Monday, June 26, 2006

Not Gonna Cry Over Losing Norman Y.

The following is my overdue reaction to the recent stepping down of Bush's Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta. Two words: Good riddance! And this coming from a Democrat-leaning liberal. Let me pause here to say that, for those who don't know, Mineta stood out in Bush's Cabinet, like it or not, as a minority, the only Democrat and the only member to carry over from Clinton's Administration. After reading other bloggers reaction to his leave, it seems that the general reaction has become a typical two-party issue with Democrats praising what accomplishments he did, such as pushing through an act for a formal government apology for the detainment of approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans, including Mineta's family, during the Second World War, while Republicans are poking at his "typical Democratic" lack of concern for national security, specifically his opposition to giving the TSA selective profiling and specific-group-targeting powers when it comes to security checkpoints at airports--potential powers which had the ACLU spinning for weeks and hit home with Mineta in light of the aforementioned WW II event. To that end, let me just say to Republicans to not overlook the fact that he was the one who, post-9/11, beefed up the TSA in the first place. Forget all that; my beef with Mineta is over Amtrak.
It's a fact that Amtrak rarely pops up in the news. Out national railroad transportation network isn't, after all, nearly as exciting as daily, round-the-clock roadway traffic reports. And though cash-strapped more and more by the day, not nearly as home-hitting as repetitive talks about bailing out the airlines. Even the occasional crash or derailment is hardly newsworthy--most reaction from reporters is a simple "sucked-to-be-them;" and for the most part their audience agrees. In fact, in a casual chat with one of my newest coworkers today, he stumbled over the name "Amtrak," finally settling on "the railroad." Yet, I, for the longest time heavily into all-issues-transportation, especially in the public transit railroad sector, follow the snippets about Amtrak as best I can. And one thing that has kept surfacing over the past year was Congress's indecision on the fate of Amtrak for the next fiscal year.
For those not familiar with this annual charade, best described as a game of musical chairs where the music stops and nobody takes a seat because they're too busy arguing over who was closer to which one, let me explain. The president of Amtrak--whomever that may be at the time--makes his (maybe her in the future) pitch before Congress basically outlined as such: Amtrak is grossly underfunded; it needs a considerable amount more, a little over $200.5 billion to be exact, to effectively operate what it currently has going for it, which ain't much (look around). Then Congress starts taking sides, with the most unlikely Amtrak proponents coming up out of the woodwork, including I'm-not-fit-to-lead-but-rather-to-be-the-biggest-critic John McCaine. Meanwhile antagonists point to the fact that that company is a failing operation best fit to be reduced to just the
Corridors (Northeast, New York City-Florida, North Carolina, Greater Chicago, Chicago-L.A., California, etc.), leaving the rest to be micro-managed (i.e. to fail) at the state level or, even worse, privately. This past year in particular was where Norman Mineta came in. As an assumingly accomplished Secretary of Transportation, it was his job to attempt to fix this yearly deadlock of the Amtrak situation. And it was this lack of attempt that is my contempt for him.
For, David Gun, by all regards Amtrak's biggest cheerleader since Mike Dukakis, was the Amtrak president standing before Congress this past year doing the yearly proverbial holding out of a huge cup for Amtrak donations. Mineta didn't quite go so far as to agree with the opposition, including members of Amtraks's Board of Directors, who felt that the company would best be served if it were trimmed as aforementioned, but he frequently hinted that Amtrak would best be served if it did so. He praised the work of Gunn, yet was right at the front of the line behind Amtrak's Board to give his remorseless farewells when Gunn was ousted by the Board a few months ago for attempting to lean-ify Amtrak not by axeing routes but by *gasp* making common-sense revamping of the system for more efficient use of both personnel and equipment. Apparently Gunn's famed fire-my-chauffer-on-my-first-day-because-I'd-rather-use-public transit (the Washington Metro) didn't sit well with many on the Board, among other things. Gunn was on a slow but steady pace to reviving Amtrak as he is famed for doing for the cash-strapped, crime-ridden and overly grafitti-ed New York City Transit of the mid '70's to late '80's. But, as with that turnaround, he needed time and support which, this time, he was not able to garner. And Mineta's true stance on Amtrak: he didn't have one. Every time the issue of Amtrak's fate came before the Bush Administration, and was usually spoken of by Mineta since Bush was sharply focused on the War, he carefully sidestepped it with the same indecision that Congress makes every year. I've only got five words to say to that: it was your job, idiot. You're weren't some lowly manager of a regional transit authority or even president of a large transit organization, you were the Secretary of Transportation, the head honcho in charge of all-affairs-transportation and this was the best that you could do?! I hope the door hit you on the way out. Bring in somebody who'll make "Amtrak" a household name again.

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