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“The Failure Of Austerity”: This Upcoming Traffic Apocalypse Will Be The End Of Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) is infamous as the guy whose underlings caused an epic traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge as part of some weird political punishment. In time, though, he will be known as the guy who caused the worst transportation snarl in the history of New York City.

I can’t see how this traffic disaster will mean anything but the end of Christie’s 2016 aspirations. The question for New Yorkers looking down the barrel of this sucker is whether it will be bad enough to break the hegemony of austerity in Congress.

So, what is happening? Let’s wind the tape back to 2010. The Recovery Act was in full swing, and all manner of stuff was being built across the country with stimulus money. The biggest project of all was called Access to the Region’s Core, a plan for a desperately needed new tunnel under the Hudson River and a new train station in Manhattan. There are only two other tunnels under the Hudson, both single-track and over 100 years old, both stuffed to capacity during rush hour, with demand only projected to grow.

The cost was projected at around $8 billion to $10 billion, with the federal government and the Port Authority picking up roughly three-quarters of the tab. Construction started in 2009, and hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on rights-of-way and initial work.

Then Christie unilaterally canceled the project, charging that costs were skyrocketing, that New Jersey would thus have to pay 70 percent of the bill, and that the feds were going to stick the state with any cost overruns.

He was lying through his teeth. A Government Accountability Office report later detailed that cost estimates had not increased, that New Jersey was only paying 14.4 percent, and the feds had offered to share the burden of any overruns. Instead, Christie swiped the money earmarked for the project and spent a bunch of it on New Jersey’s highway fund, so he wouldn’t have to raise the gas tax. (He’s under investigation by the SEC and the Manhattan DA for that, among other things.)

It was an infuriatingly stupid decision. But Hurricane Sandy changed it from stupid to disastrous. During the storm surge both the tunnels under the Hudson were flooded with ocean water, and the deposited salts are eating away the 100-year-old metal and concrete. Therefore, according to a recent study, both tunnels will need a total top-to-bottom overhaul in the next few years. Shutting even one of them down would basically be traffic apocalypse:

…shutting one of the two tracks in the tunnel under the Hudson River would cut service by about 75 percent because trains headed into New York would have to share the remaining track with trains headed west from the city, he said.

All told, more than 400,000 passengers ride trains through the two tunnels on a typical weekday, an Amtrak spokesman said. At peak commuting times, 24 trains an hour pass through the Hudson River tunnel, which is the only direct rail link between Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan and all points west. [New York Times]

In a blackly comedic coincidence, the canceled ARC tunnel would have come online in 2018, maybe just barely in time to take up the slack from one of the old ones being closed. Now those 300,000 or so displaced commuters are going to have to swim across the Hudson.

Anyway, according to the Times, Amtrak is going to work on the tunnels under the East River first, with no firm plans as to when they’re going to have to shut down the Hudson tunnels. They have a plan for another tunnel called the Gateway, but no way to pay for it as of yet.

And that brings us to Congress. The prospects for action at the federal level are nearly hopeless, but it’s worth noting that if they wanted to, Congress could solve this problem — just by appropriating some money for a new tunnel. Probably the best chance of that will be after the old tunnels are shut down and there’s a massive traffic jam from Newark to Long Island.

But in any case, Christie’s boneheaded posturing is at least yet another demonstration of the failure of austerity. Turns out not spending money doesn’t make crippling infrastructure needs disappear. It just postpones the day of reckoning, and raises the chances of expensive catastrophic failure.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, October 3, 2014

October 4, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, Infrastructure | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Undue Burdens”: Voter ID Laws Are Costing Taxpayers Millions

One federal judge has allowed a voter ID law to take effect in Wisconsin. Another is now contemplating whether to do the same in Texas. Defenders of these laws, which exist in some form in 34 states, insist that requiring people to show government-issued identification at the polls will reduce fraud—and that it will do so without imposing unfair burdens or discouraging people from voting. In North Carolina, for example, Republican Governor Pat McCrory wrote an op-ed boasting that the measures fight fraud “at no cost” to voters.

It’s not surprising that McCrory and like-minded conservatives make such arguments. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has steadily weakened the Voting Rights Act and related legislation, which for generations federal officials used to make sure minority voters had equal voice in the political process. But in 2008, when the Court approved Voter ID laws, the Court left open the possibility of new challenges if plaintiffs can demonstrate the laws impose a burden on would-be voters.

There are now good reasons to think the laws do exactly that.

One reason is a report, published over the summer, from Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. Researchers there complied published articles and legal testimony, in order to calculate the cost of of obtaining a government-issued identification. They included everything from the cost of waiting to the cost of traveling and obtaining documentation. Their conclusion? The costs can range anywhere from $75 to $400 per person. The study is not a comprehensive, since it examines evidence from just three states— Texas, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, which had its law blocked by the U.S. Justice Department but upheld by a District Court. But as many as 11 percent of voters don’t have a photo ID, according to the Brennan Center, and the study illustrates the challenge these people—many of them very poor—would face trying to get new identification documents. “The more it can be shown that is a substantial financial cost, the clearer it is that these laws are unconstitutional,” said Richard Sobel, author of the study.

Of course, some people would face higher costs than others. According to the study, people who move from another state can have a particularly hard time, because they’ll have trouble tracking down—and then paying for—the documentation they’ll need to get an identification card. Many states require that people present birth certificates in order to get Voter ID cards, but in at least two states, South Carolina and North Carolina, people who want a new birth certificate must present some other form of government identification. In other words, somebody would need a photo ID in order to obtain a voter ID.

Another group that can face extra costs and difficulty getting ID cards is women—specifically, women who have changed their names after marriage. A study by the Brennan Center from 2006 showed that just 48 percent of women with access to a birth certificate have access to identification with their legal name. “It’s clear the costs are much much greater largely because we change our names,” Elisabeth Macnamara, president of the League of Women Voters, told me. The League of Women Voters in Wisconsin has challenged Wisconsin’s voter ID law, partly on this basis. “We are seeing courts considering the Photo ID and see how much it takes to get one.”

A separate issue is the hassle people face when they try to get Voter ID cards. “We’ve experienced people being treated differently depending which DMV they go to or which examiner they talk to as to whether which document is sufficient,” Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said in an interview. These difficulties should strengthen legal challenges to the requirement, he said: “It does bolster the argument that it amounts to a poll tax.”

Individual voters aren’t the only ones who face extra costs because of Voter ID laws. State governments’ do, too. The report from Harvard’s Houston Center showed the laws could cost Pennsylvania between $15.75 million and $47.26 million; South Carolina’s law would cost the state between $5.9 million and $17.70 million; and in Texas, could see the costs for its law go between $26.07 million and $78.22 million. “This is a huge amount of money to get a free ID, especially when the right to vote is a right that should be exercised freely and these resources could be used to getting people out to vote,” Sobel said.


By: Eric Garcia, The New Republic, October 3, 2014

October 4, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Voter ID, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Little Hard To Swallow”: The ‘Pressing’ Need For More Tax Breaks For The Rich?

President Obama delivered a pretty interesting speech on the economy yesterday, but towards the end, he completely abandoned his prepared text, ignoring the teleprompter to reflect on something that clearly bothered him on a personal level.

“[J]ust last month, at least one top Republican in Congress said that tax cuts for those at the top are – and I’m quoting here – ‘even more pressing now’ than they were 30 years ago. More pressing. When nearly all the gains of the recovery have gone to the top 1 percent, when income inequality is at as high a rate as we’ve seen in decades, I find that a little hard to swallow that they really desperately need a tax cut right now, it’s ‘urgent.’

“Why? What are the facts? What is the empirical data that would justify that position? Kellogg Business School, you guys are all smart. You do all this analysis. You run the numbers. Has anybody here seen a credible argument that that is what our economy needs right now?”

Almost every word of this was ad libbed. Presented with the Republican argument that the wealthy really need yet another tax cut, the president seemed genuinely gobsmacked. To appreciate the degree to which Obama was amazed, watch the video – go here and forward to the 48:02 mark.

Of course, the president wasn’t making up any of the allegations themselves – a leading congressional Republican really did argue last month that tax breaks for the very wealthy are “even more pressing now” than a generation ago.

The congressman is none other than House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who recently suggested combating poverty is one of his top priorities.

Here’s the interview the far-right Wisconsinite did with the conservative Weekly Standard.

“I’m a classic growth conservative. I believe that the best way to help families, the best way to help the economy is to reduce rates across the board,” Ryan said when asked about Utah senator Mike Lee’s plan to increase the child tax credit and create two income tax brackets of 15 percent and 35 percent. “Growth occurs on the margin, which is a wonky way of saying, if you want faster economic growth, more upward mobility, and faster job creation, lower tax rates across the board is the key-it’s the secret sauce.

“Some conservatives have argued that reducing the top rate is less urgent now than it was during the Reagan administration, when the top rate was cut from 70 percent to 50 percent and then cut again from 50 percent to 28 percent. But Ryan says that cutting the top rate is “even more pressing now” than it was back then “because the American economy was so dominant in the global economy and capital was not nearly as mobile as it is today.”

As a substantive matter, this serves as a reminder of why it’s tough to take Paul Ryan seriously as an alleged wonk. As Matt Yglesias explained after the Ryan interview was published, “The idea that globalization, which tends to increase the overall size of the economy while also increasing inequality, makes tax cuts for the rich even more urgent strikes me as a little bit hard to defend intellectually.”

But as a political matter, let’s not lose sight of the larger context. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has floated a tax cut plan that focuses primarily on the middle class. Paul Ryan is drawing a distinct between Lee’s approach and his own – Ryan wants the tax cuts focused on the rich.

In light of everything we’ve seen, in light of the enormous class gap, in light of the already low U.S. tax rates as compared to most of the world, Ryan’s ideas about tax breaks for the wealthy just won’t budge.

Is it any wonder the president is astonished?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 3, 2014

October 4, 2014 Posted by | Economy, Paul Ryan, Tax Cuts | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Bad Week For The NRA”: Every Time The NRA Has A Week As Bad As This One, The American Public Wins

The NRA wants people to believe that its agenda — guns for anyone, anywhere, anytime — is as American as apple pie.

Only, the American public isn’t buying it.

This week, gun lobby extremism went down to defeat in a number of venues, in a number of states.

Guns for anyone? Not in California.

Guns anywhere? Not in Arkansas.

Guns anytime? Not in Florida.

It’s been a bad week for the NRA.

Consider what happened in California. You’d think we could all agree that someone who poses a significant danger to himself or herself or others shouldn’t have a gun. At the same time, that person is entitled to due process.

That’s why the particulars of California’s new gun violence restraining order law are important. Lawmakers — following the lead of states as diverse as Connecticut, Indiana, and Texas — got it right.

California’s law, which the governor signed on Tuesday, allows law enforcement or immediate family members to present evidence to a judge, who can order the police to take temporary custody of a person’s guns for an emergency period. Unless there’s a petition to hold the guns longer, the person will have his or her guns back after 21 days.

Now, both the police and family members can intervene in dangerous situations. More gun deaths — both homicides and suicides — can be prevented.

Of course, the NRA opposed the bill.

In California, no one was talking about banning guns — just temporarily keeping guns away from people who have given police and/or loved ones cause for significant concern.

But according to the NRA, letting everyone — felons, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill — have guns is just the price we pay for our Second Amendment rights. According to the NRA, life-saving restrictions on gun ownership — even court-ordered, temporary restrictions — are unacceptable.

While the NRA has had success pushing its agenda in state legislatures over the years, it’s met resistance on college campuses, where law enforcement and administrators agree that guns don’t belong.

You can understand the reasons college officials don’t want guns on campus. Think of those college ratings that magazines publish — and parents consult –every year. Colleges don’t want to be known as party schools, let alone places where people are carrying guns in classrooms and cafeterias.

The Arkansas legislature, in the NRA’s infinite wisdom, last year passed a law permitting university faculty and staff to carry guns on campus. Schools in the state do have the right to opt out of campus carry. But if only to make opting out more onerous, Arkansas requires schools to take that step and opt out every year.

For the second straight year, the vote on campus was unanimous. Once again, the governing boards of every Arkansas college, university, and technical institute chose to prohibit guns.

And that’s part of a pattern we’re seeing across the country. The gun lobby makes a dedicated push in state legislatures to pass campus carry laws. Then, when schools can opt out of allowing guns on their property, they almost uniformly do so.

Guns for anyone, anywhere, anytime might sound good to the NRA and gun manufacturers — but for the rest of us, it’s not a sound or an appealing public policy.

An argument over loud music, for example, isn’t the time to shoot someone. Justice was done in Florida this week, when a jury rejected Michael Dunn’s “Stand Your Ground” defense and found him guilty of first-degree murder — another high-profile blow to the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality that NRA-backed Stand Your Ground laws help create.

With its losses adding up, the NRA’s political arm is getting desperate. On Wednesday, PolitiFact gave a “Pants on Fire” rating to the ad the NRA is running against Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. The Washington Post‘sFact Checker gave it “Four Pinocchios” — a perfect score for a perfectly misleading ad.

When you see or hear an NRA ad talking about someone trying to take away your gun rights, it’s not true. As PolitiFact put it, it’s fear mongering, plain and simple.

The truth is that the NRA’s agenda is more guns, in more places, all the time. It’s dangerous and deeply irresponsible — and an ideology that elected officials, school administrators, and concerned citizens alike are increasingly rejecting.

And every time the NRA has a week as bad as this one, the American public wins.


By: John Feinblatt, The Huffington Post Blog, October 3, 2014

October 4, 2014 Posted by | Gun Lobby, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Joni Ernst Loves The Constitution, But..”: Republican Senate Candidate Advocates Revolt Against U.S. Government

The Iowa Senate race is one of the closest in the nation, and what it seems to have come down to is the following two questions: Number 1, did Bruce Braley act like a jerk when he and his neighbor had a dispute over the fact that the neighbor’s chickens were crapping on Braley’s lawn? And number 2, is Joni Ernst a radical extremist?

You can argue that only one of these questions has anything to do with what Iowa’s next senator will be doing in office, and you’d be right. But the latest bit of information on Ernst is, if you actually understand the issue, quite a doozy:

State Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, once said she would support legislation that would allow “local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement” Obamacare.

Ernst voiced her support for that, as well as supporting legislation that would “nullify” Obamacare in a Iowa State Legislative Candidates survey for Ron Paul’s libertarian-aligned Campaign for Liberty in 2012. It can be viewed here.

The question was: “Will you support legislation to nullify ObamaCare and authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement the unconstitutional health care scheme known as ObamaCare?” Ernst answered that question as “yes.”

The “My opponent agreed to something crazy in a questionnaire” is its own genre of outrage, and seldom an enlightening one. It’s possible that a staffer filled this out, and it didn’t reflect Ernst’s actual views. If that’s the case, she should have the opportunity to clarify what she really thinks, and if this questionnaire doesn’t reflect her beliefs, then she needn’t necessarily be blamed for it.

But if this does reflect her views, then she’s not just a radical on the substance of issues (which she certainly is), but she’s a procedural radical as well. You can put words like “liberty” in the name of your organization all you want, but what Ernst was agreeing to here isn’t liberty, it’s insurrection against the Constitution of the United States.

States do not have the right to nullify federal laws they don’t like. The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution makes that absolutely clear. And the idea that local cops should be arresting federal officials who implement duly passed federal laws isn’t just some colorful conservatism, it’s positively insane. If you believe that, you forfeit your right to say you love the Constitution, and you worship the Framers, and all the other things people like Ernst so often claim.

Like I said, maybe these aren’t Ernst’s actual views, and if they aren’t, then that’s fine. But she damn sure ought to say whether they are.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 3, 2014

October 4, 2014 Posted by | Federal Government, Joni Ernst, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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