The Takeaway

The Takeaway Answers Listener Questions on U.S Intervention in Syria

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Senate and the House directed their concerns and inquiries to Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Takeaway listeners left us with dozens of thoughtful questions to be considered before a decision is made on Syria. Our host John Hockenberry looks to the hearings to bring answers to you here.

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Transportation Nation

How Sandy Might Tweak Today's High-Speed Rail Privatization Hearing

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rendering of an Amtrak NextGen high-speed rail train

On Capitol Hill today, high-speed rail in the Northeast will get dissected and debated.  This time though, Amtrak head Joe Boardman will sit at the witness table with some support from record ridership numbers. And also Sandy.

You can watch the House Transportation sub-committee hearings here at 10 a.m. ET and see the full list of-top level witnesses here

The hearing continues a series of grillings GOP lawmakers have been giving to Amtrak in a push to reduce the subsidies the national rail network relies on each year. Other witnesses on the docket include a DOT rep, an American Enterprise Institute Scholar and a Morgan Stanley managing director.

The 15 word hearing title obscures the topic, so it's pasted way down below in this post, but rest assured the conversation will cover privatization of high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor.

Outgoing House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica who will chair today's hearing has long supported the idea of building high-speed rail in the Northeast because that route is the only one profitable for Amtrak, but he has argued that funding, and even operations, could be provided by the private sector. Big spending on big projects need not come entirely from the government, Mica has argued.

Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution says, "Superstorm Sandy did change the conversation around infrastructure, particularly in the Northeast."

The storm, which caused $60 million in losses to Amtrak and billions in damages to other transit agencies, showed the need for expensive upgrades, and a scale of risk involved that demands more active government investment. "The enormous bills we have from Sandy are not going to be born by the private sector. It's ridiculous to think so."

He says, "there is a role for the private sector to play" and he hopes the hearings hone in on it because finding the right role is crucial.

Puentes also says, states are likely to play an increasingly large role in Amtrak funding in the future. As the national government becomes more reticent to pay for unprofitable rail routes, states that want to keep their service will have to start chipping in.

One test case to watch for this model could be the Sunset Limited line along the Gulf Coast that was washed away in 2005 by Katrina. Local officials are lobbying to get it back. The cash-strapped states of Alabama and Mississippi would need to pony up though, and so far it's stalled.

Today's hearing though, is on the Northeast Corridor, where megaprojects are on the table and profits are a reasonable lure for business involvement. The "vision" for high-speed rail still carries a price tag of $151 billion and a minimum construction time of several decades. There is no plan for how to find that huge sum.

Amtrak is likely to try to draw the focus to a more immediate project that is incremental to the "vision," the Gateway program, which would add two new tunnels under the Hudson River into New York's Penn Station from New Jersey. There are two existing Hudson tunnels at capacity now. They both flooded during Sandy along with two of  the four tunnels under the East River.

Petra Messick, a planner with Amtrak  says the tunnels are needed for projected ridership growth but, Sandy also showed the value that new infrastructure could bring.

"When the Gateway Tunnels are built, they will be built in the 21st century and include a host of features that will make them more resilient ... like floodgates," Messick says.

The existing tunnels are more than a century old.

And in case you were still curious, that full 15 word title is: “Northeast Corridor Future: Options for High-Speed Rail Development and Opportunities for Private Sector Participation.”


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Annotations: The NEH Preservation Project

Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency: Wertham Versus Gaines On Decency Standards

Monday, August 27, 2012


The investigation continues! The evils of horror comics are explicated by two contrasting witnesses, Dr.  Fredric Wertham, a reserved psychiatrist, and William Gaines, the chief purveyor of such lurid publications as The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, and Tales From the Crypt

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Annotations: The NEH Preservation Project

Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency: Comic Books, "Soda-pop," and Societal Harm

Friday, August 24, 2012


This is "not a subcommittee of blue-nosed censors," the chairman Robert Hendrickson claims, in his introductory remarks at these famous Congressional hearings on the link between comic books and juvenile delinquency, broadcast over WNYC on April 21, 1954.

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Proposed Charters Get Public Hearings

Monday, August 06, 2012

Hearings are being held this month on charter schools that plan to open in the Bronx, on Staten Island and in East Harlem and Brooklyn in the fall of 2013. See the schedule and details.

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It's A Free Country ®

20 Years Later: Anita Hill and the Justice Thomas Confirmation Hearings

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I'm a journalist. I'm a reporter. I cover the court. This was my story. I thought it was a credible story but you know, you saw what I saw and I don't think we actually have proof positive. Lots of people have their opinions, but I don't think it's in my interest to actually resolve this based on an opinion as opposed to fact.

Nina Totenberg, NPR's legal affairs correspondent, on The Brian Lehrer Show

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The Takeaway

Emotions Rage At Domestic Terrorism Hearing

Friday, March 11, 2011

Testimony at the hearing on "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community" in Washington was divisive. While some witnesses spoke of a campaign to promote terrorism stemming from within American mosques, others worried that broad accusations could further empower extremism and alienate the Muslim community. The hearings, spearheaded by New York Republican Rep. Peter T. King, were the first in a series addressing issues of Muslim radicalization in different areas of society. But apart from the rhetoric, what did the hearings actually achieve in the first place?


The Takeaway

In Support of Hearings on the 'Radicalization of Muslims'

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Congressman Peter King's (R-NY) controversial hearings, which begin Thursday, on the radicalization of American Muslim youths, is being met with tremendous anger from Muslims nationwide. But one Muslim American who is in favor of these hearings is Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, the president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. He believes whatever we have done to battle the radicalization of Muslim youth in America has not worked, and says "we need to figure out a new strategy."

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Ahead of Controversial Hearing, NY Rep. Defends Support of IRA

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

New York Congressman Peter King, who will hold hearings this week on Islamic radicalism, is defending his support in the '80s and '90s of the Irish Republican Army.

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The Takeaway

Who's To Blame For The Gulf Oil Spill? Maybe Nobody

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

President Obama's commission to investigate the causes of the Gulf oil spill revealed their results yesterday, and it seems that they couldn't find anyone specifically to blame. Fred Bartlit, lead counsel on the investigation, said "We have not seen a single instance where a human being made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety." While the commission says it agrees "90 percent" with BP's own report on the explosion and spill — does the public need someone to blame for all of this?


The Takeaway

Dick Fuld Testifies Before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Former Lehman Brothers chief executive Richard Fuld testified before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission on Wednesday. He described his frustration that his firm did not get the help that other firms later got from federal regulators. Louise Story, Wall Street and finance reporter for The New York Times, explains what we're learning from the FCIC, which is tasked with finding out what caused the financial and economic crisis in 2008.