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“The Real Chris Christie”: A Power-Hungry Demagogue Indifferent To Truth

Cgovernor’s behavior even more despicable is the way Christie’s response to his critics revealed that, for him, the relevant criteria have precious little to do with public health. In a circumstance like this, during which the public’s degree of knowledge about a threat is paltry when compared to its capacity to freak out, a politician interested in displaying real leadership — the one attribute the very serious among us have decided is most vital, and one Christie has implicitly claimed for himself on multiple occasions —  would work to educate the people and maintain calm and order. Perhaps mindful of the way that this undramatic style will lead to vapid, narcissistic criticism from a press corps hungry for a flashy headline, the ever media savvy Christie has decided to go in the opposite direction.

“My first and foremost obligation is to protect the public health and safety of the people of New Jersey,” Christie said, defending his grandstanding and obscuring the fact that his actions were contrary to those recommended by experts in the field of public health. “So I’m sorry if in any way [Hickox] was inconvenienced, but the inconvenience that could occur from having folks who are symptomatic and ill out and amongst the public is a much, much greater concern of mine.” As if to make sure everyone could hear the subtext of these remarks — that Hickox was somehow acting fecklessly, despite the fact that she followed normal procedure and determined she was not an Ebola carrier — Christie added, citing no evidence whatsoever, that Hickox was “obviously ill.”

To her credit, Hickox fired back and reminded CNN viewers that Christie is not a doctor, had “never laid eyes on her,” and that she’d been asymptomatic since she arrived back in the States. And if Christie were taking his job as governor seriously, you’d figure her comments might make a dent. But as has been obvious since at least year two of his first term, Chris Christie’s overriding priority has little to do with running New Jersey and everything to do with getting himself elected as president of the United States. Keenly aware, as he no doubt is, that this will be a tall order so long as the GOP’s Tea Party base holds him in contempt, Christie is treating the Ebola, which the GOP base fears disproportionately, as an excuse to differentiate himself from someone Tea Partyers hate even more: President Obama, whose response to Ebola hysteria has, from the start, been a model of responsibility.

By that standard, Christie’s been an overwhelming success. The national discourse on Ebola is dumber, more hysterical and more politicized today than it was just 72 hours ago; and it’s primarily Christie (with an assist from the aforementioned Cuomo) whom the Tea Party should thank, and the rest of us should blame. In the pursuit of winning over a chunk of voters he’ll need to accrue further power, Gov. Christie has stoked irrational fear, demonized a member of a politically unpopular group (Ebola-fighting doctors and nurses) and added heft to some of the most rabid conspiracy theories of a Democratic president lying about a lethal threat for short-term electoral gain. This supposedly brave speaker of truth is reaching out to some of the worst forces in American politics, and he’s telling them malicious nonsense. Why? Because he knows that’s exactly what they want to hear.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, October 27, 2014

October 28, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Ebola, Media | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“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

“A Pension Jackpot For Wall Street”: A Vicious Cycle Whereby The Financial Industry Wins And Taxpayers, Once Again, Lose

Most consumers understand that when you pay an above-market premium, you shouldn’t expect to get a below-average product. Why, then, is this principle often ignored when it comes to managing billions of dollars in public pension systems?

This is one of the most significant questions facing states and cities as they struggle to meet their contractual obligations to public employees. In recent years, public officials have shifted more of those workers’ pension money into private equity, hedge funds, venture capital and other so-called “alternative investments.” In all, the National Association of State Retirement Administrators reports that roughly a quarter of all pension funds are now in these “alternative investments” — a tripling in just 12 years.

Those investments are managed by private financial firms, which charge special fees that pension systems do not pay when they invest in stock index funds and bonds. The idea is that paying those fees — which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year — will be worth it, because the alternative investments will supposedly deliver higher returns than low-fee stock index funds like the S&P 500.

Unfortunately, while these alternative investments have delivered a fee jackpot to Wall Street firms, they have often delivered poor returns, meaning the public is paying a premium for a subpar product.

In New Jersey, for example, the state’s alternative investment portfolio has trailed the stock market in seven out of the last eight years, while costing taxpayers almost $400 million a year in fees. Had the state followed the advice of investors like Warren Buffett and instead invested its alternative portfolio in a low-fee S&P 500 index fund, New Jersey would have had more than $5 billion more in its pension fund. In all, as New Jersey plowed more pension money into alternatives, its pension returns have routinely trailed median returns for all public pension systems.

It is the same story in other states that have been increasing their alternative investments.

In Rhode Island, Democratic state treasurer Gina Raimondo’s shift of pension money into alternatives has coincided with the pension system trailing median returns. Had the state generated median returns, it would have had $372 million more in its pension system.

Likewise, a Maryland Public Policy Institute study shows that returns from that state’s $40 billion pension system have trailed the median for the last decade. Had the state met the median, it would have $3.2 billion more in its pension system — an amount the study’s authors note is enough to “award 80,000 poor children with $40,000 four-year college scholarships.”

It is a similar tale in North Carolina, Kentucky and many other locales. In short, public officials are spending more and more pension money on high-fee alternative investments, and those investments are generating worse returns than other low-fee investment vehicles.

That brings back the original question: Why are pension funds pursuing such an investment strategy? Some of the answer may have to do with the same psychology that encourages the gambler to try to big-bet his way out of deficits. But it also may have to do with campaign contributions. After all, many of the politicians who have been pushing the alternative investments just so happen to benefit from Wall Street’s campaign contributions.

That spotlights a pernicious dynamic that may be at work: The more public money that goes into alternative investments, the more fees alternative investment firms generate, the more campaign contributions are made by those firms, and thus the more money politicians devote to alternative investments, even as those investments deliver poor results for pensioners. It is a vicious cycle whereby the financial industry wins and taxpayers, once again, lose.


By: David Sirota,  Senior Writer at the International Business Times; The National Memo, September 26, 2014

September 27, 2014 Posted by | Financial Industry, Public Pension System, Wall Street | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Good News, Bad News For Christie”: The Governor And His Allies May Still Not Fully Appreciate The Broader Circumstances

Given all of our previous discussions about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) bridge scandal, it’s only fair to note, as Rachel did last night, new reporting that prosecutors have not yet tied the governor directly to the infamous misdeeds.

The U.S. Justice Department investigation into Gov. Chris Christie’s role in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal has thus far uncovered no evidence indicating that he either knew in advance or directed the closure of traffic lanes on the span, federal officials tell NBC 4 New York.

The September 2013 closures – where several entrance lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee were shut down, causing a traffic nightmare for commuters – has been the subject of several federal and state investigations.

Federal officials caution that the investigation that began nine months ago is ongoing and that no final determination has been made, but say that authorities haven’t uncovered anything that indicates that Christie knew in advance or ordered the closure of traffic lanes.

We don’t yet know the source of this leak or its veracity, but it may very well be entirely true that prosecutors haven’t directly tied Christie personally to the bridge closings. Indeed, as of late yesterday, the governor seemed to be feeling pretty good about his standing, as if this WNBC report exonerated him.

But even if we assume the report is accurate, and we also assume that federal prosecutors never close in on Christie personally in the investigation into this scandal, the governor and his allies may still not fully appreciate the broader circumstances.

The Star Ledger’s editorial board, to its credit, hasn’t forgotten.

Before he finishes this victory lap, a few reminders: No one on the investigative committee has accused him of personally ordering these lane closures. It is hard to believe he would be that stupid.

But what about the cover-up? What about the bogus claim that this was all part of a traffic study? That came from Bill Baroni, Christie’s appointee as deputy executive director at the Port Authority, after he was coached for several days by senior members of Christie’s staff. Was Christie so out of touch that he was oblivious to all that? Hard to believe he was that stupid, either.

Part of the problem for Christie from the very beginning is that the governor’s best case scenario – the version of events that are the most favorable to him personally – is that Christie was such an inept and incompetent leader that has no idea that some of the top members of his team conspired to abuse their power in his name.

Under the usual conditions, this might sound like scathing criticism, but in Christie’s case, it’s his best defense. The governor and his supporters eagerly hope the WNBC report is accurate, so they can say Christie’s team deliberately crippled a New Jersey community on purpose, but the governor was too clueless to know what was going on around him.

And to this day, Christie still can’t explain the basics of how and why his handpicked team members abused the power he gave them.

For that matter, let’s also not forget that this isn’t the only Christie scandal that remains ongoing.

So I suppose what we’re left with is a good news/bad news situation for the governor. The good news, he may not personally be charged in the “Bridgeate” scandal. The bad news, the scandal isn’t over, the controversy itself still raises important questions about his competence, and there are other lingering scandals that may do lasting damage to his administration.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 19, 2014

September 21, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christie Struggles To Defend The Indefensible”: Since We Can’t Save Everyone, Chris Christie Is Not Inclined To Try To Save Anyone

New Jersey’s Democratic legislature approved a measure in the spring to limit the size of firearm magazines to 10 rounds of ammunition. In theory, it’s the sort of gun-safety reform that’s tough to condemn – it’s perfectly consistent with the Constitution; it doesn’t affect hunters; it wouldn’t prevent Americans from buying firearms to protect themselves; and it might save lives.

The bill landed on Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) desk in May, but as we talked about last week, the Republican governor waited until the day before a holiday weekend to announce he’d vetoed the legislation. As Rachel noted on the show, Christie soon after added insult to injury.

First, note that the governor refused to meet with some parents whose children were murdered in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. It’s tempting to think basic human decency, if nothing else, would lead a politician to at least hear these parents out, but Christie’s office said he was out – even though the parents said they saw the governor when they arrived at his office.

Second, note how Christie explained himself yesterday while talking to reporters.

“I’ve heard the argument, and so, are we saying, then, that the 10 children on the clip that they advocate for, that their lives are less valuable? If you take the logical conclusion of their argument, you go to zero, because every life is valuable.

“And so why 10? Why not six? Why not two? Why not one? Why not zero? Why not just ban guns completely? I mean, you know, so the logical conclusion of their argument is that you get to zero eventually.

“So, you know, I understand their argument. I feel extraordinary sympathy for them and the other families, and all the families across America who are the victims of gun violence…. I understand their argument. I’ve heard their argument. I don’t agree with their argument.”

It’s important to understand why this slippery-slope argument is so deeply flawed.

In some of the high-profile mass shootings from recent memory, the ability of the gunman to use high-capacity clips has mattered a great deal. It’s not hard to understand why: when the shooter has to stop to reload, it gives people a chance. Maybe some can get away. Maybe the gunman can be tackled. Maybe that interval, however brief, can make the difference between life and death for a potential victim.

And so lawmakers in New Jersey decided, in the name of public safety, to lower the legal limit of the magazine from 15 rounds to 10. The governor said last week such a change “will not end” gun violence, which is true, but it also misses the point. The goal here is to reduce the number of people who might get shot.

Christie wants to know if “they” – presumably, “they” refers to parents whose children were massacred – are arguing “that the 10 children on the clip that they advocate for, that their lives are less valuable.” I obviously can’t speak for them, but the governor’s cheap reply is based on deeply flawed logic.

Christie hasn’t denied that this gun-safety reform might make a difference. Instead, he’s arguing that since we can’t save everyone, he’s not inclined to try to save anyone.

And all the while, New Jersey’s Tough Guy Governor doesn’t even have the courage to sit down with Newtown parents and make his bad argument to their faces.

Rachel concluded last night, “No one is quite sure what counts as a shameful moment in New Jersey politics anymore, but the governor calling out the parents of murdered kids, for them not understanding the value of human life? This is at least testing the bounds of what is usually called shameful, if not the very definition of the word, itself.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 8, 2014

July 9, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Gun Control, High Capacity Magazines | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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