Today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered his first policy address and called for reshaping Pentagon strategy and budgets to meet future challenges and opportunities. His call to take advantage of the “opportunities that exist to fundamentally reshape the defense enterprise to better reflect century realities” is an effort widely supported by military leaders, outside experts and leaders from both parties.
These voices confirm that the United States can reduce its Pentagon spending while maintaining its military power and generate the capabilities needed to address future threats. As Secretary Hagel calls for changing thinking about defense in the 21st century, there is no shortage of constructive ideas – including those summarized in a recent NSN policy paper. The question is whether Washington can generate the political will for pragmatic choices about the future of American military strength.
Hagel’s call to organize the Pentagon to “better reflect 21st century strategic and fiscal realities” has broad support among military and security leaders: A letter signed by top military and civilian national security leaders – including former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Samuel Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger – explains, “In our judgment, advances in technological capabilities and the changing nature of threats make it possible, if properly done, to spend less on a more intelligent, efficient and contemporary defense strategy that maintains our military superiority and national security.’ [Coalition for Fiscal and National Security, 12/4/12]
Hagel’s objective to guide the Pentagon “to prepare for the future” and focus on 21st threats – not the last war – allows major savings. Secretary Hagel made clear his commitment to lead “Change that involves not just tweaking or chipping away at existing structures and practices but where necessary fashioning entirely new ones that are better suited to 21st century realities and challenges.”
Along similar lines, Lt. General Barno (USA, ret.), senior advisor at the Center for a New American Security, explains that the United States is over-invested in fighting what he calls “Wars of Iron” – large conflicts against conventional military opponents like those that dominated 20th century U.S. military thinking in the case of the Soviet Union or Iraq during the 1990s. Instead, he says, future wars will likely be “Wars of Silicon” – wars against high-tech opponents equipped with advanced cyber weapons – and “Wars in the Shadows” against non-state actors. While the U.S. has been building capacity to fight “Wars in the Shadows,” he warns that “The coming defense drawdown and budgetary belt-tightening offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the U.S. military and defense industry… Current procurement plans are feeding vast resources into programs designed to achieve even more dominance in Wars of Iron, while doing far too little to prepare for the coming Wars of Silicon. It’s time to seize the moment and re-balance the U.S. investment portfolio with a bias toward future capabilities, rather than doubling down on costly replacements for today’s still highly-capable weapons systems. Failure to make this shift now will leave the nation at risk when the truly high-end wars of the future arrive.” [Dave Barno, 3/19/13]
An illustrative example of how the Pentagon is over-invested in “War of Iron” is the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) – the Army’s 60-ton next-generation armored transport designed for mechanized warfare intended to replace the Bradley armored fighting vehicle. Defense News reports, “The [Congressional Budget Office] estimates the Army will have to spend $29 billion between 2014 and 2030 on 1,748 GCVs. Using a set of metrics that aligns with the Army’s requirements for protection, weight, firepower and ability to carry a fully loaded, nine-man squad, the CBO estimates that ‘fielding [German made armored transports] Pumas or upgraded Bradleys would cost $14 billion and $9 billion less, respectively, than the Army’s program for the GCV and would pose less risk of cost overruns and schedule delays.’… upgrading the Bradley, ‘would be more lethal than the GCV against enemy forces and would probably allow soldiers and vehicles to survive combat at about the same rates as would the GCV.’” [Defense News, 1/2/13]
Outside experts and political leaders from both parties agree when Hagel Says “We need to challenge all past assumptions, and we need to put everything on the table:” Pentagon spending can be safely reduced:
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC): Senator Graham, member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, explains: “I believe we can reduce defense spending in a responsible manner through reform and efficiencies. America is on an unsustainable spending path that represents a real threat to our way of life, including our national security. So in these fiscally challenging times, we don’t have any other option than to put the defense budget on the table.” [Huffington Post, 12/21/12]
Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Mick Mulvaney (R-SC): “We can disagree about the proper amount of defense spending, but it is clear that recent growth has not been tied to strategic needs. It has been, simply, growth for the sake of growth…we know that achieving defense savings and keeping our nation safe is possible. Smaller defense budgets in the past more than adequately provided for a strong national defense, even during the height of the Cold War.” [Politico, 10/23/11]
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK): “Billions of defense dollars are being spent on programs and missions that have little or nothing to do with national security, or are already being performed by other government agencies.” [The Hill, 11/15/12]
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY): “Republicans who think military spending, myself [included], who think national defense is important, should compromise and say, you know what, not every dollar spent on the military’s sacred, we can reduce the military spending, that’s a compromise.” [ABC News, 11/19/12]
Outside Experts: Gordon Adams, professor at American University, explains: “Over the past few weeks, think tanks right, left, and center have issued reports that lay out the road to a disciplined defense drawdown, in which they rethink strategy, military force, weapons buying, and management. The reports come from the Stimson Center/Peterson Foundation, the Center for American Progress, the Project on Defense Alternatives, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and, interestingly, the RAND Corporation. They agree on a surprising number of things, and all of them suggest deep cuts are inevitable.” [Gordon Adams, 11/27/12]
The problem with sequestration is the suddenness and inflexible nature of the reductions, not necessarily the size. Plenty of room for Hagel to work toward the goal of “undertaking a process to develop choices, options and priorities to deal with further reductions.” As Brookings Senior Fellow Peter Singer explains, “At the height of the Iraq war, US spending was above half of all the world’s military spending, but is now down to slightly above 40% of all military spending. Sequestration would take it down by about 2% more of the pie, roughly 38% of all global military spending, excluding any likely contingency or war spending.” [Peter Singer, 9/23/12]
What We’re Reading
North Korea blocked the entry of South Korean workers into a joint industrial zone, in a move seen as further escalating tensions.
A third man died in China after catching a strain of bird flu not previously known in humans, following the deaths of two others last month.
The United States and Jordan are stepping up training of Syrian opposition forces that may be used to establish a buffer zone along Syria’s southern border.
A suicide bomb and gun attack on a courthouse in the western Afghan city of Farah left at least six people dead and 70 injured.
Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a missile across the border into Israel for the second time in two days, hours after an Israeli air strike on Gaza.
International Monetary Fund officials are holding talks in Cairo with the Egyptian government about authorizing a $4.8 billion loan for the country.
Unusually heavy rains caused flash floods in Buenos Aires, in Argentina, leaving eight people dead in the city and its suburbs.
The main road linking Somalia’s capital to the strategic city of Baidoa has been totally recaptured from Islamist militants.
Ousted Central African Republic leader Francois Bozize accused Chad of aiding and fighting with rebels that toppled him.
Cyprus agreed to a set of “challenging” measures, the IMF says, that will release a 10 billion euro ($12.8 billion) international bailout.
EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo broke up without a deal, in a setback to Serbia’s EU membership hopes.
What We’re Reading
David Ignatius analyzes the Syrian opposition forces.
Conor Friedersdorf explains the important civil liberties protections of a state legislature bill about domestic drone use.
Original article on National Security Network
No one said it was going to be easy – being a progressive that is. Social movements, simply stated, are hard work that takes time. Patience. Fortitude. Perseverance. Those are hardly the buzzwords of our 21st century, 24-hour news cycle environment.
But the old saying that anything of value has a price tag attached to it certainly is true of today’s progressive movement. And the price tag of hard work, grass roots community building and determination are exactly what marks the work of the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA).
PDA was founded in 2004 to transform the Democratic Party and to seek to build a party and government controlled by citizens, not corporate elites with policies that serve the broad public interest, not just private interests. PDA’s “inside/outside” strategy is guided by the belief that a lasting majority will require a revitalized Democratic Party built on firm progressive principles.
“We were active in the national arena in 2004,” said PDA Executive Director Tim Carpenter. “Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich were active at that time trying to unite the party around issues such as single payer and reduction of military spending. We began with the dream that we could elect a progressive president. Although that didn’t succeed, now nine years later we have put together an organization that is committed to those issues. We’re working at the grass roots level, by Congressional District, working inside and outside of the Democratic Party.
“What makes PDA unique as an organization is that we believe you have to work both inside to remind the Democratic Party of our progressive ideals as well as outside the party. Every great social movement whether it was the women’s movement that began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended outside the White House with demonstrations that led to the 19th Amendment or the Civil Rights movement when Rosa Parks (in 1955) refused to move that resulted in the signing of the Civil Rights bill in 1964 – every social movement has a uniting of the “inside and the outside.” And that’s what PDA is about – building a larger progressive social movement.”
The focus areas for PDA are no small task. They include:
- End Corporate Rule
- Clean, Fair Transparent Elections
- Economic and Social Justice
- End War and Occupation, Redirect Funding
- Educate Congress
- Healthcare for All/Single Payer
- Stop Global Warming/Environmental
- Stop Voter Suppression/Democracy Restoration Act
“As I reflect on the last nine years, I think it’s important to realize we’re still here,” Carpenter said. “It’s been years since we were just an idea and now that idea has taken shape. There are activists working around the country on the inside and outside strategy. I think the measure of PDA and whether or not we’re effective is to look at benchmarks. Whether it’s raising money or generating letters, those are all very important. I think we will reach all of those. But the overarching benchmark for PDA as I’ve stated is that we are organizing a community of activists (inside and outside) that are willing to do the work and believe we can build a passionate and progressive government.
“The measurement is not only that we survived but also that we’re growing and building a movement. Whether we call ourselves progressive democrats five years from now or whatever the group of people who are building and growing this community is called will ultimately stay sustained and active and relevant and current. I think that is the most measurable thing.”
Recent PDA activity included a strong push for the Progressive Caucus’ Back To Work Budget, which included letter drops and educational efforts at Congressional offices. Although the vote ultimately failed, Carpenter says it represents a start. 84 votes for the Back To Work Budget and 33 signers to Rep. Alan Grayson’s letter to President Obama stating there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. “That’s our foundation, Carpenter said. “There’s long way to go, but at the same time, we’re on our way.”
What is it in Carpenters’ DNA that keeps him and the organization focused and optimistic? An early organizer in one of the most conservative areas of the country (Orange County), Carpenter also worked on campaigns in the late 1960s-early 70s for Jerry Brown, Tom Hayden and George McGovern. “I struggle like everybody else today, but I also believe it is our responsibility to keep moving and pushing and to stand on those shoulders that brought us to this point of a progressive community.
“At an early age I had serious health issues (degenerative arthritic condition and cancer as a young adult). I had to make decisions early in my life on what was important and what wasn’t and that altered my viewpoint at a young age. I think that, coupled with the fact I grew up in a very Irish Catholic family. I went to Catholic grade school; learned from the Jesuits. I took very seriously the social justice gospel and from there began to chart out my course.
“Who are the heroes for me? The obvious ones that stand out like Dr. Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Michael Harrington. But it’s really the folks who do the day-in and day-out work of our communities. The people who read the blogs and who everyday try to make a difference; the people who stand up against the main stream and hold to a vision that healthcare is a human right and we can reduce military spending. There are thousands and thousands of people who get up everyday and do the work — whether it’s an individual who writes a member of congress or organizes house parties to help educate others. At the end of the day, those are the people who make a real difference in our lives. I often like to think of Margaret Mead’s quote that says, “in the end it’s small groups of dedicated people who bring about change.”
“Sure, we run into naysayers. But at the same time, it’s important and essential to acknowledge the little victories along the way. At the end of the day it’s going to be about the journey. Most of the work we’re doing, we’re not going to see the end results in our lifetime. But it’s important that we reach those markers and celebrate the victories like passing a bill, or getting more co-sponsors to a bill. It’s by pulling together that we have those major victories, whether that’s finally talking about getting our troops out of Afghanistan. We’re finally out of Iraq. We’re on the horrible 10-year anniversary of the invasion, and it was pretty hopeless during a lot of that build up. But we organized and put pressure on our government to get the troops out. Those are the marker that we acknowledge and celebrate.”
Hopeful signs that Carpenter sees daily in his work with PDA include the passion and energy the “younger generation” has for progressive causes. “It’s there,” he said about the work of the next generation. “Not in the way we sometimes look at it from the old ways of organizing, but I can say unequivocally in the work I’m doing with PDA and the cities I’m visiting that the youth are engaged and active. I point to a group called I Matter. They have a group of 10-11 year olds who are organizing their grade schools and high schools for a better planet that they will inherit from us. We haven’t done a very good job when it comes to climate and global warming and I Matter is at the forefront in really organizing and speaking out to create a community that understands the imperatives and the perils we face right now on climate change.
“We took a group of kids from I Matter to Congress last year and it was one of the most inspirational works that I did…that’s where inspiration for me come from. We have to remember this generation is meeting on Twitter and on Facebook. They don’t like to go to meetings. Think of when we grew up. We would wait all day for a half hour of Walter Cronkite. It’s a much different world that we’re living in and organizing in, but yes, the younger generation is very much engaged.”
In addition to the continued push for the Back To Work Budget, PDA will also be focused on key events in April that include Rep. Keith Ellison’s re-introduction of the Robin Hood tax as well as the awaited decision on the Keystone Pipeline.
“The Environment. Many are already saying it’s simply too late,” Carpenter said. The next couple of months will be crucial with the tar sands and the Keystone Pipeline. We need to stop that pipeline and deal with a larger strategy that deals with the climate, carbon tax, green jobs and getting rid of nuclear power.
“Long term we have to hold to our vision that health care is a human right and to reduce the amount for military spending. We need to move that money out of the Pentagon and into the work at that needs to be done at home.”Learn More About PDA
One of the best ways to stay abreast of what’s happening on progressive issues is to stay connected to PDA. And, the best way to learn more about PDA is to visit their web site by clicking here. Like them on Facebook and you’ll get reminders and invitations to all of their topical monthly conference calls. You’ll have the opportunity to connect with people from literally around the country who are concerned about the progressive issues for which PDA fights. Their eNewsletter is another great way to learn and “click” your way to more action.
The following links provide more information on Carpenter and what motivates him:
To hear Tim in his own words, check out his recent interview with talk show host Thom Hartman:
You can donate directly to PDA by clicking here or by checking out our special offer. We are donating portions of every individual copy of Wisdom of Progressive Voices directly to PDA. The memory of Bob LaFollette, Dorothy Day, Rachel Carson and all of the progressives featured in our book owe a thank you to PDA and their continued work.
The original article on Wisdom Voices
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel – following a path blazed by his deputy, Ash Carter – will kick back up to 14 days’ pay to the U.S. Treasury to replicate the pecuniary pain sequestration will inflict on fellow Pentagon civilians. “He will voluntarily subject part of his salary to furlough levels even though he’s not required,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said Tuesday.
Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the Pentagon has to slice about $40 billion from its budget by the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. Part of the trimming will be in the form of unpaid furloughs for most of the Defense Department’s 800,000 civilians, now set at up to 14 days each, sprinkled throughout the rest of the fiscal year.
Hagel makes $199,700 annually, one-fifth of what he earned last year. He was worth between $3 million and $6 million when he filed financial disclosure statements with the Senate before his confirmation hearing in January. Hagel became a multi-millionaire after co-founding Vanguard Cellular in the 1980s, between his gigs as a U.S. Army sergeant in Vietnam and defense secretary.Original article on Time
Even as state officials scramble to put in place major health reforms for 2014, a new proposal to guarantee medical care as a human right and create a single-payer system for all citizens is moving toward a Colorado vote.
Health Care for All Colorado and a current board member of the budding state health insurance exchange are pushing a citizen initiative to scrap the private insurance system.
The effort is separate from Sen. Irene Aguilar's bill proposing a statewide referendum on a "cooperative" that also would be a single-payer system, whose passage with a two-thirds majority is seen as having a slim chance.
The citizens group wants to press on, bypassing requirements for a legislative super-majority to directly test state sentiment on revolutionary fixes for gaps they say were left by 2010's national health reform.
"Access to health care is a human right, it's not something that should be bought and sold as a commodity," said Donna Smith, executive director of Health Care for All Colorado.
Skeptics and critics abound, even within the same progressive movement. Aguilar wonders why the organizers are competing with her effort, while conservatives deride universal coverage as an even worse idea than current big-government health reforms.
"Wait, I thought Obamacare fixed the health care system!" said Linda Gorman, health care analyst for the libertarian Independence Institute. The European and Canadian single-payer systems "are unbelievably expensive for what you get," Gorman said.
"They eliminate treatment and physician choice, make everyone wait for care, degrade the infrastructure needed to diagnose and cure disease, and result in widespread denial of care to those who are seriously ill," she said.
Single-payer or universal coverage supporters counter that while "Obamacare" is a major improvement in a broken health system, hundreds of thousands of Coloradans will remain without insurance because they are undocumented immigrants or are between jobs.
"It leaves an awful lot of people uninsured and underinsured," said Smith, whose own health and insurance problems were featured in Michael Moore's 2007 documentary "Sicko." The ballot initiatives would guarantee health care "from the day you are born to the day you die, and it's not tied to your employment," Smith said.
Adding visibility to the effort is the presence of a board member for the state health exchange charged with implementing a key portion of Obamacare. Nathan Wilkes said he will continue to support that effort, which will direct federal subsidies to individuals and small groups, but added that "there's still a long way to go" to cover gaps.
Many of the new insurance plans sold under the exchange will reflect the private trend of sky-high deductibles and large co-pays for consumers, Wilkes said. Meanwhile, 31 cents of each health care dollar is wasted on overhead, he added.
"What I've learned is there's far more waste and inefficiency in private health insurance than I ever knew before," said Wilkes. He serves on an exchange board that also includes representatives from three of Colorado's largest private insurers, United Healthcare, Anthem and Rocky Mountain Health Plans.
The activists envision all health care payments coming from one Colorado trust fund.
Workers would contribute a payroll tax based on their income and net worth, similar to current Medicare deductions. The trust would also seek federal waivers allowing all Medicare and Medicaid spending to go into the trust as well, capturing billions more dollars each year.
Private insurance companies could still exist, covering small gaps in care not envisioned in the trust's mandated minimums, much as insurers do with "Medi-gap" policies to Medicare clients.
The citizen effort will go to a state hearing this week for comments on the language of the proposal. Supporters would need at least 86,000 valid petition signatures to get on the fall ballot, meaning at least 100,000 for a comfortable cushion, Smith said.
Health Care for All Colorado and other supporters are holding meetings around the state explaining universal coverage and gauging support.
"This is an education process for us, to find the depth of the progressive community in Colorado," Smith said.
Michael Booth: 303-954-1686, email@example.com or Follow Michael Booth on Twitter.
Original article on The Denver Post
Exxon Mobil said that one of its pipelines leaked “a few thousand” barrels of Canadian heavy crude oil near Mayflower, Ark., prompting the evacuation of 22 homes and reinforcing concerns many critics have raised about the Keystone XL pipeline that is awaiting State Department approval.
The pipeline breach took place late Friday, Exxon said, in the 20-inch diameter, 95,000-barrel-a-day Pegasus pipeline, which originates in Patoka, Ill., and carries crude oil to the Texas Gulf Coast, the country’s main refining center. Mayflower is about 25 miles north of Little Rock.
By Sunday afternoon, the company had deployed 15 vacuum trucks and 33 storage tanks to start cleaning up and temporarily store about 12,000 barrels of oil and water that had been recovered, the company said. Crews were steam-cleaning oil from property, Exxon Mobil said, while some fought in rainy weather to keep the oil from reaching nearby Lake Conway through storm drains.
The pipeline, which was built in the 1940s and was recently expanded, was carrying low-quality Wabasca Heavy crude oil from Alberta, Exxon Mobil spokesman Alan T. Jeffers said. According to the Crude Monitor Web site, Wabasca Heavy is a blend of oil produced in the Athabasca region, where the oil sands are located.
An existing Keystone pipeline carries crude oil that comes from the oil sands deposits in Alberta to Patoka through Exxon Mobil’s lines. Jeffers said he did not know if this batch of crude oil came from the Keystone line.
Many critics of the Keystone XL pipeline say that corrosion risks are greater in pipelines carrying low-quality bitumen-laden crude from the oil sands. They have urged President Obama to reject the Keystone XL permit application.
“This latest pipeline incident is a troubling reminder that oil companies still have not proven that they can safely transport Canadian tar sands oil across the United States without creating risks to our citizens and our environment,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (Mass.), the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.
TransCanada, owner of the Keystone system, has said that the new pipeline would be far safer than any other part of the nation’s 2.6 million miles of oil, gas and chemical pipelines.
The Environmental Protection Agency declared the Arkansas leak a “major spill,” a label put on any spill of 250 barrels or more. Exxon Mobil said it was preparing for a spill of up to 10,000 barrels, but that the estimate would probably end up being lower than that.
The company and other responders were battling to keep the crude oil, which gushed into yards and ran down residential streets in a Mayflower neighborhood, from leaking into Lake Conway, a popular recreation and game-fishing spot. Cleanup crews have deployed 3,600 feet of boom near the lake as a precaution, and as of Sunday afternoon no oil had reached the lake, Jeffers said.
He added that dikes had been built to prevent runoff into the lake, but heavy rains were making that difficult, and runoff from storm drains into the lake was a concern.
Several residents posted Facebook photographs and online videos of the oil pooling in yards and streets.
Allen Dodson, a Faulkner County judge and one of three unified incident commanders responding to the spill, said in an interview that oil mostly affected five or six yards and that the “smell had gone down dramatically.”
Jeffers said that the company received phone calls from people in the area at the same time its pipeline monitors in Houston noticed a drop in pressure in the line. The pipeline is buried about two feet deep in the Mayflower area, he said. Exxon Mobil said responders were on the scene within half an hour. Approximately 120 Exxon Mobil workers are responding to the incident in addition to federal, state and local officials and workers.
Exxon Mobil said that fumes from the oil spill posed a risk in “high pooling areas,” where oil could be seen on the ground and where crews were working with safety equipment.
The company said the cause of the spill is under investigation.
The Arkansas spill came just four days after the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed fining Exxon Mobil $1.7 million for a July 2011 spill in Montana’s Yellowstone River. In that incident, Exxon Mobil’s 12-inch Silvertip Pipeline spilled 1,509 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River near Laurel, Mont., during flooding.
The agency is alleging that Exxon Mobil did not properly address known seasonal flooding risks to the safety of its pipeline, including erosion of riverbeds that could leave pipelines exposed to damage from debris flowing downstream. The agency also said Exxon Mobil did not implement measures that would have mitigated a spill into a waterway.
Exxon Mobil has contended that the unusually large fine — possibly the result of a doubling of civil penalties under the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011 signed into law last year by Obama — contradicted a report that said the company took “reasonable precautions.” The new ceiling is $2 million. The company said it spent about $100 million cleaning up damage from the spill.
The Arkansas incident also comes just a few days after a Canadian Pacific Railroad train carrying oil sands crude — a mixture of heavy bitumen and lighter dilutents — from Alberta to Chicago derailed near Parkers Prairie, Minn., spilling about 357 barrels.
That accident drew attention because the State Department’s new environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL said that if the pipeline were blocked, oil sands crude would still be able to reach markets via railroads, which carry more than 1 million barrels a day of oil in the United States. Supporters of the pipeline say that shipping oil by pipeline would be safer and more fuel efficient than doing so by rail.
Original article on The Washington Post
The Capital Beltway, a politically iconic and locally vital highway, is dying beneath your turning wheels.
Under the surface of all but some recently restored segments, fissures are spreading, cracks are widening and the once-solid road bed that carries about a quarter-million cars a day is turning to mush.
In a perfect world, it would be torn up — the asphalt and concrete, and the bed of crushed stone below — right down to the bare earth. From that fresh start a new and stable highway would grow. But this is the Beltway, and closing down whole sections of it would tie one of the most congested regions in the nation into a Gordian knot.
“With the older base layers under the asphalt, the surface is not able to absorb the pounding the way it used to,” said Doug Simmons, deputy highway administrator in Maryland, home to almost two-thirds of the 64-mile Beltway and to the more serious of the highway’s problems. “It is at that 50-year age point, which is too close to [the end of its life]. It’s a good example of the challenges we’re going to be facing not only in Maryland but other places in the country.”
Ultimately, the Beltway will not be allowed to die. It is too central to life in this region and to the national highway system. But it stands as a symbol, one roadway among the tens of thousands at the end of a long and fruitful life span into which 21st century America was born.
Now, 210 million U.S. drivers, and the commerce on which they rely, are riding on baby-boom-generation roadways, which like the boomers themselves are no longer so steady and sound.
As reality sinks in, states have moved to raise taxes to fix their roads before it’s too late.
Maryland and Virginia just passed tax increases to address transportation needs, high among them deteriorating highways such as the Beltway. But it will take time more than money to tackle the Beltway’s worst sections, because simply closing several lanes for months would have nightmarish consequences.
The best of roads might last 40 or 50 years, perhaps longer if set in a forgiving climate. But once age gets the best of a road, smacking a fresh coat of asphalt on it is like pinning leaves on a dead tree.
Simply put, the underbed of a roadway develops potholes very much like the ones seen on the surface. That process of erosion advances with the age of the road, and new asphalt or concrete becomes a waste of time and money.
“There’s too much money spent on just patching, on the quick fix, rather than the long term, and eventually it’s going to catch up on us,” said Edward G. Rendell, former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor who now heads an infrastructure advocacy group.
It’s catching up now.
Nearly a third of the nation’s major roads need significant repair or replacement, with a far higher percentage in the busiest urban areas. In Washington and its suburbs, it soars to 62 percent.
Forty-two percent of urban roadways suffer from congestion, costing an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and gasoline each year, according to a study released earlier this month by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Like many of the warnings about the need for investment of trillions of dollars to salvage America’s aging infrastructure system, the bottom-line number is so huge that it is difficult for most people to digest.
The ASCE says federal, state and local governments need to spend $79 billion more each year just on roads.
That’s $250 more a year for every American, a smaller though still somewhat abstract number. But there are more meaningful individual costs associated with driving on roadways that are falling apart.
In addition to the cost of traffic delays, the average Washington area driver pays $578 a year for wear and tear caused by rough roads, according to calculations by the nonprofit transportation research group TRIP, which is backed by highway improvement advocates.
Delays and bad roads also cost truckers, who deliver $25 billion in goods nationwide every day, and that added expense is passed on to price tags at supermarkets and department stores.
“Traffic congestion is costing the freight transportation network nearly $8 billion per year,” according to a report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “Higher transportation costs mean higher consumer prices.”
If bad roads cause sticker creep at the checkout aisle, the cost of fixing them is about to cause sticker shock at the gas pump.
Aware that they can’t rely on austerity-minded Congress to triple spending for roadways, states have begun to step in with tax increases.
“State legislatures seem to be coming out of a period of denial,” said Frank Moretti, director of policy and research at TRIP. “For years they thought ‘Maybe Washington will send us lots of money,’ or ‘We’ll just push it off another year or two.’ This problem has gone beyond the point where it can just be a political football that gets put off for a few more years.”
In all, close to two dozen states have looked for new ways to fund road projects this year.
With a push from Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, Virginia overhauled the way it pays for transportation programs. A $1.4 billion plan replaces a 17.5-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline with a 3.5 percent wholesale tax on motor fuels that will keep pace with economic growth and inflation.
It’s a complex stew of new taxes that tacks about 11.5 cents on to the current cost of a gallon of gas, according to industry estimates.
Drivers in Maryland will be paying pennies more per gallon by summer under a bill that passed the Maryland Senate on Friday and will now go to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who has promised to sign the measure. Within three years, the new sales tax would rise until it reaches 13 to 20 cents per gallon, according to legislative analysts. It is expected to raise $4.4 billion for roads and transit over six years.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) wants to sell off dozens of power and heating plants that supply universities and prisons to win bond market support for a two-year $6.4 billion transportation plan. Connecticut may charge additional tolls at its borders.
Wyoming’s legislature raised the state tax on gasoline and diesel fuel by 10 cents a gallon. California may add 3.5 cents per gallon to its fuel tax. In proposing a $1.2 billion road plan, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) warned his legislature that the need will mushroom to $25 billion within a decade unless it takes action.
Those state officials see roads that need replacement and highways and transit systems that need to be expanded, and they see no respite in the future if the issue is ignored. Vehicle travel jumped by 39 percent from 1990 to 2008, and is forecast to increase another 35 percent by 2030. Heavy-truck traffic jumped by nearly 50 percent during that period.
“The explosion of freight truck traffic is punishing aging highways,” the state highway and transportation group said in a 2009 report.
“When we’re talking about infrastructure, we never compute the cost of inaction,” Rendell said. “The best example? The Army Corps of Engineers had a request in to rebuild the levees in New Orleans before Katrina. It would have been a little under a billion dollars. They said there was no money. After Katrina the federal government spent $17 billion on repair. That’s what the public’s got to start understanding. The cost of inaction is greater than the cost of doing something.”
They will build a tougher Beltway this time around.
The need is not so great in the highway’s lower crescent, the 22.1 miles south of the Potomac. Three mega projects along its length — the “mixing bowl” interchange with I-95, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the HOT lanes — have given Virginia a chance to rehabilitate all but three or four miles of Beltway pavement.
The roadway is longer and the challenge greater on the Maryland side. When officials there are able to rebuild, the new crushed stone underbed will be about the same depth as when the road was built in the 1960s. But the asphalt will be thicker, and about 75 percent of the new road will have nine inches of concrete sandwiched between that underbed and the asphalt.
“The Beltway is not a normal roadway as far as the loading we see from traffic volume and truck volume on it,” said Simmons, the highway administrator.
That volume is what makes major rehabilitation so challenging and expensive. A few years ago, there was an estimate it would cost about $3 billion just to preserve Maryland’s 41.7 miles of Beltway, and perhaps twice that amount to address congestion and update interchanges with the roadways that have burgeoned in the decades since the Beltway was built.
The most effective, least expensive way to tackle the job would be to tear out several lanes at a time. If that were the plan in either Maryland or Virginia, someone could calculate a bottom-line cost for the project. But it simply can’t be done.
“With the Capital Beltway being the Capital Beltway, you’re not going to come in to shut down the Capital Beltway to fully reconstruct it, so that’s the challenge we deal with,” Simmons said.
The way Simmons will have to deal with it is one lane at a time.
“It gets very challenging to be able to go with a one-lane perspective and it’s very expensive,” he said. “The more stages you have, the more expensive. When you can only work in the middle of the night, the cost goes up, but you get out of the way of rush hour.”
Right now, major segments of the Maryland part of the Beltway are in a downward spiral, notably those in the eastern part that curves through Prince George’s County. The underbed is rotten, so a fresh asphalt surface doesn’t last. As the surface gets rough, traffic slows and backups begin. When the surface needs more frequent repaving, traffic backs up. And when the time comes that it all is torn up for replacement, traffic will back up.
“There is going to come a point in time when we’re going to need to consider that strategy of doing in-depth reconstruction versus resurfacing,” Simmons said. “But we want to be able to keep people moving as best we can.”
Original article on Washington Post
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said today he will introduce legislation to break up banks that have grown so big that the Justice Department has not pursued prosecutions for fear an indictment would harm the financial system.
The 10 largest banks in the United States are bigger now than before a taxpayer bailout following the 2008 financial crisis. At the time Congress, over Sanders' objection, approved a $700 billion bank rescue because of concerns by some that the financial institutions were too big to fail. Another $16 trillion from the Federal Reserve propped up financial institutions.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. now says the Justice Department may not pursue criminal cases against big banks because filing charges could "have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy."
"In other words," Sanders said, "we have a situation now where Wall Street banks are not only too big to fail, they are too big to jail. That is unacceptable and that has got to change because America is based on a system of law and justice."
U.S. banks have become so big that the six largest financial institutions in this country (J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) today have assets of nearly $9.6 trillion, a figure equal to about two-thirds of the nation's gross domestic product. These six financial institutions issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards, over half of all mortgages, control 95 percent of all derivatives held in financial institutions and hold more than 40 percent of all bank deposits in the United States.
Sanders' legislation would give Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew 90 days to compile a list of commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds and insurance companies that he deems too big to fail. The affected financial institutions would include "any entity that has grown so large that its failure would have a catastrophic effect on the stability of either the financial system or the United States economy without substantial government assistance."
Within one year after the legislation became law, the Treasury Department would be required to break up those banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions identified by the secretary.
"If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist," Sanders said. "No single financial institution should be so large that its failure would cause catastrophic risk to millions of American jobs or to our nation's economic wellbeing. No single financial institution should have holdings so extensive that its failure could send the world economy into crisis," Sanders said. "We need to break up these institutions because they have done of the tremendous damage they have done to our economy."
Original article on rsn
Is Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett ready for the city's newly organized teachers union? On Wednesday at 4pm, a coalition of Chicago teachers, parents, students and community members met at Daley Plaza to voice their displeasure with the announcement last week by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett that 61 Chicago Public Schools will be closed before the opening of the 2013-2014 school year.
Byrd-Bennett is the latest in a long line of well-compensated mayoral proxies pushing forward the slow and steady destruction of Chicago schools, a process that has been going on for decades. In 1995, the Illinois general assembly passed an omnibus of reactionary school reforms, called the “Amendatory Act,” that restructured the governance of CPS. Under the new system, the Mayor of Chicago was given the power to appoint the entire Board of Education without any community oversight, the union’s ability to bargain over classroom issues was tossed out, and the superintendent was replaced with a “Chief Executive Officer,” mimicking the corporate structure of the business interests that pushed for these reforms.
Since the passage of the Amendatory Act, Chicago has seen six CEOs come and go, each leaving the system a little less stable than they found it. The first CEO under the Amendatory Act was Paul Vallas, who set schools on a path to becoming standardized testing factories. Vallas was followed by Arne Duncan, who was likeable enough to play basketball with some very important people (namely, Barack Obama, who later appointed him Secretary of Education). After Duncan, a succession of new CEOs shuffled through, closing public schools and opening charters at a pace on par with much of the rest of the country.
For most of the past two decades, the primary prerequisites for a CEO were an ability to address the media and a talent for glad-handing power brokers (and, in some cases, a willingness to fall on the sword after new policies failed). CEO were, essentially, spokespeople for the district who hobnobbed with the city’s elite. They were also involved in contract negotiations with the various unions in the schools, none of which had been acrimonious since the 1987 teachers strike.
However, the impatient Mayor Rahm Emanuel is operating in a very different political landscape than his predecessor, Mayor Richard Daley. Daley presided over 22 years of labor peace due to decades of “business unionism” in the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU)—a model where backroom deals and close relationships with management replace work actions. Daley’s ambitious plan to close public schools and replace them with charters was a long con, the equivalent of slowly turning up the heat until the frog is cooked. But this strategy inadvertently gave communities time to understand what was going on, and to organize a response. Many activists who came out of that movement took leadership roles in the CTU after ousting the business union leadership in 2010. (Full disclosure: I am a founding member of its current leadership caucus and the CTU's new media coordinator). Last year, after Emanuel did everything within his power to avert the first teachers strike in 25 years and failed miserably, it became clear that a new type of boss would be necessary to speed up the process of busting the teachers union and turning over schools to the highest bidders. A new union and community coalition and growing public awareness around the failings of education reform meant that Mayor Emanuel had to find someone with experience executing unpopular mandates.
Fortunately for Emanuel, the answer was right in front of him: One month after the strike, CPS announced that CEO Jean-Claude Brizard was leaving the district by “mutual agreement” and that then-Chief Education Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett would be taking his place. Byrd-Bennett can be thought of as something of a "cleaner," like Harvey Keitel's problem-solving character Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction: She comes in, takes care of business and leaves quickly. In the school system of the neoliberal era, the job of the cleaner is to close as many schools as possible and replace them with charter schools before the public catches on to the plan. After the announcement, the “chaos on Clark Street” (where CPS headquarters are located) intensified, and the media painted Byrd-Bennett as a phoenix rising above the ashes to save the public schools.
When Byrd-Bennett was appointed as Chief Education Officer of CPS in the spring of 2012, quickly and with little fanfare, her savior reputation preceded her. In Cleveland, where she was hired as schools CEO in 1998, Byrd-Bennett was called the “$300,000 wonder,” a reference to her salary. The narrative in Cleveland was that she expensive, but worth every penny. While media wrote glowing reports about her, Byrd-Bennett cut hundreds of teacher jobs and closed over 20 schools before leaving the district in 2006.
Flash forward to 2009, when Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Robert Bobb hired Byrd-Bennett as his “chief academic and accountability officer.” Over the next two years, Bobb and Byrd-Bennett closed 59 schools and cut 30 percent of the workforce. In the tradition of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s “Renaissance 2010” plan and Philadelphia’s “Imagine 2014,” in March 2011, DPS announced its “Renaissance Plan 2012,” which included adding 41 charters, making 29 percent of district run by private interests.
Byrd-Bennett has proven herself so skilled at the art of “cleaning” districts that she has part time job with the Broad Academy training school superintendents in the ways of corporate education reform. The Broad Academy is a billionaire-funded venture that closely resembles Teach for America, but it trains aspiring school district superintendents instead of teachers. “Broadies” often come from business or law backgrounds and have a keen interest in neoliberal education reform. After training, Broadies are placed in high-profile positions in urban school districts throughout the country. The Academy’s graduates include Jean-Claude Brizard , Detroit’s Robert Bobb, and CPS newcomer Chief of Innovation and Incubation Officer Jack Elsey, who worked with Bobb and Byrd-Bennett in Detroit.
The Broad Academy is an initiative of the Broad Foundation, which literally wrote the book on closing public schools, School Closure Guide: Closing Schools as a Means for Addressing Budgetary Challenges. One of the more telling sections provides tips for effective public relations, offering detailed instructions on how to make the public feel like they are part of the process without actually listening to them. For example, the guide offers instructions for messaging to the media, offering a table of “ineffective statements” and offering “possible alternatives” for each. Instead of saying that “the district is operating in the red and this cannot continue,” the book suggests a more effective alternative: “The fact that the district is operating in the red prevents us from providing the best possible educational opportunities to the children in this community in a sustained way.” Lines like these were delivered by CPS bureaucrats at school closing hearings that took place earlier this year in various Chicago neighborhoods, which were attended by thousands of concerned community members.
But if Emanuel brought Byrd-Bennett in to work the same kind of charter magic in Chicago that she did in Detroit, he may be dismayed to encounter one important difference: Chicago is now in a good position to fight back. The school closings hearings were packed with engaged, motivated citizens, and the teachers union is more organized than it's been in three decades. During its popular and successful strike, the union’s approval rating climbed while the mayor’s fell—public opinion polls showed that taxpayers blamed Emanuel for the ugliness that took place during negotiations. The CTU’s current leadership has built relationships with community leaders and organizations, forming a coalition to fight the slash-and-burn privatization pushed by the Board of Education and its corporate sponsors, and has even hosted civil disobedience trainings open to the public. This afternoon’s protest will serve as further evidence that Emanuel is indeed up against a new opponent, one strong enough that not even the best “cleaner” may be able to defeat it.
Link to original article from In These Times
While visiting a Miami port Friday, the president laid out a plan to create new jobs through public works projects . Trying to show that the economy remains a top priority, President Barack Obama promoted a plan to create construction and other jobs by attracting private money to help rebuild roads, bridges and other public works projects.
Obama fleshed out the details during a visit to a Miami port that’s undergoing $2 billion in upgrades paid for with government and private dollars. The quick trip was designed to show that the economy and unemployment are top priorities for a president who also is waging high-profile campaigns on immigration reform and gun control.
Obama said the unemployment rate among construction workers was the highest of any industry, despite being cut nearly in half over the past three years.
“There are few more important things we can do to create jobs right now and strengthen our economy over the long haul than rebuilding the infrastructure that powers our businesses and economy,” Obama said. “As president, my top priority is to make sure we are doing everything we can to reignite the true engine of our economic growth — and that is a rising, thriving middle class.”
Among the proposals Obama called for, which require approval from Congress, are:
—$4 billion in new spending on two infrastructure programs that award loans and grants.
—Higher caps on “private activity bonds” to encourage more private spending on highways and other infrastructure projects. State and local governments use the bonds to attract investment.
—Giving foreign pension funds tax-exempt status when selling U.S. infrastructure, property or real estate assets. U.S. pension funds are generally tax exempt in those circumstances. The administration says some international pension funds cite the tax burden as a reason for not investing in American infrastructure.
—A renewed call for a $10 billion national “infrastructure bank.”
Arriving at the expansive port in Miami, Obama stood inside a double-barreled, concrete-laced hole in the ground, touring a tunnel project that will connect the port to area highways. The project has received loans and grants under the programs Obama touted and is expected to open next summer.
The president made private-sector infrastructure investment a key part of the economic agenda he rolled out in his State of the Union address last month. In the speech, he also called for a “Fix-It-First” program that would spend $40 billion in taxpayer funds on urgent repairs.
Congressional approval is not a sure bet, considering that House Republicans have shown little appetite for Obama’s spending proposals. In fact, the infrastructure bank is an idea Obama called for many times in the past, but it gained little traction during his first term.
Obama’s focus on generating more private-sector investment underscores the tough road new spending faces on Capitol Hill, where Republican lawmakers often threaten to block new spending unless it’s paid for by cutting taxes or other spending. “These are projects that are helpful to the economy and shouldn’t break down on partisan lines,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
But Florida Republicans, including Gov. Rick Scott, faulted Obama for being “late to the party.” Before Obama arrived in Florida, Scott argued that state taxpayers have had to pick up too much of the tab for this and other port projects because the president was slow to support them.
Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters traveling with Obama that the initiatives discussed Friday will cost $21 billion, not including the $40 billion for “Fix-It-First.” Krueger said any increased spending associated with the proposals would not add to the deficit.
Krueger said details of how the programs would be paid for would be included in the budget Obama is scheduled to release on April 10.
Link to original article from Salon.com
So President Obama goes to Israel and, at least for a hot second, to the occupied West Bank. If anyone wondered, his speech-writing team remains top-notch in this second term.
They provided him with soaring language in which he urged justice, reminding the world that the occupation can't remain. “Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land,” Obama told young Israelis. “The Palestinian people's right to self-determination and their justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes, look at the world through their eyes.” It was pretty heady stuff.
The White House speechwriters presumably wove their magic before the actual trip. Would they have mentioned something about the Apartheid Wall (and yes, the Israelis call it that too — they just use the Hebrew word for ‘separation,’ hafrada, instead of the Afrikaans word for the same meaning, apartheid) if they waited till Obama saw it with his own eyes? It’s really not possible to move the eight or ten miles from Jerusalem to Ramallah, whether by motorcade or helicopter, without seeing it. Let alone during his hour or two in Bethlehem, one of a number of Palestinian towns, sacred and not, now completely surrounded by the Wall.
The refusal to acknowledge any of the immediate realities on the ground — the Wall, the checkpoints, the occupation soldiers preventing Palestinians from moving within their own land — was certainly part of Obama’s message of what U.S. policy does and does not care about. It’s all about the abstraction: atwostatesolutionwithswaps. All one word. No recognition that the two-state solution has been rendered essentially impossible by unchecked settlement expansion. No acknowledgement that the “swaps” proposed would make permanent Israel’s expropriation of the most fertile agricultural and built-up territory and virtually all of the scarce water resources of the West Bank, while allowing Palestinians to claim an extra bit of dry and unforgiving land. (Not to mention — and no one did — the vast Jordan Valley, which Israel now claims in its entirety as a military security zone which would be off-limits to Palestinian life in perpetuity.)
Talk, as they say, is cheap. (I discussed that concept and Obama’s trip more broadly in an RT interview here.) But the real message wasn’t found in Obama’s poetic words, or even in what he left out. The real message to Israel was stated explicitly, sans poetry: we’d like you to do all those things, to recognize justice, to see the world through Palestinian eyes, all of that, but, if you ignore our requests, there will be no consequences. We will continue to pay the current $30 billion in military aid, we will negotiate a new, maybe even bigger aid package when this one ends, and we will continue to protect you unconditionally at the United Nations. We have your back. There will be no consequences for your violations. Take a look at my Real News Network discussion of Obama’s trip and his message here.
OBAMA MAKES ISRAEL MAKE NICE TO TURKEY
It was interesting, however, to watch the Obama-orchestrated phone call in which Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu apologized — sort of — to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan for the raid on the aid ship Mavi Marmara that was trying to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza, in which Israeli commandoes killed one U.S. citizen and eight Turkish human rights activists. Israel’s refusal to apologize for the killings had led to more than two years of tension between the two countries. Now Washington had an urgent reason to resolve the Turkish-Israeli tension and get the two U.S. allies back on course: it wasn’t to get an apology for the Israeli commandos’ killing of Furkan Dogan, the U.S. citizen killed onboard the ship. It was the Syria crisis. So Obama essentially ordered Netanyahu to apologize, and the call was made from the tarmac as Obama was about to leave Israel, with the U.S. president listening in. And even though Netanyahu’s apology, for the “operational mistakes” in the raid, was limited, it was clear that Obama had succeeded in forcing the Israeli leader to do what Washington needed. It was another unspoken lesson — when Washington insists, Israel will do what is required; but Washington will not insist on behalf of the Palestinians.
There was, however, one potential quid-pro-quo in the visit, having to do with Iran. While Obama trotted out the usual AIPAC-friendly talking points about Iran’s alleged nuclear threat and about how long it might take for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, he did not cave in to Netanyahu’s insistence on the imminent danger and need for an even more aggressive posture towards Iran. It seemed there was a kind of unspoken position from Obama to Netanyahu: we’ll stop bothering you about the occupation and injustice towards the Palestinians, but in return you’ve got to stop pressuring us on Iran. Was this a “sell out the Palestinians in return for some kind of peace with Congress and AIPAC” kind of deal?
AND SPEAKING OF THREATS OF WAR…AGAINST OIL-RICH MIDDLE EASTERN COUNTRIES THAT DO NOT HAVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS…
We have just finished commemorating the sad, tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Sad because while the main U.S. war of occupation is over, Iraq remains ravaged by violence, split by U.S.-encouraged sectarian divisions, its social fabric shredded. Iraqi civilians continue to die, U.S. soldiers once deployed there continue to suffer from physical and mental disabilities, and U.S. taxpayers continue to pay the multi-trillion dollar bills. Working with some of the most thoughtful and strategic anti-war leaders across the country, I wrote an assessment for The Nation examining the legacies and lessons of the Iraq war, how the United States lost the war, and what lies ahead.
NPR’s San Francisco flagship station, KQED, hosted a panel with the Washington Post’s great Iraq journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, some still-won’t-admit-we-were-wrong war apologist, and me. Pretty interesting questions from the Bay Area community too.Cindy and Craig Corrie
The anniversaries continued. Three days before the Iraq anniversary we marked another tenth, this one the killing of Rachel Corrie by Israeli soldiers driving a U.S.-produced and U.S.-financed armored Caterpillar bulldozer as she tried to protect a Palestinian home from being demolished in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. Rachel’s extraordinary parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, and hundreds of family and friends gathered in Olympia, Washington to celebrate Rachel’s life and recommit to continuing her work for human rights. Here is a video-message from Craig and Cindyto Rachel’s supporters around the world.
I was very privileged to join Craig and Cindy at the commemoration; one of the things I talked about was the link between Rachel’s work for human rights in Palestine and her opposition to the Iraq war. Just three days before she was killed, Rachel had joined dozens of Gaza children in Rafah’s version of the global anti-war protest of February 15, 2003. The children drew U.S. flags to symbolize their opposition, and Rachel crayoned in the names of the U.S. corporations that would profit from the looming war — Halliburton, Bechtel, and more. Cindy later wrote, “Rachel told me the activists were afraid no one would pay attention to the small Rafah protest. Like all of us who felt passionately about what was unfolding in Iraq, they wanted to be heard. Rachel's participation and leadership in the protest in Rafah that day was an extension of the anti-war organizing she had done in Olympia prior to her departure for Palestine. She was proud that on the same day she and Gazans went to the streets on behalf of the people of Rafah and Iraq, that her friend protesting in Seattle was also carrying a sign remembering Rafah...When Rachel and other ISM members joined Palestinians in demonstrating, they were supporting and modeling the use of nonviolent forms of resistance and free speech to oppose violent attacks conducted by U.S. and Israeli militaries and an enduring, illegal occupation.”
AND THEN THERE’S THE WAR WE STILL HAVE…AND STILL HAVE TO FIGHT AGAINSTHagel meets Karzai
The sequential visits to Afghanistan of newly-confirmed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and his State Department counterpart John Kerry looked somewhat different, but both ultimately reflected the rapidly deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Afghan governments, and the fact that the war is not over. There is an urgent need to end the war — much sooner than the 2014 “draw-down” of combat forces we are now hearing about.
Hagel’s visit showed the visible tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai demanded separate national agreements between Afghanistan and any NATO member that wanted to keep troops in his country after 2014 (rather than a unified agreement with NATO). He continued to demand that U.S./NATO troops leave the universities and stop harassing Afghan students. The two biggest issues involved Washington’s longstanding but unfulfilled promise to hand over control of the huge Bagram prison to Afghan authorities, and Karzai’s demand that all U.S. troops leave Wardak province, where they and their Afghan partners stood accused of torture and murder of Afghan civilians. On Bagram, U.S. officials said sure — as long as we get to veto which prisoners you’re thinking of releasing, as long as you’re prepared to hold prisoners without any trial (like we do) — and oh by the way, as long as we keep the keys. On Wardak, the U.S. commander simply said his troops would stay in Wardak as long as they thought it necessary to do the job. The highly publicized ceremonial handover of Bagram to Afghan control was scuttled, the scheduled Hagel-Karzai joint press conference was cancelled, and Hagel returned home trying to downplay the visit altogether. It all made for some interesting conversations — including an interview I did on CCTV on the Hagel visit.
When Kerry made a surprise visit to Kabul a bit later, the mood shifted. Suddenly U.S.-Afghan relations were all good, Karzai repeatedly expressed his gratitude to, affection for, and shared goals with his Washington supporters. The Bagram handover went ahead — although the final terms remained murky. Karzai’s interest in releasing “innocent” prisoners, most likely those he believes could help start his own talks with the Taliban, may well have been put on hold to satisfy U.S. demands. And suddenly nobody was talking about withdrawing U.S. troops from Wardak. Outside of the government center in Kabul, however, popular opposition to the U.S. war was visible and growing. Protests rose against the escalating drone strikes, against the night raids by U.S. and Afghan soldiers, against the abuse of students, and against the torture that remains an active legacy of U.S. control of Bagram. Whether the corrupt and unpopular Afghan government can survive another two years of U.S. war remains unclear.
AND… PB ON THE ROAD
I’ll be speaking in Salt Lake City next week on April 3rd and 4th, at Utah Valley University, Salt Lake Community College, and the Salt Lake City Public Library. On April 6th I’ll be speaking at the Historians Against the War conference in Baltimore. And then on the 16th at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky.
So many thanks for all you do for peace and justice, for all your support for our work here at IPS as we look forward to our 50th anniversary this fall. Working to turn ideas into action linking peace, justice and the environment — we’ve all got a lot of work to do!
This first appeared in the New Internationalism Newsletter. You can subscribe for the latest updates.
Original article on IPS
(Reuters) - The Pentagon needs to stop stalling and start figuring out how to cut its budget by $50 billion annually for the foreseeable future in a way that preserves national security, defense analysts from across the political spectrum said on Thursday.
Warning that the department appeared to be clinging to the hope that Congress and the White House would eventually reverse the cuts, the analysts said the Pentagon needed to focus on factors that drive long-term cost growth, including overhead, compensation and acquisition.
"We are not getting the bang for the buck for the dollars we should in the Pentagon," said retired Marine Corps Major General Arnold Punaro, who led a task force that reviewed Pentagon overhead costs for then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2010.
"If we don't make some fundamental changes ... in about 15 years, we will not have the strongest military ... because these three ticking time bombs are eating away at the core of our defense capability," he told a round-table at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
The Pentagon is scrambling to reduce spending by $46 billion this fiscal year after a law requiring $500 billion in defense spending cuts over the next decade took effect on March 1. The cuts came as the department was implementing a $487 billion cut over the same period that went into force last year.
The Pentagon's 2013 budget has also been under stress because of Congress' failure to appropriate funds for the government this year.
Congress alleviated some of those issues on Thursday when it approved funding for the government for the rest of the year. But it left in place the budget cuts required under the automatic reductions, known as sequestration.
The Pentagon welcomed the measure and postponed for two weeks a decision on how many of the nearly 800,000 civilian defense employees would have to be placed on unpaid leave for as many as 22 days during the rest of the fiscal year.
'DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE'
The 2014 budget proposal the Pentagon sent to the White House last month did not include the $50 billion in automatic cuts scheduled for that year and the Defense Department has not been asked for revised figures, officials said.
The White House posted a plan on its website this week that seeks to avert the automatic cuts through budget cuts and revenue increases. The White House plan would replace the $500 billion of defense cuts over the next decade with a $100 billion cut, to be implemented over five years beginning in 2019.
The defense analysts expressed skepticism about the plan, which likely faces stiff resistance from Republicans who have vowed to oppose more tax increases.
"That's a scenario that doesn't make any sense at all except in la-la land because those aren't real cuts," said Gordon Adams, an analyst with the Stimson Center who worked on defense budgets while at the White House during the Clinton presidency.
Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the White House and Defense Department approach to the budget cut was to "deny it, put it off, assume it's going to go away at some point."
"The reality is they need to start planning for this staying in effect, and even if they start right now it's a little too late," he said, noting the department would have to begin laying off personnel next year when more cuts go into effect.
Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, urged the Pentagon to tackle the tough issues of compensation, overhead and base closures, some of the thorniest issues politically but factors that have been driving up defense costs for years.
"If you just look at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the combatant commands and the defense agencies ... there's over 250,000 people, $116 billion a year," he said.
"There's not a trigger-puller in that lot. There's nobody with a sharp bayonet in that group," said Punaro, adding that of the top 12 defense contractors, half were agencies of the Pentagon.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)
Original article on Reuters
The spending bill Congress passed shows $1.2 trillion in budget cuts that weren’t supposed to happen are now part of the political landscape.
Lawmakers approved the so-called continuing resolution March 21 averting a government shutdown while giving a handful of agencies more flexibility to meet the mandated reductions under sequestration.
Yet the budget ax still cuts deep: $85 billion this fiscal year in across-the-board reductions, forcing agencies to curtail services and lay-off or furlough employees. The cuts were designed to be so onerous Congress wouldn’t let them happen. Now some analysts say they may be enshrined in budget negotiations.
“The age of austerity is here because Congress didn’t really produce a meaningful change in the budget cuts,” Darrell West, director of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based public policy group, said in an interview. “Most of the government is going to be on a serious diet going forward.”
President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to sequestration -- cuts of $1.2 trillion equally split between defense and nondefense programs over the next decade -- as the penalty for failing to agree on a long-term deficit reduction strategy.‘Didn’t Work’
In the weeks before sequestration took effect on March 1, Obama had warned the cuts would hurt the military and shut campgrounds at popular national parks, delay travelers at airports and cut safety inspections at food plants.
“The administration and military leaders pounded the ways these cuts are unacceptable and damage national security, and it didn’t work,” Todd Harrison, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, said in an interview. “The evidence is that Congress didn’t believe them or didn’t care.”
The stopgap spending bill that keeps the lights on for government agencies does seek to minimize the worst effects of sequestration by adding money to critical accounts, including the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance budget. In effect, cuts are being made from a bigger base.
Richard Kogan, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a White House Office of Management and Budget official in the Obama administration, said the spending bill “provides a more reasonable starting point” to make the reductions.
That will reduce some of the impact of the cuts, he said.22 Weeks
The Pentagon planned to save as much as $5 billion this year by requiring unpaid leave for one day a week, the equivalent of a 20 percent pay cut, for as long as 22 weeks. After the spending measure passed, the Defense Department said it would delay furlough notices for two weeks.
“This is a brief pause to see if there’s some lesser number of days for people to be furloughed,” Army Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman on budget matters, said in an interview.
Even so, she said, “there’s no scenario we can think of where the furloughs will be zero.”
Some budget experts said as the public feels more of pain from sequestration, pressure may grow on lawmakers to plug budget holes.‘Real’ Damage
“These cuts are still not a sensible way to solve the problem,” said Daniel Gordon, associate dean for government procurement law studies at George Washington University in Washington. “The damage is real.”
“It’s a fiction to believe the employees of the federal government don’t provide services,” Kogan said.
If Americans don’t feel much pain, however, proponents of less government spending in Congress are likely to emerge with a stronger hand in budget negotiations, Harrison said.
“If you don’t have a big outcry by June or July, when this will be fully in effect, then this lower level of funding is going to stick,” Harrison said.
Gordon Adams, who managed the national security budget at the Office of Management and Budget for President Bill Clinton, said the administration might have overplayed its hand by exaggerating the ill effects of the budget cuts.
The Pentagon, for example, “has been a little dramatic on the furloughs,” he said. “The Defense Department went for blunderbuss.”
Lawmakers said changes approved in the continuing resolution will help on the edges.
Original article on Bloomberg
What do hungry children and the world’s largest military contractor have in common? Not much, it seems. At the very time when (thanks to sequestration) state governments are cutting back aid to low-income women and their children, the government of the State of Maryland seems en route to providing the Lockheed Martin Corporation with a handout worth millions of dollars.
Lockheed Martin, which did $47 billion in business during 2012 – mostly weapons sales to the U.S. government – owns a very large, luxurious hotel and conference center in Montgomery County, Maryland. In 2010, the corporation succeeded in getting the state to exempt it from paying the state lodging tax that all other Maryland hotels paid.
Then it sought exemption from paying Montgomery County’s 7 percent lodging tax. But the County Council, realizing that this would pull $450,000 per year out of its annual revenues – revenues that it used to fund education and other public services – refused to give way to corporate pressure. Indeed, it pointed out that the lodging costs of the company’s employees at the hotel, including taxes, were already subsidized through Lockheed Martin’s contracts with the federal government. The company readily admitted this, but stated: “The fact that some percentage of those costs over time can be reimbursed by the federal government doesn’t reduce the need to lower our overhead costs whenever we can.”
Rebuffed on the local level, Lockheed Martin turned once more to its friends in the state government, championing a bill that would exempt it from Montgomery County taxes and, furthermore, force the county to provide it with a $1.4 million refund for past tax payments.
But this new company demand sparked a lively citizens’ campaign in opposition to what was dubbed the “Corporate Welfare for Lockheed Bill.” Dozens of organizations threw themselves into the battle, including advocacy groups (Common Cause, Fund Our Communities, Progressive Neighbors, Progressive Maryland, and the NAACP), labor unions (United Food and Commercial Workers, SEIU, and unions representing teachers, police, and fire fighters), and peace groups (Peace Action, Pax Christi, and Maryland United for Peace and Justice). Articles started to appear in the press. Local politicians began to speak out against the legislation. The County Council again voted its opposition to exempting Lockheed Martin from taxation.
Faced with an upsurge of popular resistance, the State Senate sent the measure back to committee, where it was amended to eliminate the provision for retroactive payment to Lockheed. This action reportedly infuriated a Lockheed lobbyist and represented a small victory for opponents of the legislation. Nevertheless, a bill providing for the corporation’s future tax exemption went forward, and was passed by the Senate on the night of March 13 by a vote of 37 to 9. The large majority included all but one Republican, as well as a substantial number of Democrats.
A counterpart bill is expected to reach the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Delegates soon. Given the controversy surrounding the measure, its fate remains uncertain. But the corporation seems determined to press forward.
Actually, Lockheed Martin has a long track record when it comes to enriching itself through government support. Its C-130 military transport plane has been a major source of profit for the company. Although, in the late 1970s, the Carter administration concluded that the very costly plane was no longer necessary, Lockheed’s friends in Congress saw to it that the U.S. government purchased 256 of them over the next two decades. In response to a request from Senator John McCain, the Government Accountability Office did a study of how many of these planes the U.S. Air Force had ordered. The answer was: five. Finding no use for the hundreds of planes, the Air Force simply parked many of them on airport runways, where they gathered dust.
And so it goes. Making vastly expensive weapons systems for the government remains a lucrative business. Lockheed has already forecast a record profit in 2013. A January 2013 article in Bloomberg News reported: “Lockheed’s fortunes depend in large measure on the F-35 jet fighter, its biggest program and the Pentagon’s costliest weapon system, at an estimated development cost of $395.7 billion.”
Of course, Lockheed keeps billions of dollars flowing into its coffers by spending millions every year on lobbying and millions more on campaign contributions. According to Dina Rasor of the Project on Government Oversight, Lockheed is “the ultimate pay-to-play contractor.”
In this context, it’s not surprising that Lockheed has enormous influence in Maryland politics. Over the past year, Lockheed contributed $25,000 to the Maryland Democratic Party, plus thousands of additional dollars to the President of the Maryland Senate, the Senate Democratic Majority Leader, the chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, another member of that committee, and a member of the House of Delegates. Four of the five became co-sponsors of the Lockheed tax exemption legislation and all four Senate members voted for it.
This coziness with Lockheed Martin can also become a source of embarrassment now that the issue is hot. A day after the State Senate voted to send the legislation to the House Ways and Means Committee, a private dinner between Lockheed lobbyists and the members of that committee was abruptly canceled.
Of course, it might well be asked why Lockheed Martin bothers with getting itself exempted from Montgomery County taxes. After all, $4.5 million over the next decade is small change to this giant corporation.
One reason might be that most wealthy people genuinely believe that they are entitled to keep every cent of their income. This certainly explains why they resist paying taxes so ferociously.
Another possibility, though, is that Lockheed Martin, like most other military contractors, has grown accustomed to thriving at government expense. Thus, it just can’t resist going back to the public trough for a little more corporate welfare.
Original article on LA Progressive
Is the country ready for a new (and cheaper) way of doing national security?
On the tenth anniversary of George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, we may be witnessing a seismic shift in America's politics of national security.
After decades of using hawkish positions for partisan advantage, the Republican Party is facing a foreign policy identity crisis. Its brand is still stained by the Iraq War and the Global War on Terror, and the once-fringe views of Ron Paul are becoming mainstream among the public and party activists, as shown by the response to Senator Rand Paul's March 6 filibuster and his success at this past weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference. This is liberating progressive Democrats to criticize the Obama Administration—now safely reelected—for its hawkish national security policies, and it might even free the party from some of its ceaseless fear of looking "soft" on terror.
Of course, coalition building and nurturing is hard. Our political parties work hard to promote mutual antagonism, and party activists don't like to take their team jerseys off.
In addition, as David Swanson, activist and author of War is a Lie and the new report "Iraq War: Among World's Worst Events," told me, "It can be hard to get people to work together when they disagree on 80 percent of everything else." But he was clear that that's not a reason not to try.
Perhaps the way forward is a series of focused coalitions targeted to specific goals. This is a preferred approach with experienced activists. With time and success, a cross-spectrum network of political allies—with supporters, funders, and mailing lists—could emerge.
Targeted collaborations have already begun. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Virginia Tea Party Patriots worked together to push for the two-year domestic drone moratorium that passed both houses of the state legislature and is now on Governor Bob McDonnell's desk; other bills are pending in at least 20 states. Groups like the Progressive Democrats of America and RootsAction have partnered with the Tenth Amendment Center and Downsize DC to support the Hedges v. Obama lawsuit challenging the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012. And we shouldn't forget that within the Republican fold, the Tea Party itself is a coalition of libertarians, Paulists, and paleoconservatives, united in part by their opposition to the growth of the national-security state.
But there needs to be more, much more. The targets are there or just over the horizon. There's the push for war with Iran, such as the currently pending Senate resolution that, though non-binding, would push the political snowball toward war by urging the United States to "provide diplomatic, military, and economic support" to Israel if it decides to take military action against Iran. There's the building momentum for intervention in Syria. There will be the inevitable excesses of the 2014 Pentagon budget request. The 2014 NDAA will most likely have an indefinite detention provision to fight. And there are drones.
The battle over the nation's budget that is unfolding in Washington right now highlights the challenges—and the need—for building a coalition. Analysis by the National Priorities Project shows that Representative Paul Ryan's plan, which the House passed Thursday, would prevent sequestration cuts from going into effect (actually raising the budget $35 billion beyond what the Pentagon asked for last year), though it does cut the supplemental war budget in half (but that looks like gaming because it maintains that level of spending for a decade beyond the projected drawdown in Afghanistan). Senator Patty Murray's would cut military spending by $240 billion over ten years and cut the war budget by half in 2014 and half again in 2015. Yet these cuts are tiny compared to what the public wants—and the 18 percent cuts that 70 percent of the public wants could get us a lot closer to a balanced budget than what the so-called deficit hawks are proposing (if that's the goal).
Only the Congressional Progressive Caucus's proposal came anywhere close to what the public wants with its proposal to cut $897 billion over ten years (a 17 percent reduction on last year's Pentagon base request) and ending war funding in 2015. But it got almost no media attention and never had a shot in the House.
A coalition could prompt some real public discussion about what our national-security policies should be, about what we really need to defend ourselves and our interests—and which interests we should defend. As more Americans learn more about the harmful and wasteful realities of so many of our security policies, the majority that is ready for change will grow even bigger. And, who knows, the seismic shift could even start to bring some of our policies in line with what the public actually wants. Sounds kinda like democracy.
It's about time. One can't help wondering what took so long, since this is clearly a winning issue: opposition to the Global War on Terror abroad and civil liberties infringements at home in large part won the Senate for Democrats in 2006, the White House for Democrats in 2008, and the House of Representatives for Republicans in 2010. But once elected, there is something about Washington that turns most everyone into a military-industrial establishmentarian, and all those promises to trim Pentagon waste, fight for civil liberties, and maybe even restrain American imperialism get forgotten.
Here is where Paul's filibuster and the response to it are instructive: they highlight where America is today. He clearly touched a major nerve. Half the country is ready for real change—and not just on drones. According to a 2009 Pew poll, 49 percent of Americans thought the "U.S. should mind its own business" and 76 percent thought we should "concentrate on our own national problems" more than on international leadership. In 2011, 55 percent of respondents told Pew that it wasn't necessary to give up civil liberties to curb terrorism. Some 45 percent of respondents to a January 2012 Pew poll thought a smaller military could be just as effective as the one we have; 58 percent told Gallup last November that they wanted major cuts in military spending. And 66 percent said that no countries—including the United States—should have nuclear weapons (in a 2005 Associated Press/Ipsos survey).
The numbers may be even bigger. It looks like most surveys actually underestimate the proportion of the country that is tired of the status quo. When survey researchers provide more information and ask more detailed questions over the course of a survey call, respondents move beyond visceral responses—of course I care about defending America!—to their more nuanced opinions. When this happens, public support for current military spending levels collapses—and it often becomes the government sector people are most willing to slash.
In one such poll, the Program for Public Consultation found that a whopping 70 percent of respondents wanted to cut the military budget by an average of 18 percent—far more than the sequester and far more than either party has proposed. And that only included just the Pentagon's "base" budget, not the supplemental war budget nor other non-DoD spending which together comprise almost half of our trillion-dollar security budget.
The problem is that this majority of the public is spread across the two major parties, the various third parties, and independents. To turn majority opinion into democratic influence will require more people from across the spectrum to work together.
A cross-spectrum grassroots coalition could help provide political cover for politicians who are afraid of being painted as "soft" by über-hawks. It could provide cover for people who want to cooperate across the aisle, particularly for members of whichever party happens to occupy the always-hawkish White House at any given time. It might even make it theoretically possible for a less-than-hawkish candidate to have a real shot at winning the White House—and then force him or her to stick to those campaign promises.
Original article on The America Prospect
Several men with assault rifles and hand guns crashed a Mayor’s Against Illegal Guns National Day to Demand Action event in Indianapolis, Indiana on Thursday and stood silently as the state chapter of Moms Demand Action held a rally in favor of limiting the availability of military style weapons and universal background checks.
At least two or three men showed up at the rally site before the event began and engaged in a discussion about gun regulations with the group, two participants in the action told ThinkProgress. The armed men — who were later joined by another man carrying a hand gun and a woman who runs Indiana Moms Against Gun Control — insisted that they had a right to carry the loaded weapons:
Watch local news coverage of the event:
A member of Moms Demand Action said that she felt unsettled by their presence and said that the organizers would have to think twice before holding another event, particularly one where children could be present.
Members of Moms Demand Action also attended an event at the White House today, during which President Obama called on Congress to pass sensible gun regulations and urged the nation to remember the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Original article on Think Progress
More than 100 demonstrators taking part in mass civil disobedience were arrested in Chicago on Wednesday as several thousand people marched against the largest proposed round of school closings in recent memory.
Many carried placards proclaiming "Strong Schools, Strong Neighbourhoods" and "Protect Our Children" while chanting "Whose Schools, Our Schools" and calling for mayor Rahm Emanuel's resignation.
"We're signalling that there is going to be a large and determined movement that will use the tactics of civil disobedience and direct action in order to keep these schools open," said Chicago Teachers Union vice-president Jesse Sharkey, who was arrested outside City Hall, one of 131 detained by police. "We see this event as kicking off an extended campaign this spring and we think it was a great success."
The city last week announced plans to close 54 schools affecting more than 30,000 students, primarily in low-income black and Latino areas. The proposals – which had already sparked huge, rowdy protests at hearings throughout the city prior to the announcement – mark Emanuel's second major confrontation over education in less than six months following the teachers' strike in late August.
The Rev Jesse Jackson and Karen Lewis, president of CTU Local 1, at the Chicago school closures protest. Photograph: James Fassinger for the Guardian
"People have a right to the neighbourhoods in which they live," said CTU leader Karen Lewis at the rally. "Children have the right to a safe, nurturing, loving environment."
Chicago Public Schools claims the closings are necessary to plug a $1bn deficit in the third-largest school district in the city and that consolidating under-utilised and under-performing schools will save $560m over 10 years by reducing investment in shuttered buildings. The district insists the savings will go to improving classroom resources including air conditioning, libraries and iPads for all students in grades 3-8.
Roughly 100 schools in Chicago – the third-largest school district in the country and with 87% of students from low-income families – have already been closed since 2001. Eighty eight per cent of the students affected in those closings were black, even though black students comprise just over 40% of the city's student body as a whole.
The Rev Bonnie Osei-Fimpang and her five-month-old daughter Carmen sit in the street in front of Chicago City Hall. Photograph: James Fassinger for the Guardian
Community groups, unions and many parents argue that the closings will devastate already struggling areas, raise student-teacher ratios, put children in danger by forcing them to cross gang lines to go to new schools and are based on flawed calculations and savings.
"For too long children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed because they are in underutilised, under-resourced schools," said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the CPS chief executive, explaining the announcement. "The district must consolidate ... to get students into higher-performing schools."
Opponents point out that there is little evidence that school closings achieve that aim and claim the closings mark an acceleration of the city's bid to "privatise" education by forcing students into charter schools.
"In the same time these school closings have been taking place over the past decade, the city has opened about 100 charter schools in the very neighbourhoods where they're now closing schools through under-utilisation," said Sharkey. "Meanwhile supports of charter schools have been very open ideologically about making school competition part of the larger picture.
"We have not yet won the argument with the people of Chicago that this is a critical moment to be active. But this was a good start. Four or five thousand people and lots of different schools represented today. The argument can and will be won."
A study by the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research revealed that from the 38 schools closed between 2001 and 2006 only 6% of students who were moved went to high-performing schools.
"Our research found that school districts tended to save under $1m per school [closed]," Emily Dowdall, a senior associate at the Pew Charitable Trusts told the New York Times. "So in some ways that's not a game-changing amount."
Sharkey further argues that the city rarely follows through on its promises on savings. "In the past there's been investment for the first one or two years. But the money dries up once the attention is gone."
Thousands of parents, students, teachers, public school employees and community residents rally against proposed public school closings in Chicago. Photograph: James Fassinger for the Guardian
Emanuel, who was absent on a skiing vacation on the day the closings were announced, which many here interpret as a bid to disassociate himself from the move, has since joined the fray. "If we don't make these changes we haven't lived up to our responsibility as adults to the children of the city of Chicago," he said. "And I did not run for office to shirk my responsibility."
The CTU emerged with considerable public support after it blunted Emanuel's attempts to tie teachers' pay to test scores last year. It has pledged to continue the campaign of non-violent disobedience. "People who work in the schools and rely on public schools will oppose the mass closings by any and all peaceful means," Sharkey has told union members. "[School closings] are not something we are prepared to accept without a fight ... We're going to take this fight as far as we have to, to defend our community schools."
Original article on The Guardian
WASHINGTON _ Blistering charges of misplaced power and a morally bankrupt culture in the nation’s “military-industrial complex” are rarely leveled by one of the defense establishment’s own.
But that is exactly what an instructor of the military’s rising stars lobbed on Tuesday when he very purposely engaged in friendly fire at a defense budget conference co-hosted by the Cambridge-based Project on Defense Alternatives.
Gregory D. Foster, a former Army officer and West Point graduate who now teaches national security studies at the National Defense University in Washington, seemed unconcerned about collateral damage when he went after the top brass, political leaders, and defense company executives.
He accused them of allowing the nearly sacrosanct principle of civilian control of the military—an early building block of American democracy—to be turned on its head. How? By virtually never questioning the key assumptions of military planning and allowing a largely unchecked, destructive and highly militarized foreign policy to pose as a “properly subordinated military industrial complex.”
“If you want to be a recognized, credible, card-carrying member of the national security community what you have to do is buy into the received truths of the establishment and continue to perpetuate that stuff,” said Foster. “This is what I call civilian subjugation to the military. We face it in this administration, we faced it in the Clinton administration...we faced it in the Bush administration.”
Foster’s 30-minute briefing spared few quarters. It was laced with accusations of “militaristic civilian officials” who serve not as civilian overseers as intended but “military advocates” who are “politically afraid of the military.”
It all makes for a national security establishment, in Foster’s view, that perpetuates an approach to the world that is overly confrontational, lacks critical thinking about long term objectives, and even undercuts the strategic aims of democracy.
For example, he said the accepted orthodoxy of never-ending global threats and the necessity to confront them militarily makes it nearly impossible to fashion a national security strategy that puts real security, crisis prevention, and the preservation of civil society ahead of institutional bias and private profit.
“I think we collectively, the national security community, suffer from what I would characterize as conceptual deficit disorder,” he said, lambasting most defense practitioners for shirking their “moral obligations to be strategic.”
What is left is an “American way of war” on autopilot that is too expensive, wasteful, and indiscriminately destructive—“killing people and breaking things”—and a growing global reputation of hypocrisy.
“I want to talk about walking the talk, about practicing what we preach. I want to talk about being able to illicit moral authority,” he said. “When we preach peace but practice war, when we preach self defense but practice aggression we are[not] being consistent in how we exercise power.”
Asked how his decidedly unconventional views are received by the senior colonels, commanders, captains, and their civilian government counterparts who are among his students at the NDU’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Foster was characteristically blunt.
“I have to be quite candid. They are...striving to be accepted orthodoxians. They are part of institutionalized cultures...They are being prepared to be advocates to serve the selfish self-interest of their part of the larger institution.”
Original article on Boston.com
The Congressional Progressive Caucus’ budget may have failed, but it failed well.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives took up floor debate and voted on three Democratic alternatives to the Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) budget—the first a version of the Senate Democrats’ budget, the second a proposal from the Black Caucus, and the third a budget crafted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which with 72 members is the largest Democratic Caucus in the House.
The CPC’s Back to Work budget, like the other Democratic budgets, never had a realistic possibility of passing in the House, which is dominated by a Republican majority that has now passed the Ryan budget three years in a row. But the CPC’s ability to garner support on the Democratic side for its budget serves as one way of evaluating the kind of leverage the caucus has today in Congress. And while most media attention focuses on the supposedly deep ideological divisions within the Republican Party, the vote on the CPC’s budget can serve as a lens into similar kinds of splits in the Democratic Party in the House.
At a meeting on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, supporters and allies of the Progressive Caucus said they were hoping the budget would receive more than 100 votes—a figure that would mean that more than half of the Democratic caucus supported the budget. The CPC’s budget ultimately fell short of that target, losing by a vote of 84-327. In 2012, by contrast, it was rejected 78-346. Among Democrats this year, it was rejected 84-102, good for a six-vote improvement from last year’s Budget for All.
CPC Executive Director Brad Bauman was hoping the budget could do even better, but said that he was “happy that we are moving right direction as far as building more and more support for these baseline progressive ideals.”
The CPC has advanced similar budget proposals over the last three years. This year’s budget, like those previous efforts, stood in contrast to other congressional budgets that included cuts to social spending and other “entitlement programs” while maintaining steady growth in military spending. The Back to Work budget, among other things, called for raising taxes on the highest income bracket from 45 to 49 percent, taxing capital gains in the same way as ordinary income, enacting a financial transactions tax, returning Pentagon spending to 2006 levels, and implementing a carbon tax.
As CPC members took to the House floor in defense of the budget, many criticized the Republican Party’s insistence on deficit reduction above all else and stressed the need to address the jobs crisis. The CPC’s budget was estimated to create 6.9 million jobs, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute.
“The number one issue before our country is not the deficit. It’s getting the economy going and creating jobs,” said Mark Pocan (D-Wis.). “Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of the middle class and the neediest, the Back to Work budget has the back of America’s middle class.”
This time around, the CPC’s budget seemed to avoid a media blackout and actually penetrated the liberal mainstream fairly successfully—problems that have plagued it in the past.
One of the few times the budget received any coverage in the mainstream press in 2011 was the red-baiting masterpiece from the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank. He wrote:[The CPC budget] gives a sense of how things would be if liberals ran the world: no cuts in Social Security benefits, government-negotiated Medicare drug prices, and increased income and Social Security taxes for the wealthy. Corporations and investors would be hit with a variety of new fees and taxes. And the military would face a shock-and-awe accounting: a 22 percent cut in Army soldiers, 30 percent for the Marines, 20 percent for the Navy and 15 percent for the Air Force. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would end, and weapons programs would go begging. … Their oft-repeated slogan, “The People's Budget,” conveyed an unhelpful association with “the people's republic” and other socialist undertakings.
This year, though, the Back to Work budget was featured prominently on Bill Maher’s show and praised by unexpected supporters like Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias. And in what can only be taken as a positive sign of the budget’s growing visibility, it was even the target of a rant by David Brooks, who in his New York Times column was scornful of progressives “hermetically sealed in the house of government” who “seem to believe that government is … the source of growth, job creation and prosperity.”
Fortunately for Brooks, Wednesday’s vote showed that most Democrats in Congress have yet to adopt such progressive beliefs.
A list of those Democrats who voted against the CPC budget, which included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), can be found here.
Original article on In These Times
Residents Call on GOP to Pass a Budget that Creates Jobs and Opportunity, Not Slashes Programs that Give Hard Working Americans a Fair Shot at the American Dream
Milwaukee County residents who rely on Medicare, Medicaid, and other social programs called out the Wisconsin GOP Congressional Delegation for their party-line votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to end Medicare and Medicaid as currently known.
Community members joined with grassroots organizations Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Progressive Democrats of America, Peace Action of Wisconsin, and others to share the real world consequences of callous austerity budget cuts.
“The Paul Ryan Budget is a direct attack on my family’s economic security,” said Jamecca Cohee, home care worker and Citizen Action of WI member that relies on Medicaid for health care. “I work hard as a home care worker taking care of other people’s loved ones, yet Paul Ryan considers me a “taker” because despite my hard work I make poverty wages,” continued Cohee.
Last week, for the third time, Congress voted on the Ryan Plan, the House budget that would turn Medicare into a voucher program and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Every Wisconsin Republican in Congress voted in favor of the Ryan Plan.
“There are better ways to save money in Medicare and Medicaid than cutting benefits for seniors and people with disabilities,” said Kevin Kane, Healthcare Organizer for Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Legislators should consider proposals that lower costs and reduce waste and inefficiency such as by enabling Medicare to directly bargain over prices with prescription drug companies. We already know that savings from negotiating drug prices could exceed half a trillion dollars.”
Congress had the opportunity to show courage and stand with hard working Americans, instead of supporting insurance companies, defense contractors, and other special interests.
Becky Cooper of Peace Action of Wisconsin
"To understand Paul Ryan's budget plan, you only need to know two numbers: A $35 Billion dollar increase in handouts to military contractors and a 47% cut to education and job training. Ryan's budget is staggeringly short-sighted and ensures our economy will falter for generations to come, " said Becky Cooper of Peace Action of Wisconsin.
“We have to stop paying for the things we can’t afford so that we can afford the things our families need,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison, Economic Justice Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “This includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and the Affordable Care Act. And it includes discretionary domestic programs such as Head Start, nutrition aid, job training, education and cancer screening, just to name a few.”
Attendees at the event called on GOP Congressmen to put the people of Wisconsin, over party politics.
“The GOP should listen to the American people and reverse course,” said Maureen Szymanski, a retired nurse and member of the Progressive Democrats. “When I was training to be a nurse in the 1950's, many senior citizens would spend their life savings on medical expenses and be driven to poverty as a result. Many times they would have to rely on their family or community for subsistence. When President Johnson passed Medicare, that was no longer the case and senior citizens could live in dignity in their old age. I call the GOP to quit playing games and support a balanced budget approach that addresses our fiscal challenges while preserving the American Dream for future generations,” finished Szymanski.
MKE School Board member, Meagan Holman, speaks today about her experience in the Americorp
Original article on Citizen Action of Wisconsin
Concerned People undertake Baltimore to DC Bus Tour for Prosperity Not Austerity Marylanders will tour through the state, meet the tour Rally in D.C. on March 23 Progressive Democrats of America, other organizations cosponsor important actionMar. 22, 2013 - WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Bus Tour to Launch Saturday Morning, March 23rd
• Concerned People undertake Baltimore to DC Bus Tour for Prosperity Not Austerity
• Marylanders and Leaders will Tour through the State, Meet the Tour, and Rally in D.C.
• Progressive Democrats of America, other organizations cosponsor important action
Baltimore, MD--A coalition of more than 60 Maryland organizations will tour Maryland and D.C. delivering a message: "Prioritize prosperity not austerity!" With debate raging in Congress over cuts in the federal budget, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), a grass-roots PAC, is pushing "Prosperity Not Austerity" as the alternative to failed budget and other policies.
PDA, The Maryland Coalition "Fund Our Communities, Not the Pentagon," Progressive Maryland--which has long supported the working families and middle class of Maryland--and other organizations are partnering to sponsor a bus tour from Baltimore, MD to Washington, DC. The tour will stop at six locations to showcase community services struggling to survive as their budgets flat-line or decline.
Journalists are welcome to ride along, cover the stops, etc.
A 2012 poll by the Center for Public Integrity, the Program for Public Consultation and the Stimson Center showed that 90% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans support less spending by the Pentagon. Likewise, another poll conducted by the McClatchy news service this year showed that majorities of voters would rather increase taxes than cut spending on education, Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and infrastructure.
Mike Hersh, National Communications Coordinator for Progressive Democrats of American says, "Overwhelmingly, the American people support full funding for programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Public Education, Jobs Creation, and SNAP (food stamps), and oppose profligate military spending. The Pentagon identified weapons systems the military neither wants nor needs which cost taxpayers hundreds of $billions, but the Congress refuses to cut these systems. Meanwhile, people in need continue to suffer for lack of funds. This tour will tell our elected officials to reexamine their priorities, and restore common sense to our budgets."
Kate Planco Waybright, interim executive director of Progressive Maryland says, "Clearly, the people of Maryland and the nation prefer a federal budget that meets the needs of working families and the middle class, not military contractor CEOs. We cannot thrive if obsolete and unnecessary weapons systems are consuming our precious resources."
Jean Athey, chair of Fund Our Communities says, "As forced spending cuts begin to bite and the Republicans propose a budget with even deeper reductions, Maryland reflects the situation in the rest of the country: Our people desperately need jobs, affordable housing is becoming harder to find, and our highways and other infrastructure are decaying, yet 58% of the U.S. government's discretionary budget goes to the Pentagon. It's time to get our priorities straight and put people first."
Bob Piersma, president of the board that runs Hughes Neighborhood Housing, says, "All of our 23 units have been full for our entire 15 years, if we were to house everyone who wants to be on our waiting list, we would need hundreds of apartments. For the past 10 years we have tried to expand without success, due to a lack of funding. Without affordable housing like ours, many persons with disabilities end up homeless." Hughes Neighborhood Housing is a HUD-funded subsidized housing complex for the mentally or physically disabled.
Hersh, Planco Waybright, and Athey will travel with the tour the entire route, making the following stops:
• 9 a.m.: Dallas F. Nicholas Senior Elementary School, 201 East 21st St, Baltimore Focus:Education funding. Among the speakers: Fred Mason, President, AFL-CIO of Maryland and Charlie Cooper, Secretary of the Maryland Education Coalition.
• 10:20 a.m.: Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, 2424 McElderry St., Baltimore
Focus: Health and food security. Among the speakers: Rev. Gary Dittman and Cory McCrae of BEST Democratic Club.
• 12:20 p.m.: Prince George's Social Services Office and Community College, Dept of Social Services, 6505 Belcrest Rd., Hyattsville. Focus: Job training, Medicaid and cash assistance for the needy. Among the speakers: College Park Mayor Andrew Fellow and Rev. Bill Lamar, Turner Memorial AME Church.
• 2 p.m.: Silver Spring Library, 8902 Colesville Rd. Focus: Libraries, parks, roads and public health. Among the speakers: MD Senator Jamie Raskin; Jeff Blum, Executive Director, USAction; and Gino Renne, President of United Food and Commerical Workers Local 1994.
• 3 p.m.: Hughes Neighborhood Housing, 10720 Georgia Ave., Wheaton.
Focus: Care of the most vulnerable, including housing.
Among the speakers: MD Delegate Eric Luedtke and Dave Kunes, President of Young Democrats of Montgomery County.
• 5 p.m. The tour will conclude with a rally at the U.S. Capitol building (west side by the reflecting pool), featuring the DC Labor Chorus; the "ghost" of President Dwight Eisenhower (who warned of the dangers of an expanding military-industrial complex); Karen Dolan, Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies; and DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton, representing the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
(All times approximate, contact Athey or Planco Waybright for more information.)
Congressman John Conyers has introduced H.R. 900--a bill to cancel the sequester. For more information, visit http://www.progressivecongress.com
The full schedule for the bus tour, along with a list of members of the Fund Our Communities coalition, can be found at http://www.ourfunds.org
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Original press release on PRLOG