Category Archives: Politics

Fake news is not the real problem

It’s the Internet’s fault, we’re told. Brexiters and Remainers, Republicans and Democrats — every side of every political dispute now lives in its own separate reality, bellowing “fake news!” at every attempt to breach their borders of belief. The fragmentation of the media, coupled with the filter-bubble effect and the dominance of Facebook and Google, means that we no longer share any consensus view of reality.

…But I saw The Post this week, and it struck me: we never did. We used to have an imposed view of reality, not a consensus one. As the movie makes clear, editors and Cabinet members palled around weekly, and implicitly agreed on what news would and wouldn’t be fed to the public. (See also Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent.) The moral crisis of the time came from the realization that the government was lying to its pals in the media, and had been for a very long time.

If that sounds like ancient history, remember that Iraq was not particularly different from Vietnam: in both cases, the White House (and, this time, Downing Street) lied through their teeth to the people; the media accepted and promoted those lies; and a war which consumed hundreds of thousand of lives, and trillions of dollars, ensued. Donald Trump may be the most personally vile President of all time, but his presidency has not (at least yet) been anywhere near as catastrophic as those of Richard Nixon or George W. Bush.

However. The other assumption implicit in traditional journalism was that their job was to provide evidence to the American people, who would then judge it, adjust their views, and vote accordingly. It was assumed that people had an engineering mindset, where one’s worldview can and will be adjusted by new evidence. That mindset, that willingness to allow contrary evidence to adjust what you believe, is why science and engineering work. It is arguably why democracy works, too.

And it would work in a world of fake news. Again, falsified evidence is not new. The US government falsified (by omission) the evidence about Vietnam for a very long time. Politicized “yellow journalism” dates to at least the nineteenth century. But the assumption was that people in general would try to see its falsehoods and inconsistencies, or at least grudgingly accept their existence when they were pointed out. Fake news is a problem that could and would be fixed by a genuine, widespread, good-faith desire for true news.

The real problem isn’t fake news; it’s that people have given up on that search for truth. The real problem is that the engineer’s mindset, wherein one weighs the available evidence, and accept and incorporate new evidence even if it contradicts what you previously believed, has never been more rare. (I’m not pretending it was ever remotely universal; I’m just saying that there was enough of it, barely, for democracy to work more-or-less as intended.)

No longer. The engineer’s mindset has been replaced by the lawyer’s mindset, wherein you pick a side in advance of getting any evidence, and then do absolutely everything you can to belittle, dismiss, and ignore any opposing data, while trumping up every scrap that might support your own side as if it were written on stone tables brought down from the mountain by Moses. I mean no disrespect to the legal profession: some of my favorite people are lawyers, including the one I married. The legal approach is an excellent means of getting to the truth of hard and confrontational matters —

— assuming it is done in the court of some sort of thoughtful, knowledgeable, and relatively impartial judge. But that court doesn’t exist in a democracy, or, rather, the democracy is the court … and so, in order for democracy to work, it requires the engineer’s mindset. The UK, the USA, and other countries seem to have seen that way of thinking wither below a crucial critical mass, to their great and growing cost.

So there’s a certain irony in blaming the tech industry for this, when tech is, for all its many flaws and blind spots, perhaps the last remaining bastion where the engineer’s mindset is (at least in theory) celebrated. Maybe we are in fact to blame; I’d certainly be interested in seeing evidence to that effect.

Maybe it’s the lack of a post-Cold-War common enemy. Maybe it’s a natural evolution of a decadent empire, or a natural reaction to the increasing complexity and incomprehensibility of the world. Maybe it’s the 1% and the finance industry fomenting conflict to distract from their parasitical oligarchy. Regardless, let’s consider the distinct possibility that the so-called scourge of “fake news” is merely a symptom, not the problem.

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Regional Plan Association rail overhaul dead without Gateway Project

https://www.lohud.com/news/

The Regional Plan Association’s massive overhaul plan of the area’s commuter rail system is stillborn without the $13 billion Gateway Project, the organization says.

The ambitious plan that would provide Rockland a one-seat ride in Manhattan and the same from White Plains to downtown Brooklyn was one of the most notable recommendations in the RPA’s latest regional plan. Much of the first phase counts on Gateway’s new rail infrastructure, new Hudson River tunnel and existing tunnel rehabilitation.

But federal funding for that project is now in doubt. And without that money, the outlook is grim.

“It doesn’t happen,” RPA Senior Vice President and Chief Planner Chris Jones said in an editorial board meeting with the Journal News/lohud Thursday morning.

Earmark Supporters Should Run for Local Office

CATO.ORG

If you are interested in national issues such as defense, foreign policy, and trade, and want to hold public office, you should run for Congress. If you are interested in roads, beaches, subways, and policing, you should run for city council or the state legislature.

The push to restore earmarks in Congress is led by politicians who got elected to the wrong democratic body. In a pro-earmark story today, the Washington Post highlights projects that members say justify the narrow spending set-asides:

“There is a 14-mile gap in Interstate 49 outside Fort Smith, Ark., and Rep. Steve Womack, who represents the area, would very much like to secure the estimated $300 million in federal taxpayer money needed to fill it.”
“Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.), who is pushing a proposal that would allow Congress to earmark money for … a pair of water projects he said have been neglected in his district: a beach restoration in an area where the Gulf of Mexico is starting to lap at homes, and repairs to the massive Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee.
“The Second Avenue Subway in New York City, which opened last year, received more than $600 million.”
“Dozens of police departments received money to improve their equipment and communications systems.
I have questions for the members supporting federal spending on these projects:

Why doesn’t the Arkansas legislature fund the I-49?
If Florida beach restoration is important but neglected, why don’t landowners and city councils along the coast fund it?
New Yorkers may support their subway project, but why should taxpayers elsewhere pay for it? And when asked to vote on it, how could members from other states judge whether it made any sense?
Since policing is a crucial function of local government, wouldn’t citizens support local taxes to buy needed equipment?
The earmark issue is usually framed as a battle of the purse between federal politicians and federal bureaucrats. But the more important issue is ensuring that activities are funded at the level of government that makes the most sense. I discuss here why state and local funding makes sense for state and local activities. As for Congress, it suffers from structural failures that cause it to spend wastefully much of the time, so the less money flowing through it the better.

Manhattan Gridlock: Plan to Relieve It & Impact On Transit Debt

Bumper-to bumper, horn-honking traffic through Manhattan streets is about as New York as bagels and Broadway. A plan to ease that problem is tapping into another mainstay of city life: high driving tolls.

The idea, called “congestion pricing,” involves using electronic tolling technology to charge fees to vehicles entering the most heavily trafficked parts of town during certain hours.

Some big cities already do it, including Singapore, Stockholm and London, where it can cost more than $15 to drive into the city center during peak periods.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed it for New York a decade ago and got a firm rejection from lawmakers who said drivers headed into Manhattan already get slammed enough by bridge and highway tolls and high parking fees.

But with the city’s subway system deteriorating, and politicians looking for ways to pay for a fix, the concept has gotten new life.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who said last summer that “congestion pricing” is an idea whose time has come, could unveil a plan to implement a system as early as next week. A spokesman for the governor said a committee, called FixNY, is finalizing recommendations.

Alex Matthiessen, director of the MoveNY campaign — the most vocal advocate for congestion pricing — says New York would become the first city in the United States to charge drivers under such a system, but said others like San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles are paying close attention.

“We have a full-blown crisis,” Matthiessen said. “Our subway system is severely underfunded; it is quite unreliable, there are delays and overcrowding and the situation is potentially dangerous. No other idea has the twin benefit of also tackling a very severe traffic problem.”

There are still plenty of roadblocks.

Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he likes the idea of getting cars off the street but isn’t convinced high tolls is the way to do it.

“I think there are serious fairness issues when it comes to congestion pricing,” he said at a recent news conference, citing the financial burden on drivers who can’t afford tolls as easily as the many millionaires who call Manhattan home. De Blasio has said he prefers dealing with the subway’s financial problems by imposing higher income taxes on the rich.

Key details, like how much it might cost, or where, exactly, drivers might get hit with the tolls have yet to be unveiled. Bloomberg’s plan would have charged $8 to drive south of 60th Street, or roughly the southern end of Central Park.

Adam Glassman, a Lynbrook, Long Island-based attorney, spoke in midtown Manhattan before getting into his car to go home.

“It is impossible to get into the city,” said Glassman, who is familiar with Bloomberg’s proposed plan years ago. He commutes into Manhattan twice a week.

He’s in favor of possible tolls. “I’d be willing to suck it up.”

Although no specific congestion pricing plan has been formally announced, many agree that any system would be likely to create surcharges for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. That’s OK with Uber, which is behind a public relations campaign backing congestion pricing.

“Users of Manhattan’s congested roads should bear part of the cost of helping to reduce congestion and improve our public transit system,” said Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang. “Everyone should pay their fair share to keep New York City moving forward.”

Brooklyn state Assemblyman William Colton, a Democrat, said any proposals that would create tolls across bridges into Manhattan that are currently free, or a system that would ping drivers in areas like Times Square south through Greenwich Village and into the Wall Street business district, would be seen as an unfair tax by his constituents.

“This is going to have a negative effect on working people, small business people and seniors who have medical appointments in Manhattan,” Colton said. “This is going to be a big problem. I don’t know the details, but I’m very leery.”

Commuter Joe Murphy said he would be “absolutely opposed to it.”

He lives in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and already pays for the George Washington Bridge, where tolls range from $10.50 to $15 a car, plus a midtown Manhattan parking garage. His half-hour, pre-rush hour commute is the fastest and easiest option for him; using public transportation would triple his commuting time.

“Just to get to work, the cost of parking and tolls and everything is just astronomical,” he said.

US ambassador to Panama steps down

The US ambassador to Panama has resigned from his post, telling the State Department that he can no longer serve under President Trump, according to reports.

He informed the State Department of his intention to step down early Thursday — before Trump reportedly referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole” countries,” a Panamian news outlet reported.

“As a junior foreign service officer, I signed an oath to serve faithfully the president and his administration in an apolitical fashion, even when I might not agree with certain policies,” Feeley said in his resignation letter, Reuters reported.

“My instructors made clear that if I believed I could not do that, I would be honor bound to resign. That time has come,” he added.

The State Department confirmed the departure, saying Feeley has decided to “retire for personal reasons, as of 9 March this year.”

Panama’s DiaaDia reported his resignation before The Washington Post broke the news about Trump’s offensive remarks in an Oval Office meeting with senators about immigration.

Feeley was nominated to the diplomatic post by then-President Obama in July 2015.

The Marine Corps veteran flew amphibious assault helicopters in and over Lebanon in the mid-1980s following the 1983 bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut.

°°°°°°°°°°

Too bad the President of Panama did not tell Mr. Trump to “shove our canal up your ass”

Day after China announced they are building a new “container port” miles away the ocean to load and ship containers to the Eastern US.

CBS News fires political director over allegations of ‘inappropriate behavior’

The political director of CBS News was fired after the company received allegations that he engaged in “inappropriate behavior” in the past.

Steve Chaggaris was canned by the network after they investigated allegations that recently came to their attention, the company said on Wednesday night.

“In the last two weeks, accounts of inappropriate behavior by Steve Chaggaris were brought to our attention and were immediately investigated,” read a statement from a CBS spokesperson.

“As a result, CBS News has severed ties with Mr. Chaggaris for violating company policy, effective immediately.”

It was not clear Wednesday night what the specifics of the allegations were.

Watch out President Trump!!!!!

NY City Suburban Area Realtors: THIS IS FOR YOU

Buyers LOVE the suburbs, but only when the commute is good to great!

Enter the “MAYBROOK LINE”. Years ago it was THE major freight railroad into New England. It went from Maybrook, New York; across the Great Bridge at Poughkeepsie; from Beacon across New York Syaye to Danbury and on to Cedar Hill in New Haven. We have a great historical document:
https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/the-maybrook-line-across-dutchess-county/.

Over the years, railroad freight habits changed, mostly through mergers. The bridge at Poughkeepsie burned and the railroad line became dormant and is owned by New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

For a great look at today’s Beacon Line, we will refer you to Emily Moser’s great WebSite “I Ride The Harlem Line”

This is her map of the area we are covering.

Occasional excursions, equipment moves and storage, and maintenance with hi rail vehicles, have all taken place, albeit infrequently. Though the rails itself may not be in use, running along parts of the line is fiber optic cabling that is integral to Metro-North operations.

MTA issued a “Request for Expressions of Interest” regarding “all or part” of the line in 2016. But nothing came of it.

No, it is not practical as a rail line. What it could be practical for is a HYPERLOOP

This is the plan for a HYPERLOOP between Louisville and Chicago. Several options would work with the HYPERLOOP: The simplest would be Beacon on the Hudson Line, to Southeast on the Harlem Line.

Of course, the HYPERLOOP depends on clients! LOT of empty land along the route.

Alan Chartock’s The Capitol Connection: How Cuomo can turn it around

I was recently considering what Andrew Cuomo could do to turn his low polling numbers around. As I have explained in the past, he doesn’t get great numbers upstate. He’s a Democrat, albeit a middle of the roader, and that doesn’t play that well above the burbs. Now he needs to worry about how he’s doing in the Big Apple and its environs.

The Cuomo name has always been gold in the city. His papa Mario has been worshiped as a semi-deity there for years. Since most people know little or nothing about New York State politics, the Cuomo mantel was all that was necessary for Andrew to get approval. But that was before the “Summer of Hell” on the New York subways and the commuter trains in and out of the city. As the appointing authority of the MTA, Andrew took credit for building the Second Avenue Subway so he couldn’t then deny his role in the collapse of the subway system even though he tried to do exactly that. Clearly, he and his cohorts had the mistaken impression that Donald Trump might help out by financing some of the work necessary to repair the mess in the sweltering, accident prone underground system.

So Andrew made sure that Joe Lhota, a real expert on things subway, now heads the beleaguered MTA. That was a good idea and Cuomo and his colleagues deserve credit for the appointment. The problem for Andrew is that Lhota, who already has experience heading the MTA and ran for mayor against — guess who — Bill De Blasio, is a Republican and a Giuliani protégé. It’s no secret that Cuomo has personal problems with De Blasio so he grabbed an opportunity to take a shot at his mayoral nemesis by elevating Lhota to the chairmanship of the MTA. Cuomo never seems to learn that people are fed up with his war on De Blasio. But he gets points for the Lhota appointment because the guy is good. If people perceive that Cuomo is moving aggressively in a bi-partisan manner they may return to the pro-Cuomo fold.

If I were giving Andrew some other advice, I think I would suggest that he do more of what Papa Mario did. Cuomo, like Donald Trump, seems to have his own private war with the press. Papa Cuomo had regular press conferences which he seemed to relish. His son does not. Papa Cuomo was eloquent. Junior is anything but. If you are to win popularity in New York, you need the press on your side. My unsolicited advice to Andrew would be to work on his communication skills. He should make friends by just being honest, accessible, transparent, and open with the people who write and talk about him. That way he would be the beneficiary of a certain kind of respect and camaraderie that often exists on both sides of that relationship. Maybe Cuomo feels that because the press as an institution polls so low, he can afford to ignore them. What’s more, Cuomo should avoid trying to buy loyalty from some members of the press by giving them unfettered access. He tried that in the beginning of his governorship with disastrous results.

As long as I am giving him advice, let me add that he has to be very careful about the amount of power he gives his subordinates. One of the reasons why his numbers are so low is that several of his former close associates face trials that could land them in jail for a good part of their lives. Not only that, his treatment of his fellow political actors like Tom DiNapoli, the state Comptroller, and Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General, has been disgraceful. People don’t like that. He needs to learn how to play nice. Maybe then his numbers will rise from the low point where they now reside.

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at alan@wamc.org.

He publishes in the Troy Record

Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Is Doomed for the Worst Reason

Regulations are killing America’s boldest dreams.

When Elon Musk tweeted that he had “verbal govt approval” to build a Hyperloop to carry passengers from New York to Washington in half an hour, everyone with a lick of sense about transportation rolled their eyes. It was obviously delusion, fantasy, and hype — science-fiction nonsense.

In a different era, skeptics would have focused on the technology: a magnetic levitation system shooting passenger pods along through a tunnel that maintains a near-vacuum for hundreds of miles. Gee whiz! That’s impossible!

But nowadays we’re blasé about technological challenges. If geeks can put a supercomputer in everyone’s pocket, we imagine they can build a mag-lev pod transit system. Musk does, after all, have his own space program.

No, what makes Musk’s Hyperloop plan seem like fantasy isn’t the high-tech part. Shooting passengers along at more than 700 miles per hour seems simple — engineers pushed 200 miles-per-hour in a test this week — compared to building a tunnel from New York to Washington. And even digging that enormously long tunnel — twice as long as the longest currently in existence — seems straightforward compared to navigating the necessary regulatory approvals.

We live in a world where atoms are much harder to do anything with than bits — and where atoms that require regulatory permission are the hardest of all. The eye-rolling comes less from the technical challenges than from the bureaucratic ones.

With his premature declaration, Musk is doing public debate a favor. He’s reminding us of what the barriers to ambitious projects really are: not technology, not even money, but getting permission to try. “Permits harder than technology,” Musk tweeted after talking with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti about building a tunnel network. That’s true for the public sector as well as the private.

“For some urban context: a recently opened stretch of subway in New York cost $4.5 billion for less than 2 miles of rails. It was first proposed in 1919 and opened to the public in January 2017,” wrote Bloomberg’s Tom Randall, concluding drily. “These things take time.”

The Second Avenue subway is an extreme example of a general phenomenon. As I’ve previously written, a large infrastructure project may take three or four years of actual construction. But the work can’t even get started until there’s been a decade or more of planning and design. The bottleneck isn’t the actual construction, in other words. It’s the ever-more-detailed analyses, reviews and redesigns required — and often litigated — beforehand. (For New Deal nostalgics, this also explains why the stimulus bill passed in 2009 couldn’t easily include a full-blown Work Progress Administration-style jobs plan.)

“It took two years just to complete the geotechnical and environmental studies for the Chesapeake Bay tunnel project that’s about to begin” in Virginia, wrote Randall. And that’s just one of the states Musk’s Hyperloop tunnel would have to pass through.

The obstacles facing a run-of-the-mill highway, tunnel, or bridge are great enough. Throw in untried and unfamiliar technology and you’re asking for endless delays. Those delays aren’t, however, facts of the natural world. They’re human artifacts. They don’t have to be there. SpaceX and its commercial-spaceflight competitors can experiment because Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to protect them from Federal Aviation Administration standards.

Musk is betting that his salesmanship will have a similar effect on the ground. He’s trying to get the public so excited that the political pressures to allow the Hyperloop to go forward become irresistible. He seems to believe that he can will the permission into being.

If he succeeds, he’ll upend not merely intercity transit but the bureaucratic process by which things get built. That would be a true science-fiction scenario.

From Bloomberg View

Talk of a 2020 run for president? First Cuomo must deal with 2018

All those newspapers in New York City and it takes the Watertown Daily Times (a day-long trip from New York City) to put the current subway troubles in perspective.

Read this article…..(and Mr. Cuomo too)

They summed everything up better than I could!