea Party challenge.

These tactics can be grouped into several categories: strategic flattery from national media platforms; offers of technical advice (speechwriting, debate preparation); prominent placement of op-eds; appearances at Tea Party gatherings; subtle and not so subtle encouragements of anti-Muslim bigotry; and advocacy efforts such as circulating petitions to put congressmen on record as supporting a "strong America." In addition, neocons are busy influencing the congressional staffing process and networking operations on Capitol Hill — both areas they excel at — to help shape the new class of politically inexperienced Tea Party lawmakers.
In fact, neoconservatism accommodated itself quite well to the Christian Right — a movement that has failed to achieve any of its programmatic aims, despite being an essential part of the conservative electoral coalition.

The Tea Party movement may parallel the growth of the Christian Right, as religious conservatives now comprise its fastest growing element. In all likelihood, "religious" Tea Partiers will be more amenable to Islamophobia-derived arguments than "libertarian" Tea Party members. If that is the case, watch to see if neoconservatives accommodate themselves as easily to the Tea Party as they did to Jerry Falwell and John Hagee. But even if they don’t, the strategy of creating alliances with key Tea Party leaders — as exemplified by the neocons’ treatment of Sarah Palin — seems to be working well.

I reported on this phenomenon of the Tea Party being co-opted before.  Karl Denninger, an original organizer of the Tea Party, was talking about the "bastardization of a movement" back in October 2010.  Now, with the selection of Paul Ryan to round out the Romney ticket and the effective censoring of Ron Paul delegates at the RNC convention, the GOP is right back where it was under Dubya: complete neo-con dominion.  It's tempting to gloat condescendingly about how this is proof that the Republican Party is intellectually bankrupt, (I can imagine the ghost of Lloyd Bentsen admonishing Paul Ryan, "Congressman, I knew William F. Buckley.  Buckley was no friend of mine, but he was an intellectual.  Congressman, you're no William F. Buckley.") especially considering their current floundering in the pre-election polls.  But they don't have to win this election.  They just need to wait.  Wait until Greece poisons the Euro beyond repair, wait until the peaking of Saudi oil production forewarned in a WikiLeaks cable enters an irreversible decline.  History has proven this country has an attention-deficit span as wide as the Grand Canyon.  Sometime in 2016 or 2020 (or maybe this year, there are still a number of swing state legislatures desperately clinging to the phoney "voter fraud" meme to keep minorities and seniors from voting), we will collectively forget how Dubya's supply-side scam drove the economy into a ditch, just as we forgot how his father's "read my lips, I'm lying!" moment was precipitated by another supply-side scam called "Reaganomics", which came about because we forgot how this same failed economic system was employed in this country during the 1920's, which Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon from 1921-1932 called "trickle-down" economics.  Worked just fine up until 1929, but most voters have forgotten all about that, the 4th time has got to be the charm!  But as scary as returning to that would be, it scares me more that they're also biding their time on foreign policy, waiting to resume their pursuit of a Pax Americana.  This is the essence of the military-industrial complex endgame.  We can't afford to forget.  We need to remember the words and vision of President John F. Kennedy's American University commencement address:

I have, therefore, chosen this time and place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth too rarely perceived. And that is the most important topic on earth: peace. What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children -- not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.