The rains have stopped, at least for a few hours, but clouds still hang over our federal government. The Republicans continue to block any reasonable effort to fix the economy including taxing multi-millionaires. So far, Democratic efforts have been blocked or, in some cases, too weak to be meaningful. It was good to see the president come out stronger in recent weeks for his jobs bill and raising taxes on the wealthy. And yes, it is class warfare. The Republicans want to cut programs for middle income and working people and remove all environmental and health protections provided by the federal government while preserving all the tax breaks now received by large corporations and wealthy individuals. It needs to change.
Below is an update on some local, state and national issues. If you like what you read here, please send it on to friends and encourage them to sign-up and receive it.
Tonight marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year and the holiest period for Jewish people. It concludes ten days later with Yom Kippur (the closing of the Book of Life according to Jewish tradition). I'd like to wish a happy new year to those celebrating this important holiday.
The death penalty has once again garnered national attention with the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. Seven out of nine eyewitnesses changed or recanted their testimony in this particular case and there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime scene. I oppose the death penalty as it is an unfair and a mistake-ridden process. Since 1973, 138 death row inmates have been released due to evidence of their innocence. One mistake is one too many; the death penalty should be abolished.
Here in Maryland, a de-facto moratorium has been in place since 2006. There is currently not an approved protocol for carrying out the death penalty. Until regulations are promulgated and approved, no executions can be carried out.
I attended the recent announcement by Governor Martin O'Malley and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, that the Maryland State Department of Housing and Community Development will be relocated to the New Carrollton Mixed Use Development site, next to the Metro station. This is great news for Prince George's County since it will likely add 380 construction and retail jobs and generate millions of dollars in economic impact as well as bring the agency employees to our county. This location is 'smart growth' as the New Carrollton Metro is a major transportation hub with Metro (including, hopefully, the forthcoming purple line) as well as MARC and Amtrak. This move also brings the state agency that is responsible for foreclosure prevention and neighborhood revitalization closer to the people and communities who need it most. The new complex is expected to be completed in 2013.
The new Hyattsville Busboys and Poets recently dedicated its back room as the 'Howard Zinn' room, named after the progressive historian and author of the People's History of the United States. The dedication event was held on the UN International Day of Peace, an annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence. The event had great energy and was highlighted by Cornel West (prominent author and progressive intellectual), Marion Wright Edelman (Children's Defense Fund), Medea Benjamin (Code Pink) and Bernice Johnson Reagon (singer and composer). It was an exciting evening. (Click here for pictures including myself and friend and artist Judy Byron in the bottom left picture). Howard Zinn's philosophy underlines the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in shaping our history, and how history is made not by a few heroic individuals, but by people's everyday choices and actions.
This past legislative session, I sponsored successful legislation to rein in abusive and sometimes fraudulent practices at for-profit colleges and universities. The legislation prohibits aggressive recruitment practices, gives the state greater oversight authority, and creates a fund to reimburse students in case a for-profit college defaults. Too many students rack up huge student loan debt, but aren't able to convert that education into meaningful employment.
This summer and fall, the Senate Education Subcommittee, which I chair, has been holding hearings to examine gaps in the legislation. A significant question for the committee concerns how to treat online institutions, many of which have only a minimal physical presence in the state, yet enroll significant numbers of Maryland residents. These companies market and advertise aggressively with no guarantee that they produce a quality curriculum. The committee is also considering how state financial aid funds should be utilized as well as broader questions concerning the Maryland Higher Education Commission's role and authority.
Earlier this month I joined approximately 150 other protesters at the White House to protest plans to construct an oil pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to Texas. I joined with the other protesters in civil disobedience and spent a few hours in jail to make the point that instead of importing more oil (through a $7 billion pipeline), we should be investing in clean renewable energy. Clean energy doesn't cause climate change and doesn't pollute the air, land, and water. The President is expected to either approve or reject the pipeline by the end of the year.
To date over 1200 people from around the country have joined the protests and been arrested including actress Daryl Hannah, author Bill McKibben, Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal and Canadian author Naomi Klein. Photos of my participation and arrest are available here. You can also find out more information, including future protests at http://www.tarsandsaction.org.
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