December 14, 2019

National Action Plan to Be Used by Local Governments as a Framework to Develop and Implement Green Schools Initiatives Across the Nation

Posted on 23. May, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA is proud to join The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in unveiling Local Leaders in Sustainability: A Special Report from Sundance, which outlines a five-point national action plan that local governments can utilize as a framework to develop and implement green schools initiatives. The report findings were unveiled Friday at the 2011 AIA National Convention in New Orleans and USGBC’s Annual Government Summit in Washington, D.C. The findings stem from insightful discussions during the Greening of America’s Schools Summit, held at the Redford Center in Sundance, Utah.

“The Greening of Americas Schools Summit marked an important first step in realizing that the environmental quality of our schools is essential to our future and long-term well-being,” said Martin J. Chávez, Executive Director, ICLEI USA and three-term mayor of Albuquerque, NM.   “As a result, Mayors and Superintendents came together to chart a new course toward healthy, sustainable schools where our children can grow and excel. We must now put this blueprint into action so that every child in America can attend a green school.” The major steps outlined in the five-point plan include tangible action steps and are based on the conversations that took place at Sundance and successful green schools initiatives from across the United States and include: 1) Connect with the green schools movement; 2) Engage stakeholders and raise awareness; 3) Build community support and capacity; 4) Make it happen: benchmarking, policy and financing and; 5) Celebrate success.

“Through the greening of America’s schools, we have the chance to improve the health and education of our children, inspire future leaders and create a stronger America,” said Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO and Founding Chair, USGBC. “Sundance was just the beginning. This comprehensive blueprint provides local policy makers and community members ways in which they too can accelerate green schools in their areas.” The report also provides a comprehensive review of the benefits of green schools; a summary of local, state and federal policy solutions, leadership profiles of green school advocates, and case studies from both large cities and small communities. Together, these resources serve as a roadmap on the journey to green schools.

“This report should serve as a guidepost for many communities throughout the country that are looking for ways to implement green initiatives but fear the expense involved,” said AIA President Clark Manus, FAIA. “In reality, the average school is 42 years old, and energy inefficiencies cost it approximately $100,000 a year, money that could be better spent on teachers, education materials, books or computers.” The Greening of America’s Schools Summit, held in November 2010 at the Redford Center in Sundance, Utah, brought together leading mayors from across the nation and their respective schools superintendents for an insightful discussion on the importance of a greener environment and educational performance. ICLEI USA partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Redford Center, founded by Robert Redford to convene this impressive gathering of local government leaders and educators. The report can be downloaded free-of-charge from centerforgreenschools.org/actionplan.

About ICLEI USA – ICLEI USA is a non-profit membership association of local governments working to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and tangible improvements in local sustainability. ICLEI USA supports its more than 600 member local governments by providing networking opportunities, tools, resources, and programmatic support focused on climate protection and sustainable development.  More information at www.icleiusa.org.

About the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council – The Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is how USGBC is making sure every student has the opportunity to attend a green school within this generation. From the kindergartner entering the classroom, to the Ph.D. student performing researching in a lab, the Center provides the resources and support to elevate dialogue, accelerate policy and institute innovation toward green schools and campuses. Thanks in part to generous support from founding sponsor United Technologies Corporation, the Center works directly with staff, teachers, faculty, students, administrators, elected officials and communities to drive the transformation of all schools into sustainable places to live and learn, work and play. More information at www.centerforgreenschools.org.

About The American Institute of Architects – For over 150 years, members of the American Institute of Architects have worked with each other and their communities to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings and cityscapes. Members adhere to a code of ethics and professional conduct to ensure the highest standards in professional practice. Embracing their responsibility to serve society, AIA members engage civic and government leaders and the public in helping find needed solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation and world. Visit www.aia.org.

April Real Estate Market Plods Along

Posted on 23. May, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

April 2011 New Mexico home sale numbers are down from March 2011. However, over the same period, the median price of a New Mexico property rose roughly 1.5% to $165,000.  The median is where half sold for more and half sold for less.  There were 1,077 sales reported to the REALTORS Association of New Mexico (RANM) during April 2011.  1,143 sales were reported in March.  Seven reporting counties, including Bernalillo, Santa Fe, and McKinley, did show increases in the number of sales from March to April.

Year to date sales are down over 7% from 2010 January through April numbers, but are up 7.5% from 2009 numbers.  Median prices continue to fall below 2009 and 2010 figures. Lower priced homes have seen the best sales performance both nationally and in New Mexico.  “The biggest sales increase has been in the lower price ranges, which are popular with investors and cash buyers,” Teresa Ramos, 2011 RANM President, said.  “The preponderance of sales activity at the lower end is bringing down the median price.  And as the number of distressed homes (those in which the value is below the amount of equity the owners have in them) remains high, values continue to struggle to get off of the bottom.”

According to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS’ (NAR) research, home sales are on track to outperform last year, even though the market doesn’t have the benefit of the home buyer tax credit.  This is thanks to sustained economic growth, the slowly recovering jobs picture, and historically high affordability conditions.  New Mexico reports are on track for a “better than 2009” year, but have not yet climbed to 2010 numbers.

M. Steven Anaya, RANM Executive Vice President, says, “Historically high affordability is one of the key drivers of the improved sales performance.  NAR’s affordability index is at its highest level ever, at nearly 170, which means households earning the national median income have 170 percent of the income needed to buy a home at the national median price.  Low interest rates, often below 5%, also contribute to affordable conditions.” The trends and numbers reported are only a snapshot of market activity.  If you are interested in buying or selling, consult a REALTOR familiar with your market area; he/she can provide information on specific trends in your neighborhood.

Statistical information and trends are based on information furnished by New Mexico Member Boards and MLSs to U. S. House Stats. Current reporting participants are: Greater Albuquerque Association of REALTORS, Las Cruces Association of REALTORS MLIS, New Mexico Multi-Board MLS (Artesia, Carlsbad, Clovis/Portales, Deming, Gallup, Grants, Hobbs, Las Vegas, Sierra County areas), Otero County Board of REALTORS, Roswell Association of REALTORS, Ruidoso/Lincoln County Association of REALTORS, Santa Fe Association of REALTORS, San Juan County Board of REALTORS, Silver City Regional Association of REALTORS, and the Taos Association of REALTORS. Reports represent single family residential data only.  Information does not necessarily represent all activity in any market/county.  Figures based on reports run 5/17/11.  Visit www.nmrealtor.com (housing trends) for county and board statistics.

The REALTORS Association of New Mexico is one of the state’s largest trade associations, representing over 5,500 members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate market.

Spokes of Reverence

Posted on 23. May, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

Wednesday May 18, Duke City Wheelmen Foundation together with Leigh Ann Hatcher-Inglis will host the annual Ride of Silence.  This is an international ride to remember cyclists injured or killed in collisions with motor vehicles.  rideofsilence.org There will be rides in all 50 states and many foreign countries, 315 and counting.

We will start and finish at 6711 Edith Blvd. NE, at Q Cycle.  Registration opens at 5:30 pm and closes at 6:45 pm Wednesday, May 18, 2011.  Everyone, please come early to sign a waver.  Donations accepted to cover insurance costs.   Everyone who makes a donation will receive a unique Spoke Card for the event.  Helmets required, lights if you have them. We will have one minute of silence at the start to remember Dan Montoya and to send positive, healing thought to Matt Trujillo, as well as to both these cyclists families and friends. The ride is approximately 9 miles and will proceed no faster than 12 mph so all can participate.  For a route map, visit dukecitywheelmen.org

Red arm bands will be available to represent riding for an injured rider, black armbands to represent riding for a fallen cyclists. There will be a minute of silence before Wednesday’s Ride Of Silence for Matt Trujillo and Dan Montoya, their families and friends in addition to the usual dedication of the ride to cyclists injured or killed.  For more information about this ride, go to dukecitywheelmen.org

Because we are people there will always be crashes; as a group we are just not capable of perfect driving all the time.  But the kind of crash that claimed the life of one cyclist and left another in very critical condition last week can be made less likely. One of the first complaints from motorists about cyclists is when they see a cyclist run a red light or commit some other traffic code infraction.  While I don’t think that cyclists should run red lights, can anyone site an instance where a cyclist running a red light resulted in the death of another road user?  If the NRA can say “It’s not guns that kill people, its people that kill people.” to keep guns legal, then I am going to say “Cars don’t kill people, people kill people!”  When we, you or I, drive a car in a careless, illegal or inattentive way, we are gambling with not just crumpled metal but with life.   And while some of us are more vulnerable road users than others, everyone is put at increased risk by the careless, illegal and inattentive driving habits we see around us every day.  People like Matt Trujillo and Dan Montoya can be cycling in completely lawful, safe ways, but those practices cannot protect them from all drivers.

From a KOAT online report May 12, 2011, “The bicyclist (Dan Montoya) was heading eastbound on Tramway when a car crossed the median and hit the bike head-on, (Bernalillo County Sheriff’s) deputies said.   Deputies said the driver of the car may have had a medical episode.”  Reports of the incident that caused severe bodily harm to Matt Trujillo said that he was hit by a driver who ran a red light.  Motor vehicle drivers are in control, or not, of a potentially far more dangerous means of transportation.   Our streets and highways are not a level playing field. It is not the other driver I’m asking you to look at, it’s you.  We are each responsible for our own driving habits.  Take a realistic look at your abilities, attentiveness, and habits.  What about your cell phone use, texting or talking?  Can you see well enough or do you need new glasses?  Are you healthy enough?  How is your awareness of two wheeled vehicles, motorized or human powered?   Do you obey the traffic laws?  What else do you think it is OK to do while driving, besides paying attention to the road?

Being in denial about this could have an incredibly high price.

Jennifer Buntz

 

High time to rethink hydropower?

Posted on 18. May, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

The Mississippi River and its tributaries are spilling over their banks and levees—flooding homes and ruining farmlands. In the recovery, decisions will need to be made about rebuilding or relocating.  The 2011 floods are not something new. There were major floods on the Mississippi in the 30s, 70s and 90s. Most of our dams were built between 1930 and 1970 for flood control—man’s attempt to control nature. Politics changed in the 70s. Controlling nature was no longer acceptable. Man protecting nature became the mantra. The dams of man (development) were abandoned in favor of the dams of beavers (nature).  Since that time there has been an active campaign to tear down the dams and reclaim the rivers.

If the dams of man are truly unacceptable, we should not continue to rebuild in flood-prone areas. The river would be allowed to retake the land—as it would if humans had never intervened. Roy Dakka, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Geoinformatics at Louisiana State University, believes nature always wins. He said, “We should really be thinking about whether we want to continue to live in really stupid places, because nature is going to exploit our stupidity.” Deeper within the discussion is a question posed by Lazarus Long in the classic 1970s novel Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein: There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people who “love nature” while deploring the “artificialities” with which “man has spoiled ‘Nature.’” The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of “Nature”—but beavers and their dams are. But the contradictions go deeper than this prima-facie absurdity. In declaring his love for a beaver dam (erected by beavers for beavers’ purposes) and his hatred for dams erected by men (for the purposes of men) the “Naturist” reveals his hatred for his own race—i.e., his own self-hatred.

If Lazarus/Heinlein was right and dams built by men for the purposes of men are good, then before rebuilding the levees, dams should be built up river—dams that can generate electricity, control the flow of the river, and divert waters (via pipeline) to regions where the water is needed. If the “Naturists” are right and the dams of man are wrong, then the flood waters should flow unrestrained—retaking man’s creation: houses, businesses, and cities.

We cannot have it both ways.

Reality is that the people who live along the river generally understand and accept the risk. They will rebuild just like they did following the previous floods. Most of the thousands of people displaced, just like those who fled during Katrina, will want to go back home—even if home is a FEMA trailer on the family farm. Humans are not quitters. But, Americans quit building dams.

Today dams do more than control flood waters. They can create electricity needed for economic development—overcoming poverty, improving living standards, and attracting foreign investment. Canada has just announced plans for 3000 MW of hydroelectric resources in Quebec. Chile plans to build five new dams with the potential to generate 2.75 GW to help triple its capacity. Both countries cite low-cost energy and jobs as motivators—though both acknowledge opposition from environmental groups.

In the US, we need the same benefits. We have similar resources. We also have reoccurring floods which need the “dams of man” and we have drought-stricken regions that need water. Sadly, we have the same difficulties. George S. Dunlop, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, fought the idea that “un-improved” was always better. He acknowledged that new hydroelectricity in the US is unlikely, in large part, due to the actions of environmental groups.  Belief that the dams of beavers are good, while the dams of man are bad, will doom low-land dwellers to face periodic ruin, cost taxpayers billions in unemployment checks, subsidized insurance, and regional restoration (FEMA trailers, levee reconstruction, and reimbursement for those who lost everything while saving more populous areas), and raise gas prices as many refineries are in the flood zone.

We could have a win-win. Instead of tearing down flood control dams, they can now be retrofitted using modern technology to generate double our current hydroelectricity capacity—and this is just based on our current dams. Imagine if we could truly harness our clean, renewable hydroelectric resources. We could have the economic development, low-cost energy, and the “dams of man” could control the floodwaters and redirect them—allowing man to benefit. Now that’s smart.

Known as the voice for energy, Marita Noon is the Executive Director at Energy Makes America Great Inc. the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy—working to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life. She is a popular speaker, a frequent guest on television and radio, her commentaries have been published in newspapers, blogs and websites nationwide. For more information, visit www.EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.

Is Your Information Costing Too Much?

Posted on 16. May, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

Mention the information age and everybody under 30 swoons and goes into happy-time convulsions. These are the same folks that have a Blackberry, an IPAD, a laptop, a desktop computer, an IPOD, GPS system and satellite TV and radio. I’m not averse to technology.  I took my first computer course back in 1966 and worked on an old IBM 360 computer (the monster could barely fit in a two-car garage; today we have the same computing power in our laptop computers).

I got a CB radio when I was driving long distances because I thought it would help locate speed traps and avoid accidents. What it actually did was save my life back in the 70s when I began to fall asleep at the wheel and a kindly trucker shouted at me through my speaker, jolting me awake.  I bought a cellphone back in 1985 and have had one ever since. My car has GPS and satellite radio, so what’s the deal?

I’m simply astounded at what all this stuff is costing us. On a yearly basis, I spend the following: ABQ Journal newspaper subscription: approx. $150 (with the tip to the carrier), satellite TV: $1,200, satellite radio: approx. $300 for two cars, DSL high-speed line: approx. $500, email service: $200, mobilephones (one with internet connectivity): approx. $2,000, home telephone: $250/year, my computer modem (for accessing the internet when I’m not near a WiFi connection): approx. $200, magazine subscriptions: approx. $100, software to protect our computers (so that we can get the information): $60. That totals $4,960. That number does not include the hardware costs of the various appliances that use those services nor the electricity that powers them. I’m sure that if you add those in the total would be at least 10-15% higher!

Our new information age companies and their technology are helping us get more and more information every year, and manufacturers are wooing us with smarter and zippier products, and we’re buying them at amazingly high rates. I have a feeling that Americans can now append another description to ‘Land of the free, home of the brave.’ Now we can call ourselves, ‘Land of the early adopters and information junkies.’  I guess I would ask a question at this point, ‘What are we doing with all this information?’ Are we getting smarter from all of this info or are we just getting better at oneupsmanship (beating out our friends at emailing news to one another, gleaned from a blog, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook or some other moronic electronic watercooler)?

I remember a time when folks on my paper route waited near their door for me to throw them their morning newspaper (usually in their bushes), so that they could settle in with today’s news and a cup of hot java. Our telephone then was on a party line, and our neighbors regularly listened in.  Today it would be the equivalent of having the phone on ‘speaker’ setting and sitting in crowded waiting room while you blabbed about Uncle Mortimer’s gall bladder operation and his affair with Beatrice from the coffee shop. Our TV signed off at midnight with the playing of the national anthem as we watched the American flag wave in the electronic breeze just before the test pattern with a likeness of an Indian chief appeared.

In many ways those were simpler times because we weren’t privy to so much information. Our ignorance was bliss. Cataclysmic events from the other side of the world took their sweet time to reach us, but when they did, we were mortified and shocked. Today, I think the shock has been replaced with a feeling of, ‘what’s next’ (as President Josiah Bartlet of the West Wing used to say). I’m afraid our national compassion has been replaced with a short attention span due in no small measure to the deluge of mind-numbing information.

Stephan Helgesen is a retired diplomat and former Director of the State of NM Office of Science and Technology. He can be reached at: stephanhelgesen@cs.com.

 

The Establishment Clause

Posted on 16. May, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

In 1802, Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in response to a query from that body.  In the following Library of Congress transcript, Jefferson’s spelling and punctuation have been retained as well as the bracketed material which ultimately he deleted before sending.

“Mr. President
To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.  [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from prescribing even those occasional performances of devotion, practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.]

Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association assurances of my high respect & esteem.

(signed) Thomas Jefferson
Jan.1, 1802”.

An anonymous writer claims that Jefferson’s remarks echo those of Roger Williams, the founder of the first Baptist church in America, who wrote in 1644 of the need for  “[A] hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”  Whatever the case, Jefferson’s expression of, “a wall of separation between church and state” led to the shorthand phrase “Separation of church and state.”  Although the phrase does not appear in our Constitution, the idea it embodies is a governing principle of our culture.  The phrase represents the essentialized meaning of the opening passage of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”  This is known as the Establishment Clause.

From the beginning of our nation, Americans recognized the principle of separation of church and state as a safeguard against religious intolerance and protection of one’s right to choose to believe, or not.  Our courts followed suit.  In its 1879 Reynolds v. United States decision, the court allowed that Jefferson’s comments “may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment.”

In the Everson v. Board of Education 330 U.S. 1, 8 decision, Justice Hugo Black wrote, “In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state.”  Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote: “When the government puts its imprimatur on a particular religion it conveys a message of exclusion to all those who do not adhere to the favored beliefs.  A government cannot be premised on the belief that all persons are created equal when it asserts that God prefers some.”  Another court stated that “A large proportion of the early settlers of this country came here from Europe to escape the bondage of laws, which compelled them to support and attend government-favored churches.”

Because of the many different religions and the many different convictions of atheists and agnostics that comprise our American culture, the separation of state and church assures that no one elected to office can lawfully impose his particular views as “the state religion.”   To further deflect such a danger, Article VI of the Constitution specifies that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Today, however, some commentators question the validity of the separation of church and state, claiming “It’s not in the Constitution; so, we can disregard it.”  But a brief look at man’s history underscores the need for such a separation. The first forms of governments among men — Sumer and Ancient Egypt (c. 5000 BCE) — were both centralized authorities, in which the ruler held both powers of king and priest.  The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, for instance, claimed they were the embodiment of  “god-kings,” or “priest-kings.”   They held both titles absolutely, sometimes appointing a priest class to perform various tasks, but always retaining the prerogative of supreme authority over men’s beliefs and actions.

For millennium nothing changed — except in Ancient Athens.  Pericles (c. 495 – 425 BCE), for example, was an elected ruler whose leadership did not usurp that of Athenian priests.  But in all other nation-states around the world and throughout time, absolute authority over both secular and religious affairs remained exclusively in the hands of the ruler.

For instance, during the Roman Empire, (c. 31 BCE – c. 284/313 AD) emperors were treated as divinities and some declared themselves gods.  During the Medieval period (c. 313 AD to c.1265 AD) the church dominated both secular and religious affairs.  Even the great, enlightened Elizabeth I (1533-1603) — alone among monarchs finally to break with the Pope — while granting wider freedom to her subjects nonetheless retained absolute control of her powers which included being the spiritual head of the Church of England.  Cromwell (1599-1658) justified his religious intolerance, the use of force, massacres and cruelty as necessary to hold together the body politic.  Louis 14th (1638-1715) the “Sun King,” imposed religious uniformity, persecuted the Huguenots and revoked the Edict of Nantes, which led to the exodus of many Protestant merchants and skilled artisans, accelerating economic decline.  Napoleon crowned himself at his coronation (1804), thereby declaring that as emperor of France he was to be considered supreme ruler over both secular and religious affairs.

Similarly, the Emperors of Japan and China were considered direct descendents of the Gods, thus empowered as divine ruler on earth, supreme over all men’s actions and beliefs. The sheiks, caliphs, and ayatollahs of Arabia, India and Asia were no different. And so it went. With few exceptions, leaders claimed total authority over both religious and secular affairs — most clearly exemplified by “the divine right of kings” and “the infallibility of the Pope.”   The result was fines, imprisonment, torture and/or death levied on any that dared oppose the ruler’s edicts and beliefs.  The Inquisition was only one expression of such crimes against the mind of man. The slaughter and mayhem of the Crusades was another.   The arbitrary beheading, dismemberment, disfigurement and proscribed suicides of dissenters or the disrespectful, was characteristic of the rulers of Africa, India, Asia and the East. Then came the United States of America, an extraordinary achievement that broke with all precedent and stunned the world with its Declaration of Independence and its Constitution, which are the fountainhead of the wealth that cascaded from the minds and efforts of free men.

The Declaration of Independence identified man’s individual rights.  The Bill of Rights — the first ten Amendments of the Constitution — secured those rights in specific actions.  But it was the formulation of the Establishment Clause that addressed the difficult and complex issue of protecting man’s convictions and beliefs without intruding upon his right to believe as he chose, or not.  The governing principle of “a wall between church and state” was a stroke of genius that protected the American citizen from the deadly juggernaut of combined political and religious power.

The Founding Fathers gave us this nation, a child of the Enlightenment, Ancient Athens surely being our grandparent.  As beneficiaries of such a gift, let us not allow our nation to fall to barbarians — either foreign or domestic — by ignoring the lessons of undivided absolute power over our lives and nation.

Sylvia Bokor

Obama’s Presidency: A Tale to Date of Missed Domestic Opportunities

Posted on 13. May, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

In my previous blog on April 26, I decried President Obama’s obvious abandonment of the ‘core’ of voters who had come together with almost unprecedented political faith to give him a clear mandate on the domestic issue most concerning them: creating the nearly 20 million high-quality stable jobs needed to return our nation to near full employment in real terms.  Few things that I’ve written since 2006 have elicited more raw response.

It’s hard to find but one other President in our nation’s history who, on the day of his inauguration, was invested with more free political capital than was Barack Obama.  That political capital was found in a near-commonly accepted national agenda, namely, to pull us out of the Great Recession of 2007 by helping create millions of jobs, and a near-commonly targeted national enemy, namely, the banks.  Only Franklin Roosevelt started with as much capital, as he too was swept into office on the same near-consensus.  Armies of progressives and conservatives alike believed that the “hope” which Mr. Obama so often eloquently offered them in his campaign speeches would be the reality of immediate large-scale job creation.  Legions of the middle class who had lost or were about to lose their jobs said, “Go create jobs, Mr. President.”  And millions more who were trying to bring the American Dream to their families said to him, “Mr. President, go get those bastards on Wall Street who did this to us.”

The problem as I’ve argued and as to which a lot of respondents to my April 26 blog agree is that Mr. Obama never really embraced the jobs agenda with anywhere near the conviction and determination that he has shown, for example, regarding healthcare reform.  This is beyond perplexing given our continued high rate of real unemployment – at 18% today it is a figure unprecedented in modern times – and especially given the polls which have consistently shown that ‘jobs, jobs and jobs’ are the three issues most on the minds of the American people.  And it is this fear of job loss and economic stagnation that has undermined confidence in the direction our country is headed.

As one respondent recently wrote me, “I think we projected on to Obama much more than is there. He isn’t up to the job [of creating jobs].” Of course Mr. Obama compounded the error of forsaking the agenda which his electoral victory mandated with his almost immediate toadying up to the big banks.  This voluntary capitulation was pre-ordained by his selection of Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary, who as head of the New York Fed had a miserable record of protecting consumers.  Geithner, along with Larry Summers, became the architects of the administration’s “financial reform” which just a year or so later left the big banks better positioned than before the crash and with a nary a bit of meaningful penalties.

By largely ignoring the likes of Paul Volcker, Rob Johnson and Elizabeth Warren, President Obama committed what economist James Galbraith calls his “original sin of assign[ing] economic policy to a closed circle of bank-friendly economists and Bush carryovers…who had no personal commitment to the goal of an early recovery, no stake in the Democratic Party, and no interest in the larger success of Barack Obama”.  And so, Mr. Volcker’s important ideas of repudiating “too big to fail” and barring commercial banks from indulging in heavy risk taking and proprietary trading were sabotaged to death, mostly by Secretary Geithner.  Thus, President Obama lost his capacity to harness the justified anger of voters that was pervasive on the day he was inaugurated.

Yet it is far too harsh an assessment to suggest that President Obama isn’t “up to the job”, although now two-plus years into his administration I share the frustration of millions of progressives.  Clearly, Barack Obama is ‘up to the job’.  Seldom in my lifetime have I encountered a keener intellect.  His problems are that in presidential terms he doesn’t ‘learn’, and that he often hires very poorly.  On the seminal issue confronting the domestic landscape, namely, full employment, he didn’t evolve when his first instincts failed.  And on the most complex issue confronting any American president, namely, integrating our domestic economy into our global leadership position, he has hired abysmally, with no more imagination or realism than simply to bring back the “Rubin-Summers gang.”

Sure, on that day in November 2008 when the nation chose Barack Obama as its 44th president, the voting public was so tired of George Bush and so afraid of John McCain’s unpreparedness, almost any Democrat would have been elected.  That doesn’t mean, however, that the vast majority of Americans didn’t give Mr. Obama a clear mandate as well as a dragon to slay.  Thus it is little surprise, with our economy mired in a near jobless recovery and real unemployment at 18% with a “Jobs Gap” of 21 million, that the latest McClatchy-Marist Poll (4-28-11) finds that only 40% of Americans now approve of how President Obama is dealing with the economy while fully 57% disapprove.  And often mentioned by those millions of voters who disapprove is their view that the big banks and Wall Street are back acting with virtually the same disregard for consumers and for the health of the national economy as before the Recession began.

George Kennan, who is thought by many to be greatest intellect in American foreign relations history, said that, “foreign-policy problems are always more complicated than Americans, in their native idealism, usually allow” (per Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker, 5-02-11).  In this era of economic globalization, the same can be said about our economic-policy problems – and they often seem more complicated than Mr. Obama’s own idealism allows and is capable of reacting to. This tendency to favor rhetoric over action – what one of his own senior advisors describes as “leading from behind” and Zbigniew Brzezinski describes as ‘sermonizing rather than strategizing’ – has clearly failed him in creating jobs for the domestic economy and truly reforming the banks and Wall Street.  And the compounding factor has been the President’s proclivity in many instances to hire poorly and in others to not heed the counsel of the informed people he has hired.

Clearly, President Obama was dazzling in his decision making to send U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six to get Osama bin Laden.  In helping to develop and oversee this sensitive, risky operation, Mr. Obama showed that in his own calm, rational way he can decisively lead when he sets his mind to tackling a major challenge.  It’s now time for Mr. Obama to adopt this same laser-like focus on creating jobs in America on the scale that is so badly needed.  And may his great success last week be a permanent catalyst in his evolution as a leader.  If he seriously addresses this challenge, it will carry forward the clear mandate the American people gave him in 2008 and lead to his earning – and very much deserving – a second term in the White House.

Leo Hindery, Jr. is Chairman of the US Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  Currently an investor in media companies, he is the former CEO of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), Liberty Media and their successor AT&T Broadband.  He also serves on the Board of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.

Cutting “subsidies” to big oil is political sleight of hand

Posted on 10. May, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

Between the time this is written and the time you read it, gas prices will have undoubtedly risen again.  They have been on an upward spiral for months and not likely to drop long term without some bold, decisive action as was taken on July 14, 2008. Instead of encouraging the development of our own natural resources, politicians of both parties  are once again betting that we will not notice if they play the antibusiness card—but 2011 is not a year for politics as usual and the rules have changed. This is no longer a back-room game. It is the poker channel. People are watching.

With their cards close to the vest, Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are bluffing. They want America’s citizens to believe their hand is filled with spending cuts—cut subsidies from big oil companies. Somehow we are supposed to think this will lower gas prices? Part of their bluff is to use the term “subsidy”—which in the house-of-cards economy/debt crisis they’ve built translates to spending. Concerned Americans do not want more spending, they want cuts. We’ve anted up all we can. Politicians are betting we’ll fall for the deception. But for those of us who are watching, the tell is there. The so-called “big oil companies” don’t get subsidies.

They do get the same type of tax deductions on their expenses and some of their up-front costs that every industry gets. Their dramatic wins are in the headlines now. Loses are huge too—though usually not front page news. Last month, it was announced that Shell Oil had to scrap their Alaska drilling plans (which would have provided more domestic energy) due to an EPA decision to withhold permits. Shell had spent five years and $4 billion on plans to explore. Will the EPA reimburse them for their loss? No. But they will receive some tax benefits, the loss is held against their wins—just like every other business. They know they win some, they lose some. It is all factored into the game plan.

But who is the real loser? The American citizen who wants lower gas prices. If the cost of doing business is lower, and the resource development is encouraged, the savings is passed on at the pump. When costs continue to escalate and business is forced to fold their hand—even when it could be a full house, we lose. The way the energy game is being played now is that the house always wins—with the house being government, not business. A company can, as Shell did, make big investments based on their hand as they see it (geology and seismic data indicates the gamble is worth it) and then the dealer calls the shots. Sorry.

Because we are playing dealer’s choice, other more expensive, less competent players get the advantage. Renewables do get subsidies—like $6 billion for the corn ethanol industry. Electric cars are subsidized to the tune of $7,500 for each vehicle sold—and this is just on the retail end. American taxpayers are forced to buy in even though we know we are drawing dead.

Next week, Harry Reid is dealing once again. He is expected to hold a vote on the Baucus plan which they claim will “end billions of dollars in wasteful tax breaks for large, multinational oil and gas companies while investing in cleaner and cheaper domestic energy sources.” The dealers are picking the winners and losers. If the above quote from Baucus’ website was honest, it would say that they are singling out one industry because it is currently making money (who will be next?) and giving money to more expensive energy sources.

If the game was fair, and we eliminated tax deductions and subsidies altogether—great! Then everyone would need to stand on their own merits in every industry. But that is not going to happen with this hand. We’ll need a different dealer. But we, the American taxpayers, do not have to sit idly by and watch. We can let them know we are watching. We can participate. We can force politicians to play for us. It is our money they are playing with. Call their bluff. The hand they are holding will increase the cost of doing business for America’s domestic energy providers and that will result in higher gas prices not lower. Who do they think they are fooling? Politicians, like poker players, are known to have a few cards up their sleeve.

Known as the voice for energy, Marita Noon is the Executive Director at Energy Makes America Great Inc. the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy—working to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life. She is a popular speaker, a frequent guest on television and radio, her commentaries have been published in newspapers, blogs and websites nationwide, and she has just completed her twentieth book: Take Away Energy, Take Away Freedom. Find out more at www.EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.

Senator Boitano Named “Champion for Charters” by National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Posted on 06. May, 2011 by Administrator in Education

Four Public Officials Honored this National Charter Schools Week for Supporting Pro-Charter Legislation and Policies

Washington, DC – This week the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) recognizes Senator Mark Boitano for his commitment to promoting high-quality charter schools. Annually, the Champions for Charters awards recognize public officials for leading a major public charter issue or initiative, serving as a highly visible public charter school advocate, and consistently supporting charters as a high-quality public school choice option.  The honorees are announced during National Charter Schools Week, which runs May 1-7.  “Senator Boitano has shown leadership and continued commitment to high-quality charter schools throughout his time as a public servant,” said Peter C. Groff, president and CEO, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “On behalf of the 1.6 million children enrolled in charter schools, we thank Senator Boitano for making sure New Mexico families have access to high-quality public charter schools.”

“Charter schools are truly the change agents and disruptors in public education today.  Their innovative approach to governance, budgeting, staffing, scheduling and curriculum – coupled with their small size – has energized students and parents,” said Senator Boitano.

“Charters have long waiting lists in my school district.  I’ve already seen a significant change in our traditional public schools in New Mexico because of the reforms pioneered by our charters.” New Mexico Senator Boitano has demonstrated steadfast support for public charter schools during his 11 years in the legislature.  In particular, his sponsorship of the 1999 Charter Schools Act and leadership in strengthening it in 2006 continues to open up countless new public education opportunities for children, teachers and principals throughout New Mexico.

Joining Boitano in receiving this year’s recognition are U.S. Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist.

Today marks the beginning of the 12th annual National Charter Schools Week celebrating the ways in which charter schools are helping children and families. Charter schools are independent public schools that are free to be more innovative and are held accountable for improved student achievement. They foster a partnership between parents, teachers and students to create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are given the freedom to innovate and students are provided the structure they need to learn.  This week, public charter school supporters around the nation are hosting and participating in numerous activities to mark the movement’s success and growth.  The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) is the national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement. The NAPCS works to increase the number of high-performing charter schools available to all families, particularly low-income and underserved families who currently do not have access to quality public schools. NAPCS provides assistance to state charter school associations and resource centers, develops and advocates for improved public policies, and serves as the united voice for this large and diverse movement. More than 1.6 million students attend nearly 5,000 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

Southern New Mexico Children’s Forest Gets Kids and Adults Learning Outside

Posted on 03. May, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

Forests are outdoor classrooms.  This is a simple, yet powerful, statement that drives home the U.S. Forest Service’s decades-long commitment to get kids outdoors to rediscover and experience nature up-close and personal.  We believe our national forests provide great classroom settings where youth can have a myriad of learning experiences such as the thrill of fishing a cold mountain stream and catching their first trout. It doesn’t take long to make the connection that fish, along with humans, need clean water to live and thrive. Fish habitat and our drinking water are dependent on healthy forests.

The Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico received $70,000 in funding for the Southern New Mexico Children’s Forests.  This grant encompasses the Lincoln National Forest and many agencies, schools and youth organizations, and interested individuals that are bringing kids to the outdoors and the outdoors to kids.  It is not one place, nor one program, but a network of places, programs, and activities that give all citizens of and visitors to southern New Mexico, the opportunity to visit, explore, and learn about the outdoor world. The Children’s Forest that received funding in New Mexico gives the Forest Service and their partners the opportunity to do something in and for their local communities.   We’re optimistic about the future and want to be part of improving the next generation’s chance to be happy, healthy, and well-educated about their world.

We want to open their minds to the outdoors.  Our grade-appropriate field trip curricula for elementary school classes are the keystone of our Children’s Forest.  This will eventually give children in southern New Mexico at least two field trips per year to an outdoor space.  The grade-appropriate curricula will introduce, teach, and/or reinforce the State standards and benchmarks that teachers are required to cover.  We expect this to increase student understanding as measured by test scores and surveys.

The Children’s Forest Intern Program will be an exciting opportunity for college students working toward teaching and natural resource degrees. Through the Education Department at New Mexico State University-Alamogordo, two hard-working students will earn the honor of being Children’s Forest Interns each semester and during the summer.  Interns will help us design and implement Children’s Forest programs, while learning about conservation education and becoming better teachers themselves. One program of our Children’s Forest is an After School Teacher’s Institute.

Teachers will meet after school to learn hands-on environmental education activities.  Teachers will be able to implement award-winning curricula such as Project Learning Tree, Project WET, Project WILD, Project Food, Land, and People, and Project Archaeology after attending Institute Workshops.  A future website for the Southern New Mexico Children’s Forest will have links to partners, resources, and opportunities for educators. Nationally, more than 4 million young people participated in Forest Service conservation education programs last year.  It is encouraging to know that we can include New Mexico kids in these programs. I believe personally experiencing the outdoors truly gives us an increased appreciation for clean air, clear water, healthy forests, grasslands and deserts, not to mention those awe-inspiring Southwestern landscapes.  To do that, we must reconnect our younger generations with our forests, in hopes that they will be future stewards of our land and our environment.

For more information on the Southern New Mexico Children’s Forest, contact Peg Crim, Lincoln National Forest at 575-434-7231 or email pcrim@fs.fed.us.  If you would like more information on the Forest Service’s More Kids in the Woods program go to their website at: www.tinyurl.com/FS-MKIW.

Corbin Newman was assigned to the position of Regional Forester for the Southwestern Region of the U.S. Forest Service in December 2007. Newman has held numerous positions at all levels of the Forest Service—in both the eastern and western parts of the country—during his 35-year career.

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