Sunday, November 18, 2007
RTT News gives us a disturbing report that received little coverage in the mainstream media or in the blogsophere.
11/10/2007 5:06:50 PM During a major military exercise in the Pacific Ocean, U.S. Navy officials are concerned over the unexpected appearance of a Chinese submarine.
Senior NATO officials said that since the Chinese vessel surfaced in the middle of the recent military exercise, U.S. Navy officials have been shocked by the advanced technology used by their Chinese counterparts, The Daily Mail reported Saturday.
One official said that based on the ease at which the submarine avoided 12 U.S. warships to surface near a 1 thousand-foot carrier, Navy officials are reconsidering the potential dangers posed by Chinese subs. While Chinese officials have said the entire incident was a simple coincidence, some U.S. diplomats have accused the vessel of “shadowing” the U.S. fleet during the exercise.
Kansas City's KMPC-TV reports:
Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton has a new take on the war on terror -- he is advocating taking some troops from Iraq and sending them to Afghanistan.
Skelton said the Iraq invasion has turned the campaign in Afghanistan into "The Forgotten War," and it is now a place where the Taliban and the drug lords are coming back.
"I believe we must reinforce the success in Afghanistan by sending some portion of the forces being withdrawn from Iraq to Afghanistan," Skelton said Monday in a speech at the Truman Library.
The speech was streamed on the Internet by Webster University as part of its public policy series.
Skelton is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Politics is stuck,” writes Bill Bradley, in his latest book "The New American Story", but “idealism isn’t dead. It can be reawakened." Bradley calls attention to the polarization of American politics resulting from the power of ideological extremes within both parties and partisan gerrymandering of Congressional districts. Bradley says that the drawing of Congressional districts by partisan politicians in control of state legislatures has reduced the number of competitive U.S. House districts to 40. Since the vast majority of members of the House come from districts that lean heavily toward one party, they often cater to extreme factions within their party to ward off potential primary challenges rather than more moderate and independent-minded voters.
One of the great myths of modern politics challenged by Bradley is the red-blue divide. Bradley cites polling data indicating that 72 percent of blue state voters favor capital punishment and 62 percent in red states oppose job and housing discrimination against gays.
Bill Bradley makes some good points. At some point, we look have to look beyond the ant-hill mentality of single issue fanatics on both sides and focus on the big picture. The party that stands up to the single issue zealots and appeals to mainstream America will be rewarded at the polls. That is not to say that the burning social issues are not important (I happen to be passionate about a number of issues) but a lot of critical matters like energy independence are being downplayed.
I do think certain critical issues have to take priority given the mess that we are in right now thanks to short-sighted politics in both parties. Issues like abortion, gay-lesbian rights, gun control, the role of church and state are not going to be important to us if we lack energy, jobs, housing and health care.
As someone who hails from a family with strong military roots, I hold immense personal pride in those who answer our nation's call to duty. My father served our country for 26 years as an Air Force pilot and as a pioneer in the Thor and Atlas missile programs. I was proud to follow in his footsteps, serving as an infantry Marine in Vietnam. My brother served as a Marine helicopter pilot. And my son Jimmy has joined the tradition, recently home from serving as an infantry Marine in Iraq.
If you have served in our nation's military or have friends or family who have served, I want to take a moment to thank you. I'd also like to take this opportunity to share with you an issue I've been working on since my first day in office -- a revitalized GI Bill for our returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
Warmest regards this Veterans Day,
Under legislation sponsored by Webb (S.22 in the Senate, H.R.2702 in the House), returning service members could earn up to 36 months of benefits, equivalent to four academic years, which would include payment of tuition, books and fees, as well as a $1,000 a month living stipend for those veterans whose military service qualifies them for the program.
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 has been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), the Air Force Sergeants Association (AFSA), the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS), the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
“Once an enlistment enticement, educational assistance has now become a transition necessity. This legislation is the right thing to do for those who are willing to take up arms and defend this great nation, something less than one percent of Americans are willing to do,” said Frank Yoakum, SGM (ret.), Legislative Director, Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS).
“Education is an expensive endeavor; many veterans can not afford to use the current G.I. Bill. The measure proposed by Senator Webb and Congressman Scott is an investment in our troops, an investment in our veterans, and an investment in our nation,” said Eric Hilleman, Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
Patrick Campbell, Legislative Director for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America shared the following testimony with the U.S. Senate Committee on Veteran's Affairs on July 31, 2007. Campbell makes a good case for why we need to improve our GI Bill benefits for our service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan:
Mr. Chairman and members of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, on behalf of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), thank you for this opportunity to address the issue of VA/DOD Cooperation and Coordination on Educational Assistance.
After World War II, nearly eight million service members (more than half of the entire American fighting force) took advantage of the education benefits afforded them by the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944. A veteran of WWII was entitled to free tuition, books and a living stipend that completely covered the cost of education. Since 1945 over 21,400,000 service members have utilized at least some of their educational benefits and over the past 10 years at least 66% of active duty and 42% of Reservists and National Guard have gone to school on the "GI Bill."
Sixty years later, we are still reaping the benefits of one of the greatest social investment programs ever implemented. A 1988 Congressional study proved that every dollar spent on educational benefits under the original GI Bill added seven dollars to the national economy in terms of productivity, consumer spending and tax revenue. Today we have the opportunity to renew our social contract with our servicemen and women. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) supports reinstating a World War II style GI Bill (S.22 or S. 1409) that will cover the true cost of education.
The current Chapter 30 Montgomery GI Bill, as created in 1984, was conceived in peace-time and contains several obstacles to a veteran trying to use their well-earned benefits. First, active duty educational benefits require a hefty $1,200 initial buy-in. Although nearly 95% of active duty service members buy into the program, only 8% of service members use all of their educational benefits and more the 30% never touch their GI benefits (returning over $230 million to the US Treasury).
Second, service members are required to pay tuition, room & board and textbook costs up-front and are then reimbursed over the course of the semester. Before a servicemember can attend a single class they must pay tuition and fees amounting, on average, to $5,836 for a public school and $22,218 for private schools. Servicemembers are faced with the daunting task of taking multiple jobs to raise the money, attending a less prestigious institution, taking out student loans and/or "living on mama's couch" to cut expenses.
Lastly, educational benefits have failed to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of higher education. As per statue, educational benefits are increased yearly based on inflation rates. As evident from the chart below, the cost of education has outpaced inflation by over 100% since 1984.
(Pulled from the College Board's "2006 Trends in College Pricing.")
In 2006, Chapter 30 benefits only covered 75% of the cost of a public school education and 32% of a private school education.
IAVA believes that a World War II style GI Bill is more than just a social investment; it's an important readiness tool. The military needs to recruit an additional 70,000 active duty service members over the next two years. Improving educational benefits for veterans is an important strategy for accomplishing this goal. The alternative is to continue to lower recruitment standards and increase enlistment and retention bonuses. We have already seen the military double the number of GED waivers and increase the number felonies allowable by a new recruit. Enlistment and retention bonuses have already climbed to $20,000 and could grow even higher.
The GI Bill is the military's single most effective recruitment tool; the number one reason civilians join the military is to get money for college. As our military recovers and resets in the coming years, an expanded GI Bill will play a crucial role in ensuring that our military remains the strongest and most advanced in the world.
Contact your Senators and Representative and urge them to support S.22 and H.R. 2702.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
trade" deal backed by Wall Street interests
Newton, Iowa – Today, as part of his seven-day "Stand Strong" campaign, Senator John Edwards will announce his opposition to the expansion of the NAFTA model with the Peru trade deal now before Congress.
Edwards will make this announcement in Newton, Iowa - the former headquarters of the Maytag Corporation and the location of a Maytag washer and dryer plant. The Maytag plant, which opened in 1893, officially closed its doors last Thursday. Maytag was acquired by Whirlpool in March of 2006 for $2.6 billion. Several weeks later, Whirlpool announced it would close the Newton factory and former headquarters, eliminating 1,800 jobs. Whirlpool is moving production to non-union factories in Ohio where workers earn significantly less than their union counterparts in Newton.
"I grew up in Carolina mill towns and so I've seen firsthand the devastating impact trade can have on workers and communities," said Edwards. "Presidents from both parties have entered into trade agreements like NAFTA and the WTO promising that they would create new jobs. Instead, in recent years we've lost millions of manufacturing jobs, seen wages stagnate, and run up larger and larger trade deficits.
"For too long, Washington has been looking at every trade deal and asking one, and only one, question - is it good for corporate profits? And they haven't looked at all at the harm it will do to workers, their wages, or to the U.S. economy. Like the failed free trade agreements before it, the Peru Agreement puts the interests of the big multinational corporations first, ahead of the interests of American workers and communities."
Edwards believes we need smarter trade policies that lift up American workers. He has proposed four principles to ensure that globalization works for everyone:
Our trade deals and preferences must benefit American workers and communities, not just corporate bottom lines. This means that they must include strong labor and environmental standards and clearly prohibit illegal subsidies and currency manipulation.
Our trade policies must lift up workers around the world. Making sure that all workers share in the gains from trade is the right thing to do economically, and it will make America safer and more secure.
We must understand that "one size does not fit all" in trade agreements. Instead, we need to address differences in form of government, rule of law, state of economic development, and the day-to-day trade and business practices of our trading partners.
Our trade deals must be fully and fairly enforced. Edwards will make top prosecutors at the Department of Justice responsible for enforcing trade agreements.
To mitigate the damage of earlier trade agreements, Edwards has also called for revamping trade assistance to help dislocated workers and communities. Edwards proposed the creation of training programs for American workers, help for communities to recover from mass layoffs and strengthening the safety net for workers who have lost their jobs.
During the week-long "Stand Strong" campaign, Edwards is traveling across Iowa and New Hampshire to discuss his bold and detailed proposals for health care reform, smart and safe trade policies, ending the war in Iraq and restoring America's moral authority in the world. One of the highlights of the week was a major policy address he gave yesterday in Des Moines on corporate responsibility. Edwards called for updating the social compact with hard-working Americans to protect them from abuse by corporations and help them achieve financial security in the new economy.
"Real strength comes from standing up for the millions of American families who don't have a voice," said Edwards. "We need a leader in the White House who has the strength and courage to stand up and fight for regular Americans rather than someone who defends the lobbyists that are destroying the better America we all believe in."
Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) hits the nail on the head that the Peru "free trade" agreement is "by, for and about Wall Streeet." Despite the reality that previous trade agreements have given us a steady increase in the trade deficit (along with a falling dollar), our leaders in both parties want more such accords to further weaken our nation's manufacturing capacity. See the column below from The Oregionian. And Lori Wallach of Public Citizens makes an excellent case for why Democrats in Congress should side with American workers rather than Wall Street.
DeFazio: Peru deal is "by, for and about Wall Street"
by Jeff Kosseff
November 07, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has never been known to hold back his thoughts, particularly when it comes to trade.
In his more than two decades in Congress, DeFazio has been a harsh critic of trade expansion deals, most prominently the North American Free Trade Agreement in the '90s.
As the House prepares to vote on the Peru Free Trade Agreement, DeFazio released a statement calling the U.S. trade policy a "dismal failure" and branding the Peru agreement as "not in the best interest of American workers, the U.S. economy, or our national security."
DeFazio's full statement is after the jump.
"The dollar is dropping like a rock. We're borrowing $2 billion a day from overseas to buy things that we don't make in America anymore. We've lost 4 million manufacturing jobs nationally, and 40,000 jobs here in Oregon due to so-called free trade policies. Millions of middle class Americans are seeing their pay go stagnate or decline. Our current trade policy is a dismal failure. It's a failed engine for America's economy."
"Now along comes the Peru Free Trade agreement. The advocates say the burgeoning middle class in Peru are going to be a huge market for the goods that we don't make in America anymore. They tout the breakthroughs on modest environmental and labor provisions, but the destructive multi-national corporate-written chapter 11 core, that lead to the failure of NAFTA, CAFTA, and other trade agreements, remains at the center of this policy. This agreement is by, for, and about Wall Street, plain and simple. It's not in the best interest of American workers, the U.S. economy, or our national security."
"If trade is the engine that drives our economy, we need an overhaul. Instead, with this bill, we're getting a new hood ornament, some side view mirrors and a misbegotten cousin of NAFTA as a trade policy."
Lori Wallach of Public Citizens Global Trade Watch explains why Congressional Democrats must support fair trade and oppose the Peru trade deal.
While many corporations are eager to obtain the new rights and privileges offered by this FTA, expanding the NAFTA-CAFTA model will harm the interests of most people in both countries. Recent polling has shown repeatedly that the American public has had it with our current trade model. The recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that, by a margin of 2-to-1, even GOP voters think our current trade policy is damaging to them. Democrats won congressional majorities in no small part because of the scores of freshmen elected across the country, including in GOP-leaning districts, who focused their campaigns on stopping more Bush job killing rade agreements. It is good politics – and good policy – for Democrats to create a new trade direction for our country.
Unfortunately, the Peru NAFTA expansion does not accomplish this important goal, nor will the public perceive it as anything but more of the same.Worse, passage of the deal would give President Bush a high-profile victory, changing the message from the debacle in Iraq. It is hard to understand how a Democratic-controlled Congress would give Bush another NAFTA-style trade agreement under any circumstances, but more so the week after he announced he would veto the Democrats’ Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation, not to mention past vetoes of Democrats’ children’s health insurance and anti-war legislation.
There is a long list of trade policies on which the Democratic Congress could take initiative rather than helping President Bush expand NAFTA. We would be excited to work with you to address the imported food safety crisis, fix our disastrous China trade situation, halt the continuing importation of sweat shopmade goods, expand Buy America and anti-offshoring policy, and close the tax loopholes that promote offshoring. Such policies would be a foundation for a new direction on trade which could be built upon when a new president arrives in 2009. The first step towards this new direction is opposing more of the same. Please vote no on H.R. 3688, the Peru Free Trade Agreement.
Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch
Monday, November 05, 2007
In Iowa, Democrats have lost elections over gun control issues. When I knocked doors in rural areas in 2004 for a State House candidate I was volunteering for, I heard constant complaints from no-party voters who shut the door in my face because my candidate wanted to take their guns away. That was all fine and good, except my candidate (and, in general, the Iowa Democratic Party) had no interest in taking their guns away.
In 2007, the political landscape is vastly different. Democrats, who for years have been trying to compete in rural areas, have finally gotten their message across that they are not all in favor of Giuliani/Pelosi-style gun control. Two candidates in particular have attempted this campaign cycle to court Democrats who hunt: Gov. Bill Richardson and former Sen. John Edwards.
Richardson, who has an A rating from the National Rifle Association (and who was the only Democrat to address the NRA’s annual convention this year, although it was by video), recently highlighted his status as a pro-hunting Western governor at campaign stops in rural Iowa. From Dien Judge’s coverage of Richardson’s stop in Albia earlier this month:
“I’m a hunter, by the way,” said Richardson after answering an unrelated question. “I know a lot of you are hunters, so please support me. The NRA gave me an A+ rating.”
While the right to bear arms is obviously not a burning issue in the minds of most Iowa Democratic caucus-goers, Richardson’s record on the subject may well earn him the respect of rural Democrats in places like Albia and other small towns that are often ignored by presidential candidates.
Edwards today held a conference call to unveil his “Hunting and Fishing Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.” Again, from Dien’s coverage on Iowa Independent:
In an impromptu telephone press conference this morning, Edwards said it’s part of his effort to “ensure that people who live in rural areas and small towns” that he has a commitment to “strengthening their way of life and their economies.”
Edwards used the event to announce a new set of policy proposals focused on hunting, fishing and the great outdoors. He explained that his “Hunting and Fishing Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” is an agenda to protect and strengthen hunting and fishing traditions.
While the majority of Democratic caucus-goers may not care much one way or the other about gun rights and hunting, Democrats in rural areas care quite a bit. Many of them are themselves hunters, and those who are not still recognize the importance of having a Democrat at the top of the ticket who will not alienate gun control opponents. Caucus-goers are known for their pragmatism, and having a name associated with strict gun control on the ballot as the Democratic presidential nominee could cause major problems for local Democratic candidates.
Right Democrat: Support for the right to keep and bear arms is strong in Middle America. Millions of rank and file Democrats are gun rights supporters as Second Amendment defenders exist across party and ideological lines. Democrats need to favor gun rights to win rural America and firearms owners are a critical swing vote in many states.
Friday, November 02, 2007
The Asheville Citizen-Times reports that Congressman Heath Shuler of North Carolina http://shuler.house.gov/ is introducing the SAVE Act (Secure America with Verification and Enforcement) which will mandate improved border security and employer compliance with immigration laws. Shuler is a populist Democrat and has been a member of the House Immigration Reform Caucus.
Shuler targets immigration
by Doug Abrahms, GANNETT NEWS SERVICE
published November 2, 2007 8:30 pm
WASHINGTON — Employers would be required to verify their workers are in the U.S. legally, under a bill Rep. Heath Shuler will introduce next week.
Shuler, D-Waynesville, who said turning off the employment magnet will reduce illegal immigration, has added 75 House Democratic and Republican co-sponsors for the measure. The bill would require employers to verify workers’ status through a Department of Homeland Security database, which currently is voluntary.
“North Carolina is dealing with one of the fastest-growing illegal immigrant populations in the country,” Shuler said. “This legislation represents a common-sense answer to the immigration problem facing our nation.”
Shuler’s bill also would add 8,000 Border Patrol agents, increase aerial surveillance of the border and spend more on workplace enforcement of immigration laws. So far, 41 other Democrats and 34 Republicans have agreed to co-sponsor the bill, including Reps. Mike McIntyre, Sue Myrick, Walter Jones and Robin Hayes of North Carolina.
Shuler’s bill “seems to be one of the most extensive enforcement bills introduced,” said Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. His group favors stronger enforcement of immigration laws.
Typically, freshman lawmakers stand little chance of getting difficult bills through the House, he said.
But the Democrats who control Congress are struggling with immigration policy, just as Republicans did before 2006, Camarota said. Many Americans are frustrated that so many immigrants continue to cross the Mexican border illegally, he said.
“I think there’s real fear of the issue in the Democratic Party,” Camarota said.
Democracy Corps, a polling company run by Democrats Stan Greenberg and James Carville, released a memo this week warning Democrats that illegal immigration has caused current voter discontent. Many Americans wonder why the U.S. has lost control of its borders and doesn’t go after illegal employment, the memo said.
“Voters want control of the borders and workplace and (to re-create) an immigration system that works and oppose driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants — positions supported by about two-thirds of the country,” the memo said. “If political leaders do not start there, they are not likely to be heard on other steps.”
One of the leading pro-immigration enforcement organizations, Numbers USA strongly endorsed the Shuler bill. In a letter to Congressman Shuler, Numbers USA President Roy Beck describes the SAVE act as a "middle ground" solution to the illegal immigration matter. Beck's letter is reproduced below:
The Honorable Heath Shuler512 Cannon House Office BuildingWashington, D.C. 20515
Dear Congressman Shuler:
Numbers USA’s half-million grassroots activist voters are dedicated to removing the jobs magnet that is the biggest among many large causes of our illegal immigration nightmare. Your new bill is just what the nation needs.
I am most pleased to offer Numbers USA’s endorsement of your SAVE Act (Secure America with Verification and Enforcement).SAVE Act is the middle-ground answer to the illegal immigration issue. This not only will be the most effective solution, but it is what polls show most Americans want. When given the choice among (a) mass roundups and mass deportations, (b) mass legalizations, and (c) Attrition Through Enforcement & Self Deportation, the public chooses the middle-ground Attrition option which is what your bill offers.
I appreciate the many ways that the SAVE Act would increase our border security and help with interior enforcement.Our greatest excitement is in the promise of finally protecting American workers, legal foreign workers and law-abiding businesses from the unfair competition of massive hiring of illegal workers throughout our economy. And by requiring every worker to be run through the E-Verify system within four years, the SAVE Act would greatly reduce the opportunities for national origin-based discrimination.
Numbers USA has always maintained that very few businesses actually want to hire illegal aliens. And we believe that of the minority of businesses that do hire illegal aliens, most do so without knowing it or do so because they feel forced to do it to keep up with competitors who ARE hiring illegal aliens. Universal mandatory use of E-Verify will protect legitimate businesses, protect U.S. workers and remove the financial ability for most illegal workers to remain in the United States.
Under this bill, we can expect a peaceful self-deportation of hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens a year, immediately bringing relief to overburdened communities and improving wage prospects, particularly for the 23 million less-educated Americans who do not currently have a job.The sight of so many of their countrymen returning home after failing to find or hold U.S. jobs, will be a significant deterrent to foreign nationals seeking to enter our country illegally or to overstay their visas.