Friday, February 26, 2016

Antonin Scalia: Good that he's gone

Illustration by Tom Bachtell

As a Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia did a lot of damage to American society. Jeffrey Toobin takes an unsentimental look at his career on the Supreme Court:

Antonin Scalia, who died this month, after nearly three decades on the Supreme Court, devoted his professional life to making the United States a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy. Fortunately, he mostly failed. Belligerent with his colleagues, dismissive of his critics, nostalgic for a world where outsiders knew their place and stayed there, Scalia represents a perfect model for everything that President Obama should avoid in a successor. 

The great Justices of the Supreme Court have always looked forward; their words both anticipated and helped shape the nation that the United States was becoming. Chief Justice John Marshall read the new Constitution to allow for a vibrant and progressive federal government. Louis Brandeis understood the need for that government to regulate an industrializing economy. Earl Warren saw that segregation was poison in the modern world. Scalia, in contrast, looked backward...

See also this.

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High-Speed Rail Authority is desperate

There's something pathetic about how the High-Speed Rail Authority is frantically trying to salvage the doomed project. It's recent radical change in the initial construction segment and this week's PR blitz in Washington shows a project that knows it's running out of money and excuses (Proponents in D.C. sing high-speed rail's praises).

Surely even high-speed rail officials must know that no more money will be coming from the federal government

Apparently not, if their latest business plan is sincere.

From pages 61 and 62 of the latest HSR business plan:

As we go forward, we will pursue new federal funding to extend the Silicon Valley to Central Valley line north to make an initial investment in a one-seat ride to San Francisco and south to connect to Bakersfield. It has been five years since the last appropriation of federal funds for the program and, in the meantime, the State has significantly increased its funding contribution. Traditionally, transportation projects of this magnitude can rely on the federal government as a funding partner with grants of up to 50 percent or higher. The Legislature and the voters of California, in approving Proposition 1A, assumed significant federal participation---1/3 of the total cost. With a federal contribution for these extensions, its share of the total funding for the Silicon Valley to Central Valley line would still be only 25 percent of the total investment, far below the norm.

That's pure fantasy. Since the Republicans took over Congress in 2010, more federal money for the California high-speed rail project is not going to happen. Republicans, always eager to hammer President Obama, are determined to stop it even if the project had any merit, which it doesn't, except as a jobs program for the unions.  

Proposition 1A passed with only 52% of the vote in November, 2008, as the country was plunging into the Great Recession.

A Chronicle editorial tries to keep hope alive:

The California High-Speed Rail Authority recently announced that it will build the first 250-mile section from Kern County to San Jose instead of from Fresno to Burbank. The change is expected to save money and to expedite construction, both great aims given the pressure. Nothing persuades naysayers like smart action, so we urge the Rail Authority to get going.

But "naysayers" like me see this as an act of desperation, not "smart." The smart thing for the state to do now is pull the plug on the poorly-conceived, underfunded mega project.

Governor Brown has kept the project on life-support with cap-and-trade money, but legislation on that program expires in 2020, by which time, by the way, project opponent Gavin Newsom will be the Governor of California.

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