Tag Archive for Debra Burlingame

Debra Burlingame on Benghazi, War on Terror, and Obamacare, guest hosting for Tammy Bruce

Debra Burlingame filled in yesterday for the vacationing Tammy Bruce and interviewed a great lineup of guests. After first providing her perspective of the War on Terror since 9/11, Debra spoke with John Rosenthal, author of The Jihadist Plot: The Untold Story of Al-Qaeda and the Libyan Rebellion. Why did Benghazi happen? In Libya, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton switched sides:

Bill Roggio, Managing Editor of the Long War Journal, joined Debra to talk about the current state of the war. Is al Qaeda on the run? No, but that does not fit the Obama administration’s narrative:

Betsy McCaughey, former Lieutenant Governor of New York and the author of Beating Obamacare; Your Handbook for the New Healthcare Law, was next up. Repealing or modifying Obamacare will take an act of Congress and the President’s signature. What do you need to do to survive until (if ever) that happens?

Diana West, syndicated columnist and the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character, talked about the past 80 years of betrayal by our government. We won World II and the Cold War? Listen, read Diana’s book, and think again:

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Debra Burlingame: The 9/11 Memorial Museum Held Hostage

This is my op-ed as it appeared today in the Wall Street Journal, with additional photos and links added.

Debra Burlingame: The 9/11 Memorial Museum Held Hostage
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey demands more money from a charitable foundation before it will finish construction.
By DEBRA BURLINGAME

Wednesday, May 30 marks 10 years since the recovery operation at the World Trade Center site officially ended. On that day, the “Last Column,” a 37-foot, 58-ton section of structural steel, was draped with an American flag and escorted from the site by an honor guard in a solemn ceremony that left grown men weeping.

The beam had become a sacred totem after the remains of three New York City firefighters from Squad 41 were found near its base. Recovery workers covered it with memorials to the dead: photographs, decals and hand-scrawled tributes: “FDNY 343,” “PAPD 37,” “NYPD 23,” the numbers of those killed from the city’s first responder departments.

During the recovery operation, ironworkers, heavy-equipment operators and others in the construction trades removed 1.8 million tons of twisted steel and concrete, heaped seven stories high; the Last Column’s silent, enduring presence was a solemn tribute to the best of humanity. It was brought back to the World Trade Center site in August 2009, where it will be viewed by millions when the National September 11 Memorial Museum opens.


The ‘Last Column’ is removed from Ground Zero in a ceremony on May 2002. AP/Navy photo

Yet the museum opening, which was on track for Sept. 11, 2012, has now been delayed indefinitely. The final phase of construction ground to a halt last year in a public dispute over funding between the builder, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the nonprofit foundation that raised the money for the project. Lamentably, the two governors involved in this drama, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, have done nothing to stop the Port Authority’s shameless gambit to squeeze more money out of a charity to which 900,000 mostly small donors have contributed.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is the bi-state agency that owns the land and lobbied heavily for the federally funded, multibillion-dollar job of rebuilding the 16-acre site. It claims that the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation owes the agency $157 million more than the $530 million cost cap the agency itself agreed to in 2006. The Port Authority has not publicly stated any basis as to why it is owed additional money.

The Port Authority, run by a powerful group of politically connected bureaucrats, has long been accused of cronyism, mismanagement and waste. Last December, Gov. Christie announced that he was initiating a $2 million independent audit of the agency’s accounting. This came in the wake of a public outcry over the PA’s unilateral decision in August 2011 to raise bridge and tunnel tolls by 50%.

As Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) said, “There is something wrong when it costs $12 to cross a bridge in America.” He has joined Rep. Michael Grimm (R., N.Y.) in calling for federal oversight of the Authority “to make sure toll revenue is being used appropriately, and not going to fund excessive salaries or political patronage jobs.”

There are grounds for the charge. In November 2011, the Record newspaper in Bergen County, N.J., reported on the basis of public records that the Port Authority was giving 100 of its highest-paid employees secret bonuses totaling $2 million a year, beginning in 2008, at the height of the recession.

And in July, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a scathing report revealing that the Port Authority paid $85 million in overtime costs to 5,360 of its 6,900 employees in 2010. Three hundred and forty-seven employees received more than 50% of their base salary in overtime. According to the report, in 2009 the agency spent $52 million on overtime, and the basis for the top overtime earners could not be supported with written records.

Mr. DiNapoli also noted that the Port Authority authorized $4.38 billion in service contracts from 2006 to 2009. In a random sample of 75 of those contracts valued at $1.3 billion, according to the report, the agency lacked written support for 57 of them, valued at $1.18 billion. The Port Authority’s in-your-face response to Mr. DiNapoli’s report was that the overtime business model works just fine.

Perhaps the most trenchant description of the Port Authority’s method of doing business was outlined in an Oct. 19, 2011, op-ed in the New York Post by the PA’s former executive director (1995-97), George J. Marlin. In an open letter of advice to Gov. Cuomo’s newly appointed executive director, Patrick Foye, Mr. Marlin urged Mr. Foye to reject Port Authority bureaucrats’ cost estimates and construction timetables on new projects. He said they are deliberately lowballed to get approval.

Once construction starts and millions are spent, Mr. Marlin said, subsequent cost “overruns” are the norm. He called the PATH train terminal at Ground Zero a “perfect example of PA staff conniving.” Originally estimated to cost $1.8 billion in federal money, the 800,000 square foot terminal has ballooned to an astronomical $3.4 billion and rising.

In January of this year, Gov. Cuomo raised the specter of a lawsuit by the Port Authority against the Memorial & Museum Foundation regarding its $157 million claim. The governor surely knows that litigating the dispute in court could entail years of delay, jacking up construction costs in excess of the amount that the agency is demanding.

In the meantime, millions of Americans would have to wait while a government agency pursued its extortionate demand through the courts. And this from the same governor who issued a commemorative “We Remember” flag to be flown statewide for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Yet this is the Port Authority way: Abrogate the contract, shut down work, then make an offer the other side can’t refuse. The foundation’s CEO, Joe Daniels, wants to resolve the dispute in a manner that moves the project forward. The 2006 contract provides for fast-track mediation. But Mr. Daniels told me that a Port Authority board member warned him in a heated telephone conversation last October, “Go ahead and do it [request mediation] that way and we’ll see how long it takes to get your museum built.”

The Port Authority should be reminded that this isn’t Mr. Daniels’s museum. It belongs to the public, funded in part by federal tax dollars appropriated by Congress to show the world that America isn’t beaten. It belongs to private donors who have supported the project because they believe that future generations should be taught about this attack on the country, and how it changed the world.

Govs. Christie and Cuomo have made significant strides confronting fiscal challenges in their respective states. It is time for them to exert leadership and direct their political appointees to fulfill the PA’s contractual obligations, restore the public trust and complete the construction of this vital national treasure.

Ms. Burlingame is a member of the board of directors of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation. Her brother, Charles F. Burlingame III, was the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was hijacked and crashed at the Pentagon on 9/11.

Debra Burlingame: The TSA is inept; We Must Assure Our Skies Are Both Safe and Friendly

This was first published on April 20, 2012 as my Letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal.

Kip Hawley, the Transportation Security Administration’s former administrator, fails to acknowledge a November 2011 congressional report documenting that the TSA has become a bloated, 65,000-person bureaucracy larger than the departments of Labor, Energy, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and State, combined (“Why Airport Security Is Broken—And How to Fix It,” Review, April 14). It has spent $57 billion since 2002, $2.7 billion of which was spent on training. Yet half of the people it has hired and trained have left the agency. With the highest attrition rate among the federal work force, the TSA has resorted to placing employment ads in the Washington, D.C., area on pizza boxes and over the pumps at discount gas stations.

The report notes that 25,000 security breaches have taken place at U.S. airports since 9/11. According to the Government Accountability Office, 17 known terrorists have flown on U.S. carriers on 24 occasions, including traveling through eight airports where behavior-detection officers are deployed—a program that has spent $800 million since 2007 and will cost $1.2 billion more over the next five years. While not one terrorist has been spotted, the TSA has justified the expense by citing the discovery of passengers involved in common crimes, such as credit-card fraud or drug smuggling, resulting in mission creep and the pervasive sense that anyone who approaches the check point is a potential suspect.

After the Christmas Day bombing attempt in 2009, the take-away lesson for the TSA wasn’t that it should be looking for dangerous people instead of dangerous objects. Instead, the agency doubled down, ordering up more invasive body scanners whose manufacturers have reluctantly admitted can’t detect low-density powder hidden behind male genitals. The virtual strip-search photos put out by the TSA depict captured images of hard metal objects, guns and knives, not explosives.

For me, the sad reality is that the TSA has succeeded in accomplishing what Osama bin Laden couldn’t. I now dread the airport. I view the TSA as an inept government agency, which makes complicity in my own humiliation the price I must pay to fly.

Debra Burlingame
New York

Ms. Burlingame is a co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America and the sister of Capt. Charles F. Burlingame, III, pilot of American Airlines Flight 77.

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is not a pork-barrel project akin to a bridge to nowhere

Yesterday, Debra Burlingame and I emailed Senator Tom Coburn over his filibuster of S. 1537 and received his response. At the same time he was agreeing to meet and discuss the matter further, Senator Coburn felt the need to contact the Washington Times. I will post both letters below and follow them with just a few additional thoughts.

9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America
www.911familiesforamerica.org

The Honorable Tom Coburn, M.D.
United States Senate

February 9, 2012

Dear Senator Coburn:

As family members of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, we are deeply disappointed with your decision to put a procedural hold on the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Act of 2011 (S.1537), effectively killing the proposed legislation that would provide federal funding to this vital organization. We understand that over the years you have consistently taken such action on so-called earmarks which are not accompanied by budget off-sets. We sincerely appreciate and share your concern about the country’s alarming debt problem and agree that our children and grandchildren shouldn’t have to foot the bill for the spending we engage in today.

However, the 9/11 memorial and museum is not a local extravagance aimed at benefiting a few today at the expense of the many tomorrow. The attacks of September 11, 2001 may have centered in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, but they were experienced by all Americans and were viewed as an attack on the entire country. The 9/11 memorial and museum is a national project which will tell the comprehensive story of 9/11 and commemorate the victims of the three attack sites, as well as the victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Those of us who lost loved ones on 9/11 feel an urgent duty to our children, grandchildren and future generations to preserve the history of that day, to faithfully convey the catastrophic nature and emotional impact of the attacks–witnessed in real time–on the nation and the world. The memorial museum will show the scope and magnitude of the attacks, the history of Al Qaeda, the events leading up to that day and the aftermath of the attacks.

Why is this museum urgently needed? In the ten years that have passed since that dark day, we have witnessed a disturbing phenomenon in which 9/11 is compared to natural disasters, bridge collapses, workplace shootings and other forms of violence that bear little similarity to the kind of human agency involved in the September 11 attacks or the global impact that followed. We believe that this failure to vividly remember the savage nature and world-changing effect of the attacks undermines the country’s ability to address the myriad issues attending the continuing and ever-evolving threat of Wahhabi-based terrorism.

Further, we believe that the mission of the 9/11 memorial and museum should not be categorized simply as a memorial to the victims which will “help those still in pain with their healing process” and then cast aside like a pork-barrel project akin to a “bridge to nowhere.”

Ten years later, despite the deeply felt promise to “Never Forget,” we feel that many have forgotten the posture of the country on September 10th, and how the catastrophic nature of the attacks the next day “changed everything.” We think the public, certainly young adults who were too young to remember, cannot reasonably appreciate or judge where 9/11 led us without the benefit of understanding what the country went through on that brutal day when America’s sense of vulnerability changed dramatically. The 9/11 memorial and museum will provide the historic context which is urgently needed, and which will become ever more so as we travel further from the memory of that day with each passing year.

With respect to the cost of building the memorial and museum, we agree with you, it is enormously high. The eight acre site which the memorial and museum occupies happens to be located in perhaps the most complicated and expensive piece of real estate in the United States. Most people don’t realize that Al Qaeda destroyed not just the twin towers but seven high rise buildings situated atop a subterranean transportation hub which includes a commuter railway and several subway lines. The 1.8 million tons of rubble cleared at the site in 2001-2002 represented 11 million square feet of office and retail space.

Even if the master plan to rebuild included no memorial and no museum, the infrastructure for the site, which required reinforcing the massive slurry wall–the sea wall which holds back the Hudson River–cost $300 million alone. Seasoned engineers with experience in multiple-use public projects say they have never in their careers encountered a construction project as massive and complex. Senator Coburn, we didn’t choose this site, a metropolis where some 8 million people live and work. Al Qaeda did.

The memorial and museum are being built through a true public-private partnership. The public side is provided by HUD block grants specifically dedicated to rebuilding the World Trade Center site in the wake of 9/11. To be clear, the federal grants you describe are 100% used for construction. On the private side we have raised over $450 million toward construction, exhibitions, and operations to date.

The funding we are seeking now is entirely separate from that used for building, and solely for the ongoing operation of this historic institution. We, along with the foundation’s president, Joe Daniels, would be happy to meet with you and explain the budget decisions the board has made and the considerations that went into those decisions. There is nothing duplicative about the grant in S.1537 and we would be happy to explain why. In the meantime, we would like to point out two of the most significant misunderstandings in the February 1 letter you submitted to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about the 9/11 memorial and museum project.

First, the $584 million in assets listed in our 2010 tax filings are not liquid assets. The overwhelming majority of that sum consists of the asset of the brick and mortar memorial itself, as well as the museum in progress. We have met all of our fundraising goals for building, but now face the additional challenge of raising money for maintaining and operating the memorial and museum in perpetuity.

Second, since the memorial opened last September, it has been visited by more than a million people from all over the U.S. and 140 countries. We expect museum visitors to approach three million per year. However, the 2010 operating expenditures of $13.9 million which you noted are costs incurred prior to the opening of either the memorial or the museum. Costs have of course risen now that the memorial is open and we must maintain it, ensure the security of our visitors, and provide a level of visitor services befitting a national monument. Those costs will rise again when the memorial museum opens.

Without question, the lion’s share of operational costs going forward will be for security at this site that has been attacked by terrorists twice. And even with those costs, our 8-acre memorial and the entire museum will operate on a budget less than that of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and other important national museums located in Washington, DC.

We believe, and Senator Daniel Inouye, the chief sponsor of S.1537, agrees, that preventing a mass casualty terrorist attack at the site where 6 people and a 7 month old unborn baby were killed in 1993, and 2,752 people were killed in 2001, should not be solely dependent on the generosity of small private donors.

We respectfully, but adamantly, disagree with any charges that the 9/11 memorial and museum foundation has excluded 9/11 families from either the process or the planning of this project. We can provide you with actual evidence that those claims are not true, including the minutes of regular family advisory meetings which date back to 2003, before the foundation was in existence. Outreach to 9/11 families has been on-going, consistent and meaningful. Families are major contributors to the content of the museum itself. The foundation has repeatedly acknowledged that input from families has been critical to its effort. In fact, 9/11 family involvement can be credited with significant material changes to the design of both the memorial and the museum. This may account for the overwhelmingly positive response by 9/11 families to the memorial when it opened in September. That said, no organization can hope to achieve 100% agreement, especially concerning a subject which is so deeply personal to this large and diverse group of families.

Finally, the 9/11 memorial and museum project should not be the subject of a protracted and unseemly political fight over funding. We vividly remember how the country came together ten years ago. Americans from every walk of life, all across the country, dropped everything and rushed to the attack sites to help in the rescue or support the recovery. 1,000 small boats evacuated nearly half a million people from lower Manhattan. FEMA search and rescue teams from several states arrived within hours and brought their own heavy equipment. Close to 300 K-9 teams worked the sites. Volunteers provided material, food, and relief in countless ways. Those that couldn’t come to the site of the attacks helped in other ways, establishing internet bulletin boards for information on missing people, sending children’s art to hard hit firehouses, organizing prayer groups and sending teddy bears to the hundreds of children who lost a parent that day.

Everyone wanted to “do something.” That is the remarkable unity that people who lived through this day remember and which would be tarnished by an effort to diminish this historic project by labeling it an “earmark” which burdens the very people it is intended to educate and inspire, our children.

One special group of Americans who wanted to do something were the young men and women who joined the Armed Forces. The September 11 attacks moved them to quit their jobs, suspend their college studies, and leave their families to answer their country’s call to service. Those already in uniform re-enlisted. As one wounded warrior who lost friends in battle recently lamented to members of the foundation board, “No one connects us to 9/11 anymore.” Our combat veterans need this museum to help explain to their children who they are and why they served.

We urge you and your colleagues in the Senate to work together to help move this project forward. We will provide you with any information that will help you understand the work we have done, the progress we have made and our plans going forward. We also invite you, Senator Coburn, to come to New York City and let Alice Greenwald, the director of the museum, walk you through it and give you a presentation of our plans for the museum exhibition.

We feel that the American people, who demonstrated such decency on 9/11, deserve no less.

Very truly yours,

Debra Burlingame
Sister of Capt. Charles F. Burlingame, III, pilot, American Airlines Flight 77
Board Member, National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Co-founder, 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America

Tim Sumner
Brother-in-law of LT Joseph G. Leavey, Ladder 15, FDNY
Sergeant First Class, U.S. Army (retired)
Co-founder, 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America

cc: The Honorable Mitch McConnell
The Honorable Daniel K. Inouye
The Honorable Charles E. Schumer
The Honorable Kirsten Gillibrand

Senator Coburn’s reply (the pdf of the original is here):

February 9, 2012
Debra Burlingame & Tim Sumner
Co-founders
9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America

Dear Debra and Tim,

Thank you for your letter in support of S.1537. I am so sorry for your personal loss on September 11, 2001. There is no question this memorial and museum will be a place of national remembrance for our great loss as a nation. It is, and will continue to be, a tribute to overcoming adversity, and a source of healing for all who visit. The national significance has been reinforced by the extensive federal support currently being provided to the Foundation, as well as the generous outpouring of private contributions from across the country.

As an Oklahoman, I am far too familiar with the great pain and heartache that comes from such a horrific act of hatred and terrorism. As you know, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in the heart of Oklahoma City was hit by a terrorist attack in 1995, killing 168 individuals, including 19 children, and injuring more than 650 others. A touching memorial and museum now stands as a tribute to those who lost their lives and who sacrificed to save so many. The OKC National Memorial and Museum current operates on private donations, accepting no federal or state support. The staff there, including Kari Watkins, the museum and memorial director, would be happy to meet with members from the 9/11 Foundation to share their experience.

The 9/11 Museum and Memorial will be a national treasure and its merits are unquestioned. There is no reason to pay a DC lobbyist $20,000 a month to advocate on behalf of it or to have politicians wrap themselves around it as a way to create a breach in the earmark ban established to end the awarding of federal funds to projects of lesser priority, parochial or questionable value. This memorial should, will and is receiving federal assistance because every American knows its significance and wants to be sure the victims of that day are never forgotten.

Thank you for providing some additional information about the Foundation. I absolutely agree with you “the 9/11 memorial and museum project should not be the subject of a protracted and unseemly political fight over funding.” The significance of this memorial is great, and I have no doubt whatsoever it would be eligible for financial assistance from a multitude of federal programs as evidenced by the more than $310 million already provided and millions of dollars more promised for future years.

If you are having difficulty navigating the myriad of federal programs for the many sources of available aid for the museum, I gladly offer the support of my office to assist you. We would be happy to meet with Foundation staff to help identify and apply for grants through these programs.

If it can be demonstrated no federal funds are available from existing programs to meet the project needs and this bill is the only solution, then the authorization of funding provided in S. 1537, should be paid for with a reduction in wasteful or duplicative spending elsewhere in the federal budget. I am happy to provide a list of possible offsets for consideration.

Again, I believe the 9/11 Memorial & Museum should be held in the highest esteem, above politics and above the DC tradition of lobbying and earmarking of which taxpayers have had enough. Let’s work together to demonstrate projects of great merit, of which I can think of few greater than this memorial, do not have to take this path to receive recognition and federal assistance.

Sincerely,

Tom A. Coburn, M.D.
United States Senate

My further thoughts:

We did not go to war over the Oklahoma City bombing. The memorial there is in remembrance of those slaughtered at the hands of a very few anti-government separatists. The world changed on 9/11.

Al Qaeda and an alphabet of murderous, like-minded groups are active in dozens of countries across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The Taliban and an ever flowing rat line of Al Qaeda’s human bombs are a clear and present danger to more than 100,000 American troops currently in Afghanistan. Literally thousands of “foreign fighters” poured into Iraq during our war there; more than 3,000 of them died fighting our Marines and soldiers during the second battle of Falluja. One idiotic study after another is rolled out questioning the need for homeland defense without ever mentioning the thousands of law enforcement and intelligence officers it still takes to defend against the threat.

The American people know the enemy — one driven by an adherence to the violent jihad and oppressive ideology of sharia law written within the Koran — is still coming. We know there is no place to run from here. The September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center in New York will remain a rally point for Americans for decades to come. Our history and that sacred ground should not be defended on the cheap.

Tim Sumner

Debra Burlingame: ‘Those interrogators, CIA case officers are patriots’

Debra Burlingame was interviewed on WMAL radio this morning about her confronting Barack Obama during a meeting at Ground Zero. She explained her reasons for asking the President to express his opinion to Attorney General about dropping the investigation of CIA officers who conducted the enhanced interrogations of detainees:

Try as they might, the Obama administration can not deny the courier was first identified and determined to be a valuable person to find and follow in the hunt for Osama bin Laden during those enhanced interrogations.