That Darned Swine

Swine flu has taken over the news.  36,000 people die every year just in this country from the flu but 100 Mexicans die and it’s a pandemic?  I appreciate the seriousness of the illness but doubt it is worth all this hysteria.  The flu originated in pigs and crossed over to humans.  This seems to be happening more frequently.  Didn’t scientists predict such outbreaks would result from climate change?

The Obama Administration is taking all possible precautions to avert a pandemic but not having a head of Health and Human Services nor the CDC is an issue.  Fault at HHS lies with both the White House and Republicans in the Senate who have failed to consent to Gov. Sebelius’ nomination.  The Obama team dropped the ball on previous nominations for the position, notably Tom Daschle.  That delayed this important Cabinet appointment then Republican Senators decided to filibuster the confirmation.

I think we’ve found the swine.

PA-Sen: Specter Opposed Funding for Flu Preparedness

(Congressional Republicans took $800 million for flu preparedness out of the stimulus package. – promoted by John Morgan)

{First, a cheap plug for my blog Senate Guru.}

How incompetent and shortsighted is Arlen Specter?  He opposed funding for pandemic flu preparedness earlier this year!  ThinkProgress reports:

After the funding was stripped, another moderate Republican attempting to appear tough on “unnecessary” spending in the recovery package, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), endorsed Collins’ crusade against the pandemic preparedness funding on Fox News:
MS. KELLY: Okay. $780 million for pandemic flu preparedness, in or out?

SEN. SPECTER: Out. Very important projects, I took the lead along with Tom Harkin on some massive funding for pandemic flu, but it belongs in our regular appropriations bill.

Meanwhile, the threat of the pandemic swine flu is already compromising our economic well-being in addition to our public health.  Note to Arlen Specter: maybe emergency preparedness funding does belong in an economic stimulus bill if the emergency in question has the potential to massively slow our economy.  Thanks for nothing, Arlen Specter.

Obama Expands Student Loan Program

President Obama expanded the college student loan program with an announcement Friday.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held a national press conference call to discuss the policy.  Student loans are threatening to derail an entire generation of college graduates.  With the cost of a college education soaring most students can only attend through these loans.  They are graduating with debts of, sometimes, $100,000.  The nterest rates on this debt can range up to 30%, usuary.

How will this generation of young people buy houses, fuel our consumer economy or invest for retirement with such a debt load?  They won’t.  Therefore President Obama is taking advantage of low rates to expand the federal student loan program to lower these interest rates for loans.

America’s future economic strength depends on the quality of our education. Countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. America once had one of the most educated workforces in the world, but it has now slipped to the middle of the pack. Only 38 percent of young workers have a college degree, a lower percentage than nine other countries and no higher than a generation ago. At the same time, we do not provide enough financial aid, partly because the student loan program spends $5 billion more than necessary subsidizing banks and other lenders to make student loans.

Today, President Obama met with a family struggling to afford the cost of college and released a new analysis of the impact of his plans to increase student aid. He will take on the special interests to eliminate wasteful and unreliable guaranteed student loans and invest more in helping students succeed in college and complete their degree. And he will make a historic investment in college affordability: together, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the President’s Budget provide about $200 billion in Pell Grant scholarships and tax credits over the next decade.

·         Reforming Student Loans: The guaranteed student loan program pays banks and other lenders a guaranteed rate of return and reimburses them for defaults, giving them large profits set by the political process rather than won in a competitive marketplace. The Obama-Biden Administration will expand the alternative Direct Loan program, which is administered by private sector companies selected through a competitive process and paid based upon performance. Direct loans have essentially the same terms for students and are more reliable and efficient. They will save $48 billion over the next decade according to the Office of Management and Budget, which will be reinvested in Pell Grant scholarships for students.

·         Restoring Pell Grants to a Strong Foundation for Student Aid: The value of Pell Grants have fallen from 77 percent of the cost of attending a public university to 33 percent over the past three decades. The ARRA invested $17 billion, making it possible to increase Pell by $619 for 7 million students. But these funding increases are only temporary, and without additional resources the value of the maximum Pell Grant will fall by $1,400 in 2011. President Obama is committed to a strong, reliable Pell Grant program. He will make Pell an entitlement, provide $116 billion over the next decade to prevent any drop in the size of Pell Grants, ensure that they continues to grow faster than inflation, and eliminate the frequent budget shortfalls that have plagued the program.

·         Cut Taxes on College Tuition: The ARRA created the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which will give millions of families up to $2,500 each to help pay for college. The credit was also expanded to help families too poor to owe income taxes. But the credit expires at the end of 2010. The President’s Budget would make it permanent.

·         Make a New Commitment to College Access and Completion: Only 65 percent of students starting at four-year colleges – and 38 percent of students starting at two-year colleges – earn a degree within six years. The President’s Budget includes a five-year, $2.5 billion fund to improve college access and help America’s colleges and universities graduate more students. The fund will identify, test, and promote what works in boosting college enrollment and persistence.

 

Judge Paula Patrick

I attended an event hosted by the Kutztown Area Democratic Club last evening to hear Judge Paula Patrick.  The Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge is running for Superior Court.  I hadn’t had a chance to meet her in January at the State Committee meeting and several friends suggested I find out more before making my endorsements.

I was disappointed because Judge Patrick is no progressive.  I got some negative vibes early on during a brief conversation then I asked her whether she supports a woman’s reproductive rights.  She danced around the question, as she did all evening, so I asked her directly if she would describe herself as pro choice or anti choice.  Her response was direct:  “I’m pro life.”

She responded to a different question about her ambitions by making it clear she’d someday like to serve on the state Supreme Court.  Her philosophy against women’s reproductive rights is therefore dangerous.  Should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe the question devolves to each state.  The Pennsylvania legislature would then determine if the right to reproductive chice remains in Pennsylvania.  The state Supreme Court would be the final arbiter on the issue.

Please do not vote for Judge Paula Patrick.

The Torture Memo Debate

Republicans are seeing red over the possibility that Bush Administration officials could be prosecuted for torture.  It is clear from the memos recently released by the Obama White House that all th eprevious reports and beliefs were true.  George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had an unquenchable thirst for torturing human beings following 9/11 and wanted to torture in the worst way.  The White House forced the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department to write the memos giving their people legal cover to do just that.  

The rule of law was destroyed, war crimes were commited, laws twisted and careers undermined so the CIA could satisfy this thirst for revenge.  Bush and Cheney became no better than Osama Bin Laden and these crimes were done in our name.  This created a huge wave of anger at America and fueled the recruitment of terrorists for anyone against us.

Now the GOP is up in arms at the release of the memos and the possibility of prosecutions.  The Party of personal a ccountability wants none.  It is OK if you are a Republican to investigate and prosecute a President for blow jobs but not for war crimes.  If we do not hold our own people accountable some other country will.  Spain is already indicting six former Bush officials for war crimes.  Any country which had citizens at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib or in Afghanistan who was tortured under these Bush policies can indict and prosecute them.  Why are we deferring this to our enemies (in some cases)?

Judge Jay Bybee, one of the authors of the infamous legal documents was rewarded for his work in torturing people in violation of the law by being made a federal judge.  Now there is a movement underway to impeach Judge Bybee for his actions.  It is an outrage that someone who undermined the rule of law is sitting on the bench.  Someone who has no regard for international laws, treaties or U.S. law is overseeing an druling on cases pretending he has some understanding of the concept of the rule of law.  Judge Bybee needs to be indicted for war crimes along with everyone else involved.  The hotbed for this was the Vice President’s office and Dick Cheney needs to be hauled into court to answer for his crimes.

NRA Sues Pittsburgh

The NRA has sued Pittsburgh over a new ordinance requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen weapons.  This comes on the heels of three police officers shot and killed by a lunatic who believed the NRA and right wing fringe elements who are feeding a conspiracy theory which claims President Obama will begin confiscating guns.  The NRA is also now firmly on the side of gun traffickers wreaking violence on our streets killing cops and kids.

Where, exactly, does the NRA draw the line?  Now we know:  nowehere.  At a pro gun rally last Tuesday in Harrisburg 63 handguns were confiscated from people trying to bring them into OUR state capitol building.  Is no place sacred enough to qualify for protection against terrorists, outlaws and lunatics?  We cannot even roam the halls of our state capitol building without wondering what lunatic is carrying a concealed weapon there?  What’s to keep a terrorist from killing our Governor or Supreme Court Justices if anyone can bring a gun into the Rotunda?

The NRA is defing itself as an extremist fringe, lunatic organization and our neighbors, our police officers and our children are paying th eprice with their lives.  Gun traffickers are worse than drug dealers because of the violence they bring to thatunderground industry.  Without the illegal trading in firearms the levels of violence here and in Mexico would be greatly abated.  Pittsburgh sought to control this violence following the massacre of three cops by an NRA lunatic.  The NRA’s response is to sue the city.

PA Election Casino: Jack Wagner Rolls the Dice

PA Auditor General Jack Wagner (D) has been mentioned as the candidate of second impression for two hotly contested races with big implications, Governor and US Senate.  Wagner as Auditor General is one of the states largest vote- getters in the history of the Commonwealth’s elections, making him undoubtedly a formidable candidate for anyone to face in the primary or general.

Until recently however, the knock has been that Wagner could not raise the kind of money to run that Dan Onorato, Chris Matthews, or Don Cunningham could in his quest for one of these highly sought two positions.  Now, Wagner has stepped up to the plate in his apparent quest for office by stepping on the Guvs toes.

Just recently, Wagner sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office in Washington D.C. highlighting his concerns over potential “internal weaknesses” in federal programs ran by the Commonwealth such as Medicaid and weatherization assistance.  Exposing these weaknesses may have been necessary in order to prevent the potential waste of stimulus funds received from the Obama Administration and Congress.

In doing so, Mr. Wagner has rolled the dice into play on his political fortunes because it appears that the Rendell Administration is very upset with Mr. Wagner’s decision to send a letter to GAO.  Undoubtedly, one could understand why Rendell and Company are upset.  Mr. Wagner, the PA Auditor General was so concerned about the “potential” problem, that he over-stepped the Governor of the state to address an internal problem, which makes no sense in actually addressing the problem.

Jack Wagner should be applauded for his decision to focus on stimulus fund accountability and should be commended for looking ahead with foresight in terms of identifying weaknesses. His foresight is a rather refreshing show of leadership.  However, it does appear that he needs to take a lesson or two on how to best go about addressing “internal weaknesses” that he is concerned about in PA.  Im not so sure if over-stepping the Rendell Administration was the best decision to make.  Logic would tell one that the Governor’s the man who needed to know these details, so that he could help Wagner sort out any potential weaknesses.  

I recommend personally that Wagner run for Senate.  With the field now at Torsella, Kortz, and possibly Josh Shapiro I would list Wagner as a likely favorite from a name recognition and experience standpoint.  Unquestionably, he would be the best candidate to run against Pat Toomey (should Toomey upset Specter). However, as John mentions we may have several more candidates enter the race for the Democrats.  One thing is clear however… Jack Wagner has certainly put his political fortunes into play.

The First 100 Days: What It Means For Pennsylvania

President Obama’s first 100 days are nearing their close and this is historically a time to measure the effectiveness of a new Administration.  All the news outlets will be analyzing what was done, what was accomplished and the general nature of the new people.  Pennsylvania is profiting well from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) as projects and funding flow into the Commonwealth.  The following is a summary put together by the White House about specific projects funded and managed by the Obama team here in the Keystone State.  The Crossley Farm Superfund project isn’t far from where I live and has been a bad environmental site for years.  

Directly benefiting from the President’s policies 95% of our working people received increases in their net incomes April 1st as taxes were reduced.  One of my sisters is taking advantage of the $8000 tax credit for new home buyers and closes on a new home next week (Thanks Kirk and all those at your agency!).  We’ll be installing new energy efficient windows under that tax credit and thousands of other Pennsylvanians are doing the same thing.  All this economic activity stimulates the economy and saves or creates jobs.

Every Republican member of the state Congressional delegation voted against this program.  Jim Gerlach, Charlie Dent, Tim Murphy, Joe Pitts, Todd Platts, Bill Shuster, and Thompson all voted No to this economic spending.  Remember this when election day 2010 rolls around.

Facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, President Obama started his Presidency with decisive action — proposing and quickly passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  Since the bill went into effect, the ARRA has already helped put money back in the pockets of 95 percent of working Americans, created and saved jobs across the country and made key investments in our community to help kickstart the economy.  To ensure that the funds are spent efficiently and effectively, President Obama tasked Vice President Biden with overseeing the implementation of ARRA, and projects have already begun to come in under budget across the country.   As the President prepares to introduce the details of his budget and further plans to revitalize the economy, here’s a look at how his policies have impacted Pennsylvania in the first three months of his administration.

IMPACT OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S ECONOMIC POLICIES ON PENNSYLVANIA

Working Families:

* Making Work Pay: The President’s tax-cut – which covers more Americans than any in history – is putting more than $2.5 billion back in the pockets of more than 4.8 million hard-working Pennsylvania families.

* $60,146,767 to support child care for working families.

Energy:

* $102,508,400 in block grants to foster energy efficiency in building, transportation, and a wide range of other improvements.

* $252,793,062 to support the weatherization of homes, including adding more insulation, sealing leaks and modernizing heating and air conditioning equipment.

* $99,684,000 to the State Energy Program, available for rebates to consumers for energy saving improvements; development of renewable energy projects; promotion of Energy Star products; efficiency upgrades for state and local government buildings; and other innovative state efforts to help save families money on their energy bills.

Education:

· 2,943,894,440  dollars potentially available to Pennsylvania to lay the foundation for a generation of education reform and help save thousands of teaching jobs at risk due to state and local budget cuts.

Click on more to read the rest of the story.

Health Care:

   * $6,716,568 to fund 6 new Community Health Centers, which will serve an estimated 39,930patients and create a projected 295 jobs.

   * $9,448,774 to expand services at 36 existing Community Health Centers, which will expand service to an additional 59,603 patients and create or save a projected 180 jobs.

   * $4,485,834 to provide meals to low-income seniors.

   * $680,278,921 made available in Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) to protect health care for the families hit hard by the economic crisis and some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

   * $8,159,088 in vaccines and grants to ensure more underserved Americans receive the vaccines they need.

Transportation:

   * $1,026,429,012 in highway funds to help build and repair roads and bridges.

   * $343,703,209 to repair and build public transportation infrastructure.

Law Enforcement:

   * More than $72.3 million for state and local law enforcement assistance available through the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program.  The JAG Program supports a variety of efforts such as hiring and support for law enforcement officers; multijurisdictional drug and gang task forces; crime prevention and domestic violence programs; and courts, corrections, treatment, and justice information sharing initiatives.

REAL RESULTS IN PENNSYLVANIA

Thanks to the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, real impact is already being felt across the state.

PA Transportation Secretary Estimated Stimulus Road Projects Would Create 30,000 Jobs. “Highway and bridge projects financed by $1 billion in federal stimulus money are expected to create thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania, according to Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler. A list of about 240 projects was released at a news conference in Harrisburg on Monday afternoon and posted on www.recovery.pa.gov, the state’s Web site for stimulus projects. One of the biggest-ticket items is $46 million for the relocation of railroad lines and other preparations for the widening of Route 28 between Millvale and Pittsburgh’s Troy Hill neighborhood. There’s also $12.5 million set aside for rehabilitation of the Liberty Tunnel in Pittsburgh. In Westmoreland County, there is $3.9 million for highway restoration of State Route 30 from Theater Street to Route 217 in Unity Township, and $4.1 million to restore Route 30 from Black Hills Road to Walton Tea Room Road in Hempfield Township. Overall, Biehler said the complete body of work will improve 399 bridges and 608 miles of roadway throughout the state. Biehler estimated that the road projects will directly and indirectly create 30,000 jobs.” [WTAE-TV, 3/16/09]

Harrisburg Will Hire Workers to Fix Up Homes with Stimulus Funds.  Thanks to Federal stimulus money, many people will start living in better conditions and with that there’s hope the changes will improve local communities. The Harrisburg Housing Authority will receive more than 4-million dollars to improve public housing buildings in the city. Windows are broken and boarded up. They are signs of a run down public housing complex that needs help. ‘If you look around, there are boards on the windows. They can fix them so people with families can move in there,’ said Jack Lasure, visiting friends at the William Howard Complex. Harrisburg’s mayor says more than two-million of Federal Stimulus money will go towards fixing-up the William Howard Day Homes Complex. Hall Manor will see some money too. Families, like Wilbur Wright’s, will not only be able to enjoy each other on a warm Saturday afternoon, but they’ll also be able to take in some upgrades.” [Ch 21 CBS News, 4/18/09]

Recovery Act Funding Could Mean The Creation Of 5,000 Jobs In Philadelphia “[Philadelphia] electrician George DiBruno has a family of four to support and a construction job that lasts only eight more weeks. After that? ‘After this one we don’t know what’s gonna happen,’ he says. Which is why the seemingly humdrum meetings he’s attending these days are so exciting for him. They’re new construction bid meetings – fueled by stimulus money – that are launching government projects nationwide…In other words, there are jobs out there. The money is there. People like DiBruno and welder Al Brown just need to land them. If Brown’s small, struggling welding business wins a contract, it’ll mean jobs for 8 to 10 workers. ‘We’re attending the outreach meetings. Letting people know who we are, what we can do,’ Brown says. Bob Lund is managing transit system stimulus money for the city of Philadelphia. With $191 million dollars to use, Lund’s work could create 5,000 jobs. That’s 5,000 people who, if the stimulus money weren’t available, wouldn’t be working at all, Lund says. [CBS News, 3/6/09]

Pennsylvania Medical Research Called Stimulus Funding “Once in a Lifetime Opportunity,” Said Funding Would Create and Save Jobs. “Dr. Brian Strom was finally able to relax last Friday afternoon after a dizzying week of overseeing grant applications. Strom is director of University of Pennsylvania Health System’s Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, which raced the clock to put together 17 grant applications for federal funding that would fund studies comparing drugs and treatments as a March 9 deadline loomed. Welcome to the new world of health-care research under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act… ‘Every day a new announcement comes out about opportunities for funding,’ Strom said. ‘This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.’ That feeling is shared at other research organizations around Philadelphia. ‘This is an extraordinary opportunity,’ said Dr. Steven E. McKenzie, vice president for research at Thomas Jefferson University. ‘We’re delighted to have an opportunity to compete for this money. It’s clear to us we’ll be keeping people employed who may not have stayed employed, and creating new jobs.’ [Philadelphia Business Journal, 3/13/09]

Hereford Township Will Receive $5 Million From Recovery Act For Crossley Farm Superfund Cleanup, Employing 20-30 People. “Cleanup at the Crossley farm Superfund site in Hereford Township will begin in earnest this fall with the help of $5 million in federal stimulus money. Administrators at the Environmental Protection Agency learned Wednesday that the Crossley farm near Bally is one of 50 sites that will benefit from the stimulus. The EPA plans to award a contract in September to build a treatment plant to remove groundwater contamination, said Roy Schrock, an EPA project manager in charge of the Crossley cleanup. The facility is expected to take about two years to complete and employ 20 to 30 people during construction…The extensive contamination at the Crossley site in eastern Berks placed it high on the priority list to get the infusion of federal money, Schrock said. ‘This has moved up my schedule by six months to a year,’ he said.” [Reading Eagle, 4/16/09]

WHYY: Stimulus Funding at Airport Gets Jobs Ready for Take-Off. “Airports throughout Pennsylvania are benefiting from federal stimulus money.  The announcement Wednesday unlocks money for the region. Five million dollars of federal stimulus funding will be dedicated to resurfacing the runway at Philadelphia International Airport.  U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says the money will create jobs to do the construction work. Lahood: Our part at transportation is to get people to work at good paying jobs. Mayor Michael Nutter says this is one of the so-called shovel ready projects talked about during debate on the stimulus plan. Nutter: What it’s going to mean is we are embarking on the repaving and improving the infrastructure of the longest runway at Philadelphia International Airport. Close to 300 jobs are being created just by this project. Nutter says with the money now available the bid process is now underway. Northeast Philadelphia Airport is also receiving $1 million for taxiway improvements.” [WHYY, 4/16/09]

Six Health Clinics in Pennsylvania Received $6.7 Million in Grant Money, Creating 295 Jobs. “Six health clinics in Pennsylvania will receive more than $6.7 million in grant money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the White House announced Monday. According to a statement from the White House, the money will go toward helping people in need, many without health insurance, obtain access to health care services. The funds will create 295 jobs, the White House said… The clinics included are Community Health Clinic in New Kensington, North Side Christian Services in Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood, Community Medical Services in New Kensington, Chespenn Health Services in Chester, Covenant House in Philadelphia and Keystone Rural Health Consortia in Emporium.” [Pittsburgh Business Times, 3/2/09]

Stimulus Funding Will Triple Number of AmeriCorps VISTA Workers in Some PA Counties. “Thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which includes $201 million in funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, agencies and organizations in Erie and Crawford counties will be able to host 28 AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) workers, about a third more this year than they hosted last year… The project’s three focus areas address physical and mental health issues of children and youth in poverty and their families or households; offer assistance to parents, focus on intergenerational programs or foster communication and collaboration among different age groups; and enhance curricular and co-curricular education for children and youth in poverty.” [Meadville Tribune, 3/23/09]

Lancaster County Will Receive $2 Million For 300 Youth Summer Jobs. “As the recession limits some summer-job options for young people, a new program for Lancaster County youths will help pick up the slack. With a roughly $2 million infusion of federal stimulus money, the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board is expanding by adding a summer-jobs programs for 14- to 24-year-olds. Scheduled for the next two years, the new program is expected to help about 300 low-income young people by tacking a work component onto existing career camps. Scott Sheely, executive director of the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board, estimated that $800,000 of the new federal money will be spent for the youth jobs programs, a cash infusion that is forcing some fast planning. ‘We’re pretty well set up to expand pretty dramatically, pretty quickly and that’s what we’re going to do,’ Sheely said.” [Lancaster Online, 3/23/09]

Stimulus Money to Help Needy Pennsylvania Seniors. “A relative sliver of the federal government’s stimulus money will be used to help feed some of Pennsylvania’s neediest senior citizens. The state is expecting nearly $4.5 million to help pay for home-delivered meals and lunches at local senior centers, officials announced Wednesday. It’s still unclear how that money will be divvied up within the state, but local officials say the money could be crucial in helping keep pace with the needs of Pennsylvania’s aging population. ”Our clients are home-bound, so they’re really in a position where they could be at risk for malnutrition because many of them have stopped driving, many of them have have multiple chronic illnesses — it’s difficult for them to get out,” said Pam Bechtel, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Lehigh County… Jane Crawford, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, said there are now 157 people — including residents of Monroe and Schuylkill counties — who are on waiting lists to receive home-delivered meals. ‘This money will be very welcome to provide senior citizens in the commonwealth with nutritious meals,’ she said.” [Allentown Morning Call, 3/19/09]

Pittsburgh International Will Be the First Airport in the Country to Receive Stimulus Funding, Which Will Be Used to Repave and Improve Lighting on a Runway, Will Create Jobs. “Pittsburgh International says it will be the first airport to receive infrastructure project funding from President Obama’s stimulus package. ‘This funding will most certainly increase jobs,’ said Glenn Mahone, chairman of Allegheny County Airport Authority, which runs the airport. The airport will spend its $10 million grant to repave and improve lighting on a crosswind runway, a project that will begin this summer and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2010.”[USA Today, 3/15/09]

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Tom Barnes) “Stimulus funds to aid 6 Pennsylvania health clinics:” Two streams of federal stimulus money are flowing into Pennsylvania, one being $6.7 million to bolster six community health clinics around the state, including clinics in Pittsburgh and two other Western Pennsylvania towns. But that money won’t prevent some painful cuts in health programs. The North Side Christian Health Center in Pittsburgh, the Community Health Clinic Inc. in New Kensington and the Community Medical Services clinic in Uniontown will benefit from funding under the newly enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Arlen Specter and U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle and John Murtha said in a statement yesterday. LINK

South Eastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority Anticipated Creating 5,590 Jobs from Stimulus Money. “Awaiting the late-spring arrival of $200 million in economic stimulus money, SEPTA plans to create 5,590 jobs in what General Manager Joseph M. Casey called the ‘true spirit’ of President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. ‘This money is a use-it-or-lose-it opportunity,’ Casey told the Daily News, ‘and if you’re not ready to use it, you shouldn’t be running a transit agency.’ ‘The stimulus money is for projects that are ‘shovel-ready’ to create thousands of jobs quickly. We made sure we had those projects in the pipeline.’ Robert Lund, SEPTA’s program manager for stimulus projects, said that the 5,590 new jobs will include 1,915 in construction and 875 in materials companies, such as steel fabricators. The remaining 2,800 jobs, Lund said, will be in companies providing goods and services to the 2,790 new construction and materials workers, who will have new income to spend.” [Philadelphia Daily News, 3/4/09]

 

Meanwhile In Iraq…

It’s been a while since my last “Meanwhile In Iraq…” column as the economic situation demanded more of my writing time.  The entire idea of this was to remind everyone about the war and what happens in that warravaged nation.  It is time for a revisit.  Yesterday a bomber killed 83 people in an escalating series of suicide bomb attacks.  Tensions among the Sunnis, Kurds and Shia continue to heat up.

President Obama has established a plan to withdraw all American troops by August of next year.  Muqtada al Sadr still remains the principle power person in Iraq and relative peace continues only so long as he deems it in his interest.  It seems he might be wavering as violence erupts once again to serious levels.  Violence in Iraq has not disappeared in spite of claims to the contrary.  It is a very violent country with little security for its citizens.

In the north tensions are rising between the Kurds and Arabs on the border region as Baghdad reasserts more control over the area.  Political solutions which would take the country to a more stable system remain a pipe dream.  Until a permanent political solution is developed there will not be peace and security in Iraq.  In that most principle method of measurement the surge has failed.

Meanwhile Afghanistan has heated up into a major problem.  This happened because we bottled the Taliban up in mountains north of Kandahar then left for Iraq.  The Taliban regrouped while we were away and retook large areas of Afghanistan and reimposed harsh Sharia law.  They subjugated women into barbaric conditions again and assassinated many of them who dared work outside their homes.  Now they have taken an important area in northern Pakistan just 60 miles from Islamabad.

Pakistan is a nuclear country with long standing hostility with India.  My fear is that India, witnessing a possible destabilization of Pakistan, may force a new war between the two to prevent nukes from falling into the hands of Islamic extremists.  We may be forced to join them in such a bloody, horrific conflict.

This all the result of bad Bush policy.  George W. Bush left Afghanistan before the job was completed to pursue his war in Iraq, a country which posed no clear and present danger to our strategic national security interests.  He did so to enrich his corporate backers and friends.  Now we are sowing the inevitable fruits of that disastrous foreign policy.  A monstrous mess has to be cleaned up by  his successors.  The price will be paid on the battlefields.

News From Congressman Kanjorski

Congressman Paul Kanjorski is busy as ever representing Pennsylvanians and doing his work repairing our national economy.  A couple press releases this week highlight htis work:

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (D-PA) explained his requests of funding for the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area in his appropriations requests for the 2010 fiscal year, as he testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.  Additionally, he also announced $235,000 in federal funding for the Delaware Water Gap that was allocated as a result of the recovery package that Congress passed on February 13.  The funding will aid with needed repairs at the recreation area’s headquarters.

“Monroe County has some of the most beautiful land in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, both in Cherry Valley and the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area.  Both of these projects work to protect and conserve these pristine and mostly untouched environments for residents and visitors to enjoy in these areas,” said Congressman Kanjorski.  “Just last December, I joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many other dedicated supporters throughout the Poconos, to announce that Cherry Valley was named a National Wildlife Refuge.  This was an amazing day, but we now need to purchase land to become a part of the refuge.”

Congressman Kanjorski added, “Additionally, funding would help the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area prevent harmful development around the park.  I am committed to preserving these areas so that the growing population of Monroe County will have the opportunity to experience the pristine environment of these parks that will hopefully remain untouched.”

The text of Congressman Kanjorski’s statement for the Congressional Record on the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area follows:

As the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies considers Members’ fiscal year 2010 Appropriations requests, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss two very important projects I am requesting funding for in my Congressional District.  I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Subcommittee and I thank each Member for their previous support for projects in my District.  I look forward to your continued support.  While I am only providing additional information on two projects, all of the requests that I have submitted have considerable merit and I urge you to give them full and fair consideration.

       The first project I am requesting funding for in fiscal year 2010 is the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  Located in the Pocono Mountains of Monroe County Pennsylvania, Cherry Valley provides a habitat for more than 80 species of national or regional concern, including several plants and animals listed as either endangered or threatened.  These species include the bog turtle and the bald eagle.  Monroe County, however, is also one of the fastest growing counties in Pennsylvania and future development threatens the habitat of these rare species.  

       In 2004, I met with several concerned constituents to discuss ways to protect the natural habitat in Cherry Valley.  Shortly after speaking with those individuals, Congressman Charlie Dent and I introduced H.R. 5232, the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge Study Act.  This legislation authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct a study of Cherry Valley to determine if it should be included in the National Wildlife Refuge System.  

       On October 31, 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its proposed study of the Cherry Valley area, which recommended the creation of a national wildlife refuge of 20,000 acres.  Several months later, in December 2008, the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service approved the establishment of the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  Cherry Valley became the third National Wildlife Refuge in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the first since 1972.  

Rarely in my term of office have I seen such overwhelming support for a legislative endeavor as I have seen for the designation of a national wildlife refuge in Cherry Valley.  Designation of the National Wildlife Refuge had bipartisan support from elected officials, landowners and businesses.   Moreover, a number of local landowners have already put their land into easements and other conservation arrangements to protect the area.  Designation of the national wildlife refuge will therefore help to coordinate these efforts and provide federal support for conservation of this important habitat.

For fiscal year 2010, I am respectfully requesting $3.497 million in the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill for the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  It is my understanding that the requested funds will be used for easement of 406 acres within the designated area to begin implementation of the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  

The second project I am requesting funding for in fiscal year 2010 is the Shawnee Valley Preservation Project.  The Shawnee Valley is located next to the Delaware River and borders the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.  The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is the largest natural area in the entire National Park System between Virginia and Maine.  The park is the tenth most visited area in the National Park System with almost 5 million recreational visits each year.  

The recreation area encompasses over 67,000 acres of mountain ridge, forest, and floodplain on both sides of the Delaware River in the State of New Jersey and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  The recreation area itself was created naturally along a break through the Appalachian Mountains where the Delaware River passes through.  Due to its unique location, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area provides many breath-taking views of the natural landscape.

Unfortunately, commercial and residential development is in danger of blocking one of the park’s most important views.  The Delaware Water Gap park boundary is very narrow in the area of Mosier’s Knob within the Shawnee Valley.  A viewshed analysis was conducted by the park and it determined that development would be visible both day and night along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  In addition, residential or commercial development in the Mosier’s Knob area has the potential to negatively impact the water and environmental resources within the national park.  Storm water run-off and an increase in potential flooding could have devastating effects on the delicate natural resources within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.  

For fiscal year 2010, I am respectfully requesting $3 million in the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill for the Shawnee Valley Preservation Project.  It is my understanding these funds will be used to acquire and protect land that if it were to be developed, would cause harm to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area and the surrounding community.

In closing, I would like to thank all Members of the Subcommittee for allowing me to appear before you today.  I look forward to working with you as the House considers appropriations for fiscal year 2010.

This one is near and dear to my heart because I love to kayak the Delaware River.  The Water Gap area is beautiful, pristine and a hugley popular spot for canoers and kayakers.  Preserving this treasure enriches us all.

And also for flood control projects:

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (D-PA) explained his requests of funding for the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Project, the Scranton Flood Control Project, and the Bloomsburg Flood Control Project in his appropriations requests for the 2010 fiscal year, as he testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

“Past floods have caused significant property and emotional damages for residents throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania,” said Congressman Kanjorski.  “But, we can prevent such destruction from happening again.  Since I was elected to Congress, I have worked to secure funding to complete multiple flood control projects throughout the area so that people living behind improved levees can sleep soundly when it rains.  I strongly encourage the Appropriations Committee to include funding for these projects, as well as my other requests, in the upcoming bill.”

Congressman Kanjorski took one and a half years off from his private law practice before his election to Congress to serve as volunteer counsel and advocate for victims of the Agnes flood of 1972.  He has continuously and diligently worked to see these local flood control projects through for the benefit all Northeastern Pennsylvanians.  

The text of Congressman Kanjorski’s statement for the Congressional Record on the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Project, the Scranton Flood Control Project, and the Bloomsburg Flood Control Project follows:

STATEMENT OF CONGRESSMAN PAUL E. KANJORSKI

COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS

SUBCOMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND WATER DEVELOPMENT

APRIL 22, 2009

__________________________

       As the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development considers Members’ fiscal year 2010 Appropriations requests, I want to take this opportunity to discuss several critical flood control projects in my Congressional District.  I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Subcommittee and I would like to thank each Member for their previous support of projects in my District.  While I am only providing additional information on three projects, all of the requests that I have submitted have considerable merit and I urge you to give them full and fair consideration.

       The first project I am requesting funding for in fiscal year 2010 is the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Project.  As you may know, the Susquehanna River is one of the most flood prone rivers in the country.  In 1972, Hurricane Agnes caused massive flooding in the Susquehanna River devastating residents, homes and businesses in Northeastern Pennsylvania and causing over $1 billion in damages ($4 billion by today’s standards).  Over 25,000 homes and nearly 3,000 businesses were damaged or ruined and more than 60,000 residents were left without employment.  

In response, when Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act of 1986, it authorized the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Project.  Over the past twenty years, I have worked to secure funding to complete this project.  

Structurally speaking, the goal of this project is to protect 50 communities in 5 counties in a 60-mile stretch along the Susquehanna River from another Hurricane Agnes-level flood.  The flood control system itself is actually four contiguous existing federal projects functioning as one large flood control system protecting the Wyoming Valley, including the City of Wilkes-Barre, which is one of the largest cities in my Congressional District.  In total, the levees alone extend for approximately 15 miles.  All told, the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Project is one of the largest flood control projects in the country.

Furthermore, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently determined that Solomon Creek, a neighboring waterway in the City of Wilkes-Barre, is hydrologically linked to the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Project.  At my request, Solomon Creek was included in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 and officially became part of the existing authorization.  The addition of Solomon Creek has increased the overall project cost by more than $50 million.  

       From fiscal year 1995 to fiscal year 2005, the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Project was included as a line item in the President’s budget.  Unfortunately, in 2006, the Bush Administration removed this project from the President’s budget.  The decision to remove this regionally important project from the President’s budget has significantly slowed its progress.  As a result, I have written to Office of Management and Budget Director Orszag requesting that this project be included in the President’s fiscal year 2010 budget.  

For fiscal year 2010, I am respectfully requesting $12.64 million for the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Project in the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill.  It is my understanding that the requested funds will be used for continued construction of concrete spillways and continuation of the necessary design work for flood protection at Solomon Creek.  The existing authorization is sufficient to meet this request.  

       The second project I am requesting funding for is the Scranton Flood Control Project.  The Lackawanna River runs through the City of Scranton, which is the most populous city in my Congressional District.  The City of Scranton and its surrounding communities became part of my Congressional District in 2002 and the Scranton Flood Control Project was already underway.  This project will provide 100-year flood protection for the areas hardest hit by flooding.  

The city and its surrounding communities have experienced major flooding during almost every major rain event since 1942.  The damage caused over the years has hampered economic development, discouraged businesses from locating to the area and caused the value of homes to drop significantly.  A project valued at nearly $100 million to renovate a blighted former lace factory into apartment units, a healthcare facility and commercial businesses has been delayed by the lack of flood protection.

When I requested funding for this project in fiscal year 2009, it was my understanding that it would be completed by 2010.  The new rules and regulations the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers adopted after Hurricane Katrina have increased the cost of the Scranton Flood Control Project significantly.  The increase of Operational and Management easements and replacement of free board determinations with risk and uncertainty analyses have added millions of dollars to the overall project cost.  

Hurricane Katrina was no doubt a devastating storm but from my perspective, applying a one-size-fits-all approach to flood control projects will only hurt residents seeking flood protection.  If the new Corps rules and regulations are applied throughout the country, it will disproportionately impact small and rural communities.  The City of Scranton is a financially distressed city and without additional support from the federal government to meet the new requirements, the city may never receive the flood protection it rightly deserves.  

For fiscal year 2010, I am respectfully requesting $10.571 million in the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill for the Scranton Flood Control Project.  It is my understanding that the requested funds will be used to complete general project construction and modify existing structures to meet new Corps rules and regulations.  The existing authorization is sufficient to meet this request.

Finally, I am asking that the Subcommittee include funding for the Bloomsburg Flood Control Project.  For over sixty years, the people of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, have been seeking assistance from the federal government to protect their homes from flooding.  The Susquehanna River forms the southern boundary of the Town of Bloomsburg and is the most prominent drainage feature, draining an area of 10,576 square miles.  Fishing Creek forms the northern and western boundaries of the Town and drains an area of 385 square miles.  Because of its location against these two waterways, the Town of Bloomsburg, with a population of only 12,000 people, is subject to severe flooding from both the Susquehanna River as well as Fishing Creek.  

More than 400 homes and 7 companies employing 1,200 people are affected by periodic flooding.  Not only have recent floods caused millions of dollars in damage, but they have also curtailed future economic investment by the Town’s two largest employers.  Both companies have threatened to leave the area if flood protection is not provided in the foreseeable future.  This project is strongly supported by the Town of Bloomsburg, the local businesses and homeowners, the Columbia County Commissioners, the local State Representative and State Senator and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.  

For fiscal year 2010, I am respectfully requesting $375,000 in the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill for the Bloomsburg Flood Control Project.  It is my understanding that the funds would be used to initiate the design plans and specifications.  

In closing, I would again like to thank each Member of the Subcommittee for their support of projects in my Congressional District.  I look forward to working with the Subcommittee as the House considers appropriations for fiscal year 2010.