Category Archives: Politics

States Take Larger Role in Passenger Rail

A federal law enacted in the late days of the Bush administration is starting to force states to take a closer look at local Amtrak routes that they subsidize.

Illinois, which sits at the center of the country’s railroad network, has long promoted passenger rail. It’s rebuilt track so trains could travel faster between Chicago and St. Louis, added service along preexisting routes and even began planning for expansions to new cities. Ridership on Illinois routes grew by 85 percent in the last decade. But now the talk in Springfield is about cuts to Amtrak, not expansions.

That’s no surprise considering Illinois’ precarious finances. Nearly every service provided by the state is under scrutiny as Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders in the legislature try to come to an agreement on the budget.

But the uncertainty over Illinois’ passenger rail isn’t all the doing of lawmakers in Springfield. Illinois, like many other states, recently had to start paying higher subsidies in order to continue providing local Amtrak service to its residents. The increased state costs come as a result of a 2008 federal law, called the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, that required many states to pick up a bigger part of the tab for 28 Amtrak routes that are shorter than 750 miles. Those routes cross 19 states and carry almost half of Amtrak’s passengers.

As more states pay higher subsidies to Amtrak, their scrutiny of the rail company has also increased. Lawmakers in Oregon have explored reducing its payments. Indiana officials are bringing in an outside contractor to try to improve Amtrak service there. And other state officials around the country are trying to clarify what they can expect from Amtrak going forward. “If you’re making an investment in something, you have an obligation to make sure it’s a certain quality,” said Patricia Quinn, chair of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition. “This is a new relationship with all of the states and Amtrak.”

The same 2008 law that increased the cost of subsidies also gave states more flexibility to use vendors other than Amtrak to provide rail service. Indiana officials are using that to try to improve service on the Hoosier State line, which runs from Chicago to Indianapolis.

It is working on an arrangement where a separate contractor, Iowa Pacific Holdings, would take over key functions. It would provide the train equipment, marketing and on-board services, such as food sales and Wi-Fi. But Amtrak would remain the primary operator, providing the train crews and ticketing services.

Fear of Falling

Poesy plus Polemics

Free Falling Digital Art by Lars Nikander Frandsen From Free Falling
Digital Art by Lars Nikander Frandsen

slipped on the stairs
time has built
between years
headlong into the fear

fear of falling
of breaking
not dying

no powers of healing
are left to dead bones

fear of falling
of breaking
not dying

no room for new pain
mind and body and soul
already afflicted
by agonies
uncertain endings
attach to each
mortally hesitant step
loss of confidence
raw and acute

fear of falling
of breaking
not dying

faith never more
weak and defenseless
prayer can’t find
its moment
its place
among moments
already unbearable
ceaselessly mute

fear of falling
of breaking
not dying

the deep well of tears
long since empty

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Gov. Baker unveils winter contingency plan for MBTA

Remember this picture of Boston last Winter? Remember the map below of the MBTA horror show?  Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker does not want to see them again!!!

Winter Joke Map of Boston's MBTA
Winter Joke Map of Boston’s MBTA

Yesterday he  debuted an $82.7 million Winter Resiliency Plan for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).

The plan calls for making investments throughout the summer, and over the next five years, in snow removal equipment, infrastructure upgrades and operations to improve service reliability in harsh weather.

“In the event of another harsh winter, it is critical we are prepared,” Baker said in a statement. “As we continue to work with the Legislature to achieve the flexibility that is necessary, this dedicated resiliency plan is a first step towards short-term upgrades to improve response and recovery efforts.”

In February, severe winter weather forced the MBTA to temporarily shut down some lines and alter service along commuter-rail routes for several weeks.

Specific infrastructure improvements in Baker’s plan include replacing the third rail along outdoor sections of the Red and Orange lines, installing snow fences along the Red and Orange lines to mitigate snow drift accumulation and repairing vehicle maintenance facilities and structures.

Additional efforts entail installing emergency power generators to supplement existing subway and facility power, as well as track access improvements to allow for larger snow removal on the Red Line.

Subsidized in part by $62 million in federal formula funds for capital investments, Baker’s plan also calls for several operations-based improvements, including training and staffing of a Field Inspection Team to be deployed during weather events to monitor staff and contractor field activities.

Remaining funding for the winter resiliency plan will come from $10 million in non-federal, MBTA capital funds and $11.7 million in the agency’s operating funds.

Muslim and Jewish Groups at Forefront of Efforts to Rebuild Black Churches

By Max Blau, Guardian UK

12 July 15


Groups seek to raise hundreds of thousands for southern churches that burned after Charleston shooting: ‘If we don’t stand up … we’re all going to suffer’

ore than a half-dozen black churches have burnt to the ground in the American south since the killing of nine black people inside a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month.

Since the shooting, authorities have ruled at least three of the church fires to be arson, with none of those so far being deemed hate crimes. Some leaders of those churches located in Charlotte, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Macon, Georgia, have grown increasingly suspicious of the motives for the recent attacks. And many others, some of whom now face thousands of dollars in repairs, have now begun the slow rebuilding of their sanctuaries.

In the wake of those arsons, dozens of religious institutions and nonprofits have raised cash for those churches. To the surprise of some pastors, the recovery effort is being partially led by Jewish and Muslim leaders, who understand both the sanctity of houses of worship and the seriousness of attacks against them.

“If there’s a silver lining, these kinds of incidents draw communities together,” said Christopher Strain, a Florida Atlantic University professor of American studies and author of Burning Faith: Church Arson in the American South. “There’s an unintended effect of bringing people together.”

Faatimah Knight, a 23-year-old black Muslim student, has helped organize a group of Muslim nonprofits including Ummah Wide, the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, and the Arab American Association of New York. With one week left, the crowd-funded campaign has raised more than $58,000 from over 1,300 donors.

Knight says the groups’ online fundraising effort has a current goal of $75,000 and is considering raising that figure to $100,000. Her group, which is considering joining their efforts with the Rebuild the Churches Fund, ultimately wants to establish a long-term relationship with the scorched churches as they begin their own healing processes.

In the wake of the Charleston shooting, which happened on the first night of Ramadan, some members of the Muslim community were also shaken by the attack on another house of worship. Knight fears the trend will continue in what she characterizes as a “very particular history” of racially motivated attacks against black churchgoers. She says the recent underreporting of church attacks had made her feel more vulnerable, as if the safety and security of her own mosque could be threatened.

“It was painful for a lot of people,” Knight says. “It shook the country in a lot of ways. Especially for black people, it’s extra personal given that these were in a black church, a place where you expect to be safe. If churches burn down, there’s a void where God’s name isn’t being mentioned.”

Rabbi Susan Talve, who heads the Central Reform Congregation in St Louis, Missouri, says a broad coalition of more 150 religious institutions has raised more than $150,000 toward its $250,000 goal to help rebuild black churches. She says the groups involved with the Rebuild the Churches Fund began working together after the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson.

When the southern black churches went up in flames, Talve says, the group quickly tapped into an established network of rabbis who lived near the communities affected by arson. Within 48 hours after the arsons, the group’s members had connected with those churches’ respective pastors.

“We believe the church is the heart and soul of a community,” Talve says. “So we wanted to help them out. If you burn them down with hate, we’re going to build them back with love. If you burn them down, we’re going to build them back better and stronger.”

According to Talve, every dollar raised will go directly to at least three burnt churches, with more being added to the list should investigators say arson led to their destruction. With insurance companies helping rebuild some sanctuaries, she says, a sizeable portion of the fund will help replace the things probably not insured including new prayer books or choir robes. The fund could also pay for security improvements to prevent future attacks at those churches.

Talve, pointing to the 2014 fatal shootings of two people at a Jewish community center in Kansas City, Missouri, says people of Jewish faith have long experienced the vulnerability that comes with being a target of hate and violence. Following the events of Ferguson and now Charleston, she says, it’s time to fight racism by supporting other religious institutions in their greatest times of need.

“Hate is hate whenever you see it,” Talve says. “This has been a time for us to show that, as allies, we understand that if we don’t all work together to end hate – racism, antisemitism, homophobia, Islamophobia – and if we don’t stand up when it happens, then we’re all going to suffer.”

Biometric Passports Speed International Arrivals

A Resource Guide to Expedite US Passport Services

Biometric passports technology improves immigration efficiency and speeds up international arrivalsHave you ever wondered what that little gold rectangle on your passport cover means? It’s the international symbol for a biometric passport, which are also referred to as e-passports or digital passports. Biometric passports contain a small computer chip that holding digital information that can be read by scanners at border control stations at international airports.

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The “American Dream” is the real problem. (response article)

Kamala Thompson

Bill O’Reilly, Russell Simmons Go Head-To-Head Over Violence In Black Communities”

“The bigger issue that you are not acknowledging is that the astronomical crime rate among young black men — violent crime — drives suspicion and hostility,” O’Reilly said. “You won’t acknowledge it, Russell. You won’t acknowledge it.”

“The crime rate is driven by the dissolution of the family,” O’Reilly argued. “No supervision, kids with no fathers — the black neighborhoods are devastated by the drug gangs who prey upon their own. That’s the problem!”

There are serious human rights issues being brought to the light, but little practical solutions being presented because we are not looking at the larger societal structures in place. So, let me break it down like this: We live in America, where we are corrupted by the overwhelming desire for financial prosperity and upward success, but not everyone in America has the resources…

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Iranian Ambition, the Great Chessgame

Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

Netanyahu’s tone was measured and direct, fitting the prestige of the chamber he was addressing. “That deal would not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons — it would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them,” he told Congress last Tuesday. It was classic Netanyahu in many ways – bold, dire, and ultimately a load of cowpuckey.

Netanyahu can’t claim to know what is happening in the “P5+1” talks to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program, and if he does know he can’t prove it publicly. These talks have been going on for nine years now and have always hinged on one sticking point – Iran cannot obtain nuclear weapons. Any other result would have made the talks much easier and they would have been over by now. But these are important talks for reasons even larger than weapons of mass destruction.

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Greece Stands Up

Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

Greece and Europe managed to find a way to kick the can down the road a bit, giving them four months to come up with a larger agreement. It’s exactly the kind of solution that we cynically expected here in many ways. But is there more to it than that?

The letter sent by Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis to the EU outlines exactly where Greece is coming from, and it tells us a lot more about the problem at hand. What he asked for was nothing more than the kind of consideration any other nation would want in this situation. That it was received so badly at first, then ultimately accepted in at least some form, speaks volumes about either the dysfunction of the EU or how bankrupt Greece is.

I believe it is the former, and the EU is nowhere near developing a stable process for dealing with…

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My Issue With “Stopping the Boat People”


boat 5

For the benefit of those reading this from a foreign shore, our island home, Australia, is currently mid way through a federal election campaign.

Like most election campaigns throughout the world, this campaign has a number of slogans that are constantly being drilled into our ears in the hope of provoking some kind of emotional response that will prompt us to vote for one of the two major parties. The slogan that has really caught my attention in this campaign is “Stop the Boats”.

Before I go any further, a bit of background is needed. As you will all know, Australia is an island nation and therefore, the only way to get here is to fly, which is rather expensive, or to arrive by boat. After World War II we encouraged immigrants to arrive here by boat, in fact we sent ships over to Europe and other parts of the…

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