"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“State Of Disaster”: How Many Natural Disasters Will It Take For The Lone Star State To Wake Up To The Disaster Of Its Elected Officials?

As extreme weather marked by tornadoes and flooding continues to sweep across Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has requested – and President Obama has granted – federal help.

I don’t begrudge Texas billions of dollars in disaster relief. After all, we’re all part of America. When some of us are in need, we all have a duty to respond.

But the flow of federal money poses a bit of awkwardness for the Lone Star State.

After all, just over a month ago hundreds of Texans decided that a pending Navy Seal/Green Beret joint training exercise was really an excuse to take over the state and impose martial law. And they claimed the Federal Emergency Management Agency was erecting prison camps, readying Walmart stores as processing centers for political prisoners.

There are nut cases everywhere, but Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott added to that particular outpouring of paranoia by ordering the Texas State Guard to monitor the military exercise. “It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed upon,” he said. In other words, he’d protect Texans from this federal plot.

Now, Abbott wants federal money. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is gearing up for a major role in the cleanup – including places like Bastrop, Texas, where the Bastrop State Park dam failed – and where, just five weeks ago, a U.S. Army colonel trying to explain the pending military exercise was shouted down by hundreds of self-described patriots shouting “liar!”

Texans dislike the federal government even more than most other Americans do. According to a February poll conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, only 23 percent of Texans view the federal government favorably, while 57 percent view it unfavorably, including more than a third who hold a “very unfavorable” view.

Texas dislikes the federal government so much that eight of its congressional representatives, along with Senator Ted Cruz, opposed disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy – adding to the awkwardness of their lobbying for the federal relief now heading Texas’s way.

Yet even before the current floods, Texas had received more disaster relief than any other state, according to a study by the Center for American Progress. That’s not simply because the state is so large. It’s also because Texas is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather – tornadoes on the plains, hurricanes in the Gulf, flooding across its middle and south.

Given this, you might also think Texas would take climate change especially seriously. But here again, there’s cognitive dissonance between what the state needs and how its officials act.

Among Texas’s infamous climate-change deniers is Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, who dismissed last year’s report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “more political than scientific,“ and the White House report on the urgency of addressing climate change as designed “to frighten Americans.”
Smith is still at it. His committee just slashed by more than 20 percent NASA’s spending on Earth science, which includes climate change.

It’s of course possible that Texas’s current record rainfalls – the National Weather Service reports that the downpour in May alone was enough to put the entire state under eight inches of water  – has  nothing to do with the kind of extreme weather we’re witnessing elsewhere in the nation, such as the West’s current drought, the North’s record winter snowfall, and flooding elsewhere.

But you’d have to be nuts not to be at least curious about such a connection, and its relationship to the carbon dioxide humans have been spewing into the atmosphere.

Consider also the consequences for the public’s health. Several deaths in Texas have been linked to the extreme weather. Many Texans have been injured by it, directly or indirectly. Poor residents are in particular peril because they live in areas prone to flooding or in flimsy houses and trailers that can be washed or blown away.

What’s Texas’s response?  Texas officials continue to turn down federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, thereby denying insurance to more than 1 million people and preventing the state from receiving an estimated $100 billion in federal cash over the next decade.

I don’t want to pick on Texas. Its officials are not alone in hating the federal government, denying climate change, and refusing to insure its poor.

And I certainly don’t want to suggest all Texans are implicated. Obviously, many thoughtful and reasonable people reside there.

Yet Texans have elected people who seem not to have a clue. Indeed, Texas has done more in recent years to institutionalize irrationality than almost anywhere else in America – thereby imposing a huge burden on its citizens.

How many natural disasters will it take for the Lone Star State to wake up to the disaster of its elected officials?


By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, May 31, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Greg Abbott, Natural Disasters, Texas | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“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

“Portrait Of A Man Republicans Can’t Trust”: Four Basic Problems Stand Between Chris Christie And The 2016 Nomination

The emergence of Chris Christie as one of America’s most popular national figures comes as a godsend to the Republican Party. Having angrily turned down every opportunity to compromise with an electorate that spurned them a year ago, they now see the enticing chance, in the form of Christie’s all-but-declared presidential candidacy, to right their course without veering left. “The road to Republican political redemption may well run through Trenton, N.J,” says Politico’s Ben White. Savvy operative Ralph Reed, whose ties run from the Grover Norquists of the party to its Christian wing, gave the governor his blessing, seemingly paving the way for Christie to clear the party’s ever-more-stringent ideological purity tests. Christie used his acceptance speech to establish the themes for this run, repeatedly highlighting his support from Democratic constituencies and his record of cutting taxes and spending.

There is only one flaw with the plan: Shepherding Christie through a competitive Republican primary will be vastly more difficult than anybody seems to be figuring at the moment. Four basic, interrelated problems stand between Christie and the 2016 nomination:

1. His ideological deviations are not fake. They’re real. Christie has openly endorsed gun control, called for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and conceded the legitimacy of climate science (“But when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role it’s time to defer to the experts.”)

The largest, and least appreciated, of Christie’s betrayals of party doctrine is his decision to participate in the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. Some other Republican governors have made the same decision, but they have all faced unrelenting and bitter opposition from legislators of their party and conservative activists. Unyielding hatred to every aspect of Obamacare, regardless of its practical impact, has become the main doctrinal tenet of conservative thought. That alone could potentially disqualify him.

2. Christie’s popularity is somewhat fluky. Christie has some real political talent. But he has benefitted from his juxtaposition against a corrupt, divided, ineffectual state Democratic Party that consistently allowed him to claim the good government high ground. Even so, Christie’s approval ratings hovered in the low-to-mid-fifties, until he achieved beatification through Hurricane Sandy.

Christie benefitted in two ways from Sandy. One was through the kind of active, sleeves-rolled-up response to disaster that can lend politicians stratospheric approval (like the sort Rudy Giuliani won after 9/11, and sought, unsuccessfully, to leverage into higher office.) Second, and more significantly, Christie defined himself as above partisanship by metaphorically and literally embracing President Obama.

In a bitterly partisan era, Christie’s cooperation and apparently warm personal relations with Obama made him a uniquely appealing figure. In particular, it is the key to his lofty standing in the African-American community: In pointed contrast to the ceaseless rage and contempt displayed by his party, Christie treated the nation’s first black president with open respect and affinity.

Of course, having safely won reelection, Christie can undertake a campaign of vilification against Obama. He’ll have to – the taint of collaboration with the hated Obama, if not scrubbed away, would prove as fatal as Joe Lieberman’s kiss proved to his plane crash of a presidential campaign in 2004.

But in so doing, he’ll undercut the bipartisan appeal that is the source of his national standing, eroding the incentive for party elites to rally around him as the sole electable nominee. It’s not an impossible line to walk, but it will require a very deft touch.

3. Christie lacks a deft touch. The Christie method for retaining the goodwill of his party has been, whatever he loses through policy squishiness, he wins back in personal abuse. In the past I have heavily discounted the possibility that this kind of style can translate beyond New Jersey. It is possible that I am underselling Christie’s personal appeal in states that have not spawned The Sopranos and Jersey Shore. Maybe America is truly ready for a loud, angry man in the White House.

But are Republican voters? They may like the spectacle of Christie heaping verbal punishment upon random Democrats who challenge him. It’s another thing altogether if he gives this treatment to Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, or other fellow partisans. If Christie tries to bully fellow Republicans in good standing, it would seem more likely to confirm the accusation that Christie, not them, is the cultural and ideological alien. And if he can’t use bluster, what tools are available to him? It’s not like Christie can cut legislative deals with his primary opponents the way he did in New Jersey.

It is easy to forget how culturally foreign the northeast is to a Southern-dominated party, and how Christie’s belligerent tone may confirm the worst suspicions about him. Conservative columnist Phillip Klein once reported the frequent murmurings of disapproval he found among primary voters when he was covering Giuliani’s race: “one thing I kept running into among voters in early states when covering the campaign was that his background as a New Yorker was a real turnoff and made voters view him as rude and somehow shady.”

4. Christie may actually be shady. Mitt Romney wanted to make Christie his vice-presidential nominee, but took a close look at what the vetters came up with and, my colleague John Heilemann and Mark Halperin report in their new book, promptly changed his mind. Romney’s prudish disdain for Christie’s weight commanded gossipy attention,  but the sheer breadth of the potential issues surrounding Christie suggests serious trouble:

The vetters were stunned by the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record. There was a 2010 Department of Justice inspector general’s investigation of Christie’s spending patterns in his job prior to the governorship, which criticized him for being “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification” and for offering “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for stays at swank hotels like the Four Seasons. There was the fact that Christie worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Securities Industry Association at a time when Bernie Madoff was a senior SIA official—and sought an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. There was Christie’s decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing. There was a defamation lawsuit brought against Christie arising out of his successful 1994 run to oust an incumbent in a local Garden State race. Then there was Todd Christie, the Governor’s brother, who in 2008 agreed to a settlement of civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he acknowledged making “hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically overcharged.”

That’s … a lot of potential scandals. On top of all that, the report about Christie’s expenses “raised questions for the vetters about Christie’s relationship with a top female deputy who accompanied him on many of the trips.” That detail, published in the book but not the excerpts, seems very potentially troublesome.

All these potential problems – Obamacare, Obama, Christie’s exotic cultural background, and the swirl of scandal – all feed into each other. Collectively they form the portrait of a man Republicans fundamentally can’t trust.

Am I suggesting Republican voters would never trust Christie? No. Under the right circumstances, Christie could overcome his many hurdles. After all, Mitt Romney also possessed enormous ideological baggage, and overcame it. But Romney benefitted from enormous luck: his only opponents were staggeringly incompetent, broke, repellant to the party establishment, or all three. Romney staggered to a drawn-out victory while running virtually unopposed.

Christie seems likely to face off against real opponents with credibility and money. The case they have to make against him is strong.


By: Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, November 6, 2013

November 7, 2013 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Need This Mr. Speaker”: How To Make John Boehner Cave On Immigration

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) generally adheres to the unwritten Republican rule that bars him from allowing votes on bills opposed by a majority of Republicans, even if they would win a majority of the full House.

But he’s caved four times this year, allowing big bills to pass with mainly Democratic support. They include repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans; providing Hurricane Sandy relief; expanding the Violence Against Women act to better cover immigrants, Native Americans, and LGBT survivors of abuse; and this week’s bill raising the debt limit and reopening the federal government.

Many presume the Republican House is a black hole sucking President Obama’s second-term agenda into oblivion. But the list of Boehner’s past retreats offers a glimmer of hope, especially to advocates of immigration reform. Though it has languished in the House, an immigration overhaul passed with bipartisan support in the Senate, and was given a fresh push by Obama in the aftermath of the debt limit deal.

The big mystery that immigration advocates need to figure out: What makes Boehner cave? Is there a common thread? Is there a sequence of buttons you can push that forces Boehner to relent?

Two of this year’s caves happened when Boehner was backed up against hard deadlines: The Jan. 1 fiscal cliff and the Oct. 17 debt limit. Failure to concede meant immediate disaster. Reject the bipartisan compromise on rolling back the Bush tax cuts, get blamed for jacking up taxes on every taxpayer. Reject the Senate’s three-month suspension of the debt limit, get blamed for sparking a global depression. Boehner held out until the absolute last minute both times, but he was not willing to risk blowing the deadline.

A third involved the response to an emergency: Hurricane Sandy. Conservative groups were determined to block disaster relief because — as with other federal disaster responses — the $51 billion legislative aid package did not include offsetting spending cuts. Lacking Republican votes, Boehner briefly withdrew the bill from consideration, unleashing fury from New York and New Jersey Republicans, including Gov. Chris Christie. While there wasn’t a hard deadline to meet, disaster relief was a time-sensitive matter, and the pressure from Christie and his allies was unrelenting. Two weeks after pulling the bill, Boehner put it on the floor, allowing it to pass over the objections of 179 Republicans.

The fourth cave occurred in order to further reform and expand a government program: The Violence Against Women Act. The prior version of the law had been expired for over a year, as conservatives in the House resisted the Senate bill in the run-up to the 2012 election. But after Mitt Romney suffered an 18-point gender gap in his loss to Obama, and after the new Senate passed its version again with a strong bipartisan vote, Boehner was unwilling to resist any longer. Two weeks later, the House passed the Senate bill with 138 Republicans opposed.

Unfortunately for immigration advocates, there is no prospect of widespread pain if reform isn’t passed. There is no immediate emergency, nor threat of economic collapse.

But there is a deadline of sorts: The 2014 midterm elections.

If we’ve learned anything about Boehner this month, it’s that he’s a party man to the bone. He dragged out the shutdown and debt limit drama for weeks, without gaining a single concession, simply so his most unruly and revolutionary-minded members would believe he fought the good fight and stay in the Republican family. What he won is party unity, at least for the time being.

What Boehner lost for his Republicans is national respectability. Republican Party approval hit a record low in both the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll and Gallup poll.

Here’s where immigration advocates have a window of opportunity to appeal to Boehner’s party pragmatism. Their pitch: The best way to put this disaster behind them is for Republicans to score a big political victory. You need this.

A year after the Republican brand was so bloodied that the Republican National Committee had to commission a formal “autopsy,” party approval is the worst it has ever been. You’ve wasted a year. Now is the time to do something that some voters will actually like.

There’s reason to hope he could be swayed. In each of the four cases in which he allowed Democrats to carry the day, he put the short-term political needs of the Republican Party over the ideological demands of right-wing activists.

Boehner will have to do another round of kabuki. He can’t simply swallow the Senate bill in a day. There will have to be a House version that falls short of activists’ expectations, followed by tense House-Senate negotiations. Probably like in the most formulaic of movies, and like the fiscal cliff and debt limit deals, there will have to be an “all-is-lost moment” right before we get to the glorious ending. Boehner will need to given the room to do all this again.

But he won’t do it without a push. A real good push.


By: Bill Scher, The Week, October 18, 2013

October 20, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Opportunistic Capitulation”: For The GOP, Spending Cuts For Thee But Not For Me, Because It’s Different This Time

But this time it’s different…

How many times have we heard those words – not as an apology for past mistakes but as a justification for one’s current actions?

It seems the GOP excels at this justification. Whether it be championing spending cuts, but then seeking to restore funding for the Federal Aviation Administration because “it’s different when they have to wait in line at the airport,” or Michelle Bachman decrying Obama’s stimulus package as “fantasy economics” and an “orgy” of government spending, but then being the first to request funding to stimulate projects in her home state of Minnesota. Ah yes, it’s just “so different.”

Recently, we saw two more such examples of opportunistic capitulating. In 2008, Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla., bragged in a press release after then-President Bush declared 24 Oklahoma counties eligible for disaster aid due to severe weather, “I am pleased that the people whose lives have been affected by disastrous weather are getting much-needed federal assistance.” But four years later he voted to deny emergency funding for those areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Then, when confronted with the prospect of providing federal disaster aid money to those decimated in Moore, Oklahoma following the devastating tornado, Inhofe pledged his unqualified support, stating on MSNBC that unlike Sandy, this is “totally different.” Really? When Americans lose their homes, possessions and livelihood due to uncontrolled natural forces, I didn’t think there really was a difference or justification for politicians to pick and choose the winners and losers.

And then there’s Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., who was elected on the tea party platform vowing to reform government such as farm programs and cut wasteful spending. During the recent House Agriculture Committee’s markup of the Farm Bill, he lived up to his promise and voted to cut $20 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as food stamps – but then turned around and SUPPORTED an increase and expansion of crop insurance subsidies by $9 billion over the next 10 years.

In committee, he claimed that SNAP funding, which goes to those whose income is below 130 percent of the federal poverty line, (mainly children, elderly and military retirees), is stealing “other people’s money that Washington is appropriating and spending,” but yet, somehow, he has no issue spending “other’s people money” to fund crop insurance subsides because they are “so different.”

The kicker: According to research by the Environment Working Group, Fincher is the second most heavily subsidized farmer in Congress and one of the largest subsidy recipients in Tennessee history. From 1999 to 2012, Fincher received $3.48 million in crop insurance subsidies.

I guess the rule-of-thumb is when it affects your personal bottom line – either financially or by impacting your prospective political longevity, things truly are different.


By: Penny Lee, U. S. News and World Report, May 29, 2013

May 30, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: