The Art of Saying Nothing.

This Way

(Editor’s Note:  We sent a letter to Senator Michael S. Lee, Utah, exactly 2 months ago, with a very specific question we wanted answered.  This is the email we received in reply.  We have not changed or edited anything about it.  We think it is a prime example of the art of saying nothing, with great sincerity.)

November 5, 2014

Dear Tim:

Thank you for reaching out to Senator Lee.  Senator Lee depends on input from Utahns like yourself when dealing with these important issues.  Your letter has been shared with the Senator and his staff.

Senator Lee is working hard to promote a conservative agenda with new ideas to help solve many of the problems facing our Nation.  His Conservative Reform Agenda has many new and innovative ideas that both parties can get behind that will enable upward mobility for the poor, provide greater security for middle class families, and fight against special privilege for the wealthy and well-connected.  We encourage you to learn more on our website (www.lee.senate.gov) and then help us spread the word to your family, friends, and other elected representatives.  

Thanks again for actively engaging in these vital discussions.

Best,

 

Pete Blair

Office of Senator Michael S. Lee
(202) 224-5444

Supreme Court Shoves Same Sex Marriage Down Utah’s Throat.

slowburn

October 06, 2014

 

Lee Responds to Court Decision on Gay Marriage Cases

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Mike Lee responded to the decision by the Supreme Court to not review several cases involving a state’s right to define marriage:

“The Supreme Court’s decision to not review the Tenth Circuit’s ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert is disappointing.  Nothing in the Constitution forbids a state from retaining the traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  Whether to change that definition is a decision best left to the people of each state — not to unelected, politically unaccountable judges. The Supreme Court owes it to the people of those states, whose democratic choices are being invalidated, to review the question soon and reaffirm that states do have that right.”

Conservative Caucus Gains New Senate Leader.

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Senator Lee to Head Steering Committee

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) was selected today to be the next chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, a caucus of conservative senators.  Senator Lee will assume the post at the start of the 114th Congress in January.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) served as chairman for the past two years.

“Mike Lee is a knowledgeable and principled movement conservative, and he has done a terrific job as vice chairman of the Steering Committee this Congress,” said Sen. Toomey. “I’m pleased to hand the gavel to him.  I look forward to continuing to work with Mike, and my colleagues, to advance innovative conservative ideas that help create jobs and grow the economy.”

“I am honored by the opportunity to chair the Senate Steering Committee,” said Sen. Lee. “Senator Toomey has been a courageous and principled leader and I hope to maintain the standard he has set.  The Senate Steering Committee will continue to develop and promote conservative solutions and facilitate vigorous discussion and debate on the issues that matter most to the country.  I look forward to leading this effort and very much appreciate the support of my colleagues.”

 

Established in 1974, the Steering Committee provides a forum where senators can work together to discuss and promote conservative legislation and policies.

 

Past Senate Steering Committee chairmen include Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Phil Gramm (R-Texas), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)

Unofficial Accreditation Agencies Put Stranglehold on Learning Options for U.S. College Students.

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One of the most disheartening trends in America today is the steep and relentless increase in the cost of higher education. As almost everything else in our economy has gotten better and more affordable, tuition at public four-year colleges has nearly quadrupled since 1982.

The hardest hit by these skyrocketing costs are middle-income families who struggle to pay those prices out of pocket but don’t qualify for needs-based assistance. Meanwhile, the changing economy is making post-secondary education more important than ever.

Today, most students and families’ only option is federal student loan programs, which offer some temporary relief but lead to decades of debt. And for students who never acquire the skills necessary to succeed in today’s economy—because they leave college early or because they pursue a major that doesn’t prepare them for the job market—this debt can become overwhelming.

So far, the federal government’s only response to this catch-22 is to marginally reduce the interest rate on student loans.

But instead of asking how Congress can help students pay off exorbitant loans, we should ask how Congress can reduce the cost of higher education so students won’t have to go so far in debt.

It all starts with recognition of two important facts. First, in today’s society, getting a four-year college degree is not the only way to obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to start a successful career. For many students, apprenticeships or occupational training programs make more sense than a bachelor’s degree.

Second, in recent years educational entrepreneurs and innovators have used new technology to redesign the traditional educational model—through online courses, for instance—making post-secondary cheaper and easier than ever before.

Unfortunately, federal law ignores both of these facts. Our current system makes it harder and more expensive for students to access alternatives to the traditional college track. The primary roadblock facing these students is our outdated, inefficient accreditation system, which is made up of various non-governmental agencies that determine which educational institutions or programs are eligible for federal student-loan money.

Under current law, students can access federal loans and grants only if they attend schools that are officially “accredited.” But for a school or occupational training program to acquire this stamp of approval—and thus be able to admit students who are paying their tuition bills with federal loans—it must go through a review process conducted by faculty members of already-accredited schools.

This is a classic case of the regulated becoming the regulators. Expensive degree-issuing colleges and universities get to decide who joins their elite club, and they have a strong financial incentive to lock out new, more affordable educational models that could be a better match for some students.

This lack of competition is a primary driver of rising tuition, which gives too many students an impossible choice—crippling debt or limited opportunities.

We believe there is a better way.

We have introduced the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The HERO Act will allow states to experiment with their own accreditation systems. Under our plan, states could choose to accredit alternative education providers such as apprenticeships, specialty schools, professional certifications, all the way down to individual courses. This way, students who have been locked out of the current system would be able to use federal student loans and grants to gain access to the skills they need at lower prices on a schedule that works for them.

Our reforms don’t touch the traditional accreditation system, which works well for existing universities. It creates a new, parallel system that opens doors for the millions of low- and middle-income and non-traditional students the current system leaves behind.

Many would benefit from education alternatives to traditional brick-and-ivy institutions, and we owe it to our students to give states the opportunity to develop these options. The HERO Act is an important first step towards ensuring that higher education is affordable and accessible and gives our students the resources, skills and education to succeed.

HUD Wants to Nullify Local Zoning Ordinances.

slowburn

WASHINGTON –  Senator Mike Lee announced his plans to offer an amendment that would block funding for a regulation that allows the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to dictate local zoning requirements in any community across the country.

“Even for our highly centralized federal government, this rule represents an extreme step in consolidating government decisions over distinctly local matters within the hands of distant, unaccountable bureaucrats,” said Lee. “Local authorities are far more attuned to the unique conditions and needs of their communities, and they have a personal stake in their success. In every state across the country, there is no doubt that a mayor and city council officials will be more personally invested and more effective in improving the lives of the people in their community than a federal official located in Washington, D.C.”

Senator Lee plans to offer his amendment to the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act should it be brought to the floor this week.

If funded, the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” rule would empower federal officials to assert the authority to force any community that receives a Community Development Block Grant to comply with zoning plans written in Washington.  This rule effectively allows HUD to carve up the country, block by block, according to its own priorities and preferences.

Community Development Block Grants are allocations of federal tax dollars, issued to local governments by HUD, to address a variety of community development needs. One of the primary uses of these resources is to provide affordable public housing for individuals and families in need. Sadly, the inevitable consequence of federal management over how local officials spend this money will only make it harder for communities to provide adequate low-cost housing for their neighbors in need.

To protect the ability of local officials to serve low-income communities, Senator Lee’s amendment would prevent this egregious power grab by the federal government and would keep housing decisions closest to the people who are affected by them.

Rep. Paul Gosar is the original sponsor of a similar amendment in the House, which was successfully added to H.R. 4745, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015.

Will Working Families Survive Obama’s Brave New World?

The American Working Family -- on the Endangered List?
The American Working Family — on the Endangered List?

WASHINGTON – Tusday, Senator Mike Lee filed three amendments to a Senate bill being considered this week that would extend the time people have to collect unemployment insurance beyond six months.  The amendments continue Senator Lee’s push to enact solutions to problems in the Obama economy by focusing on job creation, accessibility of higher education and training, and improving work-life balance.

The first amendment is modeled after Sen. Lee’s Transportation Empowerment Act (S. 1702) and would significantly reduce the administrative and regulatory burdens the federal government places on states’ use of transportation funding.  Under this proposal, states could respond more quickly to the needs of citizens, start and finish projects sooner, and spend less money to complete them – all while creating and maintaining good jobs.

“Americans aren’t looking for unemployment insurance, they are looking for employment,” said Senator Lee. “The Democrats’ solution is to keep people tied to unemployment programs, rather than addressing the underlying problem.   My amendment would lift unnecessary burdens government imposes and give states and businesses the freedom to invest, grow, and hire more workers.”

The second amendment is built on Sen. Lee’s Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act (S. 1904), legislation that would open up new educational opportunities for many low-income and non-traditional students.  The bill allows states to set up a new and parallel system for accrediting educational institutions, curricula, apprenticeships, programs, and even individual courses, which are then available to receive federal student loan money.

“In today’s economy, employers need individuals with specialized skills,” said Senator Lee.  “But the current accreditation system – which drives up costs and leaves behind many non-traditional students, like working parents – acts as a barrier for millions of Americans who need the education and training to fill those jobs.  This amendment would make higher education and training more accessible and affordable to those who need it most.”

The third amendment is based on Sen. Lee’s Working Family Flexibility Act (S. 1623), which allows private-sector employees the same choice between comp time and overtime pay currently enjoyed by government employees.  Currently, federal law unfairly discriminates against these employees by prohibiting the use of comp time, forcing them to sacrifice family time for the family budget.

“For many families, especially with young children, their most precious commodity is time,” said Sen. Lee. “But today, federal labor laws restrict the way moms and dads and everyone else can use their time. This can lead to tough decisions about how many hours parents can work, or even if they’re able to work at all.  My amendment would make that choice easier and help working families achieve the right balance.”

Better Late Than Never? We Don’t Think So, Senator Orrin G. Hatch!

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We  received an email from Senator Mike Lee concerning our editorial on Thailand.  As you can see from the date, that was back in February.  Today we got an email from Senator Orrin Hatch, about that same editorial that we sent to him back in January.  We have no idea why he was so slow in responding to our message, but we think he’s burned out and it’s time for the old buzzard to retire to his cactus farm.  Anyway, we are posting his tardy response, reposting Mike Lee’s response, and also the original editorial about the turmoil in Thailand.

Dear Mr. Torkildson:

 

Thank you for taking the time to write with your concerns regarding the ongoing situation in Thailand. I apologize for the delay in my reply.

 

As you may know, Thailand has been an American trade and economic ally since the signing of the 1954 Manila Pact of the former Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). For many years, Thailand was also seen as a model of stable democracy in Southeast Asia, although this image, along with U.S. relations, have been complicated by political and economic instability in the wake of a September 2006 coup that displaced Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

 

In recent years, Thai politics have been dominated by rivalries between populist forces led by Thaksin (now in exile) and his opponents. Mass movements both supporting and opposing Thaksin have staged vigorous demonstrations, including protests in 2010 that spilled over to riots in Bangkok and other cities, causing the worst street violence in Thailand in decades.

 

Despite this political uncertainty and human rights issues, shared economic and security interests have long provided the basis for U.S.-Thai cooperation. Thailand contributed troops and support for U.S. military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq and was designated as a major non-NATO ally in December 2003.

 

As Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee which holds jurisdiction over U.S. trade, among many other issues, I am paying close attention to the ongoing situation in Thailand. In 2012, Thailand was the 25th largest goods trading partner of the U.S., with over $37 billion in two-way trade, and the U.S. is Thailand’s largest export market. I will continue to monitor the events in Thailand, and should any language be brought before the Senate regarding the countries ongoing issues, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind.

Your Senator,

Orrin G. Hatch

United States Senator

 

February 3, 2014

Dear Tim:

Thank you for reaching out to Senator Lee regarding Thailand. He appreciates your engagement and knows that input from and dialogue with concerned citizens is critical to creating solutions that will address the problems facing Americans today.

As a new year commences, Senator Lee, through his legislative work, will continue to develop upward mobility for the poor and ease the pressure on the middle class by making education more accessible and affordable. He will introduce legislation that will give the poor a hand up, and advocate for legislation to help the unemployed re-enter the work force. Senator Lee recently gave a major policy speech in which he said: “Today, working families’ take-home pay is flat. But the staples of middle-class security and opportunity – health care, education, home ownership, work-life balance, and children – are becoming harder to afford all the time.”

Senator Lee is moving forward with a positive policy agenda to address the challenges of our time. Partnering with citizens and colleagues on both sides of the isle, he will continue to work to create a better economic climate for our country which will enable his constituents to be more secure, get ahead and realize their American dream.

Best,

Pete Blair

Office of Senator Michael S. Lee
(202) 224-5444

There’s a world of trouble with Thailand.  One of America’s staunchest allies in Southeast Asia, we have a vital interest in that country’s welfare, and so it’s not “sticking our nose in other people’s business” if we comment feelingly on that ancient and honorable constitutional monarchy that most people know only through the movie “The King and I.”  Both India and China have strong historical ties with Thailand that reaches back centuries before America was even a country.  If we’re not proactive, we may see those ancient nations once again in the ascendant with Thailand, to our cost.

If you’ve had the privilege of living in Thailand, as we have, you know that the people are warm-hearted, gentle, tolerant, and wise beyond their years with the stored power of Zen that comes from centuries of studying and implementing the teachings of Buddha.  Their diet is wholesome and so delicious that it’s almost like having sex.  Their beaches stretch for hundreds of miles along the Gulf of Siam and the Andaman Coast, and are cherished by millions of tourists each year, as well as by the Thais themselves.  It is a truly blessed country, which escaped, in large measure, the ravages of the Vietnam Conflict 45 years ago.

The ruling monarch of Thailand is a remarkable scholar, musician, philanthropist, legislator, and peacemaker.  He and his lovely queen have kept their country from the savage bloodbaths that have cursed that region during the past fifty years.  But he is old and ill now, and ready to go the way of all the earth.

And so the political grubs and weevils, the jackals and buzzards, are closing in for their piece of the remains.  No one is quite sure just what happens when the current monarch passes on.  The situation has not arisen for more than fifty years, and the current Crown Prince may not be up to taking the reins and controlling the lusty steeds of Thai culture, tradition, and politics.

We won’t go into the confusing, often contradictory, details of the current political mess in Thailand, except to say that a rather large party of citizens, who feel they have been out of power for far too long, want to get back in power – but not by the election process.  No, they’re afraid that they’ll be outvoted and outflanked by the vast majority of Thais, who, if they do not actively support the current administration, at least do not want to see it torn down in riot and chaos.  This party, which we will call, for convenience’s sake, the Ninnyhammers, feel that the governing of Thailand needs to go back a century or two, when the monarch was an absolute dictator and the rich and cultivated formed an oligarchy that kept the common people down where they belonged – doing corvee labor and forbidden to have a voice in government.

The Ninnyhammers are shutting down central Bangkok even as we write this editorial.  That is how they intend to bring back “the good old days”, to turn back the hands of the clock.

What the Ninnyhammers of Thailand, and of the world, never realize is that while you can turn back the hands on a cheap Timex watch with no damage, if you attempt to turn the hands back on a fine Swiss timepiece you ruin it forever – it becomes irreparable.   And that is what the Kingdom of Thailand has become – a finely wrought piece of culture and government that is balanced delicately between reverence for the monarchy and pride in representative government.  Fool with it in a brutal manner, as the Ninnyhammers are doing, and it will stop working – not just for some, but for ALL people in Thailand!

The United States must make it clear to the Thai Ambassador that we will never recognize a Thai government that seizes power through insurrection and terror, and that wishes to reverse the course of destiny and democracy.  The Ninnyhammers of Thailand are NOT advocating anything revolutionary or experimental – they simply wish to take Thailand back to its barbarian medieval state.  For their own ignorant benefit.  We cannot let them highjack this beautiful land of Ten Thousand Smiles!

Uncle Sam should speak up, President Obama, and support the current Thai Administration, despite its faults and failures.  The alternative would be worse for everyone.

Nude Descending Canoe Paddle