Jazz You Too

Trombonist Gianluca Petrella is often associated with trumpet player Enrico Rava, this quartet is really a true pleasure to listen to. The piece, Lazy Moon, is true fun, Lester Bowie and his Brass Fantasy are clearly evoked, Gianluca is a progressive yet strongly embedded in the tradition musician making his electronic sound rather recognizable!

Gianluca Petrella – trombone, live electronics, samples Francesco Bearzatti – tenor sax, clarinet Paolino Dalla Porta – bass Fabio Accardi – drums

gianluca petrella

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New York City seeks a better way for people to enter its subway than by swiping flimsy plastic cards

Laugh at Hillary Clinton’s highly visible New York subway gaffe all you want, but every public transit rider in the city has secretly fumbled with the underground transport’s payment system.

The user-unfriendly MetroCard, which riders need to swipe through a turnstile for entrance to the city’s underground transport system, looks like it will be phased out in the next few years. That’s what the Metropolitan Transit Authority—New York City’s transportation agency—claims in its new proposal for a “new fare payment system.”

What that system will be is yet to be determined. The MTA says it is looking for a “systems integrator to design, furnish, install, test, integrate and implement an account-based new fare payment and collection system based on open bank card payment industry standards that will utilize contactless media, including contactless smart cards and mobile devices.” In other words: All the agency knows is it wants something that isn’t a thin piece of plastic with a magnetic strip.

Electronic cards are one option. Riders in London and some US cities like Chicago use such cards, tapping them on digital readers as the enter and exit the system. Near-field communication technology, utilized by taxis in Europe, as well as systems like Apple Pay, is also being explored. Those systems have issues, though; for instance, every subway rider would need a credit card.

In any case, the city hopes to roll out a new payment system starting in 2019. That suggests the MTA’s in-the-works Second Avenue subway line will likely not see MetroCards. That is, if the city government can keep its promises about that project, too.

Amy X. Wang

All aboard! Iconic Lackawanna Railroad character Phoebe Snow to be celebrated at gala this weekend

Above: Diana Pohl, assistant director of public safety at Cabrini College has portrayed Phoebe Snow since 2005.

It all started with a girl in a white dress.

In 1900, Lackawanna Railroad became the premier means of travel in the Northeast, thanks to Phoebe Snow, a fictional New York socialite and habitual passenger of the railroad.

Phoebe Snow was said to exclusively ride Lackawanna Railroad trains because they were powered by clean-burning anthracite coal, which was found in abundance in Scranton, the site of Lackawanna Railroad’s operating headquarters, as well as the city’s surrounding regions.

The Electric City honors Lackawanna Railroad’s leading lady Saturday during The Phoebe Snow Gala at Radisson at Lackawanna Station hotel, 700 Lackawanna Ave.

“Phoebe Snow ties together so many themes from our area in particular,” said Dominic Keating, chairman of Pennsylvania Regional Railroad Authority and a part of Friends of Northeast Railroading Association. “Footprint of Lackawanna Railroad is everywhere in Scranton.”

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., folks will learn the history of Phoebe Snow, her preferred way of travel, and the streamline passenger train that was named after her, through lectures, artifact and photo displays, and informational tours of the original Lackawanna Railroad mosaics in the hotel lobby.

Guests can get up close and personal with the namesake of the event as Diana Pohl, a Phoebe Snow impersonator, mingles with the crowd. A “Little Miss Phoebe Snow” contest will take place at noon, featuring a group of girls ages three to six, decked out in their best all-white ensemble.

There is a $10 suggested donation at the door which will benefit restoration of Boston & Maine steam locomotive No. 3713 and Erie Lackawanna Dining Car Preservation Society. Admission is free for children under 12.

Advertising executive Earnest Elmo Calkins first came up with the idea of Phoebe Snow while working on an ad campaign for Lackwanna Railroad.

At the time, trains were powered by bituminous coal that emitted thick, black smoke and covered passengers with soot.

Lackawanna Railroad trains used anthracite coal that was mined in surrounding regions and burned cleaned. Passengers’ clothing would remain spotless throughout the trip on an anthracite-powered train, and Phoebe Snow’s bright white dress was proof.

Phoebe Snow also was a role model for women at the time. Young women in their 20s in the early 1900s had more money and more freedom. They traveled unescorted, played tennis, and went boating and canoeing.

“Phoebe Snow really set the stage for liberating the image of women from ‘stay-at-homes’ to enjoying healthy and active lives,” Mr. Keating said. “She could get to the places they wanted to go to.”

Though she was a fictional character, Phoebe Snow was a celebrity during her time. Charles Libretto, owner of an electrical lighting business and former Reading Railroad conductor, said about 10,000 people gathered to catch a glimpse of Marion Murray, a professional model who portrayed Phoebe Snow her entire life, when she came to Scranton.

“She was quite popular and brought a lot of fame to the area,” said Mr. Libretto, who also is a part of Friends of Northeast Railroading Association. “She became a big hit wherever she went.”

Ms. Pohl has portrayed Phoebe Snow ever since she entered a look-a-like contest in 2005. Today, she attends many events throughout the year as the character, including Railfest at Steamtown National Historic Site.

She enjoys to be a part of the historical significance of Phoebe Snow and stir up nostalgia for people at events. Ms. Pohl is happy to lend her talents to events that give back, too.

“It’s an honor to be able to portray her and to help for a cause,” she said. “I enjoy helping out.”

Both Mr. Libretto and Mr. Keating agree the likeness between Phoebe Snow and Ms. Pohl is uncanny.

“I feel like I’m with Phoebe Snow,” Mr. Keating said. “I have trouble calling her ‘Diana.’”

Mr. Libretto believes Phoebe Snow is important to the history of the railroad and influenced the growth of Scranton. It’s something he is eager to share with residents at the gala.

“There’s a story there to be told,” he said.

Contact the writer:

If you go

What: The Phoebe Snow Gala

When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Radisson at Lackawanna Station hotel, 700 Lackawanna Ave.

Details: Lectures, walking tours and refreshments will be available throughout the day. There is a $10 suggested donation at the door. Proceeds will benefit restoration of Boston & Maine steam locomotive No. 3713 and Erie Lackawanna Dining Car Preservation Societublished: April 14, 2016

Passenger-less train derails in New Canaan

NEW CANAAN — While there were no reports of injuries Thursday morning in what Metro-North Railroad called a “minor derailment,” the incident inconvenienced riders and drew criticism.

The train that derailed in New Canaan was slowly being moved into the station’s yard when a wheel left the tracks, rail officials said. The mishap caused up to 60-minute delays for commuters, because the disabled train was blocking other rail traffic.

No passengers were on board and crew members were not hurt, Metro-North said.

But state Sen. Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said the incident was still worrisome.

“It should not be going off the tracks,” said Boucher, a ranking member on the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee.

“The New Canaan line is popular, and has all the things the other branches should have,” she said, referring to improvements in New Canaan that have been long sought for other branches, such as the Danbury line, which still uses diesel trains.

“This is of great concern,” Boucher said. “What is disconcerting is, what if there had been passengers on board?”

Metro-North Spokesman Aaron Donovan said the train was “being moved into the New Canaan yard briefly, with the intent that it would relay back out and be put into service for passengers.”

The cause of the derailment remained under investigation by Metro-North, Donovan said. A spokesperson for the National Transportation Board said that agency would not conduct an additional investigation into the mishap.

Metro-North and other rail carriers have a recent history of serious accidents, including the May 2013 derailment in Bridgeport that injured more than 70 passengers. The cause was of that incident was determined to be a section of broken track.

In December 2013, a Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx after the engineer fell asleep, killing four people and injuring 63. Recently, two railroad workers were killed when an Amtrak train crashed into a backhoe that was on the tracks near Philadelphia.

James Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group, said he did not hear any complaints about Thursday’s derailment and the resulting delays.

“It is spring break week for the local schools so ridership is down,” Cameron noted.

“I don’t know any details on the derailment,” Cameron said. “One photo I saw made it look like it was on a grade crossing, maybe Grove Street or Richmond Hill. That’s technically in the New Canaan “yard,” but it’s not really a yard. I know they did a lot of grade crossing work at Grove Street recently.”

The incident caused the cancellation of two trains from the New Canaan station to Grand Central Terminal. Substitute bus service was provided on the line for the 10:02 a.m. train departing Stamford making all stops to New Canaan.

Environmental Racism Persists, and the EPA Is One Reason Why

The EPA office tasked with policing alleged civil rights abuses is chronically unresponsive to complaints and has never made a formal finding of discrimination


he invasion of sewer flies moved residents of University Place subdivision to turn to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for help. Darting from a neighboring sewage plant, the flies descended upon the mostly African-American neighborhood in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with such regularity that one resident posted this warning sign: Beware of attack fly.

In 2009, residents grew so sickened by the flies, odors and pollution emanating from the city’s North Wastewater Treatment Plant that they sought out the federal agency that has touted the importance of tackling environmental racism.

“The citizens of University Place Subdivision are still suffering through the dreadful, unhealthy, and downright shameful conditions forced upon this community,” wrote Gregory Mitchell, whose mother, Mamie, erected that attack-fly warning atop her home, in a complaint filed with the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights.

A little-known niche within the EPA, the civil-rights office has one mission: to ensure agencies that get EPA funding — like the city of Baton Rouge — not act in a discriminatory manner. The mandate comes from Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, a sweeping law prohibiting racial discrimination by those receiving federal financial assistance. Experts say the provision presents a significant legal tool for combating environmental injustice.

Time and again, however, communities of color living in the shadows of sewage plants, incinerators, steel mills, landfills and other industrial facilities across the country — from Baton Rouge to Syracuse, Phoenix to Chapel Hill — have found their claims denied by the EPA’s civil-rights office, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and NBC News shows. In its 22-year history of processing environmental discrimination complaints, the office has never once made a formal finding of a Title VI violation.

Months after receiving the Baton Rouge community’s Title VI complaint, the office rejected it. Investigators declined to examine the claim that the city had violated the civil rights of black property owners around the North plant, citing a pending lawsuit filed by residents against the city.

In 2010, Mitchell and neighbors again turned to the EPA and, again, the agency said no. Settling their lawsuit later that year, the residents logged a third complaint charging the city had discriminated against them. This time, the EPA rejected it on another technicality — it was “not timely.”

By 2012, they had returned to the EPA a fourth time, only to get a fourth rejection. Few communities have been rebuffed more than Baton Rouge. The distinction has left residents like Mitchell feeling as though regulators “say something to blow you off and just forget about it.”

“Under the EPA’s civil-rights division,” he said, “nothing is done.”

A pattern of rejection

The Baton Rouge case is extreme but not unique. The Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking every Title VI complaint submitted to the office, and every resolution of those complaints, since the mid-1990s. The agency produced records representing most of the complaints handled in that time, but not all. The records, consisting of thousands of pages of documents, cover 265 Title VI cases and stretch from 1996 to mid-2013.

The records reveal a striking pattern: More than nine of every 10 times communities have turned to it for help, the civil-rights office has either rejected or dismissed their Title VI complaints. In the majority, the office rejected claims without pursuing investigations. On the few occasions that it did, it dismissed cases more often than it proposed sanctions or remedies. Records show the office has failed to execute its authority to investigate claims even when it has reason to believe discrimination could be occurring, such as in Baton Rouge.

Of the cases reviewed by the Center, the EPA:

    • Rejected 162 without investigation;


    • Dismissed 52 upon investigation;


    • Referred 14 to other agencies, including the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services and Transportation;


    • Resolved 12 with voluntary or informal agreements;


  • Accepted 13 for investigations that remain open today, the oldest begun in 1996.

The EPA rejected complaints for a host of procedural reasons, records show. The most common reason (95 cases), complaints were denied was because the EPA said their targets did not receive agency funding, as is required by law. Other complaints (62) came in too late for action, it said, because they fell outside a 180-day time limit that the agency has authority to waive. Still others (52) were tossed because of “insufficient” claims, meaning they did not adequately describe the alleged discriminatory acts forbidden under Title VI. The EPA, in essence, requires complainants to have knowledge of civil-rights law and other nuances before filing a case. They are assumed to know, for example, that Title VI does not apply to private companies unless they receive EPA funding.

One thing is clear: While the reasons vary, the EPA’s civil-rights office rarely closes Title VI complaints alleging environmental injustice with formal action on behalf of communities of color.

Indeed, as the records reveal, the agency often found allegations “moot” precisely because of its own inaction. Agency regulations set a 20-day deadline for the office to determine whether it will investigate a case. Yet in cases dismissed as moot — nine over 17 years, or 4 percent — the EPA took, on average, 254 days — excluding weekends and holidays — just to make such a jurisdictional decision.

The delay, in itself, is a form of denial. At times, the EPA has taken so long to decide whether to open an inquiry that situations on the ground changed — an asphalt plant closed, for instance, or a waste facility withdrew its permit application. Other times, communities have remained in limbo for years as agency investigators ruled on the alleged discrimination.

In July, five communities — in Alabama, Michigan, Texas, New Mexico and California — sued the EPA for failing to finish investigations pending for more than a decade. The litigation, filed by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, challenged what it called the agency’s “pattern and practice of unreasonable delay…” The delays have forced residents to endure pollution from a landfill, an oil refinery and three power plants, the lawsuit said. The EPA itself classifies two of the power plants and the refinery as “significant” violators of the Clean Air Act.

Even among the small universe of cases sparking action — 64 over 17 years, or 25 percent — records suggest the civil-rights office rarely closes investigations with formal sanctions or remedies. Under Title VI, EPA officials can correct an act deemed discriminatory by requiring reforms, or overturning decisions. It can also withhold funding or refer cases to the Justice Department for prosecution.

Only nine cases have been settled through agreements brokered between agency officials and targets of complaints. Another three cases have been closed through “alternative dispute resolutions,” meaning the complainants and the targets hashed out solutions.

Asked about this record, the EPA did not dispute the Center’s findings. Instead, the head of the EPA’s civil-rights office, Velveta Golightly-Howell, declined to discuss cases prior to her tenure, which began in February 2014. In a half-hour telephone interview with the Center and NBC News, she stressed that the EPA is committed to “making a visible difference in communities,” and is “making a lot of strides” to improve its Title VI enforcement.

“It is important to note that ‘finding a formal Title VI violation’ is not the ultimate objective as [a] civil rights office,” Golightly-Howell said in a written response to follow-up questions. “The most important objective is to bring about prompt and effective resolution of cases in order to address discrimination issues as quickly and thoroughly as possible.”

She acknowledged that “there have been some problems in the past” processing Title VI complaints.

“We cannot focus on the past because there’s nothing we can do about it,” she said. “We can, however … focus on the present and the future, and that’s what we’re doing.”

To advocates, the EPA’s pattern of denials, delays and dismissals speaks louder than the agency’s words — from not only Golightly-Howell, but also Administrator Gina McCarthy, who in March gave the keynote address at a national conference on environmental justice, in Washington, D.C. Throughout her 20-minute speech, the administrator touted how the agency has promoted environmental justice in disadvantaged communities across the country. Not once did she mention the agency’s civil-rights office.

Listening to McCarthy’s speech, Richard Moore, an advocate from New Mexico, said, “You have to put the proof in the pudding. At the end of the day, we see no major activity taking place through [the agency’s] Office of Civil Rights.”

Searing critiques

The dysfunction has been well known to EPA officials for years. Auditors and advocates alike have criticized the agency’s civil-rights office for such systemic failures as compiling a lengthy backlog, having an opaque complaint process and misconstruing a key legal standard. In the past decade, reviewers, internal and external, have offered critiques.

One of the most damning was a 2011 Deloitte Consulting report that concluded the office “has not adequately adjudicated Title VI complaints.”

The EPA moved slowly to process complaints, Deloitte found. “Only 6% of the 247 Title VI complaints [reviewed by Deloitte] have been accepted or dismissed within the Agency 20-day time limit,” the audit stated. The backlog of cases stretched back a decade, to 2001.

The report depicted an office in turmoil. Managers had little ability to track employee performance. Record keeping was spotty. The civil-rights program took few steps to tap into EPA’s larger resources, and connect with state environmental agencies — a lack of outreach that left it operating in an insular fashion.

The result: An office that appeared more ceremonial than meaningful, with communities left in the lurch.

Since Golightly-Howell joined the office last year, she said, the focus has been on “creating a robust and revitalized civil rights enforcement program.”

In the years following the Deloitte audit, the office has taken steps to address its findings — tackling its massive backlog, for instance, and issuing two agency-wide orders to create what she called a “model” civil rights program.

The office has been “proactive,” Golightly-Howell said, adding a grant condition ensuring that those receiving EPA funding comply with civil-rights law. According to a progress report released in May, the office is also developing a “toolkit” to help state and local agencies understand the law, as well as a manual for EPA investigators who examine complaints.

“The whole goal is not to have complaints sitting in the office for years and years and years without there being some resolution,” Golightly-Howell said.

For communities, the changes have meant little.

That has been true, for example, for residents of the Rogers Road-Eubanks Road neighborhood, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, whose case has been stuck in the EPA’s Title VI complaint pipeline for eight years now.

The historically African-American neighborhood is the site of an expansive county solid-waste landfill and transfer station collecting auto parts, biological waste, transformers — “you name it,” said Robert Lee Campbell, of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association. In 2007, the association filed a Title VI complaint alleging that local government agencies discriminated against the adjacent black property owners, first siting the landfill there, and then not providing such basic amenities as water and sewer services. It followed up with a 2011 addendum of allegations to bolster its case.

It took nearly a year for residents to hear from the EPA’s civil-rights office, which in 2008 and again in 2011 requested more information. Over the years, Campbell recalled his association and its lawyers sending the agency 12, two-pound boxes of documentation. They fielded occasional phone calls from an ever-rotating roster of agency investigators.

“We were always getting, ‘We’re still looking into the complaint,’ ” said Campbell, who has lived 2,500 feet from the dump site since the 1970s. “Not a whole lot about what they were going to do to help us.”

By 2013, the EPA had denied some of the residents’ claims on procedural grounds, but not all. The agency accepted the amended complaint for investigation almost a year after the county, responding to residents’ decades-old political activism, shuttered the landfill. In its place the county has installed trash-disposal operations handling yard debris and electronics waste, along with a recycling center.

Today, the case is languishing on the agency’s current list of 17 open investigations.

“We have no idea what’s happening,” said Mark Dorosin, of the University of North Carolina’s Center for Civil Rights, which has handled the complaint. “It’s been very frustrating.”

Cases that have seen action from the EPA since the Deloitte report have not necessarily fared better.

Consider the outcome for residents in California’s San Joaquin Valley, who, as far back as 1994, complained to the EPA about the sulfur and garlic-like chemical odors and the clusters of chronic illnesses surrounding three hazardous-waste facilities there. The mostly Latino communities of Kettleman City, Buttonwillow and Westmorland bore the brunt of these impacts, residents said, yet had little opportunity to participate in the permitting processes.

The EPA’s civil-rights office accepted the complaint for investigation in 1995, but took 17 years to examine the allegations. Only after residents had sued the EPA, in 2011, did the agency act.

In 2012, the EPA dismissed the case without ruling on whether the sites discriminated against residents. The agency also said it could trace no adverse health impacts to the three facilities, even though they lie within an area the agency has found exceeds all air-quality standards. EPA’s decision came down in the middle of the lawsuit, which the court then dismissed as moot. An appellate court affirmed that decision.

“Congress wanted agencies to enforce [Title VI],” said Brent Newell, of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, in San Francisco, which was involved in the so-called Padres case, and has filed multiple complaints on behalf of minority communities nationwide. “What’s the point of having the agency if they’re not going to do it?”

Strong odors, swarms of bugs

In Baton Rouge, residents of the University Place subdivision have not given up on the EPA’s civil-rights office — yet. Viewing theirs as a classic struggle against environmental discrimination, they have pressed the agency for help — again and again — in recent years.

“I wanted EPA to do its job,’” said Gregory Mitchell, the lead community activist, explaining why he and as many as 312 other residents have signed on to the Title VI complaints.

When the North sewage plant began operating in 1960, the structure was barely visible to its neighbors. Over the years, the city has transformed it into an industrial complex stretching for blocks, separated from houses by a two-lane road. As the plant grew larger, community staples faded. A ballpark was closed, a community store shuttered. In their place came the flies and the stench.

State records document the hazards.

In 1998, a memo from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals detailed “strong odors” coming from the sewage plant, and “filter flies nesting all under carport walls and side entrance door” at Mamie Mitchell’s house adjacent the sewage plant. In 2009, the same department documented, again, “flies on the windows, around the doors, and on the walls under the carport.”

The problem was so bad, Mitchell said, that the city used to supply her with air fresheners and boxes of bug killers. Still, the swarms kept coming, fouling the outdoor calm she said she found when she moved to the house in 1972.

By the time she and other residents turned to the EPA’s civil-rights office six years ago, they had long since sued the city. Their lawsuit, filed in 1996, was stuck in the courts for more than a decade. It ended in 2010 with a ruling that the plaintiffs were not entitled to recover personal-injury damages.

Clean Water Act litigation filed by the residents and a local environmental group eventually yielded some relief, helping to lay the groundwork for a city vote in 2013 to relocate some away from the sewage plant and to create a “buffer” area, a process that is ongoing.

All the while, residents have pushed the EPA for help. Gregory Mitchell did not sit idly as the civil-rights office weighed his requests for action, and then dismissed them starting in 2010. He peppered regulators with constant pleas.

“We the citizens/I would like an update on the status of the civil rights and EJ [environmental justice] paper work which has been in your office for a very long time,” he wrote in May 2012.

An agency official asked him to include the EPA file number with his emails. Mitchell did so that June, and added another plea. “We have been in constant contact with your office over the years,” he wrote. “We consent again to your office to do what is needed, because our civil rights and EJ rights are continuing to be violated.”

A day later, June 6, 2012, Mitchell asked for a written status update. “Please detail what your office has done, is doing, and will continue to do,” he wrote. “Our community is still suffering.”

Another official told him his latest complaint was still under jurisdictional review, meaning the agency was considering whether to open an investigation. By August of 2012, plant critics’ patience was wearing thin.

“Why is this office taking so long to accept our claims,” Mitchell wrote the EPA. “Time for this office to take action and not play games with our lives.”

The EPA closed that complaint, like the previous complaints. Its final rejection letter said Mitchell did not cite a specific allegation within the 180-day window. “OCR independently could not identify a specific date of an alleged discriminatory act.”

Mitchell said the community lives with the smells and sewer flies every day. Over the years, he said, agency investigators have mentioned other reasons the civil-rights office might deny his claims — questioning whether the city was receiving EPA funding, for instance.

“All these complaints to EPA have gotten us nothing — zero,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s as if the city did nothing, and this is the way people are supposed to live.”

He has filed a fifth, still-pending complaint to the civil-rights office.

Asked about Baton Rouge, the EPA referred to its rejection letters explaining why the cases were closed. The agency said it has helped the community in other ways, supporting an agreement by the city council to relocate residents away from the sewage plant, and “to create a 300-foot buffer zone around the facility.” Under a U.S.-city consent decree dating to 1988, the agency’s regional office in Dallas has monitored North plant operations. The decree settled an EPA enforcement action brought against the city after years of water pollution violations.

“Although the OCR rejected the referenced complaints, the Office supported EPA Region 6’s other efforts to mitigate environmental health issues stemming from the [North] Wastewater Treatment Plant,” the agency said in a written statement.

The plant is undertaking $24.1 million in odor- control projects as well, according to the agency. EPA officials “continue to monitor the implementation of these efforts,” the agency said.

Many residents have now chosen to flee. Even the Mitchell family, long the neighborhood’s holdout, has left the subdivision in recent months. Still residing in Baton Rouge, Gregory Mitchell said his family as well as his mother and her siblings do not miss the malodorous sewage plant. But they had to abandon homes in which they had lived for many years and neighbors to whom they had grown close.

“Our community is gone. It’s no longer there,” said Mitchell, who, if rejected yet again, plans to file a sixth Title VI complaint with the EPA.

 “That’s a total civil-rights violation,” he said. “Tell me that’s not a civil-rights violation.”

If Amtrak’s Gateway tunnel is too big, it will fail

Amtrak has big plans to build two new Hudson River tunnels and six new platform tracks at Penn Station as part of a project called Gateway, now estimated to cost $24 billion. It is hard to believe, in today’s political climate, that elected officials in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., will be able to fully fund this project. That’s a problem because new tunnel capacity has been urgently needed since Hurricane Sandy severely damaged the existing pair of 105-year-old tunnels in 2012.

The longer we wait, the greater the risk of losing the existing tunnels to the next hurricane or Nor’easter, which could cut off the Northeast Corridor—an essential rail route for our economy—at Penn Station for two or three years. To protect ourselves from such a doomsday event we need to take a lesson from the Second Avenue subway and break up the project into affordable phases.

We need to also consider a fundamental change in the way commuter rail services (which dominate 90% of the passenger and train movement at Penn Station) operate through Manhattan.

Our top priority today, however, must be to respond to Amtrak’s October 2014 report which outlined damage done by Hurricane Sandy to the existing 105-year-old tunnels. The report said e

Phased development of Gateway starting with a new single-track tunnel would allow for repair work to occur without draconian cuts in service. The cost of a single new tube would be much more affordable—approximately $5 billion to $6 billion—based on the experience with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s mega-tunnel projects (East Side Access, Second Avenue subway and the No. 7 train extension to Hudson Yards).

While the first phase of Gateway is underway, we should examine how other cities such as London, Paris and Philadelphia have streamlined regional rail operations and expanded service. Emulating those cities’ commuter systems would mean changing the way the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit operate through Penn Station, linking them across the region and opening up more service for consumers.

We’ve known for years that 35% of NJ Transit riders want access to Grand Central Terminal. Linking the Gateway project to the LIRR’s East Side Access could also eliminate the need to build six new terminal tracks at Penn, cutting upwards of $6 billion from Gateway’s cost.

Gateway is vital but at $24 billion is too ambitious to build all at once. We need a more affordable plan that adds some capacity under the Hudson River and encourages commuter-rail services to extend beyond their traditional territory. We already see this cooperation for Jets and Giants football games, so we know it can be done. A phased plan would ready us for the moment when Congress provides only partial funding, and allow us to make repair of the aging Hudson River tunnels the priority it should be.

ach existing tube must be taken out of service for a year for major rehabilitation within the next five years. Without new tunnel capacity, that would cut rush-hour capacity to six trains per hour from 24, which would be a disaster for Amtrak and NJ Transit customers.

The Second Avenue subway project provides a practical model for Gateway. The cost of Second Avenue (in 2000 dollars) was expected to exceed $17 billion. And while the full environmental impact statement was completed from lower Manhattan to the Bronx, only the section from 63rd Street to 96th Street was funded. That will relieve worst congestion along the Lexington Avenue line.

An innovative funding strategy is needed for this crucial project to come to fruition

To Protect Clinton, Democrats Wage War on Their Own Core Citizens United Argument

or years, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United was depicted by Democrats as the root of all political evil. But now, the core argument embraced by the Court’s conservatives to justify their ruling has taken center stage in the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — because Clinton supporters, to defend the huge amount of corporate cash on which their candidate is relying, frequently invoke that very same reasoning.

The crux of the Citizens United ruling was that a legal ban on independent corporate campaign expenditures constituted a limit on political speech without sufficient justification, and thus violated the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee. A primary argument of the Obama Justice Department and Democrats generally in order to uphold that campaign finance law was that corporate expenditures are so corrupting of the political process that limits are justified even if they infringe free speech. In rejecting that view, this was the key argument of Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the five-judge conservative majority (emphasis added):

For the reasons explained above, we now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.

Does that sound familiar? It should. That key argument of the right-wing justices in Citizens United has now become the key argument of the Clinton campaign and its media supporters to justify her personal and political receipt of millions upon millions of dollars in corporate money: “Expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” — at least when the candidate in question is Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, the Clinton argument actually goes well beyond the Court’s conservatives: In Citizens United, the right-wing justices merely denied the corrupting effect of independent expenditures (i.e., ones not coordinated with the campaign). But Clinton supporters in 2016 are denying the corrupting effect of direct campaign donations by large banks and corporations and, even worse, huge speaking fees paid to an individual politician shortly before and after that person holds massive political power.

Another critical aspect of the right-wing majority argument in Citizens United was that actual corruption requires proof of a “quid pro quo” arrangement: meaning that the politician is paid to vote a certain way (which is, basically, bribery). Prior precedent, said the Citizens United majority, “was limited to quid pro quo corruption,” quoting a prior case as holding that “the hallmark of corruption is the financial quid pro quo: dollars for political favors.”

Does that sound familiar? It should. That, too, has become a core Clinton-supporting argument: Look, if you can’t prove that Hillary changed her vote in exchange for Goldman Sachs speaking fees or JPMorgan Chase donations (and just by the way, Elizabeth Warren believes she can prove that), then you can’t prove that these donations are corrupting. After all, argue Clinton supporters (echoing the Citizens United majority), “the hallmark of corruption is the financial quid pro quo: dollars for political favors.”

Conversely, the once-beloved Citizens United dissent from the Court’s liberals, written by Justice Stevens, was emphatic in its key claim: that there are many other forms of corruption brought about by corporate campaign expenditures beyond such quid pro quo — i.e., bribery — transactions. Their argument was that large amounts of corporate cash are almost inevitably corrupting, and certainly undermine trust in the political system, because of the many different ways (well beyond overt quid pro quos) that corporations convert their expenditures into undue influence and access:

(photo: The Intercept)

That core argument from the liberal Citizens United dissenters has been the central critique the Sanders campaign and its supporters have used to denounce Clinton’s massive corporate-based campaign (and personal) wealth. Incredibly, to defend their candidate against this critique, Clinton supporters have waged war on the crux of the liberal critique of Citizens United.

Oh no, Clinton supporters insist, the mere fact that a candidate is receiving millions upon millions of dollars — both politically and personally — from Wall Street banks, hedge funds, and large corporations is not remotely suggestive of corruption, and we’re actually offended at the suggestion that it is. They are explicitly channeling Antonin Scalia and Mitch McConnell in defending the integrity of politicians who accept massive corporate money. As campaign finance reformer Zephyr Teachout wrote about a 1999 Supreme Court opinion authored by Scalia that “set the table for Citizens United“: “The Court suggests that using money to influence power through gifts is both inevitable and not troubling” — i.e., the 2016 argument of Clinton supporters.

What’s most amazing about all of this is that Clinton defenders are going even further in defending the integrity of corporate cash expenditures than many defenders of Citizens United did. There were many reluctant defenders of that decision on free speech grounds — such as the ACLU, Eliot Spitzer, various unions, and myself — who argued that the solution to domination of corporate donations was not to vest the government with the power to restrict political speech (the case began when an advocacy group was barred from distributing an anti-Hillary film) but, instead, to institute a system of robust public financing to even the playing field, to disempower corporations by rendering their expenditures unnecessary. But those of us who defended the decision on free speech grounds nonetheless accepted, and indeed vehemently argued, that corporate expenditures are corrupting in the extreme. As I wrote after that decision, “Corporate influence over our political process is easily one of the top sicknesses afflicting our political culture.”

Incredibly, Clinton supporters, to defend their candidate, have resorted to denying what was once a core orthodoxy of Democratic politics: that big corporate donations (let alone being personally enriched by huge Wall Street speaking fees in between stints in public office) are corrupting. In doing so, these Democrats — just as they did when they instantly transformed from opponents to supporters of Guantánamo, drones, and spying once Obama stopped denouncing those things and started doing them — have spent the 2016 campaign vehemently renouncing the crux of the argument in favor of campaign finance reform.

Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

MTA Looks Toward Phase Two of Second Avenue Subway Extension

As the MTA pushes to meet a December deadline for opening three new stations along the Second Avenue Subway line — it’s also looking ahead to the future.

Phase two of the project would extend the Q line to 125th Street.

The MTA says it has begun seeking bids for design, environmental and community outreach services in hopes of moving the project forward.

The Second Avenue Subway’s next phase took a $1 billion funding cut last fall.

Officials say the MTA could amend its Capital Program and seek more money to start construction if the efforts to speed up the work prove successful.

Crews are working to open up the first three stations of the Q line extension before the end of the year.

New entrances are now visible at street level.


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