Obama Transportation Secretary says ‘we ought to be embarrassed’ about U.S. infrastructure, pushes spending

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx pushed for a $478 billion transportation spending bill endorsed by the Obama administration today, saying “we ought to be embarrassed as a country” about the state of the nation’s roads, bridges and mass transit.

Foxx is urging Congress to approve the six-year package, with its nearly half-trillion-dollar estimated cost, before a May 31 deadline threatens to slow new infrastructure projects to a standstill if some kind of funding continuation package doesn’t materialize.

“Lawmakers have talked about passing a $10 billion patch to extend transportation funding until the end of the year,” The Hill reported Friday, “but Foxx said temporary extensions are not sufficient enough to address the nation’s infrastructure needs.”

The White House plan calls for funding through the repatriation of corporate taxes on past overseas earnings, a plan that essentially amounts to an amnesty window for corporations that accept, going forward, a 6.5 percent tax rate on holdings they’ve been sheltering abroad.

“The nonpartisan JCT [Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation] has said that a tax holiday, as repatriation plans have been referred to, would generate about $20 billion in revenue initially,” The Hill reported in January. “[An] analysis said the plan would ultimately cost the federal government about $96 billion, as companies would have more incentive to keep their profits abroad and wait for another tax holiday.”

The spending plan comes as an effort to bolster the raising of new transportation funds, which currently rely on the federal government’s gas tax — a tax that generates around $35 billion each year. Congress is considering a temporary $10 billion extension of this year’s transportation funding, but Foxx said that doesn’t solve anything in the long term.

“It seems to me to be a bit of a wasted exercise to spend a lot of energy trying to come up with enough to get us through December, when you could apply the same work to get us a six-year bill,” he said.

Lindsey Graham predicts GOP will lose White House bid unless it embraces immigration reform

Because there’s no one better to journey across that Long Bridge of Divisiveness to reach the Promised Land of Unity, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is goading the 2016 GOP presidential field, as well as Republican lawmakers, to embrace immigration reform.

“If I were the president of the United States, I would veto any bill that did not have a pathway to citizenship,” Graham told USA Today.

“You would have a long, hard path to citizenship … but I want to create that path because I don’t like the idea of millions of people living in America for the rest of their lives being the hired help. That’s not who we are.”

The GOP has a serious image problem with Hispanics and voters of other racial minorities, Graham said, insinuating that he’s the Republican Party’s best man to mend the perception of strained relations.

Graham himself continues to all but promise he’ll be running for president in 2016. If he does, he’ll have a national platform to conduct his racial outreach project. When asked whether the law-and-order wing of the GOP has a hope of winning the White House unless it goes along with some plan to provide illegals a pathway to citizenship, he was blunt.

From USA Today:

The third-term senator from a solidly red state insists that his position doesn’t doom his long-shot bid for the Republican nomination — and he says the GOP risks electoral disaster in 2016 with its current hard line on immigration.

“We’ll lose,” he says flatly. “I mean, we’ve got a big hole we’ve dug with Hispanics. We’ve gone from 44% of the Hispanic vote (in the 2004 presidential election) to 27% (in 2012). You’ll never convince me … it’s not because of the immigration debate.”

… While he opposes Obama’s use of executive orders to protect the “DREAMers,” Graham’s position on citizenship puts him closer to Clinton than to any of his GOP rivals on immigration.

Graham also dismissed the idea that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the GOP’s civil liberties standard-bearer in the 2016 race, is better positioned to appeal to Hispanics. “He’s a nice man; I like him a lot [but] he’s a libertarian. He is one step behind ‘leading from behind.'”

Cartoon roundup

Milt Priggee, www.miltpriggee.com

Who knew and when did they know it? How deep does it all go? Will someone name names? Will the punishment be meaningful or symbolic? Nope, we aren’t talking about the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, the IRS keeping tax cheats on its payroll or a host of other serious problems. We’re not even talking about murder here. We’re talking about the Patriots! On second thought, that means we are talking about murder, kind of. In an age when the media has no contrast button to separate the grave from the frivolous, everything’s a scandal — even the amount of air in a football.

Daryl Cagle, CagleCartoons.com
Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle
Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star Tribune

NSA ruling puts USA Freedom Act on establishment fast track

Rank-and-file lawmakers from both political parties joined the Obama administration Thursday to quickly promote passage of the USA Freedom Act as a balm for the stinging rebuke an appeals court delivered to the NSA’s mass surveillance program.

Establishment politicians, both Democrat and Republican, said the appeals court’s ruling brings fresh urgency to getting the Freedom Act passed, despite objection from more civil liberty-minded lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Obama press secretary Josh Earnest insinuated the president would likely sign off on the USA Freedom Act if it passes, writing on Twitter that the “POTUS believes we must be vigilant on terror threat; also said surveillance needed reform & he meant it. Congress shld pass USA Freedom Act.”

The Freedom Act also got a fresh round of reaffirmation from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lamented Thursday’s appeals court decision.

“Congress should take up and pass the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act, which would ban bulk collection under Section 215 and enact other meaningful surveillance reforms,” Leahy wrote in a press release.

Telling Fox News he was “very worried” about placing limits on the NSA, McCain said “We have to understand this threat [of terrorism] and people seem to have forgotten 9/11.”

Sen. Paul, along with his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, are among a handful of lawmakers who continue to criticize the USA Freedom Act for stopping short of ending major spy provisions contained in the reauthorized Patriot Act.

“Reform is often meant to preserve, not repeal bad legislation,” Ron Paul wrote late last year. “When the public is strongly opposed to a particular policy you will almost never hear politicians say ‘let’s repeal the law.’ It is always a pledge to reform the policy or law. The USA FREEDOM Act was no different.”

Rand Paul, meanwhile, continues to wrestle with the GOP establishment over the fate of the Patriot Act.

“While McConnell made clear this week that he wants to move forward with his own ‘clean’ legislation to reauthorize three expiring portions of the Patriot Act, Paul, who is running for president, has been one of the law’s most vocal critics,” The Hill reported Thursday.

SPLC will add Muhammad cartoonist to list of hate groups

Osama Hajjaj, Jordan

The Southern Poverty Law Center has decided to add a name to its list of purveyors of hate following the ISIS-inspired ambush of a draw Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas.

The name added will not be that of one of the two seeking an unfortunate path to martyrdom, but that of contest winner Bosch Fawstin.

Via Reuters:

The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), sponsor of the Sunday night event, gave Fawstin, a Bronx, New York-born, former Muslim, $12,500 in prize money and introduced him to the crowd as a courageous and righteous man.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which includes AFDI on its annual list of U.S. hate groups, plans to add Fawstin to its 2016 report, Heidi Beirich, director of the tracking effort, told Reuters on Monday.

She said he would have been listed previously, but the center did not know Fawstin’s location. The organization has since learned that his website is registered in New York City.

“He’s like the artist of the movement,” Beirich said. “His views, they are hate views.” She said his website is “virulently ugly” in its anti-Muslim views.

Because you’re dying (not in a literal sense, as certain people might hope) to see it, here’s Fawstin’s forbidden depiction of the prophet:

Bosch Fawstin

And here are a few others from the contest that we enjoyed:

Clyde Maxwell
Dick Kinkead
Marcus Sterzer
Jeff Harris
A.F. Branco

An interactive map that tracks botched police raids in the United States

Here’s an interesting interactive map highlighting the abundance of documented, botched paramilitary police raids that have harmed and even killed innocent Americans in recent years.

The map, a project undertaken by the Cato Institute in conjunction with civil liberties journalist Radley Balko, allows users to click over mapped icons that reveal information about a variety of raids gone wrong throughout the United States.

There are examples of raids on innocent victims, physicians and “sick people,” encounters which led to the deaths of police, innocent victims and nonviolent offenders, as well as “other examples of paramilitary police excess,” such as the 1999 community-wide series of raid in Tulia, Texas, which resulted in the arrest of “about half of the town’s adult black population.”

In an effort to make the map a vital and ongoing project, viewers can even submit their own suggestions for botched raid incidents that can be added to the list, as time passes and more raids end in bloodshed or the deprivation of innocents’ rights. Just scroll to the bottom of the page, where a series of forms offers a number of ways to submit information. Contributors must include a link to a local news report or other piece of documentation to verify the incident.

Which is doing more harm to black Americans: the distant past or the recent past?

Conservative columnist Thomas Sowell is out today with a thoughtful column that takes a hard look at racial politics — one that condemns the progressives whose careers have depended on divisive identity politics.

Sowell argues that progressives — including most in the mainstream press — have little to gain by finding common ground with anyone who doesn’t inhabit their patch of political turf. Common ground is boring and lacks the lucrative potential that comes with manipulating public opinion, he argues.

“When the recorded fatal shooting of a fleeing man in South Carolina brought instant condemnation by whites and blacks alike, and by the most conservative as well as the most liberal commentators, that moment of mutual understanding was very fleeting, as if mutual understanding were something to be avoided, as a threat to a vision of ‘us against them’ that was more popular,” Sowell writes.

That, he argues, explains why the South Carolina story has fallen out of rotation in national media reports, while less cut-and-dried cases of alleged racial violence — like Ferguson and Baltimore — drone on and on.

It also encapsulates the hypocrisy of the progressivist strategy of blaming current social problems on the nation’s deeper history, while conveniently ignoring its recent history — a history that, in many troubled cities, owes everything to progressive policies.

The “legacy of slavery” argument is not just an excuse for inexcusable behavior in the ghettos. In a larger sense, it is an evasion of responsibility for the disastrous consequences of the prevailing social vision of our times, and the political policies based on that vision, over the past half century.

Anyone who is serious about evidence need only compare black communities as they evolved in the first 100 years after slavery with black communities as they evolved in the first 50 years after the explosive growth of the welfare state, beginning in the 1960s.

… Murder rates among black males were going down — repeat, down — during the much-lamented 1950s, while it went up after the much celebrated 1960s, reaching levels more than double what they had been before. Most black children were raised in two-parent families prior to the 1960s. But today the great majority of black children are raised in one-parent families.

Read Sowell’s full column at National Review Online.

We are our own worst enemy

Commenting on DHS Secretary: Questions about Americans’ privacy are ‘beyond my competence’,
The_Christian says:
May 1, 2015

“WE are our own worst enemy”! I don’t know the origin of the quote but it is spot on. WE elected Obama; we elected the members of the most powerful branch of the government – Congress. WE take no action to hold our elected leaders accountable. WE do not invest the time and energy necessary to become an informed/intelligent voter.Our founders had a good understanding of the essentials of governance of a nation. They had lived under tyranny; rule by an elite who had no interest in the well-being of the people. A ruling elite that enslaved the people. To criticize the members of that elite group would be to risk their life and the life of their family. These founders framed a constitution that gave limited power to the government with the greater power granted to the people. GOVERNMENT WOULD SERVE THE PEOPLE! A government totally unlike any world government of the time. They also knew the weakness of this or any other form of government. If the people did not actively engage in protecting and defending the constitution it would be slowly but surely eroded by those “progressives” who wanted complete control of the life and liberty of the people. Those elites have almost succeeded in taking us as a nation BACK to the tyranny our nation was under before the revolutionary war. Our greatest enemy is not a foreign government or some external radical political or religious ideology – our greatest enemy we face as a nation and as a people is our own government.


Young voters really, really don’t trust the U.S. media

A new Harvard poll covering young voters’ views on a broad range of policy topics finds that no cultural institution in America today is less revered by the up-and-coming generation than the mainstream news media.

Asked whether they trust a number of politicians, government agencies and other prominent entities to “do the right thing,” fewer people responded that they trust the media than any of the other people and agencies listed.

In response to the question, “How often do you trust each of [the following] to do the right thing?” “Scientists” finished first, while “The media” finished dead last. A full 88 percent of the more than 3,200 people who responded to the poll replied that they trust the media “Sometimes/Never,” while another 12 percent responded “All/Most” of the time.

That leaves a scant two percent of respondents who trust the media to do “the right thing” in all circumstances, without question.

By contrast, “Scientists” garnered the most trust, with 56 percent indicating they trust the brainiacs “All/Most” of the time and 44 percent “Sometimes/Never.”

President Obama received unwavering trust from just one percent of all respondents; another 67 percent said they trust Obama “Sometimes/Never.”

State and Federal government, Congress and Wall Street all fared even worse in the poll – but none could match the level of distrust young people harbor for the media.

Check out the poll’s full results here.

Kochs eliminate criminal history questions for job applicants

Creating yet another problem for liberals who make them out to be greedy evil corporatists, Charles and David Koch have announced that they will no longer ask applicants for jobs at Koch Industries questions about criminal history.

Charles Koch’s nonprofit organization recently joined forces with a coalition of civil rights groups to push for a number of reforms to the nation’s judicial system. Last month, Koch Industries began backing the effort by removing criminal history inquiries for applicants and opening new job opportunities to former offenders.

Koch Industries spokesperson and general counsel Mark Holden said in a statement: “The criminal justice system should be improved to enhance public safety, honor the Bill of Rights, and treat everyone involved in the system with dignity and respect, from the accused to the victims of crime to law enforcement.”

He continued: “Removing the question about prior criminal convictions from our job application process is one way to achieve this goal. As a large United States-based manufacturing company that employs 60,000 American workers we shouldn’t be rejecting people at the very start of the hiring process who may otherwise be capable and qualified, and want an opportunity to work hard.”

While applicants with criminal histories will be able to get their foot in the door, a company spokesperson said that some positions with the company could require a background check later in the hiring process.

Koch Industries joins Walmart and several other large companies, along with 100 cities and counties throughout the nation in ending the practice of including questions about criminal history on job applications.

The National Employment Law Project says the so-called ban the box movement could help millions of formerly incarcerated Americans find work and drastically reduce criminal recidivism.

Education secretary says Feds may step in over Common Core opt-outs

The federal government will be forced to step in if parents continue opting their children out of Common Core testing, according to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Asked Tuesday whether states need to do more to reduce the number of Common Core opt outs, Duncan replied: “We think most states will do that … If states don’t do that, then we have an obligation to step in.”

The remark comes as hundreds of thousands of students throughout the nation are opting out of the testing.

Chalkbeat New York reported of the situation in its state:

[A]n “opt out” advocacy group in New York reports that more than 184,000 students statewide out of about 1.1 million eligible test takers refused to take last week’s English exams. In New York City, nearly 3,100 students out of about 420,000 test takers opted out, according to the group. (Math testing begins Wednesday.)

Last year, 49,000 students statewide did not take the English exams, while just over 1,900 New York City students sat out the tests, state officials have said. State and city officials have not yet released their own opt-out counts this year or verified those of the advocacy group, United to Counter the Core, whose unofficial tally is based on information from district superintendents, school employees, and media reports.

Duncan didn’t give too many specifics about how the feds might step in, but some education officials have suggested that schools with too many opt outs could be labeled “failing” and have federal funds restricted.

The testing is important in part, Duncan said, to track achievement gaps between student groups.

“Folks in the civil rights community, folks in the disability community, they want their kids being assessed. They want to know if they are making progress or growth,” he said.

Cartoon roundup

Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle

We are emotional beings. Politicians know this well, and they use it to their advantage. They play on our emotions in order to get us invested in issues. That’s why social issues — many of which, if not all of which, government has no business regulating — remain at the center of political debates. Politicians get our attention when they tug at our heartstrings. And so it is with environmental issues, which even get their own international event: Earth Day. The politics regarding various environmental issues are far too complex for this musing. But the reasoning behind Earth Day is not: It’s meant to make you feel sad and fearful because the Earth is being destroyed, guilty and shameful for not doing enough to save the Earth and angry that others harm the Earth. Of course, the premise is that we actually can destroy the Earth by our actions. That’s doubtful, but the emotions triggered by an event like Earth Day and by politicians who bloviate about man-made climate change keep us from thinking rationally and distract us from issues that actually do matter.


John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune
Desert ground, texture
RJ Matson
April 21, 2015
Adam Zyglis, The Buffalo News