RIP Beau Biden

Delaware bade farewell to one of its own today.  Last weekend Beau Biden, son of VP Joe Biden and a two term Delaware Attorney General, died of brain cancer. The front runner for the Gubernatorial race next year he succumbed to this virulent cancer just short of two years after being diagnosed.  Being a former Delawarean I followed Beau’s career ascent with interest.  I’ve covered his father numerous times as Vice President and Joe was also my U.S. Senator for the 18 years I resided in Newark.  I’ve always had admiration for the Bidens and Beau looked to have an impressive future.  The fact this cancer robbed us all of him so soon, at age 46, is a loss to all of us.

I have to wonder if his service in Iraq caused his illness.  The use of depleted uranium is causing many illnesses in both American service people and Iraqis.  Biden spent 14 months serving in Iraq with the Delaware Air National Guard.  He signed up for service after 9/11.  He leaves a widow and two children.

President Obama eulogized him today at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington.  The famous Italian Festival begins this week and the sense of revelry will definitely be muted this year.

Delaware is a small family.  Originally the Lower Three Counties of Penns Woods the First State broke off in colonial times and has had its share of remarkable leaders.  Pennsylvania, with 67 counties has lagged behind IMHO.  In a state where everyone knows everyone I recall a time when I was driving north from Dover and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner’s state car (always identifiable by its license plate Delaware 1) was speeding.  We were going pretty much the same direction and when it pulled into the state Democratic headquarters in Stanton I pulled in behind and commented tot he Governor that her driver (a State Trooper) had been speeding and that it set a bad example.

There aren’t a lot of places where you can do something like that.  Gov. Minner was friendly and apologetic and she knew that in such a small state word of something like that could spread quickly and she reprimanded her driver before I departed.

I recall many times seeing Gov. Pete DuPont’s Lincoln Town Car on its way to Dover from Wilmington when I was frequently driving the same route down Route 13.  In a big state like ours it’s difficult to imagine how intimate politics can be in a place like Delaware.  Joe Biden served the state for 36 years as U.S. Senator and in that time many, many Delawareans were touched by him and his family.  He frequently eats at the Charcoal Chef which also a favorite haunt of my grandparents who lived in Wilmington.  He raised his family after losing his first wife and daughter in a car accident.  I never passed through that intersection (which I did frequently) without thinking about them.

Losing Beau before his time has affected everyone in Delaware and everyone who has lived there for any period of time.  He promised to be someone who might even surpass his father’s accomplishments and was well on his way on his own terms.  Not only will Delawareans miss Beau Biden but we all are at a loss for his passing.

My heart goes out to the Biden family.  May Beau rest in peace.

Contrived Controversy Fomenting War

A contrived, fake controversy erupted last week when media war mongers attacked President Obama for not using the term “Islamic Extremism” when speaking about ISIS.  These words and the air time devoted to them cause lives.  President Obama held a forum on extremism last week and refused to label ISIS terrorists as “Islamic Extremists.”  For this he was vilified by Fox News.  The discussion also spilled over to the Fox Light Network CNN.  

The President refuses to fall into the right wing media’s trap of making this war one of Christian versus Muslim.  Ever since President George W. Bush’s giant mistake of calling the Iraq War a crusade much of the world has taken that to mean that these have been religious wars.  There have been  countless religious wars over centuries and this should not be one of them.  This is a war against terrorists using ancient forms of torture and terror.  Let’s remember that their use of torture, however barbaric, is being justified by them because of our use of torture against Muslims.  We opened this can of worms.

ISIS is no more Islamic and representative of that faith than the Ku Klux Klan and the Westboro Baptist Church are of Christianity.  Nothing they stand or fight for is justified in the Quoran.  This is not the Muslim faith practiced and observed by a billion people across the globe.  Demonizing all Muslims for the actions of a few fundamentalist extremists is no different than if we condemned all Christians for the KKK.

Stereotyping people is evil and immoral.

Networks beaming footage of pundits calling for religious war is irresponsible war mongering.  People die from such actions.  The President is doing the responsible thing by recognizing ISIS as terrorists and not simply Muslims.  The term “Islamic Extremism” connotes that we, as a Christian nation (which we are not) are at war with Islam.

The result of such madness is that average Americans are targeted simply because of their faith.  Muslim Americans should not be afraid for their safety because reckless “journalists” choose to put them at at risk.  The fact a once respected network like CNN chose to jump on this topic last week on Carol Costello’s program was disheartening.  This is basic war mongering and an attempt to foment hatred not just at ISIS but towards all Muslims.

Obama Proposes Free Community College Education

President Obama and his leadership team are strong supporters of community colleges.  The Ivy League alumnus often has his speeches held at these institutions.  Yesterday he proposed a new program to make a two year community college education free under certain circumstances:

Students must maintain a credible gpa

Students must stay on track to graduate

Nine million students could potentially save $3500 in tuition costs under the program.  I’ve seen community colleges as, basically, remedial high school.  Teenagers simply don’t get the same quality high school education as my generation did and many of them don’t take school seriously until they’re out and find they don’t have the skills to obtain decent jobs.  Thus many of them return to school at community colleges to get these skills and the knowledge needed to succeed.  How often have you been to a store and when the computer was down the young clerk couldn’t do basic math in their head?  Today’s young people graduate from high school without basic skills we learned in elementary school.

I’m not knocking community colleges or public education.  Today’s schools ahve been broken down by inattentive parents who have abdicated their parenting obligations to our teachers.  There are only so many hours in the day and when you must be both parent and teacher and have to teach to the tests the paths to success are obliterated.  Community colleges have filled this void admirably but let’s not confuse them with standard four year colleges and universities in quality of education.

What these colleges do well is work with local employers to determine the skills needed for their local work forces and then teach these skills.  This is an important niche.  One flaw I see in the President’s proposal is the requirement that students stay on track to graduate.  This will exclude many people attending community colleges who have to take courses erratically because of work and financial demands.  Even if this program pays their tuition many CC students have full time obs and take courses in their off time.  To make matters worse employers refuse to provide regular, predictable schedules for their employees.  How can you sign up for a course (and pay that tuition) not knowing whether you’ll be able to make the classes?

From the White House:

FACT SHEET: White House Unveils America’s College Promise Proposal: Tuition-Free Community College for Responsible Students

Nearly a century ago, a movement that made high school widely available helped lead to rapid growth in the education and skills training of Americans, driving decades of economic growth and prosperity. America thrived in the 20th century in large part because we had the most educated workforce in the world.  But other nations have matched or exceeded the secret to our success. Today, more than ever, Americans need more knowledge and skills to meet the demands of a growing global economy without having to take on decades of debt before they even embark on their career.

Today the President is unveiling the America’s College Promise proposal to make two years of community college free for responsible students, letting students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and earn skills needed in the workforce at no cost. This proposal will require everyone to do their part: community colleges must strengthen their programs and increase the number of students who graduate, states must invest more in higher education and training, and students must take responsibility for their education, earn good grades, and stay on track to graduate. The program would be undertaken in partnership with states and is inspired by new programs in Tennessee and Chicago. If all states participate, an estimated 9 million students could benefit. A full-time community college student could save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year.

In addition, today the President will propose a new American Technical Training Fund to expand innovative, high-quality technical training programs similar to Tennessee Tech Centers that meet employer needs and help prepare more Americans for better paying jobs. These proposals build on a number of historic investments the President has made in college affordability and quality since taking office, including a $1,000 increase in the maximum Pell Grant award to help working and middle class families, the creation of the $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit, reforming student loans to eliminate subsidies to banks to invest in making college more affordable and keeping student debt manageable, and making available over $2 billion in grants to connect community colleges with employers to develop programs that are designed to get hard-working students good jobs.

The President’s Plan: Make Two Years of College as Free and Universal as High School

By 2020, an estimated 35 percent of job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree. Forty percent of college students are enrolled at one of America’s more than 1,100 community colleges, which offer students affordable tuition, open admission policies, and convenient locations.  They are particularly important for students who are older, working, need remedial classes, or can only take classes part-time. For many students, they offer academic programs and an affordable route to a four-year college degree. They are also uniquely positioned to partner with employers to create tailored training programs to meet economic needs within their communities such as nursing, health information technology, and advanced manufacturing.

The America’s College Promise proposal would create a new partnership with states to help them waive tuition in high-quality programs for responsible students, while promoting key reforms to help more students complete at least two years of college. Restructuring the community college experience, coupled with free tuition, can lead to gains in student enrollment, persistence, and completion transfer, and employment. Specifically, here is what the initiative will mean:

Enhancing Student Responsibility and Cutting the Cost of College for All Americans: Students who attend at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA while in college, and make steady progress toward completing their program will have their tuition eliminated. These students will be able to earn half of the academic credit they need for a four-year degree or earn a certificate or two-year degree to prepare them for a good job.

Building High-Quality Community Colleges: Community colleges will be expected to offer programs that either (1) are academic programs that fully transfer to local public four-year colleges and universities, giving students a chance to earn half of the credit they need for a four-year degree, or (2) are occupational training programs with high graduation rates and that lead to degrees and certificates that are in demand among employers.  Other types of programs will not be eligible for free tuition.  Colleges must also adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes, such as the effective Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) programs at the City University of New York which waive tuition, help students pay for books and transit costs, and provide academic advising and supportive scheduling programs to better meet the needs of participating students, resulting in greater gains in college persistence and degree completion.

Ensuring Shared Responsibility with States: Federal funding will cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college. States that choose to participate will be expected to contribute the remaining funds necessary to eliminate community college tuition for eligible students. States that already invest more and charge students less can make smaller contributions, though all participating states will be required to put up some matching funds. States must also commit to continue existing investments in higher education; coordinate high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions to reduce the need for remediation and repeated courses; and allocate a significant portion of funding based on performance, not enrollment alone. States will have flexibility to use some resources to expand quality community college offerings, improve affordability at four-year public universities, and improve college readiness, through outreach and early intervention.

Expanding Technical Training for Middle Class Jobs. Additionally, in order to spread the availability of high-quality and innovative programs like those in Tennessee and Texas, which achieve better than average completion and employment outcomes, the President is also proposing the American Technical Training Fund. This fund will award programs that have strong employer partnerships and include work-based learning opportunities, provide accelerated training, and are scheduled to accommodate part-time work. Programs could be created within current community colleges or other training institutions. The focus of the discretionary budget proposal would be to help high-potential, low-wage workers gain the skills to work into growing fields with significant numbers of middle-class jobs that local employers are trying to fill such as energy, IT, and advanced manufacturing. This program will fund the start-up of 100 centers and scale those efforts in succeeding years. Smaller grants would help to bring together partners and start a pilot program. Larger grants would be used for expanding programs based on evidence of effectiveness, which could include past performance on graduation rates, job placement rates and placement wages. Building on the President’s community college initiative, known as the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grants and for which 2014 was the final year of funding, these funds will help community colleges become more job-driven.

Building on State and Local Programs.  In the past year, Tennessee and the City of Chicago initiated free community college programs.  In the first year of the Tennessee program, 57,000 students representing almost 90 percent of the state’s high school graduating class applied for the program. The scholarship is coupled with college counseling, mentorship, and community service that early evidence suggests supports greater enrollment, persistence and college completion.  This is coupled with efforts to spur innovation and improvement by funding colleges using performance outcomes based on student success and an innovative approach to career and technical education through the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology.  These Tennessee Tech Centers have a graduation rate of 80 percent and a job placement rate of 85 percent.

Building on a Record of Progress. Since taking office, President Obama has taken steps to expand federal support to help more students afford college, while calling for a shared responsibility in tackling rising college costs. Key achievements include:

·         Doubling the Investment in Pell Grants: The President has raised the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,730 for the 2014-15 award year – a nearly $1,000 increase since 2008. The number of Pell Grant recipients has expanded by 50 percent over that same time.

·         Expanding Education Tax Credits: President Obama established the American Opportunity Tax Credit in 2009 to assist families with the costs of college, providing up to $10,000 for four years of college tuition.

·         Pay-As-You-Earn Loans: All new borrowers can now cap loan payments at 10 percent of their incomes. The Department of Education has begun the process to amend its regulations and will make the new plan available on all direct loans by December 2015. We expect it to benefit up to 5 million borrowers.

·         First in the World Grants: In September, the Department of Education awarded $75 million to 24 colleges and universities under the new First in the World grant program to expand college access and improve student learning while reducing costs.

·         College Ratings Program: The Department of Education continues to develop a college ratings system by the 2015-2015 school year that will recognize institutions that excel at enrolling students from all backgrounds; focus on maintaining affordability; and succeed at helping all students graduate with a degree or certificate of value.

·         Job-Driven Training Grants: Through the Trade Adjustment Community College and Career Training program more than 1,000 institutions have received $2 billion in federal funding to design education and training programs, working closely with employers and industry that prepare workers for jobs in-demand in their regional economies, such as health care, information technology and energy. These programs have shown early success — through the end of FY2013, among the nearly 164,000 individuals who had enrolled in these programs 88 percent either completed a program or continued the program into a second year.

·         White House Summit on Community Colleges: In October 2010, the President convened community college leaders, faculty and students; business leaders; philanthropic organizations; and other workforce development experts for the first White House summit dedicated to the role that community colleges play in our efforts to increase the number of college graduates and prepare those graduates to lead the 21st century workforce.

·         Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness: Last August, the Department of Education launched a new $10 million Institute for Education Sciences-funded Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR) that is working to strengthen the research, evaluation, and support of college readiness efforts across the nation. CAPR is documenting current practices in developmental English and math education to identify innovative instructional practices that improve student success.

·         Call to Action on College Opportunity: Last December, the President, Vice President, and First Lady joined college presidents and leaders of non-profits, foundations, and other organizations to announce over 600 new commitments to produce more college graduates. Community colleges made commitments individually, and in partnership with neighboring school districts and four-year institutions, to build seamless transitions among institutions, develop clear educational and career pathways, implement strategies to increase student completion of STEM programs, and establish more accurate measures of student progress and success.

 

Obama Executive Order Will Expedite Infrastructure Initiatives

I sat in traffic on I-95 outside Wilmington, DE this afternoon following a short address by President Obama where he signed an Executive Order at the Port of Wilmington.  The Order creates a new federal “Build America Investment Initiative promoting public-private partnerships (PPP’s) for infrastructure improvements nationwide.  He chose the Port because it afforded him the backdrop of a closed I-495 bridge which currently is closed to traffic.  Hence the back-up I was in on 95.

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The bridge, which carries 90,000 vehicles a day is causing headaches in Northern Delaware as the bypass around Wilmington is forcing those 90,000 cars and trucks onto regular I-95 instead.  This is the major east coast north/south artery and all I could do was sit there after visiting Capriotti’s sandwich shop on Route 141 for a sub after the event.  The sub shop is opposite the Delaware Air National Guard field where Air Force One landed and took off.  One perk of being Barack Obama these days is that he didn’t have to get stuck on I-95’s traffic as he traveled on to New York for some evening fund raisers.  I did see three Secret Service men in Capriotti’s getting nourishment, likely clued in to the place by the Vice President.  POTUS had lunch at The Charcoal Pit on Concord Pike before heading to the Port of Wilmington.  That is one of the VP’s favorite haunts, as it was for my grandparents who resided in Wilmington.

President Barack Obama photo DSCN3386_zps6fc02171.jpg

The new federal initiative announced this afternoon is designed to improve communications and smooth planning for PPP projects in transportation.  Congress has stalled in passing a new, comprehensive transportation bill, something that usually is filled with tons of pork for home Congressional Districts.  When the late Congressmen Shuster (the present one’s father) was Chair of the House Transportation Committee he used the bill to build a four lane highway to his home in south Central Pennsylvania.  Others have used it to build highways that greatly enriched properties they owned.  Such is the nature of our democratic system.  Delawareans just want their bridge fixed and re-opened.

I-495 repairs photo DSCN3396_zpsf2e4f96a.jpg

The I-495 bridge was closed a bit over a month ago after tons and tons of soil dumped there by a contractor destabilized the bridge supports.  Workers are jacking up the bridge and shoring things up so it doesn’t collapse under the weight of those 90,000 vehicles per day.

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The video:

From the White House:

Today, the President will deliver remarks at the Port of Wilmington in front of the I-495 Bridge in Delaware. With 90,000 cars moving over it per day before repairs began, this bridge is a key example of the importance of infrastructure, which keeps the economy moving, spurs innovation, and bolsters our national competitiveness. At the port – and in this Year of Action – the President will announce a new executive action to create the Build America Investment Initiative, a government-wide initiative to increase infrastructure investment and economic growth. As part of the Initiative, the Administration is launching the Build America Transportation Investment Center – housed at the Department of Transportation – to serve as a one-stop shop for cities and states seeking to use innovative financing and partnerships with the private sector to support transportation infrastructure.

The President’s visit and announcement today are a part of the Administration’s continued push to highlight the importance of investing in our nation’s infrastructure so that we can build on the progress our economy is making by creating jobs and expanding opportunity for all hardworking Americans. The steps announced today continue the momentum the President has made using his executive authority – his pen and phone – to invest in modernizing our infrastructure, including speeding up the permitting process for major infrastructure projects to create more jobs.

The President supports the steps that Congress is taking in the short-term to avoid a lapse in the Highway Trust Fund, and he will continue to push for long-term solutions for our nation’s infrastructure and the American economy.

***

Investing in a 21st century American infrastructure is an important part of the President’s plan to build on the progress our economy is making by creating jobs and expanding opportunity for all hardworking Americans.  Modern and efficient infrastructure – whether moving goods to our harbors and ports or connecting people to services or gigabits to our offices and homes – helps small businesses to expand, manufacturers to export, investors to bring jobs to our shores, and lowers prices for goods and services for American families.

The President has been very clear that we need to do more to improve our infrastructure in order to create jobs, provide certainty to states and communities, help American businesses, and grow our economy.  He has put forth a long-term proposal that would do just that and pay for it by closing unfair tax loopholes and making commonsense reforms to our business tax system, while providing the certainty of reliable federal funding to states and communities.

And while the President is encouraged that Congress is heeding these calls by taking action in the short-term to prevent transportation projects across the country from grinding to a halt, the President will continue to act on his own to promote American economic growth where there is need or opportunity.  And right now, there is a real opportunity to put private capital to work in revitalizing U.S. infrastructure.

That is why today, the President will sign a Presidential Memorandum to launch the Build America Investment Initiative, a government-wide initiative to increase infrastructure investment and economic growth by engaging with state and local governments and private sector investors to encourage collaboration, expand the market for public-private partnerships (PPPs) and put federal credit programs to greater use.  Starting with the transportation sector, this initiative will harness the potential of private capital to complement government funding.

Ø  As part of the Initiative, the Administration is launching the Build America Transportation Investment Center:  Housed at the Department of Transportation, this center will serve as a one-stop shop for state and local governments, public and private developers and investors seeking to utilize innovative financing strategies for transportation infrastructure projects.  Additional details are below.

Ø  Build America Interagency Working Group: To expand and increase private investment and collaboration in infrastructure beyond the transportation sector, a federal inter-agency working group, co-chaired by Cabinet Secretaries Lew and Foxx, will do a focused review with the best and the brightest from the public and private sector.  This group will work with state and local governments, project developers, investors and others to address barriers to private investments and partnerships in areas including municipal water, ports, harbors, broadband, and the electrical grid. The effort will include a particular focus on improving coordination to accelerate financing and completion of projects of regional and national significance, particularly those that cross state boundaries.

Ø  Infrastructure Investment Summit:  As part of the drive toward innovative infrastructure solutions and to highlight the opportunities for infrastructure investment, the Treasury Department will host a summit on Infrastructure Investment in the U.S. on September 9, 2014.  This session will bring together leading project developers and institutional investors with state and local officials and their Federal counterparts, and will focus on innovative financing approaches to infrastructure, and highlight other resources that support project development.

***

Build America Transportation Investment Center: Housed at the Department of Transportation, this center will serve as a one-stop shop for state and local governments, public and private developers and investors seeking to utilize innovative financing strategies for transportation infrastructure projects. This center will provide:

Ø  ‘Navigator Service’ for the Public and Private Sector: Through hands-on support, advice and expertise, the center will make DOT credit programs more understandable and accessible to states and local governments and leverage both public and private funding to support ambitious projects.  The center will also provide private sector developers and infrastructure investors with tools and resources to identify and execute successful PPPs.

Ø  Improved Access to DOT Credit Programs: The center will encourage awareness and efficient use of existing resources at the Department, including the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program.  TIFIA provides long-term, flexible financing to highway and transit projects that feature dedicated revenue sources.  Each dollar of Federal TIFIA funding can support about $10 in loans, loan guarantees or lines of credit.  In many cases, the lower cost of capital and flexible terms offered by TIFIA are critical factors in determining whether a PPP is a viable and cost-effective option for a project. The center will also focus on the use of key DOT programs including the Private Activity Bond program (PABs), and the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program (RRIF).

Ø  Technical Assistance: The center will share best practices from states that are leading the way on private investment to states that have not yet adopted innovative financing strategies, encouraging a more robust national market. Today, the top six states for PPPs have nearly two-thirds the value of all U.S. PPP projects. Twenty states have no PPPs in transportation at all. The center will provide technical assistance to help remove barriers to ensure the public and private sector can come together to complete projects that make sense. Through a website and on-demand technical assistance, the center will provide information about DOT credit programs, case studies of successful projects and examples of deal structures, standard operating procedures for PPP projects and analytical toolkits. It will also help interested investors better understand how DOT credit and grant programs can be used together to support project development.

Ø  Information to Reduce Uncertainty and Delays: The center will work in partnership with the interagency Infrastructure Permitting Improvement center to provide visibility for local and state governments, project sponsors and investors on the permitting process.

Case Studies and Additional Background

The Build America Investment Initiative taps into the opportunity to increase the pipeline of effective public-private-partnerships and other innovative financing mechanisms:

Ø  High Demand: Institutional investors, both domestic and international, recognize the strength of our economy and want to invest in America. In 2013, the U.S. was the top destination for foreign direct investment with over $230 billion.  The global investment community has over $83 trillion dollars with a growing appetite for infrastructure. That is potentially hundreds of billions of dollars to fund the building of U.S. public-private infrastructure.

Ø  Proven Approaches: Some states and communities have established successful PPPs and have developed strong institutional knowledge of how these projects are best structured and managed.  Expanding that know-how to other states has the potential to increase the flow of capital by tens of billions of dollars over the next few years. Today, for example, the top five states in PPPs have nearly twice the per-capita value of projects as the next 20 best states – and if those states caught up, it could mean up to $30 billion worth of infrastructure projects.

Building on Models of Success: Some states and localities across the country have developed successful track records utilizing PPPs and other innovative financing approaches for infrastructure projects.  The Build America Transportation Investment center will use the lessons-learned from these leaders to help other communities and private project sponsors understand and better use federal financing programs and to structure deals that incorporate best practices and avoid pitfalls.

THE GROW AMERICA ACT      

The Highway Trust Fund – which funds a significant portion of the construction and capital repairs of our surface transportation system – is projected to be insolvent by the end of the summer barring Congressional action.  In addition to preventing the Trust Fund from expiring in the short term, the President has clear that we need long-term action and predictable funding to provide certainty to states and communities, help American businesses, and grow our economy.

Ø  In spring 2014, President Obama transmitted to Congress his vision for a long-term solution.  The GROW AMERICA Act, a $302 billion, four-year transportation reauthorization proposal provides increased and stable funding for our nation’s highways, bridges, transit, and rail systems, ends the cycle of short-term, manufactured funding crises and builds confidence in the public and private sector.

Ø  The Administration’s proposal is funded by supplementing current revenues with $150 billion in one-time transition revenue from pro-growth business tax reform.  In other words, the President’s proposal is fully paid for without increasing the deficit. The President’s proposal will also keep the Trust Fund solvent for four years and increase investments to meet the transportation priorities and economic needs of communities across the country.

Ø  The proposal also contains a series of legislative proposals to improve the return on transportation spending and improve safety, including a title on improving project delivery, and the federal permitting and regulatory review process.

MLK and Terror

On this Martin Luther King Jr Day I am reminded of his philosophy, some of it borrowed from the immortal Ghandi, that terror should never be met with terror.  That violence should not be matched by more violence.  Their beliefs in non violent action was successful in overcoming horrible repression. Meeting the terror of the KKK, for example, with sit-ins, prayer and song saved countless lives which would have been cut down by powerful majority forces.  Enough lives were lost practicing non-violence for crying out loud.  

It wasn’t just a strategic tactic however.  It was deeply held belief that violence simply begets more violence and the only way to break the cycle is with love.  I’m reminded of this while reading Jeremy Scahill’s shocking book Dirty Wars:  The World Is A Battlefield.  As I read about American death squads running around Asia, the Middle East and East Africa assassinating Muslims for no reason other than a suspicion that they might know someone else suspected of being a terrorist I’m shocked at what our JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) forces do in our name I can’t help but wonder how many new terrorists are radicalized through our stupid, short term tactics.

We will pay for this dearly down the road.  If only George W. Bush and Barack Obama had used those hundreds of billions of our dollars instead on humanitarian efforts…  Instead of creating blood enemies after blowing up entire villages filled with women and children (and, perhaps one terrorist) maybe we could have created something positive:  a school, a well, a hospital.  What if we’d made friends instead of enemies?

In the spirit of MLK ask yourself if our lust for war has really made us safer and if that was the smart course?

Syria

President Obama will address the nation tonight about his burning desire to start a new war in the Middle East.  Intervening in the Syrian civil war would be an act of madness.  Through talk of a “limited strike” and the McCain/Coons resolution which would allow us a broad, “boots on the ground” intervention on the side of radical Islamists, we must first remember one fact:  once you start a war its course is out of your hands.

A military strike on Syria, however limited, would be an act of war against that nation.  Their civil war has devolved into a conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims.  Are we really prepared to side with Iran?  Is it wise to get involved, once again, in another nation’s internal conflict?  Did we learn nothing from Vietnam?

The Senate resolution proposed by Senators McCain and Coons is dangerous and allows broad latitude for a major intervention.  The Russian proposal is very promising and, thus far, there has been no concrete evidence presented that the Assad government used chemical weapons.

The country is very apprehensive about believing anything our government says regarding weapons of mass destruction.  Once burned, twice shy.  One interesting facet of the debate is the opposition of right wing conservatives to react to a supposed use of chemical weapons.  They widely used Saddam’s use of them ten years previously to justify invading Iraq.

Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico sent a wisely thought out missive about this issue yesterday:

Dear Friends,

The last week has been the most difficult I have experienced in my more than eight years in public office.  What I share with you now will not win me any popularity awards, and some of you may well never forgive me for my decision today. All I ask is that you read this entire letter and seek to understand how I came to make this decision.

I have always believed that my decisions in public office should reflect my best judgment and what I believe to be the best course for our nation. Most of the time that leads to votes that are well aligned with most of you as constituents.  Just as importantly, it means that I can look my children in the eye and explain my positions with honesty, never having to explain why a vote was the result of politics or pressure. Today, I am taking a position that I believe is in line with those values.

From my position on the Intelligence Committee, I have been briefed regularly for eight months now on developments in Syria. Those developments have been very difficult to watch. Most people only hear about these things on a news report, where it is difficult to imagine the scale and intensity of this violence. I have had a much closer view.

Bashar al-Assad is a dictator who has shown a willingness to reduce residential neighborhoods to rubble, to imprison and torture children, and who has watched callously as his actions have killed over a hundred thousand civilians and displaced millions of Syrian refugees.

Despite that, I remain of the belief that as a nation, we cannot become directly entangled in a civil war that we do not fully understand. It is for this reason that I do not think we should arm the Syrian rebels and I do not support sending American troops into this conflict.

However, over recent months I also learned of the facts that are now the subject of so much debate here and around the world. What I can tell you from my perspective, having seen the public evidence as well as much that remains classified, I do not have any doubt about the following facts:

One: a chemical weapons attack occurred on August 21;

Two: that attack was planned and carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s regime; and

Three: that as a result, hundreds of children and non-combatants were gassed to death in the suburbs of Damascus.

I have seen how Assad incrementally tests the international community as he employs more and more brutal tactics in order to cling to power. And I can tell you that August 21 was not just some anomaly, but that it is part of a long and predictable pattern of behavior.

What’s more, I believe that when any country chooses to ignore the international norms against chemical weapons, they have made a deeply immoral decision with worldwide implications, implications that the United States and the international community cannot ignore. If you want to understand why chemical weapons were singled out for international actions, you can watch videos that were taken in the aftermath of the Damascus attacks. These videos show the real effects of chemical weapons and are completely consistent with international forensic evidence showing that the agent was Sarin nerve gas.  I would warn you not to view these with children in the room. They are real and they are horrible.

I know that we are a nation that is not only rightfully weary of war, but also jaded by the dishonest use of cooked intelligence reports that led to terrible mistakes in Iraq. But this is not Iraq and we have a moral obligation to deter Assad and every regime watching him from thinking that they can gas their people with impunity, commit genocide, or employ internationally prohibited weapons.

It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I will support President Obama’s request for the authorization of use of military force.

I will seek to make sure that the resolution before the Senate remains narrow in scope and does not put American troops on the ground in another Middle Eastern war. But I believe that President Obama and the international community should be able to send a message to Bashar al-Assad: that he is not above international norms and that he will suffer real, military consequences should he choose to gas civilians.

I will continue to support additional foreign aid to alleviate the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Syria and neighboring countries, and I will also continue supporting diplomatic options so long as they are credible, verifiable, and enforceable.

While I know that my vote on this matter will be controversial, especially among some of my closest supporters, I want you to know that I have little doubt it is the right decision.

Sincerely,

Signature

MARTIN HEINRICH

United States Senator

I stand with Sen. Heinrich, opposed to any war with Syria.

The Egyptian Mess

The mess in Egypt tested our principles and found them failing.  Restless over massive unrest directed at democratically elected President Muhammed Morsi the Egyptian military exercised a coup arresting him and hundreds of leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood political party.  Democracy in Egypt was dealt a quick and painful death.

It doesn’t matter if you are with the president or against him, democracy demands that a process be used to change governments and that process must be performed at the ballot box on election day.  Like Morsi or not a majority of Egyptians elected him in a democratic election.  He should have remained in office until either his term ended and someone else was elected or he chose to resign.

Make no question about this:  the military engineered a coup which now requires the Obama Administration to cut all non-humanitarian aid to that country.  This means the massive welfare program given to the American defense industry be cut.  Of course we can’t cut these welfare programs so the President is pretending it wasn’t a coup.  It is pure hypocrisy as tens of thousands of federal workers are furloughed under budget cuts, valuable programs are cut back but the arms industry hums along.

Unconstitutional NSA Searches

An unconstitutional search is an unconstitutional search.  The Fourth Amendment is very clear:  the government shall not conduct a search without a probable cause based warrant.  George W. Bush began the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens and we liberals all called for his impeachment.  Barack Obama has continued the practice and possibly expanded it.  These are impeachable offenses.  It makes no difference to me which Party the perpetrator of these crimes is from:  they are high crimes and misdemeanors conducted against the American people and in violation of the constitution.

The Supreme Corporate Court of John Roberts disagrees in its incapacity to properly read the constitution (they are also incapable of understanding the Second Amendment as written).  They claim to be “strict constructionists” except when it suits their purposes not to.  It is impossible for any reasonable person to read and comprehend the Fourth Amendment and approve the actions of the NSA and the CIA.  

Edward Snowden, a real patriot, agreed with this assessment and was appalled at what he saw as both an NSA employee and a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton.  BAH is a giant private corporation which grew at an astounding rate after 9/11 as President Bush poured trillions into the national security apparatus.  As such Snowden discovered that any analyst with a security clearance could access any and all communications made by any American citizen.  Without suspicion of criminal conduct brought before a Judge for a warrant such eavesdropping and surveillance is unconstitutional.  Bush and Obama have done it anyway.  Bush should be prosecuted and Obama impeached.

For strange reasons though two thirds of Americans have determined they;d rather be safe than free and in a poll support the wiretapping.  Every telephone call, email and internet search is collected and stored in federal databases.  You have absolutely no privacy unless you’re either a Luddite or Amish.  We no longer live in a free society.

This is the magnitude of what The Guardian exposed with documents provided by Snowden who is now running for his life from the American government.  

Holding the American People Hostage

by Walter Brasch

Judges who wish to assure that a jury has no outside influence will sequester them.

Legally, a sequestered jury is seized by authority and isolated from all outside influences.

The jurors are escorted into and out of the courtroom. They aren’t allowed to read newspapers, listen to radio news, or watch TV news, ‘lest they could be influenced by the media. They are escorted to and from meals, and isolated from other customers. They can’t discuss the case with family or friends. They can’t even go home at the end of the day; they’re housed in hotel rooms.

In the summer of 2011, a bipartisan “super-committee” was supposed to come up with a reasonable budget to eliminate $1.2-$1.5 trillion from the national deficit. The Congressionally-mandated sequester went into effect two weeks ago when Congress couldn’t come up with a better idea about the budget. The draconian cuts across all federal programs was supposed to be enacted only as a last-ditch measure. The concept was that Congress and the Administration would be so fearful of the results of the sequester, which the media and elected officials often called a “poison pill,” they would take the time to thoughtfully work out a proper budget, and the sequester would never happen.

But, the Republicans dug in their heels, refused to compromise, and even continued their vacations the last week before the sequester went into effect.

Republican Speaker John Boehner claims he doesn’t like the sequester, never liked it-although he praised it a year ago-and blames President Obama.

President Obama wanted to restore the tax rates that existed before the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000, while keeping the tax cuts for everyone else. Under Republican pressure, he eventually raised the limit to $400,000. The President further proposed a budget that would yield $1.1 trillion in spending cuts and $700 billion in increased revenue, primarily from closing federal tax loopholes and deductions that benefitted primarily the nation’s upper class. That proposal already included cutting back the deficit by $600 billion. (For those keeping track, George W. Bush came into office with a $236.2 billion surplus; by the end of his presidency, he left Barack Obama a $500 billion deficit and the worst Recession since the Great Depression of 1929.)

The Republicans, willingly jerked around by their Tea Party base, don’t want the restoration of the tax rates for anyone. Of course, they also don’t want to end billions of dollars of corporate subsidies, paid for through taxes upon the working poor. Until this past week, the Republicans didn’t even have a budget proposal of their own until they dusted off and put new polish on Rep. Paul Ryan’s slightly revised budget proposal from the 2012 campaign. That would be the budget proposal the American people rejected when they gave Barack Obama a resounding second term victory.

The Congressional Budget Office says the sequester could cut more than 750,000 federal jobs. Republicans like that idea, especially since most federal employees are also members of unions. But, those jobs include public health officials, social service workers, teachers, air traffic controllers, and others in critical jobs. Cutting social services appeals to the Republican mind-set, but cutting the number of air traffic controllers alone would cause not just a severe reduction of flights, but significant lost revenue for the airlines. Obviously, the Republicans, the party of corporate America, don’t really care.

And now we learn that the Republican leadership wasn’t honest with their own members, and didn’t tell them of the cuts the President had already agreed to, and the myriad compromises he had already made with the Republican speaker of the house and the Republican senate minority chair to try to avoid the sequester.

It may seem that Congress had no idea what the word “sequester” meant when it created this fiscal disaster. But the reality is that Congress does know. Its actions-or, rather, its failure to act- has left the American people isolated and held hostage by authority. This time, it’s not a judge sequestering a jury, but a Republican-dominated Congress sequestering all of the American people.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the best-selling Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the consequences of fracking by the natural gas industry. The book is available through amazon.com, greeleyandstone.com, or local bookstores.]

President Hugo Chavez Dead

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez succumbed to cancer today at age 58.  The socialist transformed a nation paralyzed by inequality of wealth, the corrupting power of corporatism and extreme poverty into one where income began being equalized providing greater wealth for the people, greatly diminished influence by corporations, agrarian reform providing property to all and an huge expansion of literacy as educational opportunity was provided for all.  He even provided home heating oil to thousands of needy Americans.

Chavez was vilified by corporate American supported by the past two Presidential administrations terrified of his populism and its meaning if it caught on in America.  The right wing made him into a Communist though he was never such a thing.  Hugo Chavez was so popular in his country he was elected President by huge margins even when terminally ill.

He directed vast sums from Venezuela’s oil industry to the people instead of to the wealthy and American corporations.  The country is vastly different today from 1999 when he rose to power.  The Venezuela of then is similar to the United States of today in that the rich held a vast amount of power and wealth, millions of citizens lived in poverty and corporatism ruled.

There is a huge difference between capitalism and corporatism.  America today is really a corporatist state wherein no legislation gets passed on a state or federal level without approval of the Chamber of Commerce.  The Supreme Court has sided with the Chamber 100% of the time, in every case brought before it.  Corporations completely control the U.S. and income inequality has risen to its highest level since the 1920’s.  The top 1% now own 40% of America’s wealth and every dollar of income increase in recent years went to their full bank accounts.

This is why Washington was so scared of Hugo Chavez:  his reforms worked.  His taxation of the rich and corporations funded desperately needed programs for the poor and lofted them out of poverty.  For this the media had to totally demonize the man and they did this very successfully.  Venezuela is a vastly improved nation because of Hugo Chavez and the U.S. desperately needs a leader like him.  The result of our income inequality threatens the stability of our society.  No democratic country has escaped revolution with such a wide gap of inequality.