Maine Writer

Its about people and issues I care about.

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Location: Topsham, MAINE, United States

My blogs are dedicated to the issues I care about. Thank you to all who take the time to read something I've written.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Syria - We Must Remember the Millions of Victims: FoxNews

It's among the least supported subjects I write about but somebody must remember the millions of victims of the Syrian civil war - especially since the ridiculous peace talks fell apart like an avalanche in Geneva, Switzerland this week.

Syria has an ancient history, but now the country's population is under threat of pandemic diseases (polio outbreaks reported) and genocide because President Assad is now focused on protecting the interest of the Russians, who have set up a puppet government in Damascus.  There's no doubt, if polio has erupted in the Syrian refugee camps, then tuberculosis is also endemic in the population, because sanitary conditions must be deplorable. 

Nevertheless, President Assad sent peace feelers to the Geneva peace talks to help resolve the country's daunting civil war, because he thought, maybe, the nations would give him a pass on regime change.

How can any civilized country give President Assad a pass? He is responsible for the disease, dislocation and death of millions of his own people! 

At the imploded Geneva conference, the two sides discussed humanitarian issues and possible ways to end the violence. They made some agreements on local ceasefires to allow access for humanitarian workers. UN aid chief Valerie Amos said the deals had allowed some aid to get through to a few thousand families.

Oh my, aid to "a few thousand families"? There are more than a million displaced people living in refugee camps, because they fear genocide if they remain in their homes. Many of the displaced people support the Syrian rebels and, sadly, are largely Christians.

FoxNews has been covering the persecuted Syrian Christians.

I must say, I'm not a FoxNews fan, but this is the one subject where I believe this reporting is earning humanitarian kudos. 

FoxNews reports how Christianity began in the East, not the West, yet today Christians in the East are enduring an all-out-assault by Islamic terrorists, while Christians in the West live their lives largely oblivious to it all. This has to change.

This is no imaginary persecution; in Syria alone there have been reports of kidnappings, Christian communities intentionally displaced by militants and, worst of all, shootings and beheadings of Christians who refused to convert to Islam.

In Egypt radicals have recently destroyed dozens of churches, and the once vibrant Christian population in Iraq has been decimated.

In my opinion, the world has abandoned Syrians and President Assad is protecting his mortality by doing whatever the Russians want him to do.  If Putin pulls support for Assad, he's done.

Human nature under stress being what it is, Assad thought he might barter for some deal to allow humanitarian aid to be given to displaced and persecuted Syrians. Assad actually thought he could exchange humanitarian aid for his leadership, presumably, exempt from Russian control. This strategy didn't work, so the talks imploded. Thankfully, the Geneva peace talks won't barter with a leader who is responsible for the murder of untold numbers of his own people through violence and persecution.

Thanks to FoxNews for remembering the Syrian victims of the deadly civil war. It's impossible for President Assad to continue as Syria's leader, because he's a perpetrator of genocide.  

Russia has its own internal problems with domestic terrorism. It's a long shot, but possible President Putin will have to, either, declare war on his own people or resign. Who's going to hold Assad's hand when President Putin is distracted or gone?

Who cares what happens to Assad? He's a man who wants to barter the humanitarian aid to his own people to save his presidency.

Meanwhile, millions of Syrians, inheritors of thousands of years of history and culture, will never know peace or be able to claim what they lost during this horrific civil war.

We must remember to care about these tragic people.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Aging World - Where are the Young?

Although the world is aging there will no doubt be some groups with younger populations.

Of course, I'm not an expert on world demographics but my suspicion is that the Middle Eastern and growing Asian populations will outnumber western populations. 

Aging and decline in population numbers in western populations is a trend that I assume will continue.

BBCNews reports:

How an ageing population will change the world

The number of people across the world over 65 years old will triple by 2050, drastically altering some countries' demographic make-up, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center. 

Perceptions of this shift vary widely across the globe, the report says.

While 87% of Japanese believe the ageing population poses a problem to the country, only 26% of Americans agree.

The survey of 21 countries found that most people believe governments should be responsible for the care of their older populations.

These demographic shifts may adversely affect economies, as more elderly people depend on working-age men and women.
Produced by the BBC's David Botti
Additional images: Thinkstock and Getty Images
My own observation about this age shift is to ask about how it will impact on world politics? If Middle Eastern and Asian populations grow while Western populations decline, this will cause a shift in world religions from Christianity to Eastern beliefs like Buddhism, Hinduism and Arabic religions.  

These demographic and religious shifts will undoubtedly cause political repercussions as well. 

Hopefully world leaders will be able to respond to these changes and rise to meet the challenges.

The world can only hope and pray for leaders who will be ready to create world peace and understanding.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Atlanta Metro Can't Handle Less Than Three Inches of Snow - Thankfully it Wasn't a Terror Incident

Scenes from Atlanta metro area, post receiving less than 3 inches of snow yesterday, are beyond nightmarish. Okay, I'm writing from the perspective of a person who lives in Maine,where 3 inches of snow is just a dusting.  To me, the scenes of chaos in Atlanta resulting from a little snow resemble a mass human exodus, consistent with an environmental or man made disaster.

Georgians don't want to answer a Mainer's rhetorical question, "So, how would you react if George received over 140 inches of snow, as one winter record snowfall hit Maine a few years ago?"  Obviously, I value my life, so a smug question about snow is best asked to a Georgian during the summer, or maybe never.

Incredulous as it is, Atlanta metro area was in chaos because of less than 3 inches of snow yesterday. Smug questions aside, it's serious, and appropriate to ask how Atlanta, a major metropolis, and the state of Georgia, would respond to other disasters.  Think about how Georgia might respond to an environmental disaster, a major earthquake, a category 4 hurricane like Katrina or, God forbid, a terror incident like New York City endured. Officials better be thinking ahead, because any one of the above could easily  be forthcoming. Perhaps, this measly 3 inches of snow is a good preparation for emergency preparedness, to plan for, potentially, worse events than a snow storm.

"Atlanta (CNN) -- Empty streets, shuttered storefronts and abandoned vehicles littering the side of the road."

"That was the scene across much of metropolitan Atlanta on Wednesday as people hunkered down to wait out the aftermath of a snow and ice storm that brought the nation's ninth largest metropolitan area to a screeching halt."

"A day after up to 3 inches of snow in parts of Georgia caused horrific gridlock on ice-covered streets, particularly in Atlanta where thousands were trapped on the roads overnight, several major thoroughfares remained a mess due to lingering accidents and other problems."

Even young children were stranded in schools, because parents couldn't get to them. Some school children had to sleep on their school buses because traffic wouldn't allow them to transport the students home. Incredulous situations!

Readers can substitute any natural disaster for the less than 3 inches of snow resulting in the above chaos.

It's time for Georgia's public officials and politicians (current and those who hope to lead in the future) to make a frank assessment about the capacity for the state to support its citizens when faced with a disaster. This measly snow storm is an excellent primer for planning improvements in infrastructure, to prevent another preventable "Hurricane Katrina-like" spectacle.  

When will politicians learn how weather matters?

Responding to natural and man made disasters requires money, of course. But, the money required to improve Georgia's emergency response is an investment in infrastructure. Moreover, it's essential to assure the future safety of the citizens who surely won't put up with another 3 inch snow storm disaster.

Thankfully, 3 inches of snow was only a dusting and nothing worse.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

President Obama - Fifth State of the Union Speech: My Grade and the Text

Feisty speech unifying Democrats.  Republicans certainly looked cruel when they sat on their hands during President Obama's support about income inequality and supportive statements about women. Certainly, the Republicans had nothing to criticize in this optimistic speech, but they put four of their own up to challenge whatever it is they don't like - because they never seem to tell Americans what they would do differently.

Although I was disappointed when President Obama didn't push strongly for pushing back on cuts to military retirement, he certainly singled out the heroics of the US military. Indeed, he roused the chamber when he introduced Army Ranger Corey Remsburg, whose compelling story demonstrated the need to support and protect veteran's earned benefits.

At least President Obama gave an optimistic speech about the State of the Union. Nevertheless, he still needs to challenge a Congress with a miserable 13 percent approval rating.

My grade for his speech is a B minus.....A on optimism, C on making initiatives happen and an F for not challenging Congress on their partisan ineptness and dismal 13 percent public approval rating.

Although it was strategically important for the President to avoid creating problems for Democrats running for office in 2014, it seems to me, Americans would still prefer for him to show some verbal muscle to GOP lawmakers, who, frankly, looked like stooges with dunce caps while he spoke so eloquently about America's economic future potential.

Here is what President Obama said:

Full text of Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address

Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.

An entrepreneur flipped on the lights in her tech startup, and did her part to add to the more than eight million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.

An autoworker fine-tuned some of the best, most fuel-efficient cars in the world, and did his part to help America wean itself off foreign oil.

A farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history. A rural doctor gave a young child the first prescription to treat asthma that his mother could afford. A man took the bus home from the graveyard shift, bone-tired but dreaming big dreams for his son. And in tight-knit communities across America, fathers and mothers will tuck in their kids, put an arm around their spouse, remember fallen comrades, and give thanks for being home from a war that, after twelve long years, is finally coming to an end.

Tonight, this chamber speaks with one voice to the people we represent: it is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong.

Here are the results of your efforts: The lowest unemployment rate in over five years. A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years. Our deficits – cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.

That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America. After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.

The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress. For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It’s an important debate – one that dates back to our very founding. But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy – when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States – then we are not doing right by the American people.

As President, I’m committed to making Washington work better, and rebuilding the trust of the people who sent us here. I believe most of you are, too. Last month, thanks to the work of Democrats and Republicans, this Congress finally produced a budget that undoes some of last year’s severe cuts to priorities like education. Nobody got everything they wanted, and we can still do more to invest in this country’s future while bringing down our deficit in a balanced way. But the budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises.

In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together. Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want – for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all – the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.

Let’s face it: that belief has suffered some serious blows. Over more than three decades, even before the Great Recession hit, massive shifts in technology and global competition had eliminated a lot of good, middle-class jobs, and weakened the economic foundations that families depend on.

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.

Our job is to reverse these trends. It won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything. But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do. 

As usual, our First Lady sets a good example. Michelle’s Let’s Move partnership with schools, businesses, and local leaders has helped bring down childhood obesity rates for the first time in thirty years – an achievement that will improve lives and reduce health care costs for decades to come. The Joining Forces alliance that Michelle and Jill Biden launched has already encouraged employers to hire or train nearly 400,000 veterans and military spouses. Taking a page from that playbook, the White House just organized a College Opportunity Summit where already, 150 universities, businesses, and nonprofits have made concrete commitments to reduce inequality in access to higher education – and help every hardworking kid go to college and succeed when they get to campus. Across the country, we’re partnering with mayors, governors, and state legislatures on issues from homelessness to marriage equality.

The point is, there are millions of Americans outside Washington who are tired of stale political arguments, and are moving this country forward. They believe, and I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That’s what drew our forebears here. It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker; how the son of a barkeeper is Speaker of the House; how the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth.

Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.

We know where to start: the best measure of opportunity is access to a good job. With the economy picking up speed, companies say they intend to hire more people this year. And over half of big manufacturers say they’re thinking of insourcing jobs from abroad.

So let’s make that decision easier for more companies. Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home.

Moreover, we can take the money we save with this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes – because in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible.

We also have the chance, right now, to beat other countries in the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs. My administration has launched two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh and Youngstown, where we’ve connected businesses to research universities that can help America lead the world in advanced technologies. Tonight, I’m announcing we’ll launch six more this year. Bipartisan bills in both houses could double the number of these hubs and the jobs they create. So get those bills to my desk and put more Americans back to work.

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America. Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other. And when ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.” China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we.

We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender. Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smartphones. That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel. And let’s pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation.

Now, one of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy. The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades.

One of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas. I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas. My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities. And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.

It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.

And even as we’ve increased energy production, we’ve partnered with businesses, builders, and local communities to reduce the energy we consume. When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months, I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.

Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air. The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.

Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.

The ideas I’ve outlined so far can speed up growth and create more jobs. But in this rapidly-changing economy, we have to make sure that every American has the skills to fill those jobs.

The good news is, we know how to do it. Two years ago, as the auto industry came roaring back, Andra Rush opened up a manufacturing firm in Detroit. She knew that Ford needed parts for the best-selling truck in America, and she knew how to make them. She just needed the workforce. So she dialed up what we call an American Job Center – places where folks can walk in to get the help or training they need to find a new job, or better job. She was flooded with new workers. And today, Detroit Manufacturing Systems has more than 700 employees.

What Andra and her employees experienced is how it should be for every employer – and every job seeker. So tonight, I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now. That means more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life. It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs. And if Congress wants to help, you can concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.

I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy. But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.

Let me tell you why.

Misty DeMars is a mother of two young boys. She’d been steadily employed since she was a teenager. She put herself through college. She’d never collected unemployment benefits. In May, she and her husband used their life savings to buy their first home. A week later, budget cuts claimed the job she loved. Last month, when their unemployment insurance was cut off, she sat down and wrote me a letter – the kind I get every day. “We are the face of the unemployment crisis,” she wrote. “I am not dependent on the government…Our country depends on people like us who build careers, contribute to society…care about our neighbors…I am confident that in time I will find a job…I will pay my taxes, and we will raise our children in their own home in the community we love. Please give us this chance.”

Congress, give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance. They need our help, but more important, this country needs them in the game. That’s why I’ve been asking CEOs to give more long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at that new job and new chance to support their families; this week, many will come to the White House to make that commitment real. Tonight, I ask every business leader in America to join us and to do the same – because we are stronger when America fields a full team.

Of course, it’s not enough to train today’s workforce. We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.

Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age nine. But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications. And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall.

Five years ago, we set out to change the odds for all our kids. We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before. Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance. Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math. Some of this change is hard. It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test. But it’s worth it – and it’s working.

The problem is we’re still not reaching enough kids, and we’re not reaching them in time. That has to change.

Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old. As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight. But in the meantime, thirty states have raised pre-k funding on their own. They know we can’t wait. So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children. And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.

Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years. Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and twenty million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit.

We’re working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career. We’re shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information, and colleges more incentives to offer better value, so that no middle-class kid is priced out of a college education. We’re offering millions the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to ten percent of their income, and I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt. And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.

The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us. But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete – and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise – unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American.

Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.

Now, women hold a majority of lower-wage jobs – but they’re not the only ones stifled by stagnant wages. Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success. But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.

In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs. Many businesses have done it on their own. Nick Chute is here tonight with his boss, John Soranno. John’s an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make the dough. Only now he makes more of it: John just gave his employees a raise, to ten bucks an hour – a decision that eased their financial stress and boosted their morale.

Tonight, I ask more of America’s business leaders to follow John’s lead and do what you can to raise your employees’ wages. To every mayor, governor, and state legislator in America, I say, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act; Americans will support you if you take this on. And as a chief executive, I intend to lead by example. Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. We should too. In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour – because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.

Of course, to reach millions more, Congress needs to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.

There are other steps we can take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the Earned Income Tax Credit. Right now, it helps about half of all parents at some point. But I agree with Republicans like Senator Rubio that it doesn’t do enough for single workers who don’t have kids. So let’s work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, and help more Americans get ahead.

Let’s do more to help Americans save for retirement. Today, most workers don’t have a pension. A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401ks. That’s why, tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg. MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in. And if this Congress wants to help, work with me to fix an upside-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little to nothing for middle-class Americans. Offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everyone in this chamber can. And since the most important investment many families make is their home, send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations of Americans.

One last point on financial security. For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system. And in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of fixing that.

A pre-existing condition used to mean that someone like Amanda Shelley, a physician assistant and single mom from Arizona, couldn’t get health insurance. But on January 1st, she got covered. On January 3rd, she felt a sharp pain. On January 6th, she had emergency surgery. Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would’ve meant bankruptcy.

That’s what health insurance reform is all about – the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything.

Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans.

More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.

And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.

Now, I don’t expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, and increase choice – tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first forty were plenty. We got it. We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.

And if you want to know the real impact this law is having, just talk to Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, who’s here tonight. Kentucky’s not the most liberal part of the country, but he’s like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families. “They are our friends and neighbors,” he said. “They are people we shop and go to church with…farmers out on the tractors…grocery clerks…they are people who go to work every morning praying they don’t get sick. No one deserves to live that way.”

Steve’s right. That’s why, tonight, I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st. Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It will give her some peace of mind – plus, she’ll appreciate hearing from you.

After all, that’s the spirit that has always moved this nation forward. It’s the spirit of citizenship – the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well.

Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote. Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened. But conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it; and the bipartisan commission I appointed last year has offered reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote. Let’s support these efforts. It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy.

Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.

Citizenship demands a sense of common cause; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve to our communities. And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.

Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure. When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.

After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future. If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country.

The fact is, that danger remains. While we have put al Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved, as al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses, and combat new threats like cyberattacks. And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform, and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.

We have to remain vigilant. But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our military alone. As Commander-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office. But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary; nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us – large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.

So, even as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks – through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners – America must move off a permanent war footing. That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones – for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence. That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs – because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated. And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay – because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.

You see, in a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy. American diplomacy has rallied more than fifty countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles. American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear. As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel – a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.

And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It is not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

These negotiations will be difficult. They may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away. But these negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed. If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

Finally, let’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe – to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want. And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America.

Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known. From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy. In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country’s future. Across Africa, we’re bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty. In the Americas, we are building new ties of commerce, but we’re also expanding cultural and educational exchanges among young people. And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity, and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster – as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America!”

We do these things because they help promote our long-term security. And we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation. And next week, the world will see one expression of that commitment – when Team USA marches the red, white, and blue into the Olympic Stadium – and brings home the gold.

My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might – but because of the ideals we stand for, and the burdens we bear to advance them.

No one knows this better than those who serve in uniform. As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life. We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned, and our wounded warriors receive the health care – including the mental health care – that they need. We’ll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home. And we all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families.

Let me tell you about one of those families I’ve come to know.

I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program – a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack. We joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.

A few months later, on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.

For months, he lay in a coma. The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day.

Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.

“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”

Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.

My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged.

But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress – to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen. The America we want for our kids – a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us – none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach.

Believe it. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

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Olympic Security, Sochi, President Putin and Muslim Extremists

Russia's President Putin certainly has a lot to worry about. Although Putin thrives on bravado, the world is not impressed by his swashbuckling photo opportunities. 

Eventually, events will usurp Putin's totalitarian leadership. Situations will ultimately implode around him, as it becomes difficult for him to bring peace to Russia,  

His immediate challenges:

1.  Sochi Olympic Games- Along with the emotional, not to mention the cost, of providing security for thousands of people who attend.

2.  Muslim extremism causing terrorist fear.  

3.  Syria - a country where the leadership of the tyrant President Assad is dependent on Russian support.  

4.  Ukraine- an uprising from a Russian controlled state that could become a revolution.

Security is being tightened across Russia in the wake of two suicide bombings in as many days in the southern city of Volgograd that have killed over 30 people and injured dozens. 

With the Olympic Games set to commence in less than six weeks in Sochi, a city located just a few hundred miles from the site of the attacks, this most recent stint of violence is causing added anxiety.

High profile suicide bombings throughout Russia in recent years have heightened concern about such violent extremism among the Russian public.

When asked about eight potential threats to their country, Russians said that Islamic extremist groups pose the biggest danger according to a Spring 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center. More than half (53%) claimed such groups were a major threat, trumping other potential dangers such as international financial instability (46%) and global climate change (46%). Women (57%) were more likely than men (49%) to consider such extremism a major threat.

Muslim extremism continues to grow in correlation to the oppression exerted to control this threat to peace in the world. Although Russia has no interest in supporting freedom of speech or religion for Muslims, the government's oppression of extremist Muslims only feeds their anger.

My advice to President Putin is to focus on bringing peace to Russia, before wasting time unjustly criticizing people based on their sexual orientation. Between the Ukraine uprisings, the war in Syria, where millions of people are displaced by their own government and the Muslim extremists who hate Putin, I don't think Russia is a safe place to begin setting up business.  

Russia is in trouble.

Sochi's Winter Olympics will come and go, but internal violence against Putin's leadership and Syrian genocide continues.

Nevertheless, leading Russia's very multicultural national identities is extremely challenging. Historically, it has only been accomplished by tyranny or when the nation has been galvanized by an outside threat.  

Obviously, President Putin isn't seeking advice from Maine Writer, but I'm not writing for his benefit. Instead, my purpose is to issue a sadly dire prediction about Russia. It's a nation at the tipping point of imploding. 

To that end, President Putin needs to stop swashbuckling around taking photographs of his staged bravado experiences.

Instead, he should be acting like a world leader who wants to create world peace rather than a tyrant intent on oppressing his enemies.

Undoubtedly, President Putin will be the happiest man in the universe when the Sochi Olympics are safely over. He'll have to figure out how to pay the extraordinary financial bills these international games and intense security will cost his people. Surely, he must've figured the cost was worth the investment. 

Olympics notwithstanding, the internal violence from Muslim extremists and revolts like in the Ukraine will not go away with the ending of the Sochi games. Resolving national and international problems will continue to challenge all Russian leaders. President Putin can't hold on to power forever. After Sochi, then what?

Therefore, the ultimate question is whether or not President Putin can lead Russia at all. It seems like his authority is becoming more heavily dependent on tyranny. This is not good for Russia and it's certainly a dangerous omen for world peace.  

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Maine Has an Important Chance to Improve State Economy with Maine Care Expansion

Maine Center for Economic Policy (MCEP) reports how the proposed Maine Care expansion currently in the legislature makes superb economic sense.

An Op-Ed in January 27, 2013 Portland Press Herald describes the progress the Maine Care expansion would provide for Maine workers, businesses and the overall economy.

My experience visiting family and friends in Maryland positively reflects what Garrett Martin, executive director of MCEP describes about the potential for a Medicaid Expansion.  In my opinion, I see Maryland's economy thriving because young people are attracted to the state's opportunities provided by progressive policies, including the Medicaid expansion, supported by Governor Martin O'Malley

That's is what I see in Maryland. 

Unfortunately, I don't see this promise in Maine, where attracting a healthy workforce is essential to grow businesses. Unless, of course, the legislature prevails against a probable veto by Governor Paul LePage and the state accepts the Medicaid expansion described in the Martin op-ed.

Here's the reprint of Martins' op-ed article:

Maine Voices: Affordable Care Act presents state with unprecedented economic opportunity

If the investor were a private company, political leaders would have rolled out a red carpet.
By Garrett Martin 
AUGUSTA — Imagine a banner headline in this newspaper: “$338 Million Investment Projected to Support 4,400 Jobs, Add $500 Million Annually to Maine’s Economy.”

That’s roughly equivalent to all of the jobs at L.L. Bean and the total that all arts, entertainment, and recreation businesses combined contribute to Maine’s gross domestic product each year. This is the unprecedented opportunity Maine has if we accept federal Affordable Care Act funds to expand health coverage to nearly 70,000 people.

Why, then, have the governor and Legislature failed so far to accept this deal?

If the investor were a private company, political leaders would have rolled out a red carpet and promised tax breaks and other incentives to seal the deal.

Does the federal government expect too much in return? No. It hasn’t asked Maine to waive zoning regulations, give it a juicy tax increment financing deal or provide other inducements.

Will, as opponents contend, the increased health coverage cost state taxpayers too much? No. In fact, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for eligible individuals over the next three years. Only then will the federal government begin to reduce its contribution to 90 percent by 2020.

In addition to the jobs and economic boost, Maine will also realize about $23 million annually in additional state and local revenue. Based on analysis by the state’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review, the Maine Center for Economic Policy projects this will more than offset any new cost to the state from 2014 to 2016. Just in case, the bill currently before legislators sunsets the program in three years, requiring renewed approval for it to continue.

Since Maine shipbuilders launched the earliest Navy vessels, federal funds have helped strengthen Maine’s economy and create opportunity for working families.

Federal highway funds have built thousands of miles of roads and bridges we use every day. Federal investments make possible clean water, electricity for rural residents and Internet access.

Federal dollars support education, retirement security and health care, particularly for Mainers who are older, low-income, disabled or veterans. In fact, federal funds currently pay for more than one-third of Maine’s state budget.

Maine voters consistently approve transportation and other infrastructure bond issues because they know that the federal government will match or exceed each dollar the state spends.

The Maine Center for Economic Policy’s analysis, based on bond issues in recent years, has shown that the federal match for each state transportation and wastewater treatment bond dollar has returned $1.76 and $4.57, respectively.

By comparison, accepting federal ACA funds presents an exceptionally lucrative chance to leverage federal dollars. Every dollar Maine spends to expand health care will bring back a whopping $62 in federal ACA funds. Stated differently, the state’s share of the cost of increasing health coverage is only 1.6 percent of the total cost during the first three years.

These new federal funds will flow throughout Maine, yielding significant economic impact in every county. They will pay hospitals, physicians, pharmacists, mental health counselors and other health care providers.

Health care businesses will spend these funds to purchase materials and equipment and to pay the salaries of doctors, nurses, health aides, administrative personnel and others.

This economic boon is especially important as Maine continues to lag behind the rest of the Northeast and most of the nation in our slow recovery from the Great Recession. Maine has regained, on net, only 9,900 of the 29,100 payroll jobs lost as a result of that economic downturn.

Accepting ACA funds will not change these trends overnight, but it will significantly enhance Maine’s recovery prospects. Refusing the funds will put Maine at an economic disadvantage with states that accept them.

Maine has a lot more to lose. Hospitals and those who do have insurance will continue to pick up the costs for the uninsured. Working people will still be unable to visit their family doctor and live in fear that an illness or accident will result in their financial ruin.

Accepting federal ACA funds is one of the most, if not the most, important steps our leaders can take to extend affordable health care to tens of thousands of hardworking Mainers, deliver thousands of much-needed jobs and give our struggling economy a much-needed lift.

It is a once-in-a-generation bargain Maine just cannot afford to pass up.

— Special to the Press Herald

In fact, it makes no sense, whatsoever, for Maine to pass up this amazing and healthy opportunity to attract a healthy workforce while bringing badly needed federal revenues into the state..

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

President Barack Obama Speaks Intelligently About Women - Huckabee Alert

Mike Huckabee receives a failing grade in recent public comments he made trying to explain women's access to healthcare and contraceptive coverage. For some idiotic reason, Huckabee characterized women who accept health coverage for contraception coverage as doing so because they want to control their libido. He made no mention about men and their own libido.

Michael Tomasky writes in the Daily Beast:  What galaxy do Republican men live in? Apparently one where ladies who use contraception are ‘helpless’.....

Pitiful Mike Huckabee needs woman speak lessons. Guess what? Probably, the very best teacher for this subject is President Barack Obama.

Read what President Obama said in a speech he gave last week when he addressed men about how to prevent sexual abuse of women. President Obama's comments were educational and respectful:

"'Sexual assault is an affront to our basic decency and humanity. And it's about all of us, the safety of those we love most: our moms, our wives, our daughters and our sons. Because, when a child starts to question their self-worth after being abused, and maybe starts withdrawing, or a young woman drops out of school after being attacked, or a mom struggles to hold down a job and support her kids after an assault, it's not just these individuals and their families who suffer. Our communities, our whole country is held back,' Obama said."

President Obama raises the value of women when he calls for basic decency and humanity.  

In contrast, Mike Huckabee degrades women when he makes leaping assumptions about why women use contraception or need access to health coverage to pay for birth control pills.

I recommend Huckabee study President Obama tapes before he opens his mouth again to speak about women.

An even better idea, however, Huckabee should stop talking altogether.  He's a terrible politician, a right wing extremist, a religious zealot and a terrible role model for men who need to understand how to respect women, rather than speak condescendingly about us.

Huckabee Alert! Pay attention to President Barack Obama when he speaks with sensitivity and intelligently about women.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Preventing Shootings -Tax Ammunition

Yet another, and another and another preventable shooting of innocent people. These tragedies are happening with rapid fire regularity. All of them preventable. If they were the result of H1N1 Bird flu, we'd hear about widespread pandemic panic. 

Instead, the dead and traumatized are now lined up in a queue of preventable incidents, all victims of unbridled Second Amendment rights. Today reports another in these horrible events:

Saturday January 25, three more people are dead as a result of another mall shooting in Columbia, Maryland. This isn't downtown Baltimore, folks, where people can shrug off street violence like a pesky mosquito. Oh no! This shooting is in upscale Columbia.

(CNN) -- Gunfire erupted in a Columbia, Maryland, shopping mall Saturday morning, leaving at least three people dead, according to the Howard County Police Department's Twitter account.

Just three days ago, another shooting homicide happened at Perdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

According to CBS Chicago, shots were fired after a fight took place in the parking lot of the electrical engineering building. Though the building has been cleared, the university has advised students and faculty to seek shelter in place. ABC News reported that one person was taken into custody.

Only  two days ago, a gunman in Gorham, Maine surrendered after a standoff at the University of Southern Maine. A USM student reportedly threatened to shoot people in a fraternity house before barricading himself inside. Fortunately, he surrendered before anyone was harmed but the incident spread community wide terror.

We're not living in Iraq or Afghanistan. Yet, if the location of these shootings were removed from the report, an unsuspecting reader might think the stories were about war zones. 

Since hundreds more innocent people this year are absolutely destined to be killed in gun violence incidents, I suggest Americans take action by demanding for all ammunition to be taxed at ten times its value. For exasmple, if one bullet cost $3, the actual taxed amount would be $30 per round of ammunition. A Saturday night special gun purchase might hold 6 to 8 rounds of ammunition (I assume). Therefore, the ammunition to fill one gun would be between about $200. All tax revenue from ammunition sales would be dedicated to improving mental health services. Money should be dedicated for the care of chronically and persistently mentally ill people, for veterans, and victims of post traumatic stress syndrome, or to education about critical incident stress, and for drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.

Of course, there's one potential pitfall with taxing ammunition. When buying ammunition becomes more expensive than gun owners can afford, the tax revenue will be reduced to nearly nothing. Nevertheless, the incidence of gun violence deaths might well save hundreds of lives. Wow, just imagine that!

It makes perfect sense to tax ammunition. Each state can establish gun tax laws while Second Amendment rights will not be harmed.  

There must be a solution to the public health hazard of unregulated gun ownership. Taxing ammunition should be an opportunity to support the rights of innocent people who are unknowingly in harms way anytime a deranged person with a gun puts them or their family in danger. Unfortunately, the National Rifle Association gun lobby is so influential that even common sense possibilities are not allowed freedom of speech.  

But, for each gun violent incident in the growing queue, there should be an equal line up of attempts to stop this deadly public health menace. Tax ammunition. Please. Let's just do it. 

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Friday, January 24, 2014

The Rotarian Magazine an Excellent Article about Women's Health - Menstruation

A Rotarian friend brought this excllent article about women and the cultural stigma of menstruation, by Rose George, to my attention, published in the January Rotarian Magazine

This monthly magazine is circulated throughout the world to every person who is a member of a Rotary Club, which includes many who live in India. In summary, the article raises awareness about how the archaic attitudes about menstruation are negatively impacting the educational goals of women in many third world nations and thereby holding back their ability to become independently successful. Unbelievable but sadly true.

Much of this information is especially concerning, considering how much attention world health organizations are giving to improving the health of women and children around the world.

Given these myths and superstitions about menstruation are pervasive, women everywhere must be diligent about protecting our right to healthcare. We must especially protect young women from developing negative self esteem related to their feminine physiology.

Health: Menstruation:  There, we said it. Now let’s talk about it, because girls are suffering, by Rose George

There are many candidates for the title of “last taboo,” but the strongest contender is menstruation. Even within the field of sanitation, which I have been writing about for seven years, menstruation is hardly mentioned.

This is absurd, and dangerous. Menstruation is inevitable and natural. Yet throughout the developing world, women are ostracized, shamed, and damaged by this pointless taboo. In 2012, I traveled through India with the Great Wash Yatra, a sanitation carnival organized by WASH United, a nongovernmental organization. In 51 days, it covered more than 1,200 miles and went through five Indian states. It attracted 150,000 visitors to play educational games about sanitation and hygiene, such as Poo Minefield, in which a blindfolded contestant had to avoid potentially dangerous excreta while picking up lifesaving soap bars. There was WASH Idol, whose winner sang the best sanitation-themed song, and there were dance contests.

But I was drawn to a corner of the carnival, to a yellow and red tent that bore a sign saying “Women and girls only.” This was the Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Lab, where women and girls could tell researchers about their experiences, get free sanitary cloths, and make themselves a bracelet using red and green beads to symbolize the days of the menstrual cycle. (Mine was made by a male volunteer who must think my period lasts 21 days.) Twelve thousand women and girls passed through the MHM Lab. Even on holy days, when researchers expected nobody to turn up, there was a queue several hundred meters long outside the entrance.

What did the women want? The free sanitary cloths were useful, of course. The advice about how to keep them sanitary was good too. (Iron them or dry them in the sun.) But what they wanted most was information. They wanted to talk. They wanted to know things they had never been told because of the breadth and depth of the taboo. More than 70 percent of them told the MHM workers that they had known nothing about menstruation when they started bleeding. Their mothers had not talked to them about it, because their own mothers in turn had not talked to them. When they had begun bleeding, many thought they were ill. Some thought they were dying. I met a young woman in a schoolyard whose mother had died of cancer, so when she started bleeding one day, she was convinced that she had cancer too. What else was she supposed to think?

Many of those 12,000 women said their menstrual blood was dirty blood, and so they were dirty too.

In another schoolyard in another state, I met three delightful young girls who told me more. They were 10 or 12 years old but spoke with charming confidence, even about their periods (once the male cameraman had moved away). They told me what periods meant to them: restriction, taboos, and not being able to eat pickles. Pardon? Yes, madam, they said. Pickles. Other common restrictions compiled by the Indian NGO Goonj included seeing birds, going near a newborn baby, going out at noon, having sex with your husband, talking to boys, serving food, keeping flowers. One of the young women in that schoolyard told me with perfect seriousness that she couldn’t paint her nails when she was menstruating, because obviously menstruation makes nail polish go rotten. Elsewhere, women are not allowed to bathe during their period. In extreme circumstances, such as in the western Himalayas in Nepal, they are confined for the duration of their menstruation to the family cattle shed, known as a chaupadi – even in the depths of the Himalayan winter.

Why do those things matter? Because when something languishes in silence and shame, it can do harm. When women and girls must keep their sanitary cloths out of sight, many dry them in damp spaces under their beds, risking urinary tract infections and worse. An outreach worker told me of a case in which a young woman had to have her ovaries removed because of such an infection. Afterward, her fellow villagers crossed the road when they saw her, because a barren woman is a curse.

That’s the health toll. Then there is the damage to women’s futures. Research carried out in India found that 23 percent of girls drop out of school permanently when they begin to menstruate. Another study in Uganda put the figure at 30 percent. Why? The schools have poor or nonexistent sanitary facilities, and no clean, private washing areas. Schoolmates mock the girls when they have accidents in lessons, although they must sit for hours without toilet breaks. A young woman in Liberia, who attended a brand-new school that had been built without a toilet block, told me she wears two pairs of underpants, two pairs of trousers, and two skirts when 
she has her period. It is not surprising 
that many girls prefer to stay home, and 
eventually – especially when they reach the age at which they are considered fertile and suitable for marriage – don’t come back 
to school.

An educated girl is more likely to live longer, be healthier, have a smaller family, and experience greater prosperity than a girl who doesn’t receive an education. The loss of a quarter of girls from the education system is huge and disgraceful. And it’s avoidable, as are the diarrhea death tolls resulting from poor sanitation. The solution is the same in both instances: clean, safe toilets for everyone. Yet in India, 628 million people still have no toilet whatsoever. And only 12 percent of the country’s women and girls use sanitary napkins.

There’s reason for cautious hope: The government of India has launched a nationwide plan to provide girls with subsidized sanitary pads (though it has yet to reveal how a country that struggles with disposing of waste, both human and other, will deal with millions of sanitary pads in its systems). I attended an extraordinary high-level meeting at the United Nations this past March that brought together NGOs, businesspeople, and education experts, all talking periods, all working out how to break the taboo, with ideas such as sending out menstrual hygiene information with the HPV vaccine, due to be delivered to 30 million girls over the next decade. Perhaps menstruation is coming out of the linen closet, slowly.

In one of the schoolyards, I watched as a laborer hefted bricks out of one of the latrines. He was rebuilding the latrine as a sanitary pad incinerator. One of the male schoolteachers had been to an MHM workshop and told me that his female students needed a private space in which they could get rid of their sanitary cloths. It had cost him 200 rupees – only US$4, but no small sum to him. But it would be worth it if his pupils stayed in school, were educated, and grew up into young women who knew how to talk to their daughters about this natural human function without shame and fear. –Rose George


Republican Men Speaking About Women

Every Republican woman in America should be demanding to see the talking points for male GOP politicians who insist on speaking about the female psyche.  For reasons beyond comprehension, Republican politicians seem obsessed with defining women, a subject they clearly don't understand. 

Whatever words were in the condescending talking points political wanna-be Mike Huckabee used in a recent speech, they should be destroyed. In fact, Republican women should put all the "women talking points" used by male GOP politicians into a paper shredder and burn the remnants.

Huckabee is among a line-up of politicians to grab the political spotlight by talking about women. This has been a stupid move for the men who attempt to gain political favor by using women as the misplaced focus of their attention getting scheme. 

In a ridiculously titled speech called "The War For Women", Huckabee said,  "Our (GOP) party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women. That’s not a war on them; it’s war for them. And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it. Let us take that discussion all across America, because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be."  (Even typing this gives me a headache.)

Dear Governor Huckabee- you need to get a life! Stop talking about women. The above comment is astoundingly inaccurate and, frankly, laughable.  

In fact, Democrats are not the party offering to give women birth control pills. Rather, women are requesting them, all by themselves!

By the way, who is Uncle Sugar? Just askin', never heard of him.

Republican male politicians who are starving for media attention would do far-far better if they went out and into the people, emulating leaders like Pope Francis

Rather than talk about women, Huckabee should visit a shelter for abused women and speak to them. Rather than talk about women, Huckabee should spend the night with a single mother and help her to feed breakfast to her family. Rather than talk about women, Huckabee should try to live on food stamps for one week. 

If Huckabee and his male political counterparts really want to talk about women, they need to walk in our shoes, share our burdens and communicate from our point of view.

But the best advice I can give to all Republican men who are speaking about women is this - don't do it.

Meanwhile, those talking points used in the past must be burned.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken NJ -Serious, Focused and Christie's Polar Opposite

A New York Times profile of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer reveals an honest politician who is serious and focused.

Right wing Fox News, of course, has been fixated on Zimmer's veracity, since challenging Governor Chris Christie's staff about creating a quid pro quo dilemma about Hoboken's share of Hurricane Sandy relief money. 

Yet, there's no evidence from those  interviewed by The Times to indicate she's guilty of misrepresenting the truth.

I was surprised to learn how Mayor Zimmer was born in Towson, Maryland, a community familiar to me and my Baltimore colleagues. Anyone from Baltimore will be familiar with the county seat of Baltimore County, outside of the city. Moreover, she grew up in Laconia, NH, a picturesque community near the state's beautiful White Mountains. She was a teacher in Japan. Also interesting is how Hoboken citizens sought her out to get involved in community activism, especially to improve the quality of life by providing more park space in the fourth most congested US city.  

Obviously, a person who came to leadership because she was passionately in support of parks over development wasn't overjoyed when Governor Christie's Lt. Governor Guadagno asked her to support a redevelopment proposal with tax support for a proposal from The Rockefeller Group (says Zimmer). Guadagno certainly comes across as strong arming the Mayor, given that her strident point of view on development was well known.

Fox News wants Mayor Zimmer's credibility to be called into question, but I only see uncompromising truth in her profile. 

Obviously, Christie met his political opposite when he crossed paths with Mayor Zimmer. They are polar opposites. Frankly, they should have remained at opposite ends of their respective political worlds. But, they were tossed together in the storm surge caused by Hurricane Sandy.

While Christie enjoys being an uncompromising bully on the right, Zimmer appears to be his equal and opposite on the left. 

Truth often gets overridden in toxic political climates, but Mayor Zimmer has clearly documented her version of the quid pro quo she was proposed with, as a condition for Hoboken to receive a share of Sandy relief money. She's a metaphorical David going up against the Goliath Governor. But, she's also telling the truth. So, what's the polar opposite of truth? It's Governor Christie's juggernaut.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Christie Can't Be Fighting Democrats for the GOP While Defending His Credibility

Governor Chris Christie has lost his momentum as the Republican front runner for the 2016 US presidential nomination.  

A lingering specter of the hugely preventable traffic jam on the congested George Washington Bridge on the September 11, 2013 weekend is a difficult image to overcome, especially when the governor's staff was involved in making it happen. Yet, the real problem is how the consequences of this incident are now a roadblock to his Republican leadership. 

Governor Christie can't exert himself as a Republican leader while he's defending against corruption, abuse of power, bullying and political favoritism. His future depends on being able to crawl out of this self inflicted mess with a state legislature dominated by Democrats who are investigating him and serving his staff with subpoenas. In other words, Christie is now forced to deal with Democrats. This is like putting a Crucifix in the face of a vampire. Right wing Republicans, especially the uncompromising right wing extremists, incredulously want to support a bully who gets things done their way, regardless of the consequences caused to ordinary people. 

The National Memo reports on how Governor Christie's popularity is slipping. No kidding?

In a major warning sign to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R), a new USA Today/Pew Research Center poll shows the Republican’s popularity slipping – even outside the tri-state area.

The embattled governor is facing questions over his possible involvement in or knowledge of lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in September and his use – or misuse – of Superstorm Sandy relief funds during his 2013 re-election campaign.

Although 38 percent of Americans say they have a favorable view of Christie – as opposed to the 40 percent who said the same a year ago – 34 percent now view him unfavorably. That’s double the number that said the same last year.

USA Today points out that the jump in people who view Christie unfavorably may be because “many more of those interviewed had heard of Christie” this year than last year. Back in 2013, 26 percent of respondents said they had not heard of Christie, but only 16 percent say the same today.

This might be bad news for the governor who was considered by many as the GOP’s best bet for 2016; whatever nationwide attention he has recently garnered has primarily been focused on the scandals plaguing his administration.

Another red flag for the presidential hopeful is the decline in his popularity among Democrats and Independents. 

Part of Christie’s appeal – and sometimes a subject of attack from the far right – is his perceived ability to work with Democrats. Independents – 47 percent of whom now hold an unfavorable opinion of the governor – are also important if Christie chooses to run as a moderate in 2016.

The poll also shows that 45 percent of Americans have “heard a lot” about the “Bridgegate” scandal, and another 28 percent say they know “a little” about it. Of those who know about the scandal, only 32 percent believe Christie’s claim that he played no role in and was unaware of the lane closures that caused major traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey – where the mayor, Mark Sokolich (D), declined to endorse Christie for reelection.

Only 27 percent of Americans say they do not know anything about the bridge scandal.

For now Christie’s only hope seems to be a conclusion to the ongoing investigations – one that proves he did not prioritize politics over his duties as governor. 

But, proving this comes with political trade-offs.

Meanwhile, of course, Governor Christie must lead New Jersey while being investigated by a Democratic legislature who are investigating him for corruption.  

Seems like a toxic cocktail for Republicans. It's a venomous pill they are highly unlikely to swallow, regardless of how Christie shovels himself out of this Democratic avalanche.

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