Here’s How Las Vegas Should Respond to the Mandalay Bay Massacre

Photo courtesy disneybrent, flickr

As a Las Vegan, there’s only one appropriate American way to respond to the horrific Las Vegas shooting tragedy: Defiantly.

Last night, I had a dream. Consider this choreographed event if you will …

Nevada Day is coming up on October 31st. We should celebrate it with a big “Concert for Las Vegas” at the exact same outdoor venue on the Strip where the Route 91 Harvest concert was being held before Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort across the street.

We will mourn those whose lives were prematurely snuffed out senselessly, as well as honor the multitude of heroes who responded to the carnage.

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman – the only politician, current or past, allowed anywhere near the stage – would open up the event at 4:00 pm with a martini toast, of course.

He’ll then introduce a group of local kids who will recite the Lord’s Prayer while everyone in the audience takes a knee. Why the “Our Father”? Because of the last four words: “Deliver us from evil.”

At the end, former Nevada college football player Colin Kaepernick would walk up the microphone and say, “Please rise, remove your hats, place your hand over your heart and join me in honoring America, our military service members and our law enforcement officers as we play the National Anthem.”

Hey, I said it was a dream, didn’t I?

At that point Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton, walks on stage and sings the Star Spangled Banner.

As he gets near the end, the Las Vegas-based Thunderbirds flight demonstration team out of Nellis Air Force Base does a Strip flyover, ending above the concert crowd with their signature “Missing Man Formation.”

Then a non-stop jam session featuring celebrity musicians from every musical genre under the sun.  Even rap.

We’ll wind things down at 10 pm, when Sheriff Joe Lombardo will take the stage, be recognized and honored on behalf of all Metro police officers, and lead the crowd in a moment of silence starting at exactly 10:08 pm – the moment the shooter began his deadly assault.

At 10:09 pm a solo Scottish bagpipe performer will play “Amazing Grace.” When finished, members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will lead the crowd in singing “God Bless America.”

At that point, Las Vegans Penn & Teller take the stage. Penn directs everyone in the crowd to turn and face Mandalay Bay, look up to the 32nd floor, extend their middle finger, and on the count of three shout in unison, “#$%& you, Stephen Paddock!”

The nice Mormon folks, of course, will be warned to plug their ears first.

At that point an orchestra will begin playing a rousing rendition of John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” as a fireworks display, the likes of which has never been seen before, is launched from the rooftop of the Mandalay Bay.

What a way to honor those fellow Americans we senselessly lost at the hands of an evil Merchant of Death … even if only for a few minutes in our imagination.

This article was originally published on muthstruths.com

High-speed rail service to Vegas? Merely a Desert Mirage

Photo courtesy disneybrent, flickr

Photo courtesy disneybrent, flickr

In 2014, Governor Jerry Brown infamously promoted California High-Speed Rail as the best way to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles. To justify the estimated $68 billion price tag, the governor tried to play the funny guy, asserting that “old people who shouldn’t be driving … should be sitting in a nice train car working on their iPad, having a martini.”

Now imagine high-speed rail between Southern California and Las Vegas. Instead of enduring the drive on I-15 across the Mojave Desert, people could sit in a nice train car getting a head start on a weekend of inebriation, having five martinis. As a bonus, taking the train instead of driving would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of global climate change.

How compelling is the idea of high-speed transportation between Southern California and Las Vegas? In a July 10, 2017 opinion piece published in various California newspapers, political commentator Joe Mathews declared that building major transportation infrastructure to improve travel connections between the two regions “might be the most powerful current idea in California.”

Actually, the idea is neither current nor powerful. Politicians have touted it for decades, particularly since Amtrak terminated direct service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in 1997 because of insufficient ridership. And so far the idea has failed to attract enough funding (public or private) to achieve it.

Mass transit between Southern California and Las Vegas is a vision similar to the planned high-speed rail system to connect Northern California and Southern California. Politicians and corporate executives make visionary statements – driven by professional public relations – that get overblown news coverage lacking in critical evaluation. Studies are done to prove the viability and feasibility of the project. Money is poured into planning and review. Then nothing substantial happens to overcome obvious hurdles to the vision.

California High-Speed Rail is a model for how visionary boondoggles get started. A coalition of corporations and unions teams up with politicians. They support a campaign asking voters to authorize government to borrow money and raise taxes to pay off that debt (including the interest). Voters then see well-tested rhetoric in the title of the ballot measure. Each voter takes five seconds to vote YES for imposing another tremendous debt burden on future generations.

It’s likely that one massive Joint Power Agency will eventually consolidate the ambitions of other Joint Power Agencies and ask voters to approve a massive bond measure to fund a passenger rail project between Southern California and Las Vegas. Before this campaign gets moving, the public needs to know the recent history of this idea.

Standard Passenger Rail Service

The most reasonable and achievable recent proposal for passenger rail service between Southern California to Las Vegas began moving forward in 2009 under the direction of Las Vegas Railway Express. The company has promised an adult-only experience called “the X Train,” or colloquially known as “the Party Train.” Originally the company planned to begin service in mid-2011. Eight years later the company is still promising to start soon.

In 2012, Las Vegas Railway Express Inc. reached an agreement with Union Pacific to use its existing track. The company now claims to be currently working with government agencies to “secure the necessary rights, equipment and facilities required to commence charter services in late 2017.”

As the company notes on its website, “there has been no regular passenger rail service between the Los Angeles and Las Vegas areas for over 18 years.” Amtrak operated direct passenger rail service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas until 1997, when it shut down the “Desert Wind” line because of declining ridership and cuts in government subsidies. Reportedly the service was unpopular in part because the trip sometimes lasted as long as eight hours. The train often had to yield to freight trains operated by the owner of the track, Union Pacific.

In weighing decisions about cost, convenience, and time, travelers had chosen instead to drive or fly via Southwest Airlines. Congress provided direct funding in 1999 to resume service, but it never started back up. Amtrak has no public plans to resume service to what is now described as a “shuttered, worn-down depot.”

Very High-Speed Passenger Rail Service (Maglev)

The empty desert would seem to be a relatively easy place to build a high-speed or very-high-speed rail alignment. In fact, there have been two proposals over several years to do this.

In the early 2000s, the Southern California Association of Governments and its individual member governments began considering public-private partnerships to plan, build, and operate a Maglev (magnetic levitation) train between Anaheim and Las Vegas. Congress even dedicated $45 million in 2006 for project planning, but three years later the Federal Railroad Administration had not released the funding. The private partner in the plan, a company called American Magline Group, had failed to raise enough money to qualify for the grant.

Today American Magline Group estimates a cost of $12-15 billion to build the complete project.  It had estimated a cost of $12 billion in 2008. People suspect – with good reason – that the cost estimate for maglev is too low.

Remember that in 2008 supporters of Proposition 1A claimed in official voter information that a complete statewide high-speed rail system in California would cost $45 billion. Today, the Authority claims a line between San Francisco and Los Angeles – sharing track at times with commuter rail – will cost $64 billion.

High-Speed Passenger Rail Service

In 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada shifted his allegiance from the maglev proposal to a more traditional high-speed rail proposal called DesertXpress, a privately-owned operation that would run from Las Vegas to Victorville. Advantages of this proposal included a lower cost (then estimated at $6.9 billion) and a more familiar and tested technology. Supposedly DesertXpress would eventually extend to Palmdale to connect with a planned California High-Speed Rail station.

In the end, DesertXpress could not qualify for a loan of $4.9 billion or $5.5 billion from the federal government to build the project, ostensibly because it would not or could not abide by a federal requirement to purchase train sets built in the United States and could not obtain an exemption. In 2015, a consortium affiliated with the People’s Republic of China became a partner and potential funding source for DesertXpress (renamed XpressWest in 2012), but the partnership ended a year later.

Why the Failure to Move Forward?

Backers of all three of these proposals claim that people will ride their system and operators will thus make money on them. The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada Las Vegas to Los Angeles Rail Corridor Improvement Feasibility Study sees the maglev proposal as feasible and desirable. The High Desert Corridor Joint Powers Authority High Desert Corridor: Investment Grade Ridership & Revenue Forecasts projects similar success. And the X Train is sure to be a winner, if you believe the public relations over the last eight years.

Why are investors leery of pouring their money into these long-term projects? As shown when the California High-Speed Rail Authority has sought private funding (as required by voter-approved Proposition 1A), potential investors want assurances from the government to reduce their risk before getting involved.

Just like California High-Speed Rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the profitability of a passenger train between Southern California and Las Vegas will depend on travelers evaluating transportation options and choosing the train from among them. Ridership projections – even if they are “scientific” – have limited value because of unknown objective criteria (for example, the future cost of driving or flying) and unmeasurable subjective criteria (for example, the willingness of people to travel captive with an inebriated crowd for five hours).

The end of Amtrak passenger service in 1997 and subsequent failures to initiate three modes of intercity mass transit are warnings that trying to connect Southern California and Las Vegas may end up as another government-driven scheme to enrich special interests at the expense of everyone else. Voters need to be wary when the politicians, corporations, and unions ask them for money to make this powerful vision come true.

This article was originally published by the CA Policy Center


Kevin Dayton, a frequent contributor to CPC’s Prosperity Digest, is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

Is the Raiders’ exit from Oakland inevitable?

RaidersAs CalWatchdog reported earlier this week, the San Diego Chargers are much closer to moving to Los Angeles, having gotten the formal blessing of team owners at a meeting in Irving, Texas, to leave if they choose by the Jan. 15 deadline the NFL established a year ago. But the situation in Oakland with the Raiders seems cloudier — at least in California media, as opposed to websites that specialize in the NFL.

With the Raiders, the seeming good news for fans who want the team to stay starts with the fact that the Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors appear enthusiastic about working with Fortress Investment Group, which is led by NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott and billionaire investor Wes Edens, on a stadium plan. On Bay Area talk radio, supporters of the plan have dropped hints of having deep-pocket supporters who might come forward to minimize how much taxpayers would have to pay for the billion-dollar-plus new stadium the Raiders and the NFL want.

NFL officials who have criticized San Diego officials for their response to the Chargers’ stadium needs are offering praise for what’s happening in Oakland.

ESPN reported this week that the league told Oakland’s leaders to not worry about the threat the team would leave even though Nevada state leaders have committed to provide $750 million in public funds for a $1.9 billion NFL stadium in Las Vegas. The team would only have to pay $500 million toward the stadium, with the rest of the tab largely picked up by Las Vegas Sands chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. One of the world’s richest persons, Adelson hopes to end up a minority or majority owner of the team.

The implication of the remarks by NFL executive Eric Grubman to ESPN is that the league very much wants the Raiders to stay in Oakland even if a better deal is available in Las Vegas. When allowed to comment anonymously, officials with other NFL teams have said that the league should be wary of having a team in the city that is the capital of American sports gambling.

Raiders may sue to leave if NFL owners say no

But optimism about Oakland keeping its team is less apparent on Pro Football Talk, a niche website now affiliated with NBC Sports that has broken dozens of stories in recent years because of its network of NFL insider sources. Site founder Mike Floriowrote this week that Adelson and Raiders owner Mark Davis were struggling to finalize a deal that would bring the team to Las Vegas.

But Florio has long depicted the Raiders’ exit as close to a done deal. On Nov. 22, he reported that Davis would sue the NFL to allow his team to move to Las Vegas if he could not get the support of three-quarters of the league’s 32 owners to relocate his team, as NFL bylaws require.

Davis’ father, NFL Hall of Famer Al Davis, successfully sued the league after it sought to block him from moving the team from Oakland to Los Angeles, where it played from 1982 to 1994 before moving back to Oakland.

Florio has interviewed Mark Davis dozens of times off the record. While he honors the rules and doesn’t quote Davis directly, the impression his coverage always gives is that the Raiders owner sees becoming the first major pro sports franchise to set up shop in Las Vegas — a tourist-centered metropolitan area with 2.1 million residents — as akin to a no-brainer.

Many reporters have also made the obvious point that the Raiders’ image as edgy, unconventional outsiders conforms with Las Vegas’ image.

Florio believes a final decision will be made by September.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Chinese Venture Looks to Connect L.A. and Las Vegas Via High-Speed Rail

xpress-west-1 trainFor bemused Californians, there’s another bullet train in town, thanks to the Chinese government.

More specifically, credit — $100 million worth — goes to China Railway International USA, a venture spearheaded by Beijing’s national railroad, China Railway. The consortium has ponied up funds for XpressWest, “the transportation arm of Marnell Companies, a gaming resort development firm,” as the Sacramento Business Journal noted.

Formerly known as DesertXpress, the company has labored to send a high-speed track toward Las Vegas since “at least 2007,” reported the Los Angeles Times.

According to Chinese officials cited by the Times, passengers would travel “a 230-mile route with an additional stop in Palmdale and eventual service throughout the Los Angeles area using some of the same track that would be used by the publicly backed California high-speed rail project.” Past plans envisioned a run of 185 miles alongside I-15.

The logic behind the idea drew from some straightforward numbers. “About one-quarter of Las Vegas’s 41 million visitors in 2014 came from Southern California, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, many via a several hour highway drive,” Quartz noted. Vegas has been without a passenger train since Amtrak shut down its Desert Wind line in 1997.

Logistical doubts

This  train, which would share track with California’s state-funded high-speed rail, has run into its own version of a problem plaguing that track: reaching Los Angeles proper. “The project has the approval to cover about 190 miles from Las Vegas to the California desert city of Victorville, about 100-mile drive northeast of Los Angeles. It hasn’t broken ground. The project still needs government permission to connect with Southern California’s population centers,” Fox News reported.

“The project currently lacks permission to connect with the state of California’s planned high-speed rail project at a station to be built in Palmdale, 50 miles west of Victorville. A mountain range and about 50 more miles separate Palmdale from downtown Los Angeles.”

Skeptics quickly emerged with unflattering questions about the logistical constraints that could be imposed by the train’s pathway and travel times. “Anybody in L.A. keen to drive to Victorville to pay $89 to take an 80 minute ride to Vegas on a high-speed train?” tweeted Bloomberg View’s Adam Minter.

Adding to the speculation, estimates emerged that the train would require far in excess of the $100 million the Chinese have so far made available. “China’s CRRC Corp’s unit along with its peers from China will implement the rail corridor project at an estimated cost of $5 billion,” the Venture Capital Post noted.

Marshaling support

As yet, American officeholders have remained cagey. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said he hadn’t learned any details about the plans. “But in 2009,” according to the Las Vegas Review Journal, “the XpressWest project drew a key supporter: U.S. Sen Harry Reid, D-Nevada. ‘Senator Reid has been a cheerleader on this project for many years,’ Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said Thursday. ‘He’s glad to see this progress and remains committed to assisting as needed.’”

And the Chinese government appears to have a firm interest in seeing the project to completion. Beijing created CRRC with the specific purpose of throwing the country’s considerable industrial weight around in foreign territories. “The merger of China’s two largest state-owned rail equipment makers has created an industry behemoth, second only to General Electric in size, that will be competing aggressively for projects across Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America,” Quartz observed. “China, once a major importer of rail technology, wants to be a world leader in high-speed rail, with projects that span the globe, focusing especially on emerging markets.”

But growth in the U.S. has also been marked as a priority. An employee of the conglomerate told Caixin online that the company “views China Railway International USA an important part of its plan to expand abroad.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com