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“No One Likes A Bully”: Chris Christie Using The Power Of His Office To Punish Rivals

Late Monday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) top two appointees to the Port Authority, both of whom have since resigned, complied with subpoenas related to the ongoing bridge scandal. Soon after, state Assemblyman John Wisnieswki (D), chairman of the committee investigating the incident, acknowledged soon after that the probe will continue into 2014.

But while we wait for the process to continue and for the new materials to be scrutinized, one of the overarching questions is whether Christie could possibly be so petty as to cripple a community with paralyzing traffic, just to punish the local mayor for having refused to endorse him.

The evidence on the bridge controversy is still coming together, but Kate Zernike reported yesterday that Christie’s track record of bullying New Jersey officials for even minor slights is extraordinary.

In 2010, John F. McKeon, a New Jersey assemblyman, made what he thought was a mild comment on a radio program: Some of the public employees that Gov. Chris Christie was then vilifying had been some of the governor’s biggest supporters.

He was surprised to receive a handwritten note from Mr. Christie, telling him that he had heard the comments, and that he didn’t like them.

“I thought it was a joke,” Mr. McKeon recalled. “What governor would take the time to write a personal note over a relatively innocuous comment?”

But the gesture would come to seem genteel compared with the fate suffered by others in disagreements with Mr. Christie: a former governor who was stripped of police security at public events; a Rutgers professor who lost state financing for cherished programs; a state senator whose candidate for a judgeship suddenly stalled; another senator who was disinvited from an event with the governor in his own district.

The whole article is worth reading to appreciate just how thin-skinned the governor really is. The piece points to example after example of Christie using the power of his office to punish rivals – even other Republicans – who’ve offended him in minor and inconsequential ways.

To be sure, this is not proof that the governor ordered the lane closures that crippled Fort Lee in September. But if there are underlying doubts about what Christie is capable of when it comes to petty retribution, the available evidence paints a deeply unflattering portrait of an intemperate bully, willing to use the power of his administration to intimidate, punish, and harass.

In 2011, Mr. Christie held a news conference where he accused State Senator Richard J. Codey of being “combative and difficult” in blocking two nominees. Mr. Codey, a Democrat who had served as governor following the resignation of James E. McGreevey, responded that he had not only signed off on the nominations, but had held a meeting to try to hurry them along.

Three days later, Mr. Codey was walking out of an event in Newark when he got a call from the state police superintendent informing him that he would no longer be afforded the trooper who accompanied him to occasional public events – a courtesy granted all former governors. That same day, his cousin, who had been appointed by Mr. McGreevey to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was fired, as was a close friend and former deputy chief of staff who was then working in the state Office of Consumer Affairs. […]

Later that year, the governor was pressing hard on Alan Rosenthal, the Rutgers political scientist whom Republicans and Democrats had chosen as the tiebreaking member of the commission that was redistricting the state’s legislative districts. Mr. Christie wanted Mr. Rosenthal to vote for the map put forward by the Republicans on the commission, but instead he chose the Democrats’ plan, saying it offered more stability. Soon after, Mr. Christie used his line-item veto to cut $169,000 for two programs at Mr. Rosenthal’s institute at Rutgers.

In one of the more salient examples, Zernike pointed to an incident between the governor’s office and the state firefighters’ union. Bill Lavin, representing the union, appeared on a radio show and thought he’d extend an olive branch, calling for new direct talks between the two sides. Bill Baroni, one of the Christie aides who recently resigned from the Port Authority, was then a Christie ally in the state Senate, and called Levin to deliver an obscene message from the governor in response.

“What he said a couple of times,” Lavin recalled, “was: ‘The governor told me to make sure you don’t get this message mixed up; say these exact words.’”

In other words, Christie wanted to push back against a perceived foe, so he called Bill Baroni to relay a specific, pointed response.

It’s a detail to keep in mind as the scandal continues to unfold.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 26, 2013

December 26, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Not Quite What Happened”: Sen. Joe Manchin’s Misreading Of Gun Control Politics

Senator Joe Manchin did an laudable job this year of trying to steer a bipartisan gun-control package through the Senate, despite being a Democrat representing a red state where hunting is very popular. And he may be called upon to do so again next year. But his comments about the politics of gun control yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” seem very wrong, and might bode poorly for the fate of gun control legislation next year:

 What we found out is that people just didn’t trust government, that they were going to stop there. So they said hey Joe, we’re OK with the bill. We like the bill. The bill is not bad at all. We can live with that. But we just don’t trust government stopping and doing what we say we’re going to do.

That’s not quite what happened. Indeed, people liked the bill — very much. As proponents of the legislation often pointed out, support for universal background checks is around 90 percent and remained that high through the entire gun control debate.

It’s hard to find evidence for Manchin’s claim that the legislation failed because people didn’t “trust the government…to stop there.” An April 2013 Washington Post poll – at the height of the gun control debate — found that 55 percent of Americans thought it was possible to make new gun control laws without interfering with the rights of gun owners, with 38 percent thinking otherwise. Americans also said enacting new laws to reduce gun violence were more important than protecting the rights of gun owners, by a 52-40 margin, according to the polls.

And others, including a HuffPost/YouGov poll in September, found that 48 percent of Americans wanted gun laws that were more strict, compared with 16 percent who said less strict and 29 percent who wanted no change.

Now it’s certainly true that pro-gun groups liked to scaremonger about a “national gun registry” that would be used to take away the rights of gun-owners—but despite their best efforts, we still saw polls with broad, bipartisan support for the Manchin-Toomey legislation.

Manchin surely knows such claims are unfounded, since his own bill explicitly makes such a registry illegal, and since he regularly dismissed such concerns back in the spring. So it’s quite odd to see him retroactively validating those unfounded concerns now, and ascribing them to “most people” instead of misinformation by the gun industry and its political allies.

That’s troubling for the immediate future of gun control, because if Manchin really believes the public has spoken, that would be a much more intractable problem then simply fighting some industry misinformation and winning a couple more votes.

But this little episode also underscores a personal pet peeve: the tendency by many people, including those who work within the system and know better, to broadly and belatedly ascribe legislative outcomes as the obvious will of the voters. Gun control failed despite public support, because pro-gun groups are quite adept at lobbying (and spending money), and because many legislators feared primary challenges from pro-gun opponents. Even though it failed in Congress, it didn’t fail with the people.

Similarly, you might hear folks pontificating that the death of the public option during the debate over the Affordable Care Act shows that Americans aren’t ready for socialized health insurance—but the public option was extraordinarily popular with both conservatives and liberals, and was in fact one of the more popular parts of the bill. Our democracy doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to, and people who work in politics would be wise to remember that when assessing what went wrong and how to move forward.

By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post; December 23, 2013

December 26, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not A Bad General Election Issue”: Should Democrats Press The Public Option?

There’s no question that the Affordable Care Act’s rollout has been “rocky,” to borrow the common parlance of the Beltway. The Web site troubles and shifting health coverage for some Americans, despite over-assurances from President Obama during the 2010 political debate, have naturally turned off some people. A much-ballyhooed poll from CNN yesterday shows that support for “Obamacare” has dropped to an all-time low.

But conservatives toasting the apparent turn in public opinion ought to look a little closer at the polling data. It’s true that only 35 percent of Americans favor the law, while 43 percent oppose it. But there’s a crucial third group: 15 percent oppose the ACA because it’s “not liberal enough.” That means that 50 percent of Americans either support the law or want policy changes that shift leftward.

Looking at the polls in that light suddenly shifts the political calculus. Republicans who want to repeal and “replace” the legislation — with measures that have never been entirely clear, especially when it comes to the most popular provisions of the ACA — are suddenly facing an uphill battle with the public.

This presents a pretty clear road map for Democrats worried that the biggest legislative achievement of the Obama era might turn against them. The CNN/ORC poll didn’t press people on what, exactly, “not liberal enough” meant, but it’s not hard to imagine what those people might want. Recall that while the legislation was being crafted, the public broadly supported a “public option” in the bill that would allow people purchasing insurance on the exchanges to select a federal health insurance plan.

So what if Democrats pushed for it? A public option would save $100 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and could offer respite from the plan cancellations and rate hikes that still persist with private insurers with the ACA in place.

There’s essentially no chance President Obama will take another bite at the health-care apple, especially with so many other priorities to tackle: his professed desire to combat climate change and income inequality before he leaves office, along with getting comprehensive immigration reform passed. But strategists on 2016 presidential campaigns ought to take heed.

Imagine a candidate who comes out early, and strong, for adding a public option to the ACA exchanges. It could become a signature issue with the liberal grass roots during the primaries, and it wouldn’t be a bad general election issue either — the polls in 2010 showed support for a public option among Republicans and independents as well as Democrats. As Ezra Klein has noted, the sudden disappearance of the public option from Democratic politics has been “a bit curious,” but perhaps its day is coming.

By: George Zornick, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 24, 2013

December 26, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Public Option | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hurt Feelings”: Banks Demand Pity Party Over Volcker Rule Losses

Whatever successes might have been attained within the hundreds of pages of regulations implementing the Volcker Rule, our nation’s bureaucrats must have known they couldn’t do anything that would force banks to unearth any long-buried losses in their financial reports. Because then many bankers would feel victimized. They would demand that regulators rush to soothe their hurt feelings. And America would never be the same until the banks could keep those losses unrecognized again.

Yes, I’m kidding. But the banking lobby isn’t. This week, a Utah-based lender, Zions Bancorp, said it would have to take a charge to earnings in the neighborhood of $387 million because the new rules will force it to sell a bunch of collateralized debt obligations. Those CDOs declined in value a long time ago. But the accounting rules said Zions didn’t have to include those losses in its earnings. Now that Zions has to sell them, it can’t keep the losses buried and must count them on its income statement.

A few hundred other lenders may be in similar situations, though probably none as extreme as the one at Zions. Now the banking industry’s numerous lobbying groups are complaining to regulators and asking for clarification of the rule — footnote 1,861, if you care to look it up — which means they don’t like it and want it changed. They also have enlisted several U.S. senators to intervene with regulators on their behalf.

It generally isn’t a good idea for the government to pick winners and losers or to tell companies what investments they can’t keep. Surely there is money to be made somewhere buying up assets that banks aren’t allowed to own anymore. It’s hard to tell if the regulators intended the consequences in this instance or not, as part of the rules’ prohibitions against banks sponsoring or owning stakes in hedge funds and private- equity funds.

That said, the point of the Volcker Rule was to keep banks from gambling with depositors’ money. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that banks face new restrictions on the types of investments they can make. At some point, after three years of hand-wringing, the banking regulators have to stop revising what they’ve passed and declare it final, which they happen to have done already this month. Whining from bankers about their sudden inability to paper over losses on old CDOs isn’t a sufficient reason to reopen the process all over again.


By: Jonathan Weil, Bloomber View, Published in The National Memo, December 23, 2013

December 26, 2013 Posted by | Big Banks, Financial Institutions | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Who Is For Growth And Job Creation And Who Isn’t”: The Biggest Thing Centrists Miss About The Inequality Debate

With the electoral victory of Bill de Blasio in New York City, an unabashed economic progressive, and the rising star of Elizabeth Warren, the issue of inequality has come to occupy center stage in lefty policy discussions. As Greg has been writing, it’s popular — something we see in reports today that Democrats are planning to use a near-certain GOP vote against a bill hiking the minimum wage against them in 2014.

But this has brought about a reaction from center-left types, who insist that the progressives have their priorities wrong. In the process, they mischaracterize the progressive view, and set up a false dichotomy between that and establishment positions. Progressives see inequality as a fundamental part of why our economy is not working as it once did, not a problem to be placed above job creation.

Bill Keller recently provided a representative sample:

The left-left sees economic inequality as mainly a problem of distribution — the accumulation of vast wealth that never really trickles down from on high. Their prescription is to tax the 1 percent and close corporate loopholes, using the new revenues to subsidize the needs of the poor and middle class…

The center-left — and that includes President Obama, most of the time — sees the problem and the solutions as more complicated. Yes, you want to provide greater security for those without independent means (see Obamacare), but you also need to create opportunity, which means, first and foremost, jobs. … The center-left … agrees on the menace of inequality, but places equal or greater emphasis on the fact that the economy is not growing the way it did for most of the last century.

First of all, this is a bit rich to hear from the center. The left has been howling about jobs and growth for five years now, for so long and so loud that our collective tonsils have about come unglued — and who were we arguing against? The centrists, who were a major bloc of support behind the premature turn to austerity back in 2010. Better late than never, I guess. Welcome to the party, guys!

In fact, this longstanding hair-on-fire panic about mass unemployment, which until now has been met with near-total indifference from the elite, is a big part of what motivates the inequality focus today. Because I have never met or even heard of someone concerned with inequality who is not also a fervent supporter of immediate monetary and fiscal stimulus to restore full employment as fast as possible. (That’s Item One in the inequality-reduction handbook!) The problem isn’t just mass unemployment — it’s the fact that we haven’t done anything about it since 2009. As Steve Randy Waldman has written, there are many economic strategies to create jobs now, of which we are trying none whatsoever. Inequality-driven discrepancies in political influence are a probable factor here.

What’s more, there is a compelling case that inequality is a major reason why our economy seems so prone to bubbles and why traditional policy remedies no longer have much purchase on job creation. A full recounting is beyond the scope of this post, but such arguments are worth taking seriously.

In any case, Keller is right to say that Republicans are now the major obstacle to any job creation agenda, so if centrists are now aboard the jobs train, I welcome them with open arms. They just shouldn’t kid themselves about who is for growth and job creation, and who isn’t.

By: Ryan Cooper, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 24, 2013

December 26, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Jobs | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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