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Opinion: Astonishing about-face sends a message

Opinion by Richard Galant, CNN

(CNN) — The Brooklyn Bridge opened 141 years ago as “a vaulting avenue” over the East River, “defying space and gravity like some weightless natural phenomenon,” historian David McCullough wrote in “The Great Bridge.”

To cross what was then the world’s longest suspension bridge, the toll was five cents for a horse and rider, 10 cents for a horse-drawn carriage, five cents for each cow and two cents per sheep or hog. For pedestrians, it was a bargain: one penny.

The tolls were lifted within a few decades. Ever since then, it’s been free to cross the bridge and the three others that connect Brooklyn and Queens — where the majority of New York City residents live — to Manhattan, where many of them work. (Never mind that fraudsters like George C. Parker gained fame for “selling” the Brooklyn Bridge to naive New Yorkers who thought they could collect tolls to recoup their costs.)

Mayors and urban planners have spent nearly a century trying and failing to slap tolls on the East River bridges, but it wasn’t until 2019 that officials figured out a winning strategy — a first-in-the-nation congestion pricing plan that would collect $15 from most cars entering Manhattan at or south of 60th street from any direction, including drivers from New Jersey.

The plan “means cleaner air, better transit and less gridlock on New York City’s streets,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in December.

So it was a shock Wednesday when Hochul suspended the plan just weeks before the tolls were to start, especially since the state counted on the revenue to upgrade New York’s mass transit system and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars installing cameras and other equipment to detect and charge riders entering Manhattan.

“Let’s be real: a $15 charge may not mean a lot to someone who has the means,” Hochul declared, “but it can break the budget of a working- or middle-class household.”

Yet politicians suspected a deeper motive: the fear that voters angry at the tolls would punish Hochul’s fellow Democrats running for Congress.

In this unprecedented year of global elections, voters are reminding politicians from New Delhi to Johannesburg that bread-and-butter issues really matter.

In India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party was unexpectedly unable to win an outright parliamentary majority, The Wall Street Journal pointed to “unhappiness with economic issues” and “the disconnect between two images of India: one of a global economic powerhouse populated by glitzy billionaire moguls, and the second where hundreds of millions of people face bleak job prospects and soaring costs…”

While it seems Modi’s reliance on Hindu nationalist themes didn’t resonate with voters as strongly as he had hoped, journalist Ziya Us Salam observed that the future for India’s Muslim minority remains dark. “With the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) steadfastly refusing to allow my community even a token representation in corridors of power, India’s largest minority, the third largest Muslim population in the world, is left voiceless… With the BJP back in power — albeit without the supermajority it had vowed — my only hope lies in a politically weakened Modi now.”

In South Africa, CBS News reported, “A stubbornly high unemployment rate, which officially hit 32.9% last year but in reality is much higher; persistent economic inequalities; rampant corruption and a lack of public service delivery, particularly in poorer areas, all contributed to the dethroning of the ANC,” which has ruled the country for 30 years and now is trying to assemble a governing coalition.

Is there a lesson here for President Joe Biden’s reelection bid? In polls, voters give him poor marks for his handling of the economy. But unemployment remains low, the stock market has been on a tear and US economic growth has outpaced much of the world.

Even so, “US consumers see no end to the one-two punch of high inflation and high interest rates — and they cannot take much more of it,” wrote two economists, Dana M. Peterson and Stephanie Guichard.

People “are increasingly stretched. Pandemic savings are depleted. Wage gains are slowing. Household debt is rising rapidly. Heightened debt levels and interest rates mean that consumers are spending more on interest payments, with less left for goods and services. Also, more households find it difficult to service and repay debt, especially those who have already maxed out their credit cards.”

D-Day at 80

It was 80 years ago on June 6 that Allied troops invaded Normandy, starting a campaign that would conquer Nazi Germany. “Some 29,000 Americans died in the Normandy invasion, in a war that engulfed 50 countries, a catastrophe that would kill more than 70 million people, one of every 30 people who were alive when it started,” wrote Frida Ghitis.

Biden joined other Western leaders in France to commemorate the occasion last week, using the opportunity to sound a key theme of his campaign against former President Donald Trump: the urgency of defending democracy.

“In a remarkable twist, history also echoes in the possibly next president of the United States, Donald Trump, who has revived the term ‘America First,’ used in the 1930s and ’40s by Americans who wanted the US to stand back, even as Hitler launched a war to conquer Europe,” noted Ghitis.

“As he foreshadows potentially drastic changes in the US approach to Europe’s defense and to the war in Ukraine, Trump is raising ‘existential’ anxiety among US allies.”


“Candidates typically ‘pivot to the center’ after winning party nominations,” wrote Liam Kerr, noting that the unsuccessful 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hilary Clinton, didn’t make that move.

“But running to the center is how Democrats flipped seats in 2022, engaging moderate Republicans … And it continued this year, with moderate Tom Suozzi flipping Rep. George Santos’ vacated House seat to the D column in a New York special election in February.”

Last week, Biden made his biggest move in that direction, announcing curbs on immigration that echoed some of Trump’s policies.

“It’s ironic that Biden, who once denounced many of Trump’s immigration measures, now embraces them,” wrote Raul A. Reyes. “While candidate Biden pledged to restore asylum protections in 2019, the president rolled out a new rule last year presuming migrants ineligible for humanitarian relief unless they had first applied for asylum in another country on their way to the US.”

“With his new executive order, Biden is again contradicting his stated principles. In 2019, Biden said, ‘The idea that a country of 330 million people cannot absorb people who are in desperate need and who are justifiably fleeing oppression is absolutely bizarre.’ How unfortunate that the same president who championed the rights of asylum-seekers seems to be willing to toss aside their legal and human rights so easily.”

Hunter Biden

In an accident of timing, the trial of the president’s son, Hunter Biden, followed on the heels of Trump’s trial, allowing plenty of room for comparison between the two very different events.

“If Hunter Biden broke the law, he should pay,” said SE Cupp. “It especially matters in this charged political environment where many Americans genuinely believe the justice system is corrupt or punitive to one particular political side.”

“But there’s a big difference between Hunter’s trial and Trump’s. And it’s not just that only one of them is running for president, while the other’s a private citizen.”

“Democrats are not circling the wagons around Hunter” as they did with Trump, Cupp added.

“They’re not calling the prosecution a witch hunt. They’re not calling our justice system corrupt. They’re not calling the trial rigged.”

“They’re not putting on matching outfits to go down to the courthouse in Wilmington, Delaware, and whine about the prosecution, attack the judges and their families, and lie on behalf of either Biden men in front of reporters and TV cameras.”

A legal pile-on?

In the long run, argued W. James Antle III, the Trump and Hunter Biden prosecutions may look like mistakes. “The various cases against Trump might be separate, with various jurisdictions pursuing them independently. But in the current political atmosphere, they look to a slice of the public like a legal pile-on, a patchwork of attempts to get Trump by any means necessary. Not exercising prosecutorial discretion in the New York case may work to undermine them all politically, if not legally. Skepticism of the justice system has already been raised as an issue in Hunter Biden’s jury selection.”

“And Democrats may come to regret the precedent that has been set with the first felony conviction of a former and perhaps future president — through what some experts believe was the weakest of these cases — if Trump wins and does indeed behave the way they  warn he will.”

Judges in Washington, D.C., Georgia and Florida have taken actions that reduce the likelihood that any of the three remaining Trump prosecutions will come to trial before the election. Julian Zelizer noted that “Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee who is presiding over the classified documents case in Florida, has made it much less likely that a decision in that case will be reached before November 5.”

“In a series of unusual moves, Cannon has allowed third-party groups unaffiliated with the case to argue in court, delayed some hearings without setting a new date, and scheduled additional ones, including one regarding a gag order request to limit Trump’s rhetoric about law enforcement. She also allotted more time to hear arguments about Trump’s request to declare special counsel Jack Smith’s appointment invalid…”

“Of course, without verdicts in the remaining three cases, voters will have less definitive information on which to base their decisions come November. And if Trump is elected again, he could use his presidential powers to pardon himself — at least in the federal cases.”

For more:

Dean Obeidallah: What we should fear about Trump’s ‘breaking point’ warning

David Orentlicher: Congress has no case against Merrick Garland

Thomas Balcerski: What we can glean from a prisoner who ran for president


A fraudulent attempt to gain control of Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate failed. “It was a brazen act that served as a stark reminder that scammers constantly prowl the internet, and that fraudulent schemes targeting the heirs of estates and the elderly from various segments of society occur more frequently than the general populace is aware,” wrote Michael T. Bertrand, author of “Race, Rock and Elvis.”

The fascination with Graceland is understandable, Bertrand wrote. After the White House, it’s the most visited home in America, and “in familial and cultural terms arguably symbolizes Presley’s greatest success.” Presley was born in a two-room house; the Memphis mansion is 17,552 square feet.

“Graceland was the home of a man born in a shotgun shack without indoor plumbing who reached the greatest heights imaginable, yet never forgot who he was or where he came from.”

Caitlin Clark

As Amy Bass wrote, “Folks want someone ejected, benched, banned or fined for WNBA rookie Caitlin Clark going down hard in the Indiana Fever’s 71-70 win over the Chicago Sky the other night? Maybe start with ESPN personality Pat McAfee.”

“That game was one a lot of folks had been waiting for, positioned as a showdown between former college rivals Clark (formerly of Iowa) and Angel Reese (LSU), facing off for the first time on the professional stage. But Chennedy Carter’s smackdown of Clark — charged as a personal foul and later elevated to flagrant — took center stage, fodder for water cooler conversations and arguments regarding whether or not Clark is being unfairly targeted and, if so, whether the WNBA should be doing something about it.”

McAfee “described Clark — who he appeared to be defending and supporting as the reason so many people are interested in the WNBA — as the ‘one white b*tch for the Indiana team who is a superstar.’”

“Does McAfee live to get a rise out of people? Absolutely. Does he know that word “b*tch” goes beyond that? Also, absolutely.” McAfee soon apologized.

The decline of sex

“Americans are a stunningly lonely bunch,” Jill Filipovic wrote. “Our decline in friendships and social time began before the pandemic, but was badly exacerbated by it. We live more of our lives online and behind a screen, with many people now working from home, schoolchildren learning online and scores of us engaging with our peers on social media more than we do in real life.”

That may help explain growing discussion of celibacy, she added. “Sex itself is less common among the usually-raring-to-go young than it’s been in decades. Researchers have not agreed on why this is happening, but theories abound, including the fact that young people have less unstructured time and spend less of the time they do have simply hanging out with friends, which probably makes for few opportunities for sex.”

“My personal theory is that social decline plays a primary role and is helped along by more feminist, empowered young women looking at a pool of young men whose sexual mindsets have been shaped by years of online porn and video games.”

For more:

Sara Stewart: The female gaze is taking over page and screen, and it is hot

AI whistleblowers

The companies seeking to dominate the emerging field of artificial intelligence are dealing with potentially catastrophic risks, wrote Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig. Some former employees seeking to alert the public to the dangers have had to risk losing substantial amounts of money as a result of non-disparagement agreements they were required to sign, noted Lessig, who said he is representing a group of former workers on a pro bono basis.

“We should pause to consider just what it means when someone is willing to give up perhaps millions of dollars to preserve the freedom to speak,” Lessig observed. Firms operating in the field of artificial general intelligence “are among the least regulated, inherently dangerous companies in America today.” 

The workers are seeking a “right to warn” under which companies like OpenAI would “pledge to encourage an environment in which employees are free to criticize the company’s safety precautions.”

Don’t miss

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Megan L. Ranney and Monique Rainford: This FDA approval should have come long ago

Noah Berlatsky: How ‘Hit Man’ does what ‘Double Indemnity’ couldn’t

Adam Plowright: The Paris Olympics are holding an uncomfortable mirror up to France


Cricket’s allure

The US is hosting the cricket T20 World Cup for the first time, in a collaboration with the Caribbean islands, Ashish Ravinran pointed out.

“Now the cricket world wants to know: Is the sport settling in for a long stay at the crease, or is this just a flashy little cameo? In other words, can cricket ever take root in mainstream America?”

“Beyond the glamor of this international tournament and cricket officialdom, there is another America; one where cricket has been thriving organically for years, nurtured by South Asian and Caribbean immigrants.”

The version of cricket being played in the international competition is the shortest kind, Ravinran noted.

“‘It doesn’t last 5 days! T20 takes 3 hours!’ we diehards insist.”

“It remains to be seen how many new converts will be found among the cricket faithful who are flocking to stadiums in Texas, Florida and New York this summer.”

“But after facing years of head-scratching and raised eyebrows in the US, this June the cricket diaspora strikes back.”

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