mykeystrokes.com

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

“Definitive Proof Of Failure Of Supply-Side Economics”: Kansas’ Experiment In Right-Wing Economics Is Still Failing Miserably

Every few weeks I feel it’s important to return to the ongoing disaster in Sam Brownback’s Kansas. It doesn’t get nearly as much play as it should in the media, which is unfortunate because Kansas’ experience is definitive proof of the failure of supply-side, Laffer-curve-based economic theory.

Under the leadership of Brownback and one of the most conservative legislatures in America, Kansas dramatically slashed the tax rates of Kansas’ wealthy and its corporations. According to ideology, the cuts should have jumpstarted Kansas’ economy and led to rapid growth that created jobs and helped the tax cuts pay for themselves. Of course, nothing of the sort happened.

The effect was disastrous, a slow-rolling series of budget shortfalls followed by cuts to essential services like education and roads, which only slowed the economy further. A series of punitive and regressive sin taxes on tobacco and other goods were instituted to make up for the cuts to the tax rates of the wealthy, which of course only further undermined consumer spending.

Officials in Kansas have tried to blame the problems on a slow national economy, but that is hogwash. Say what you will about the unequal distribution in gains from national economic growth, there is no doubt that the national economy is performing well by traditional metrics. It is not doing so in Kansas. Moreover, Kansas’ neighboring states are doing far better than it is.

It’s not local economic variations. Kansas’ troubles really are directly the fault of its tax cuts. They didn’t boost the economy–they slowed it down.

And now Kansans are paying the price. Even more cuts are coming, including devastating cuts to road maintenance through thefts from its already plundered Department of Transportation. These cuts to transportation (totaling over $2 billion in a small state!) are leading to deferred maintenance that will, of course, be incredibly expensive to deal with at a time when borrowing costs will likely be far higher than they are now.

This is on top of the damage Brownback is already doing to the state’s K-12 and university education systems, causing good teachers and professors to flee to more hospitable states. It’s a complete disaster.

The nation’s eyes should be trained on Kansas. This is what happens when you put Republicans in charge with the freedom to pursue their economic ideology. It’s not just a moral train wreck in terms of inequality and shared prosperity. It doesn’t even work to keep the lights on and make the trains run on time. Conservative economic orthodoxy is completely dysfunctional for running governments and society because it’s built on assumptions that aren’t true: rich people don’t create jobs, cutting their taxes doesn’t stimulate growth, cutting government services doesn’t “free up” capital to be spent on private sector growth, etc. What actually happens is that the rich simply hoard more money, corporations build up savings in their balance sheets, government cuts damage public confidence and infrastructure, and regular people don’t have as much money to spend, which dries up the consumer confidence and spending that is the real driver of job and economic growth.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 3, 2016

July 5, 2016 Posted by | Kansas, Sam Brownback, Supply Side Economics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Only Fix Things After The Worst Has Happened”: The Conservative Case For Strengthening Amtrak

The Amtrak crash in Pennsylvania killed eight people and injured dozens more. It has sparked much hand-wringing in the media, though its death toll is surpassed every few hours on American highways.

Still, Republicans have not hesitated in their plan to sharply cut Amtrak subsidies, recently voting on legislation to do just that. One GOP congressman called Amtrak a “Soviet-style operation,” which presumably means he would prefer abolishing Amtrak altogether.

But Republicans, as the ostensible party of conservatism, have an obligation to consider the extant fact of Amtrak, which is a critical institution for millions of Americans. By supposed conservative principles, it is not appropriate to sacrifice the current needs of existing people in pursuit of an ideological utopia.

Michael Oakeshott famously described the conservative temperament as follows:

To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. [On Being Conservative]

It may be the case that slashing Amtrak’s subsidies or selling it to private companies would result in an overall improvement in service at some future point. (If you care to poke around, successful national rail is operated on all sorts of ownership grounds, from mostly private in Japan to state-owned in Sweden.)

But it is inarguably true that right now millions of Americans depend on Amtrak as it currently exists. It’s a tried, factual, actually existing institution that works well enough for the more than 30 million people who choose to take it every year. Indeed, ridership is actually up 50 percent since 2000. Most of that business is done in the Northeast Corridor, where the population is concentrated enough for true high-speed rail to be a reasonable proposition (someday).

However, it’s also an institution in need of help. As I’ve written before, Amtrak faces a slow-motion emergency regarding its two tunnels under the Hudson River connecting New York City to New Jersey. They’re over a century old, and due to flooding during Hurricane Sandy, will need a total overhaul at some point in the next several years.

Back in 2009, there was a capacity expansion planned that would have alleviated the pressure. That’s out of the question now, thanks to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who bogarted some of the money so he wouldn’t have to raise the gas tax.

A new tunnel under the Hudson is by far the most important potential piece of infrastructure in the nation. Four hundred thousand commuters go through the existing tunnels every weekday. If one were to shut down (or, God forbid, collapse), the total throughput would be cut by something like 75 percent, because the remaining tunnel would have to go both ways. A great many of those people simply would not be able to get to their jobs during rush hour.

Any looming disaster like this presents a choice. A crisis might be the opportune time for reform. But it is simply preposterous to imagine that a new tunnel could be built without substantial federal support. With a likely cost of $7-10 billion, it’s probably too expensive for private corporations to even finance in the first place. (Though it was a private train company that built the original tunnels, there are none remotely that big anymore.)

So my question for all the supposed conservatives out there champing at the bit to abolish Amtrak: What say you to the 400,000 daily New Jersey commuters, or the 30 million Amtrak customers generally? On Oakeshottian grounds, I’d say that conservatives are obligated to make some accommodation of those people, regardless of their ideology about markets.

It doesn’t seem very conservative, much less responsible, to simply procrastinate and only fix things after the worst has happened — which is what’s going to happen.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, May 18, 2015

May 19, 2015 Posted by | Amtrak, Conservatives, Infrastructure | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Next Amtrak Catastrophe”: This Is Still An Infrastructure Story

Maybe five or six years ago, I was reading a magazine article about The Beatles’ first trip to America in 1964, a topic on which I am something of an expert. As some of you will know, they did Ed Sullivan’s show and then took a train from New York to Washington DC, where they performed their first live U.S. concert (with a young Al Gore in attendance, fwiw).

I was reading along learning nothing new because I know all there is to know about all that until I came across a line that just staggered me. It wasn’t anything about the group; rather, it was a reference to their “two hour and 15 minute train trip.” Their what?! That trip today, as you know, is at best two hours and 40 minutes, but that is only for the “high-speed” Acela, and in truth that’s only theoretical. It’s usually more like two hours and 55 minutes. That is, if it gets there, as we might add after Tuesday night’s tragedy.

It seemed totally beyond belief that the train ride from New York to Washington could have been faster in 1964 than it was the year I was reading this article. But it was true: I was so floored by this that I called Amtrak and some rail experts I know to check, and it checked out. The reason: aging sections of track that trains have to slow down for.

Technology is supposed to go forward, not backward, especially here in the US of A. In the years since, American go-getters of various stripes have invented computers and smart phones and have seen to it that pizzas reach our doorstep in half an hour and perfected the chips that taste like melted cheese. But somehow, our trains, running in our nation’s most commercially important and rail-dependent corridor, are slower.

As I’m writing these words, we don’t yet know the reason for the Tuesday night derailment in North Philly. The preliminary informed conjecture points toward speed. It’s an area of the Northeast Corridor route that’s rated at 50 mph. If you know the route, you know why—it’s urban (just two or three miles north of the Philadelphia Zoo, which you can see out to the right on northbound trains), and it’s curvy. It seems the train was going well in excess of that speed.

So, speed, you say; well that’s probably just human error, so at least I won’t have to listen to the liberals bellyache about infrastructure. Sorry to disappoint, but this is still an infrastructure story. Here’s why.

There’s this thing in the train game called PTC—Positive Train Control. Basically, it would allow for a modernized version of what happened back in the original The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three, when an override switch stopped that Number 6 barreling toward doom in lower Manhattan. It would break track into sections, establish safe speeds for each, and use broadband connectivity in a way that would permit a train’s computers to override the conductor if the train is exceeding the safe speed and slam on the brakes.

Amtrak is installing PTC on the Northeast Corridor, and in fairness to Congress, it has mandated that Amtrak do so and provided funding to do it, although not as quickly as Amtrak has requested. Right now PTC is installed only on three short-ish sections of the Northeast Corridor—for example, from Perryville, Maryland to Wilmington. If this incident had happened there, the derailment presumably would not have happened.

Congress is constantly shorting Amtrak, and especially the Northeast Corridor, even though the Northeast Corridor makes all the money ($500 million a year, roughly). See, it works like this. It’s the same old story of the red states—you know, where they hate government—getting largesse from the blue states.

There are three categories of Amtrak routes. The first is the Northeast Corridor routes, which bring in all the dough. The second are certain intrastate routes—Albany to Buffalo, say, or Harrisburg to Pittsburgh; for these, the states have to make up any operating deficits, so by law these have to break even. Third are the long-haul interstate routes out West. These are huge money losers, and a lot of the routes should just be cut, probably, but the Republicans running Congress won’t allow that, even as they keep wanting to slash Amtrak funding overall. Rather incredibly, the House Appropriations committee stood firm on approving a $260 million cut (nearly 20 percent) to Amtrak from the previous year on Wednesday—literally the day after the tragedy, strictly along party lines. Amtrak asked for about $2 billion for next year. It may end up getting as little as $1.14 billion.

So down the road, here’s what’s going to happen. Right now, there are two tunnels under the Hudson River that carry all the passenger train traffic back and forth between New York and New Jersey. They’re a hundred years old. During Hurricane Sandy, they were flooded with salt water, which experts say sped up their deterioration. They might have to be taken out of service in seven to 10 years.

They will be taken out of service one at a time of course. But imagine what a reduction from two tunnels to one would do to service. The delays would be unbearable. Think about when one lane is closed on a two-lane highway. It doesn’t merely double your travel time during peak hours. It can triple it. So imagine boarding a train at Penn Station at 6 pm, moving 50 feet, and sitting there for 40 minutes before the tunnel is clear.

Two new tunnels are needed, and given the time that’s involved in design and environmental review and so on, seven years is just around the corner. The cost is $7 billion. That’s not chump change, but it’s a fraction of the cost of Marco Rubio’s aggressively stupid tax cuts. And even if Hillary Clinton and not Rubio is the president, two new tunnels are still going to be awfully hard to come by, although by God that all-important route across northern Montana is going to stay open—and with we Northeasterners paying for it.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 14, 2015

May 16, 2015 Posted by | Amtrak, Congress, Infrastructure | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Boehner Rejects Amtrak Question As ‘Stupid'”: U.S. Investment In Infrastructure Has Become A National Embarrassment

It became clear yesterday that congressional Republicans came up with one talking point in response to the deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia: “human error.”

The point, of course, is obvious. If the Amtrak 188 tragedy was the result of a person making a mistake, then there’s no need for federal policymakers to act, there’s no need for Congress to make additional investments in infrastructure, and there’s no need for Republicans to be embarrassed by slashing Amtrak’s budget just hours after the accident.

This morning, as National Journal noted, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) didn’t hold back on this point.

Boehner downright dismissed claims that underfunding for the rail system was responsible for the derailment in Philadelphia that killed at least seven people and injured 200 on Tuesday night.

“Are you really gonna ask such a stupid question?” Boehner said during his Thursday morning press conference when a reporter began to ask about Democratic concerns that Amtrak was underfunded because of Republicans. “They started this yesterday: ‘It’s all about funding. It’s all about funding.’ Well, obviously it is not about funding. The train was going twice the speed limit.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sounded a similar note on Fox News this morning, dismissing those who want to increase “the size of government programs,” all in response to an accident he said was “human error.”

The congressman added that he hopes “people won’t seize on political opportunities out of tragedies like this” to spend more money.

Let’s set the record straight.

Just on a surface level, even without consideration of the tragedy in Philadelphia, U.S. investment in infrastructure has become a national embarrassment. The United States used to lead the world in infrastructure innovation and development, and the more Republicans decided public investment in “government programs” is necessarily bad, the more other countries have surpassed us.

But specifically on this week’s Amtrak disaster, to dismiss this as nothing more than a tragic case of “human error” is to overlook the relevant details.

According to Boehner, “obviously it is not about funding.” In reality, it’s also obvious that a Positive Train Control system could have prevented the accident.

It’s equally obvious that PTC is not free. If Congress wanted to invest in the system, it could have. Indeed, it can make those investments now. At least for now, however, Boehner and his party don’t see it as a priority.

This might make the Speaker uncomfortable, but it’s anything but “a stupid question.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 14, 2015

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Amtrak, Infrastructure, John Boehner | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Hey, America… All Of You, C’mon Down”: Hurry On Down To Florida Before South Beach Is Underwater

“I have a message today to the people of New York, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania and others: Move to Florida!”

Such was the sunny welcome put forth by Gov. Rick Scott at his second inaugural last week in Tallahassee, FL.

Quit your jobs, pack up your families and get down here as fast as you can. Twenty million people aren’t enough — Florida needs more!

I was thinking the same thing the other day on I-95, when I glanced in the rearview mirror and actually saw about eight feet of air between my bumper and the tanker truck behind me.

The first thing that sprang to mind was: Hey, another car could fit in there!

Not a regular-sized car, true, but maybe one of those adorable little Smart cars that you sometimes see on the streets of Manhattan or Chicago. It was a revelation.

Probably 99 out of 100 drivers in Florida would say our traffic already sucks, with a little imagination and no concern for the quality of life, there’s always room for more.

So you go, Gov. Scott! Keep on spreading the word.

The thought again popped into my head as I passed a middle school where every classroom has about 30 students, which most teachers will tell you are too many.

Know what? That school didn’t seem so crowded, at least from the outside.

The county had trucked in rows of windowless portable classrooms and painted them the same earthtone color as the main school building, so they looked hardly anything like warehouse storage.

Also, there was plenty of space for more portables at the east end of the soccer field.

So, everybody, listen to Gov. Scott! Bring your kids down to Florida and, by God, we’ll find a way to shoehorn the little imps into one of our schools.

And don’t be spooked by the fact that we spend less per pupil on education than 47 other states, because we make up for it in so many other ways.

Low taxes, for example. The governor loves to brag about Florida’s low taxes.

You might think it’s a sore subject among Floridians, this being the time of year when many of us are staring at our property-tax bills and wondering why they keep going up, up, up.

It’s because irresponsibly jamming so many humans together requires somebody (and it’s never the developers!) to pay for the roads, bridges, sewers, fire stations, extra police officers and so on. That somebody who pays is us.

So what’s Gov. Scott really talking about when he says our state has low taxes?

Get ready, future Floridans! Here’s the big celebrated tax break that the governor and the Legislature gave to all residents last year:

They cut the cost of our vehicle license tags by an average of $25. That’s not a typo, folks. Twenty-five whole buckeroos.

I still haven’t figured out what to do with all of it. Treasury bonds? High-cap stocks?

If a double-digit cut in auto-tag fees isn’t enough to bring caravans of U-Hauls streaming into the Sunshine State, then I don’t know what will.

The other morning I was driving through the Everglades thinking: Isn’t this swamp water finally clean enough? Really, how much urban runoff could a few million more people possibly dump?

We’ve probably got enough fish, wildlife and wading birds to last one more generation. What we really need are more subdivisions full of humans flushing toilets.

Aside from water shortages, saltwater intrusion, sink holes, red tides and the ludicrous cost of windstorm insurance, one thing that might keep newcomers away is fear.

Please don’t judge by what you read in the papers or see on TV, or by the latest FBI stats, which show Florida has more violent crimes per capita than New York, Illinois, California or Pennsylvania — all the places Gov. Scott is urging people to flee.

True, all types of criminals love it down here because of the climate. But while our prisons have been wretchedly overcrowded, additional cell space has become available under Scott’s administration due to a surge of untimely (and unexplained) inmate deaths.

So don’t be scared of Florida. Hurry on down before South Beach is underwater. We’re desperate for more people. We love sitting in traffic. We love standing in line.

Promised the governor: “Over the next four years, I will be traveling to your states personally, to recruit you here.”

Go get ‘em, you crazy Martian goofball!

Lie all you want about low taxes, and don’t say a word about the pythons.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, January 13, 2015

January 14, 2015 Posted by | Florida, Rick Scott | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: