Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series regarding Rep. Brian Higgins' visit to SUNY Fredonia.
By MICHAEL RUKAVINA
OBSERVER Assistant News Editor
Local topics such as waterway development and hydrofracking were not the only ones on the minds of SUNY Fredonia students.
During a recent presentation by Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27), students prodded for information on the growing global concerns including Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Iran is a big problem for a lot of reasons. They're developing nuclear capability. They develop nuclear capability and they're likely to use that against their enemies. Their near enemy is Israel, friend of the United States," Higgins began. "Iran is a nation of about 80 million people. They are, believe it or not pro-western. The regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei are obviously not. They're of an older generation."
Higgins noted the economic sanctions currently imposed on Iran, and even the imminent possibility of a military offensive.
"To do a military strike as some are suggesting in Washington including members of Congress I think that at this point is wrong. I think we give it to at least July to see what effect the sanctions are having on Iran," he said. "Probably 20-25 percent of the oil they produce goes to the European Union. The European Union will impose a boycott, but what we're trying to do is get the other Arab oil producing states to make up that difference so there aren't economic problems where the people of the European Union lose confidence in their government."
The situation plays to a much larger issue oil dependency.
"It is our addiction to foreign oil. Ahmadinejad has a big mouth when oil is at $100 a barrel ... not so big of a mouth when it's at $25 a barrel. Our oil purchases insulate him from economic and political reform.The same is true with Putin in Russia and Chavez in Venezuela. There is an inverse correlation between the price of oil and the pace of freedom. When oil is high, governments become very oppressive because they can, they buy their people off," Higgins said. "It's a terrible situation because we're a consumption economy in the United States. We produce 3 percent of the world's oil and we consume 25 percent of it. As we're buying it, and at record dollars, we're just feeding our enemy and I'll tell you we have real enemies out there."
Higgins pointed to Germany as an example as leaders in the renewable resource development department, noting how they implement tax credits to help bring the costs in line with cheaper, less environmentally friendly ways of producing energy.
"You know what we do? We say we'll give you a two-year tax credit ... oh, really? And you want us to make a generational commitment with all this uncertainty? The proper role of government is to help set the market, send price signals," Higgins said. "We talk a great game, but the real effort to move us toward energy independence ... look at all of the problems it would solve. Ahmadinejad wouldn't have any money, he wouldn't be able to threaten Israel, he wouldn't be able to threaten the United States."
WITHDRAWAL FROM AFGHANISTAN
To put emphasis on renewable energy and nation building at home, Higgins knows the focus in Washington needs to change.
"What are we doing in Afghanistan?" Higgins asked himself. "Nation building."
"They say no, you have the interpretation wrong," he continued. "There is a literacy rate of 1 percent for women, you're trying to build up an Afghan society, and Afghan police force, and Afghan army with people who are illiterate. How do you address that? You have to build schools. You build schools you have to build roads to get them to the schools, to make the schools operational you have to have electricity grids. That by definition is nation building."
Whether the U.S. leaves Afghanistan next year, 10 years from now or if it left five years ago, he said nothing will change until Afghans want to change.
Finding a common direction between political parties has been almost non-existent at times in recent memory. Higgins pointed to when the United States Congress, in the final week of last year, came out with a 60-day extension of a payroll tax cut.
"It's an embarrassment. A national embarrassment, and both parties should be ashamed of themselves because both have an obligation to do much better on behalf of the American people," he said. "We're dealing with an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, unacceptably high. People are pessimistic about their future; the gridlock in Washington contributes extraordinary to that pessimistic view."
The problem in Washington, Higgins said, is the constant battle between political parties.
"A member of the United States Senate stands up, a so-called leader, says 'so long as this guy is President our number one priority is to make him a one-term President.' I'm here to tell you that every Democrat and every Republican has an obligation to do better on behalf of this nation. We need to invest in this nation," he said. "They're talking about cutting everything. That's not going to do it. You want to reduce the record-high debt? Grow your economy. The only way to grow your economy is to invest in your economy and in your people."
Higgins said he is often met with arguments over spending, whether foreign or domestic.
They say 'oh no we can't spend any money.' Oh really, you just spent a trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you just spent $76 billion in deficit financing the reconstruction of Afghanistan, you spent $63 billion financing the reconstruction of Iraq and you can't invest in our roads and our bridges and doing nation building right here at home? We can do much better as a nation and we need to do much better as a nation," he said.
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