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“Chris Christie Counts On Public Amnesia”: As If No One Would Remember He killed An Earlier Federally Subsidized Project

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie endorsed a plan to expand his state’s rail capacity with a federally subsidized project when he ran for office, and then opposed it when he took office. Now he’s endorsed a rail-expansion plan once again. Here, Christie delivers his State of the State address on January 13, 2015.

In 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took over $3 billion in revenue earmarked for a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and used it to plug a hole in his budget—leaving the people of his state and the region with no tunnel, and no money left for one in the future. Now Christie has endorsed a new report that includes a recommendation for expanding rail capacity between New Jersey and New York, as if no one would remember that he killed an earlier federally subsidized project that would have accomplished that purpose.

In the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect, I report the story of Christie’s 2010 decision and its disastrous consequences, particularly in the wake of the damage that Hurricane Sandy did to the two existing rail tunnels built over 100 years ago that are currently the chokepoint for rail transportation in the Northeast. Though Christie backed building a new rail tunnel on the campaign trail in 2009, he canceled the project after entering office, when it became clear that it would require him to raise New Jersey’s gas tax (the next-to-lowest in the country). Doing so carried risks of antagonizing local anti-tax groups and jeopardizing his national ambitions within the Republican Party.

Last May, Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo convened a panel tasked with recommending how to improve the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a bi-state agency that controls river crossings, regional airports, and marine terminals. The move came amid a flurry of Port Authority political scandals. Though the two governors publicly endorsed the panel’s proposals, which were published in a 99-page report on December 27, they both vetoed bills their state legislatures had passed to reform the Port Authority, insisting that they would enact better measures on their own.

The panel’s report notes that cross-Hudson River travel has not kept pace with population growth and that passenger demand is projected to double by 2030. Accordingly, the panel recommended that the Port Authority lead a regional planning team in 2015 to explore, among other things, expanding rail capacity between New Jersey and New York.

This is all well and good, except that political leaders have known about these population projections and regional risks for over two decades.

As Christie gears up for a presidential run, the chances of his endorsing a tax increase to finance a new rail tunnel (and other infrastructure needs in his state) are vanishingly small. Catering to the anti-tax fervor in the Republican Party will have a big cost not only for the commuters in New Jersey but for the entire Northeast region.

 

By: Rachel M. Cohen, The American Prospect, January 14, 2015

January 18, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays: The Snowdog – By Jacquie Lawson

Although we all have our different ideologies, preferences and opinions, we are all a part of “America The Beautiful”. There is no place like home. I wish you all the very best in the coming New Year.

The Snowdog – animated Flash ecard by Jacquie Lawson

In Memory of my brother and best friend, Anthony Evans, MD and to my good friend and colleague, John B. Makin, Jr., MD

 

By: raemd95, Originally Posted December 24, 2009, December 25, 2013; December 25, 2014, December 24, 2015

December 25, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

“It Will Be Ugly, And It Will Escalate”: Buffer Zones, Clinic Escorting, And The Myth Of The Quiet Sidewalk Counselors

The Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts “buffer zone” law — which barred antiabortion protests immediately outside clinics. Justice Scalia portrayed the law as hindering ‘sidewalk counselors’ who lovingly entreated women to consider alternatives. This portrayal, embodied by the grandmotherly petitioner, allowed some to view the decision as protecting gentle civility. Referencing one particular Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston, this “quiet counseling” was seen as well-intentioned, and, more importantly, constitutional.

It is also a myth — or at least a dramatic euphemism that applies to very few at the Boston site. I should know. I was there.

For four years, I volunteered as an escort on Saturday mornings. The scene described in the court — like a delusional game of telephone — was drastically different from reality.

Our mornings were mostly spent scanning the streets, attempting to spot patients before they approached the zealous spectacle. We’d tactfully ask if they were looking for the clinic, and walk them through the crowd.

Saturdays were favored by protesters, so escorts arrived in the early morning. Wearing identifying vests, we flanked the entrance and greeted patients outside the zone. Two would rotate to the back to watch the garage entrance, where only the more tenacious protestors wandered. We’d accompany patients up the long walk to the front, usually trailed by someone asking if Satan sent us. (He didn’t.)

During the freezing New England winters, we would briefly warm up inside, but were mostly left to stomp our feet and count how many toes we could feel. Once a month, a Christian band would show up, surreally, and hold a concert.

We knew the “quiet counseling” well. “Just like Auschwitz,” one would say, “you’re delivering them right into the furnace.” This particular protester would speak right into her ear — until he approached the painted line on the ground.

Sometimes, a male accompanying a patient would lose his cool. He could have been her boyfriend or brother. We didn’t know and never asked. Once they entered, the doors could burst back open and he would charge whichever protestor called his companion a whore. We would intervene.

Justice Alito felt the law represented “viewpoint discrimination” — constitutionally, one message can’t be favored over another. But as an escort, I never talked about abortion, even outside the zone. When guiding patients, I would detail what they could expect. I didn’t offer my perspective, or even criticize the protestors. My goal was to provide a calming presence seconds before what would be one of the more trying moments of their lives. I explained how to access the clinic, and maintained a low patter to distract them from strangers calling them beasts and murderers. If they were confused by the protestors’ Boston Police hats, we cleared that up too.

If the patient was African-American, the protestors said they were “lynching” their child. If the protestor was crying, they said the tears would never stop, even in hell. If a patient was with her mother, they thanked the mother — for not killing her own baby.

Surprisingly, those Saturdays were not without their lighter moments. For a group dedicated to attacking Planned Parenthood — a multi-purpose clinic — they seemed stunned when someone wasn’t seeking an abortion. “You’ll never be the same. You’ll always be a dirty killer,” one would say. A startled patient would respond, “Why would a Pap smear make me a dirty killer?” Many others sought birth control — though they didn’t approve of that either.

This is not to paint all protesters as unhinged. I still remember one young priest who didn’t condemn me and chose instead to make small talk — which we continued periodically. Another time, upon news of the Columbia shuttle deteriorating upon reentry, we all shared a collective moment of humanity.

Being in a college area, there were counter-protestors (also kept out of the buffer zone) — who promoted pro-choice politics through direct and shocking slogans. Many of us didn’t care for them either. We just wanted calm in an atmosphere of invective and hysteria.

The desire for calm stemmed, in part, from the 1994 Brookline shootings. The victims were known by some of my fellow volunteers. This very real risk led the police to call for a buffer zone. One of the victims, a 25-year-old receptionist, was not just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The murder was premeditated; her killer focused on her.

Even when I was there, clinic staff driving up would be greeted with protestors filming them and, not so subtly, stating the staffer’s home address. Those were the more chilling moments.

It is difficult (though not impossible) to argue that a unanimous Supreme Court case was wrongly decided. After all, it is a broad law. But that is not my goal. Instead, I’m writing to dispel the myth painted of Good Samaritans softly offering a helping hand. In the public relations war over whether the affected individuals were compassionate counselors or marauding bullies, many justices seemed to accept the former characterization.

The law was overturned as an overreaching infringement on free speech. Is this a free speech issue? Yes, of course it is. But as others have pointed out, buffer zones exist elsewhere, including outside the Supreme Court. Favoring free speech, the Court famously allowed Nazis to march in Illinois and, more recently, the Phelps church to picket funerals (at a distance). But parades and funerals eventually end. Here, the Court risks turning clinic entrances into permanently hostile environments — inciting those who have spent weeks agonizing over their decision. They overturned the express wishes of an elected legislature — including pro-life lawmakers who supported the measure in the interest of public safety.

Similar zones were upheld by the court in 2000, a ruling which was not overturned. Clinic entrances still cannot be blocked, and injunctions are allowed against particularly worrisome parties. Chief Justice Roberts even suggested other mechanisms the state can use in lieu of the zone. But it’s an ever-changing landscape, and those remaining precautions have become the next targets of these quiet counselors. Because, to those that brought the case, speech alone is not the goal.

The grueling decision of whether to have an abortion should never be taken lightly, and there is no shortage of advocates for either side that fill our collective eardrums. But that debate stops a few feet outside the clinic. Just like politicking outside voting booths, these last ditch efforts lose the veneer of debate and become akin to intimidation — which can easily morph into confrontation or devastating anguish. Anyone who wants to stop and chat can do so. But once patients decide to cross the line, they should be left alone. The Court noted that the environment is currently more peaceful than it once was. There’s a reason for that.

None of this is to say that this isn’t a legitimate debate. It is. But those who favor stripping the buffer zone away — what small help it is — shouldn’t kid themselves into thinking that a flood of polite conversation will follow. It will be ugly, and it will escalate.

 

By: Brian Giacometti, Field-based NGO Program Manager for Governance and Rule of Law; The Huffington Post Blog, July 7, 2014

 

 

July 8, 2014 Posted by | Buffer Zones, Public Safety, SCOTUS, Uncategorized, Women's Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It Was All For Spite”: A Scandal We Can Sink Our Teeth Into

During the Lewinsky scandal, our nation’s brave pundits spent a good amount of time fluttering their hands in front of their faces and expressing dismay that they had to spend so much time talking about something so lurid. The truth was that they loved it like a labrador loves liverwurst, but some scandals are just more fun than others. Does it concern a lot of dull policy arcana, or something a little more human? Is there room for lots of speculation about people’s motivations? Are there interesting characters—your Gordon Liddys, your Linda Tripps—to liven up the proceedings? These are the things that make a scandal.

We haven’t yet met the people at the heart of the Chris Christie George Washington Bridge scandal, but since they’re people in New Jersey politics, I’m guessing that if we ever get them in front of the cameras, a new media star or two would be born. And what I find glorious about this story is that the action in question had no practical purpose whatsoever. It didn’t enrich anyone or give anyone an unfair political advantage. It was just for spite. Members of the Christie administration, it now appears, created monumental traffic tie-ups in the town of Fort Lee, which abuts the G.W. Bridge, simply because the mayor, a Democrat, didn’t endorse Christie in an election he would win by 22 points.

We now have some fabulous emails and texts, including the smokingest of smoking guns, where a top Christie aide emailed a Port Authority official and said, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” to which he replied, “Got it,” and it was made so. If it sounds like something out of an episode of “The Sopranos,” that isn’t just because it takes place in New Jersey. The only danger I see is the possibility that the cat has been let out of the bag too soon, and there won’t be even more juicy revelations to come. But we can hope.

In all likelihood, Governor Christie will say that he knew nothing of these nefarious doings, and nobody’s angrier about it than he is. Anyone whose name is on an incriminating email will be shown the door forthwith, having so brazenly subverted the tradition of integrity in public service for which the state has long been known. It may well be that Christie knew nothing about it; after all, he isn’t an idiot, and only an idiot would think screwing over a small-town mayor in so public a fashion, just before an election you’re going to win in a walk, would be a good idea.

But it does present a problem for him, because it’s the kind of scandal you’d dream up if you wanted to undermine the Christie ’16 bid. As Ezra Klein reminds us, Chris Christie doesn’t just have a reputation for being a bully, he’s actually a bully. And it would take a bully to say to a town of 35,000 people, “Your mayor didn’t endorse me? Well see how you like it when it takes you two hours to get over the Bridge, you worms.”

But what we need is to get everybody involved under oath, so we can get to know them and hear their stories. Maybe give them immunity; that’s what Congress did with Oliver North, and his testimony was riveting. Benghazi? Boring. IRS? Snoozeville. This is a scandal that could offer some real entertainment.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 8, 2014

January 9, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Unclean Hands”: Beware Of Notable Republican Villians Presuming To Make Themselves The Objective Arbiters Of Obamacare

Maybe the healthcare.gov website mess will ultimately damage the implementation of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Maybe it was an avoidable crisis that those in authority should have anticipated and addressed. Maybe heads will roll. Maybe one of those heads will be or should be that of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius.

But you know what? The judge and jury and executioner in such a case should not, cannot, must not include those who have fought the successful implementation of ACA, who have lied about the law, have obstructed efforts to “fix” its inevitable lapses (some caused by Republican filibustering in the Senate that prevented its enactment via “regular order”), and who are at this moment using the healthcare.gov problems to discourage people from obtaining health insurance. But even as they celebrate every word typed in vain on healthcare.gov and every bit of faulty data, Republicans are presuming to make themselves the objective arbiters of Obamacare:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday afternoon became the highest-ranking lawmaker to call for Sebelius’s resignation — part of a movement that picked up steam after she declined to appear at a scheduled House hearing Thursday, though she has committed to one next week. But even before the shutdown and debt ceiling standoff ended, the Republican National Committee launched its “Fire Sebelius” campaign, trying to use holding her responsible for the problem-plagued rollout as a way of redirecting the conversation back to doubts about the Affordable Care Act.

Sorry, boys. Accepting even the worst-case-scenario of Sebelius’ responsibility for the enrollment website problems, she’s done far less to mess up the implementation of this law than the GOP, and most especially Paul Ryan, whose high-profile lies about Obamacare’s impact on Medicare alone make him a notable villain of this drama.

It’s an ancient principle of the Anglo-American legal tradition that one cannot come into a court seeking equity with “unclean hands”–bad behavior or bad intent concerning the subject in dispute. Extended into politics, this sensible objection to bad-faith complaints means that having devoted itself to the destruction of the Affordable Care Act, the Republican Party needs to stay out of efforts to assign responsibly for the internal management of efforts to implement it. That’s particularly true of a political party that refuses to offer any real alternative path for health reform other than systemic efforts to make sick people bear more of the burden of their own misfortune.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 23, 2013

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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