During an interview with Fortune magazine that was published today, Mitt Romney said that he would eliminate federal funding for Amtrak as one of his cuts aimed at balancing the budget:
So first there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs — the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to strand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.
This is certainly not the first time that Romney has singled out Amtrak for the budget cutting knife. “Amtrak ought to stand on its own feet or its own wheels or whatever you’d say,” he told a crowd earlier this year. But, leaving aside that the cuts Romney highlights are not going to get him anywhere close to balancing the budget, Romney intends to slice Amtrak funding at a time when funding for rail service is more necessary than ever.
Amtrak announced earlier this year that it is on pace to break the ridership recordit set last year. By 2040, Amtrak “Amtrak said traffic in the [Northeast] corridor could reach 43.5 million passengers, almost four times the level today.”
However, as the New York Times noted, Amtrak desperately needs some upgrades: “Most days, trains in the Northeast are full. Several locomotives and railcars are 30 years old or more. Aging rails, bridges and tunnels hold down top speeds and limit expansion of the network.” America’s freight train infrastructure is also deteriorating.
Already, the National Association of Railroad Passengers has warned that cuts to Amtrak that are being pushed by House Republicans “would be tantamount to shutting down the entire Amtrak network, because the remaining routes could not cover the system’s overhead costs.” Obviously, eliminating Amtrak’s funding entirely would have much farther reaching consequences.
By Amanda Peterson Beadle on Aug 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm
People line up for a workshop about the deferred action policy at Chicago's Navy Pier.
The Department of Homeland Security starts accepting applications for deferred action from DREAM Act-eligible young adults on Wednesday. Under a new directive President Obama announced in June, undocumented immigrants between 15 and 30 years of age who have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least five years, have not been convicted of a felony or “significant” misdemeanor, and have graduated from high school, earned a GED, or served in the military can apply for a two-year work authorization that will let them live in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
As many as 1.7 million DREAMers could benefit from this new policy. Maria Gomez, a UCLA graduate who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 8, is one of those beneficiaries. Her story — about being the first in her family to graduate from college and putting herself through graduate school — is one of dozens that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has highlighted on the Senate floor to emphasize the need for the DREAM Act to help undocumented young adults who came to the U.S. as children. Many of them are now eligible for deferred action.
More than 5,000 people gathered in Chicago’s Navy Pier for a workshop about filling out the paperwork to apply for work authorization. And a day before the deferred action policy began, people lined up to get their records in order at Honduran Consulate’s office:
Evelyn Medina, 23, got in line at about 6:30 a.m., and she wasn’t alone. With her passport in hand, Medina was all smiles as she walked out of the building just before 2 p.m., saying “Finally” as she clutched the document.
Medina, a Maryland college student studying social work, said she expected to be ready to apply Wednesday. If she is allowed to stay in the U.S. and work, she hopes eventually to earn a master’s degree.
There are undocumented immigrants in every state who are eligible for deferred action — most of whom live in California, Texas, or Illinois. Among the prospective beneficiaries who are over 15 years of age, almost 60 percent are already working in the U.S. As a result of Obama’s policy, this population can work legally and improve their employment conditions and wages.
Via Deadline, it looks like the rights to Daredevil are going to revert back to Marvel and to Disney after Fox killed an effort to reboot the franchise. The fact that the rights to certain key properties, including the blind Hell’s Kitchen lawyer, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men are held outside the company has always been one of the challenges to Marvel’s consolidation of its empire, and one of the reasons we saw a Spider-Man reboot this summer. Continuing to make use of the characters is the way outside companies keep their claim on Marvel characters live so the rights and the profits don’t revert back to Marvel and Disney.
I’ll be curious to see what, if anything, Marvel does with Daredevil. I’ve always thought the planned Marvel-ABC television show would be best off in a procedural format, both to lure in audiences who aren’t sold on superhero stories but are willing to test another lawyer, detective, or cop show, and to save money—if you can keep your hero in the office, courtroom, and street, you don’t have to invest quite as much in special effects and major action sequences. Daredevil, like She-Hulk, would be a fine contender for that kind of show, though I’d hope given the current Avengers lineup and Joss Whedon’s involvement with the television show, that they’ll choose a female character instead.
And I continue to think it would be smart of Marvel to develop a lower-budget, grittier run of hero movies, or a cable show that intersects them, a part of the market that’s open now that the adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis’s Powers appears in limbo at FX. With Daredevil back in the fold, you could have an overlapping New York universe that includes him, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones in Harlem, and Doctor Strange down in Greenwich Village. Marvel has always been woven deeply into the fabric of New York. The Avengers are disconnected by virtue of Tony Stark’s globetrotting, Bruce Banner’s time on the run, Black Widow’s missions, and the fact that Hawkeye and Captain America are buried in institutions. A lower-budget franchise, whether on the silver screen or the television, could root a separate set of characters deeply in a place, making their approaches and personalities facets of the city. That kind of storytelling always served the Law & Order franchise well, and with those shows cancelled or in their twilight years, there’s a place for a great new New York crime-solver, as well as for a different sort of superhero story.
Report: U.S. Media Barely Mention Climate In Stories On Extreme Heat |
A new Media Matters analysis of news coverage of this summer’s heat wave finds that television outlets mentioned climate change in only 8.7 percent of stories throughout July. Among these six outlets — ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and NBC — only MSNBC consistently talked about the role of climate change in accelerating extreme heat and weather events. ABC incorporated climate change into only 2 percent of its coverage in July, and Fox News only mentioned climate change once to in order to dismiss the problem.
Newspaper outlets did a better job, putting just over 25 percent of stories into a climate context. The study looked at coverage from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.
If you want to understand just how extreme and conspiratorial many in the “mainstream” Republican party have become, look no further than a resolution on Agenda 21 passed quietly in January.
Agenda 21 is a completely non-binding international framework for sustainability passed in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit. The framework, which sets out very loose aspirational goals for making communities more efficient and less carbon-intensive, was signed by then President George H.W. Bush and later upheld by Presidents Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush.
Since the framework was adopted, right-wing conspiracy theorists have pushed bizarre theories about Agenda 21 being a central tool for the United Nations to create a one-world government and take away the rights of local property owners. In recent years, elevated by the megaphone of extreme pundits like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, these conspiracies made their way into mainstream politics. Today, Agenda 21ers — many affiliated with the Tea Party and the John Birch Society — are peddling fears about Agenda 21 in order to stop basic efficiency and renewable energy programs on the state level.
Conspiracy theorists active in politics have called Agenda 21 “socialism on steroids” that would cause Americans to be “herded into centers like the UN wants.”
And in an April presentation on Agenda 21, activist Victoria Baer had this to say about John McCain’s support of ethanol, which she also claimed was part of a UN plot: “We should have left him in Hanoi with Jane Fonda…he is a traitor, a pure traitor.”
Yes, Baer called John McCain — a decorated Vietnam War veteran who spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war — a traitor who should be “left in Hanoi” because he supported minimal increases in domestic ethanol production.
Baer also claims that the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. National Parks Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — agencies founded more than 100 years before Agenda 21 — are “all out of the UN to have these wonderful little furry animal organizations to cut our land away from us.”
In fact, the Agenda 21 language explicitly states that countries and local communities have “the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies.”
So what do these historically-challenged and completely inaccurate claims have to do with the Republican party? The Republican National Committee has officially adopted these conspiracy theories as its national platform. In January, the RNC adopted a resolution calling Agenda 21 “insidious” and “covert.”
There are a lot of terrific online sitcoms and dramas coming online every day, which is a blessing. But it can be hard to hunt down the best of that content across all the platforms where it lives. So every Wednesday, I’ll bring you a roundup of the best of online television that I’m watching in a given week. And if you have recommendations for shows I should be watching, let me know.
1. Husbands: Season 2 of the marriage equality sitcom from Brad Bell and Jane Espenson begins today as our newlyweds, baseball player Brady and unemployed actor Cheeks start navigating what boundaries look like in married life. And if you need a refresher, check out my behind-the-scenes look at the series and the challenges and opportunities of making television for the internet.
2. My Gimpy Life: There are a lot of funny, unsentimental comedies about people with disabilities in the pipeline, including The Sessions, the Oscar-bait movie starring John Hawks as a polio-stricken man who sets out to lose his virginity in his thirties and FX’s upcoming sitcom Legit, which follows the misadventures of three men, one of whom uses a wheelchair. Actress Teal Sherer beat them both to the punch with this funny, spiky series that’s as much about how Hollywood works as it is about navigating life while using a wheelchair:
3. H+: Bryan Singer returns to some of the themes he explored in his X-Men movies in H+, a series about a world where humans have adopted computer implants in their brains—but the man who invented the technology has vanished and whistleblowers are warning of ominous consequences. The show looks terrific, and I think has a chance to be one of the first great online dramas:
4. Lauren: Lots of online television shows are distinguishing themselves from network fare by bluntly confronting social issues. Lauren, one of a number of series from the WIGS channel, which focuses on female characters, is taking on rape and the chain of command in the military:
We can strengthen our defense of liberty if we remember to keep in mind those who are struggling to make ends meet. What makes our Constitution such an extraordinary document is that, in making the United States the freest civilization in history, the Founders guaranteed that it would become the most prosperous as well. The American system of limited government, low taxes, sound money, and the rule of law has done more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed.
There’s great deal of radicalism tucked away in this seemingly high-minded speech. “Sound money” is often a code word for abandoning modern monetary policy and returning to the gold standard, but Ryan later makes clear that he really means that the Federal Reserve should abandon all efforts to reduce unemployment. Currently, the Federal Reserve has a dual mandate to control inflation and ensure unemployment does not spiral out of control. Ryan, however, concludes we must “refocus the Federal Reserve on price stability,” eliminating its obligation to assist the unemployed. He does not cite a single word of the Constitution to explain why he thinks the Founders mandated this result.
Similarly, the Constitution says absolutely nothing about “low taxes,” despite Ryan’s suggestion that his preferred tax policy is blessed by the Founders. The original Constitution placed no limits on the amount of federal taxes, although it did require “direct taxes” to be “apportioned among the several states.” The Sixteenth Amendment expanded this power even further, providing that the United States “shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes.” America can have a high income tax or a low income tax, and it can tax the people most able to afford it at a higher rate than the poor and the middle class. This choice is made by the American people’s representatives, not by the Constitution.
The most disturbing aspect of Ryan’s speech, however, is a seemingly innocuous claim that the “the enforcement of contracts” is protected by the “constitutional cornerstone of our free society.” The Constitution actually has very little to say about the subject of contracts. Although it provides fairly robust limits against state governments rescinding contracts between the government and a private party, the Constitution is mute on federal laws that impair contracts between private parties.
The reason for this should be obvious. Worker protection laws limit the kind of contractual arrangements employers can force upon their workers — a minimum wage law forbids contracts that pay workers less than a certain amount. Consumer protection laws limit the kind of contracts merchants and manufacturers can enter into with their customers — a product safety law might forbid companies from selling dangerous products. If the Constitution actually did shield contracts in the way Ryan suggests, nearly all laws protecting workers and consumers would be unconstitutional.
None of this is to say that contracts aren’t important to a vibrant economy. They obviously are, which is why every state’s common law ensures that most contracts will be enforced. But the price of economic progress is not leaving workers and consumers powerless against rapacious corporations. For much of its history, America has tried to strike an appropriate balance between enforcing ordinary contracts and forbidding exploitative ones.
But, of course, there was a very dark period in American history when the Supreme Court did embrace an entirely fabricated “right to contract” of the sort that Ryan seems to embrace. During this long-discredited era, laws protecting the rights of workers were treated as constitutionally suspect and frequently struck down. Ryan’s suggestions that the Constitution embodies his favorite economic theory raises very real concerns that he would return America to this unfortunate era — an era that culminated in the Great Depression — if given the opportunity to do so.
Report: High Returns For States Investing In Anti-Tobacco Programs |
A new brief from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation estimates the return on states’ investment in anti-tobacco programs, reporting it can be as high as $50 saved for every $1 spent. The foundation projects an annual $200 billion loss resulting from the preventable health problems caused by tobacco, due mostly to increased health care costs and decreased productivity — so states that have invested in strong anti-tobacco programming and legislation, like California and Washington, are seeing significant returns in lower health care expenditures. Despite the economic benefits for states who choose to invest in prevention programs, austerity policies during the current economic recession have left most anti-tobacco initiatives underfunded or facing cuts.
Gunman Wounds Security Guard At Family Research Council |
A shooting occurred on Wednesday at the conservative Family Research Council’s headquarters, wounding a security guard in the arm. The suspect has been detained, but police have not released the identity of either the shooter or the victim. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the man entered the building around 10:45 am and started shooting when the security guard asked him where he was going. A bomb squad has since entered the building. Fox News is claiming the gunman made statements about FRC’s policies before opening fire, but the FBI has said the shooter’s motives are not yet clear. FRC is a conservative Christian organization that considers homosexuality to be a sin.
According to CNN, a law enforcement official described the suspect as a man in his late 20s and made unspecified comments about the Family Research Council before opening fire. The FBI is looking at motive and intent in order to determine whether or not this was an act of domestic terrorism.
NBC reporter Jackie Benson tweeted that the FRC shooter, who has still not been named, was carrying Chik-Fil-A promotional materials and 2 loaded 15-round ammunition clips.
DC police say the suspect is from Herndon, Virginia and was born in 1984. A witness to the arrest told NBC News the suspect was a 6’3 tall 250-pound black man.
A growing coalition of LGBT equality organizations have issued a joint statement denouncing the shooting:
We were saddened to hear news of the shooting this morning at the offices of the Family Research Council. Our hearts go out to the shooting victim, his family, and his co-workers.
The motivation and circumstances behind today’s tragedy are still unknown, but regardless of what emerges as the reason for this shooting, we utterly reject and condemn such violence. We wish for a swift and complete recovery for the victim of this terrible incident.