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Archive for December 1st, 2009

At the very moment when a purity test taking a nativist position on immigration reform is circulating within the RNC, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has announced that it will be launching a major push in support of comprehensive immigration reform.    

According to the Catholic News Service:

A new postcard campaign in 2010 will urge Congress to take up as its next priority comprehensive immigration reform that would reunite families, regularize the status of an estimated 12 million people in this country illegally and restore due process protections for immigrants.

“We want to increase Catholic grass-roots support for immigration reform, but we also want to show members of Congress a strong Catholic voice and strong Catholic numbers in support of immigration reform,” said Antonio Cube, national manager of the U.S. bishops’ Justice for Immigrants project, in a Nov. 16 conference call with reporters.

The postcard campaign will coincide in most places with the bishops’ National Migration Week, Jan. 3-9, although it might be held earlier or later in some dioceses, Cube said. It also is part of a multifaceted interfaith campaign called “Home for the Holidays,” designed to stress the family reunification aspect of immigration reform….

Bishop Wester said he’s confident that his fellow bishops are ready and willing to work to help pass a comprehensive reform bill.

“The bishops know the stories, they see the people, the human faces,” he said. One of the biggest problems with previous attempts to pass immigration reform, said Bishop Wester, was that the “loud, strident voices” opposed to reform caused many members of Congress to hesitate to support legislation.

Other religious denominations will also be taking part in this effort:

 Other denominations will be organizing their congregations in similar ways, especially in seven states whose members of Congress are considered critical to the immigration reform debate — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina and North Carolina.

The Rev. David Vasquez is campus pastor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, about 20 minutes from the scene of one of the nation’s largest immigration raids — the May 12, 2008, raid at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville. Nearly 400 people were arrested that day — equal to about 15 percent of Postville’s population.

“While we fail to reform our broken immigration system, 442,000 people will be detained this year by Immigration (and Customs Enforcement), wreaking havoc on communities and families across the country,” said Rev. Vasquez in the conference call. “This is the equivalent of 1,000 Postville raids.”

The Rev. Dean Reed, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Stephenville, Texas, said healing broken communities is a religious imperative.

“The immigration system has created problems and opened the door to divisive rhetoric,” he said. “We need to reform the system so these problems can be humanely and fairly solved, and our sense of community restored.”

Jews too have a religious obligation “to welcome the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt,” said Vic Rosenthal, executive director of Jewish Community Action in St. Paul, Minn.

“This commandment from the Torah combined with our history of immigration throughout the world leads us to stand in solidarity with immigrants of today struggling to secure legal status,” he said.

It would be unfortunate if the GOP allowed itself to become the political face of the “loud, strident voices” mentioned by Bishop Wester.   Pandering to nativism and xenophobia would be a political disaster for our Party.

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BRAC & Commuter Rail

On Sunday, the News Journal published an editorial discussing some of the potential benefits the BRAC expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground might offer Delaware.   With respect to commuter rail, the editorial noted:

Many will want to live in the Newark and western New Castle County areas and commute to Aberdeen. Others are hoping that the proposed extension of the existing Newark DART rail services into Maryland’s local commuter service, known as MARC, will provide convenient transportation. That’s an area in which local and congressional delegations from Maryland and Delaware could have a strong hand.

We hope the rail service from Wilmington and Newark will happen sooner rather than later to help keep down the traffic and air pollution along I-95.

By way of background, the northern terminus for MARC’s (Maryland’s version of SEPTA) commuter rail service on the “Penn Line” is Perryville, MD.   As we know, Newark is the southern terminus for SEPTA’s R2 service.   Both SEPTA’s R2 and MARC’s Penn Line operate on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (“NEC”).   The gap between Perryville, MD, and Newark, DE, is the sole stretch of track on the NEC that does not have local commuter rail service.

Closing the gap has long been a key goal of many commuter rail advocates.   

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that closing the gap is the right thing to do from a policy standpoint- that there is sufficient ridership to make expanding MARC service to Elkton, MD (or Newark) viable.

How best, then, to make such service a reality? First, one must understand the capacity issues presently facing service on the NEC. Specifically, there is a long double-track segment of the NEC centered around North East, MD. It is my understanding that this segment would need to be expanded to three tracks in order to accommodate MARC commuter service north of Perryville. While expensive, adding an additional track is not an insurmountable obstacle.

Second, capacity issues at the Newark R2 terminus will pose problems for a northern extension of MARC service beyond Elkton, MD. In my opinion (let’s call it an educated guess), the current SEPTA station could not accommodate originating and terminating commuter trains moving in opposite directions. This is particularly true given the current station’s location with relation to Norfolk Southern’s switching moves. Moving the station’s location would not fully alleviate these capacity issues.

So let’s assume Elkton is the northern terminus for expanded Penn Line service.   

At present, MARC trainsets “deadhead”- i.e. move empty- north to Perryville in the morning and then deadhead south in the evening. Expanding service to Elkton (or Newark) would lengthen an already long empty movement. However… although Norfolk Southern continues to use the yard adjacent to the Chrysler plant, a large amount of it is no longer needed for freight classification now that the plant is shut down. A portion of the yard could easily be used as a staging location/overnight facility for MARC Penn Line equipment. Indeed, it could even easily accommodate MARC electric locomotives- many of the catenary polls from the era of electrified freight service on the NEC (which ended in 1980) still stand in the yard- stringing live wire would be a relatively simple and inexpensive enterprise. As a northern staging site, Chrysler Yard would obviate the need for lengthy deadhead moves for Penn Line service.

However, getting BRAC folks to utilize commuter rail faces one other obstacle that- to my surprise- I never see mentioned. Simply put, it’s not realistic to walk from the MARC station in Aberdeen to the locations on the base where the new BRAC jobs will be- it’s a 2, 3.. or more, mile trip, on foot, one way. Who has the time/inclination to do that on the best of days, to say nothing of in inclement weather! So, there will need to be a well organized, convenient, shuttle bus service between the MARC Aberdeen station and various locations on-base in order for rail to be a real commuter alternative.

At present, several HCTS bus routes serve the station and APG (such as the 1-1A) but that service will need to be expanded and, indeed, is probably not a substitute for a dedicated base shuttle of some sort.

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Previously I have posted on the lack of openness and the lack of post-partisanship by Governor Markell’s Administration. The original post, which listed two items, can be found here. Just before Thanksgiving, the trend continued. The following is a press release issued by Dover attorney, Ron Poliquin, on November 20th (The same day the News Journal announced that Delawind’s proposal would be considered):

DOVER — Taxpayer advocate Ron Poliquin questions the Delaware Economic Development Office (“DEDO”) and Secretary Alan Levin’s acts of “deny and delay” in response to his October 20th Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request seeking details into DelaWind, LLC, executive vice president and Democratic U.S. Congress candidate John Carney’s application for state money.

“Today’s announcement is completely the opposite of Secretary Levin’s representations,” said Poliquin. The FOIA request sought details about the application, the process used to scrutinize the application, and whether Carney was given preferential treatment or not.

In an email, Levin initially denied Poliquin’s inquiry stating “…the principals of DelaWind have withdrawn their request for funding…” and “…since this application is no longer part of the public record, we will not be complying with your FOIA request.”

“The Administration’s misleading reply and failure to promptly comply with the public’s right to know what’s happening with their money increases the suspicion surrounding this application.” said Poliquin. Unsatisfied with Levin’s initial denial, Poliquin sent a follow-up request on November 3, 2009 which was forwarded to the Attorney General’s office.  The office replied it would satisfy the request by November 18. As of today, no response has been received.

“It is a disservice to taxpayers anytime State Officials withhold information, especially when it involves a politician running for office seeking public funds,” said Poliquin. “Anytime such a large amount of taxpayer money is at stake, it should receive the most utmost scrutiny. Backroom deals cloaked in secrecy have no place in Delaware.”

In the spirit of full disclosure, Mr. Poliquin is running for State Representative as a Republican in Dover. In addition, he worked as my campaign manager during my first Senate race in 2002 and ran for State Treasurer in 2004.

The FOIA request was in reference to John Carney’s submission of an application for $350,000 of taxpayer money for the creation of a business to be a final assembly facility for wind turbines. Here are some salient points:

1) Secretary Levin stated that no response would be given because the applicant had withdrawn his application. However, within a couple of weeks of this response, the News Journal ran the following in an article on Mr. Carney’s application (The whole article can be found here):

A startup company whose management includes former Lt. Gov. John Carney is seeking a state investment of $350,000 to establish an operation in Wilmington to manufacture support towers for wind turbines.

Clearly, the application had not been withdrawn. Who in Mr. Levin’s office provided him with this wrong information and why? Or was there an attempt to hide the application?

2) The alleged withdrawal of Mr. Carney’s application does not remove the State’s FOIA responsibilities. For instance, what internal reviews or meetings had been held to discuss the application. Mr. Carney’s application had been scheduled for a public hearing. My experience on the Joint Sunset Committee was that DEDO does significant internal review prior to submitting an application for consideration for strategic fund money. Where is DEDO’s review, which was paid for by the taxpayer? The failure to release the State’s materials (even in a redacted form) is a clear violation of FOIA.

3) Mr. Carney announce on April 15th, 2009 that he is running for the US Congress. As a political candidate, he should not be receiving State funding that could, ostensibly, be partially used to pay him while he runs for public office. A Democratic Governor handing taxpayer money to a current Democratic Congressional Candidate is a bad idea. This is in no way a slam at the integrity of Mr. Carney or the other Delawind principals, whom I know to be very honorable, honest, and hardworking people. However, once you give taxpayer money to one candidate for office, where do you stop.

4) Despite an open FOIA request, which had been recognized by the Attorney General’s office, no response was received by Mr. Poliquin from the AG’s office by the date promised. Why was the AG’s office complicit in the Markell Administration’s obfuscation and delay only giving up the information after Mr. Poliquin’s repeated requests?

The Democrats circling the wagons by refusing to answer questions about spending taxpayer money is very troubling, but part of a growing trend. I’ll touch on the lack of transparency part IV in a couple of days.

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