from Renewing America

Morning Brief: Amtrak’s High Speed Plans for the Northeast

A northbound Amtrak high speed Acela train rolls through the Claymont station near Wilmington, Delaware (Tim Shaffer/Courtesy Reuters).

July 11, 2012

A northbound Amtrak high speed Acela train rolls through the Claymont station near Wilmington, Delaware (Tim Shaffer/Courtesy Reuters).
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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Amtrak announced a $151 billion improvement plan for its northeast corridor (NEC) for high-speed trains by 2040 (Reuters). Quicker "NextGen" trains would begin rolling in the 2020s, and eventually travel times would decline by about half. Amtrak is also considering adding new links to major airports. In its report, Amtrak acknowledged a current lack of federal support, but the administrator of the federal agency that oversees Amtrak offered: "The vision we will shape with the Northeastern states, Amtrak and all of our stakeholders will outlast the vagaries of politics, budgets and critics."

Lawmakers continue to debate the costs and benefits of investment in the U.S. rail network, with high-speed rail a key issue. This CFR Backgrounder summarizes the historical development of freight and passenger rail as well as policy concerns and options facing lawmakers.

Infrastructure. Read more on how upgrading the nation’s aging network of roads, bridges, airports, railways, and water systems is essential to maintaining U.S. competitiveness.

Debt and Deficits

Scranton’s City Employees Dropped to Minimum Wage

The mayor of Scranton, PA has decided to pay city workers minimum wage to delay a budget crisis (NPR). Mayor Doherty wants to raise taxes to eliminate a budget gap, but the city council prefers to borrow money over the short term. City unions have already taken their case to court and won an injunction, which the mayor violated in releasing the minimum wage checks (LAT).

Michigan’s Fiscal Accountability Act was the subject of a Policy Initiative Spotlight by Jonathan Masters. The law increased the state’s power to intervene in local fiscal matters by appointing an emergency financial manager when certain financial stress criteria are met.

Debt and deficits. Read more from experts on the challenges in reducing U.S. debt.

Corporate Regulation and Taxation

CFTC Defines a 'Swap'

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) voted four to one to finalize the definition of a swap (Reuters). The move is a major milestone for the implementation of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act and the regulation of financial derivatives such as foreign exchange swaps and commodity options. The dissenting commissioner expressed concern that exemptions in the rules designed to protect non-financial users of derivatives may create loopholes for banks to exploit (NYT).

Corporate regulation and taxation. Read more from top economists and business experts on solutions for addressing corporate tax reform.


Lessons from Bell Labs

From the transistor to cell phones, Bell Labs created many of the major innovations of the twentieth century and serves as an example of successful innovation from a deliberate corporate process (Financial Post). Strong, consistent, and visionary leadership enabled a creative culture that conducted fundamental research with an eye towards eventual commercialization. Bell Labs brought together brilliant people from different disciplines, and designed its organization to encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Innovation. Read more on how the U.S. capacity to innovate could play a chief role in economic growth.

Education and Human Capital

Tattoos Block Some Immigrants

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. immigration personnel are paying increased attention to tattoos, particularly those that may indicate a link with organized crime. This becomes increasingly difficult as tattoos affiliated with gangs become popular with the general public, who are often unaware of designs’ origins. While some proponents think the government is conducting proper due diligence, detractors see overzealousness and perhaps a trampling of free speech rights.

CFR’s 2009 Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy recommended reform of legal immigration to improve efficiency and U.S. competitiveness.

Education and human capital. Read more from experts discussing ways to improve U.S. education and immigration policies.

The Morning Brief is compiled by Renewing America contributor Steven J. Markovich.

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