Syria GlobeIt will not be easy for President Barack Obama to convince Congress to authorize U.S. missile strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in retaliation for using chemical weapons on civilians last month in that country’s escalating civil war.

Congress is not in session – the House and Senate are on their summer recess – but Obama called select members back to Washington Sunday afternoon for an intelligence briefing with the president’s national security team.

Getting Congress to go along is one colossal problem. Getting the American public behind him is another. And it’s a problem that Obama is keenly aware of, based on his comments Tuesday.

When asked by reporters Tuesday what he wanted to tell the American people before heading into his first open meeting with lawmakers since announcing his plans on Saturday, Obama said that the proposed strikes on Syria are “proportional… limited, (and do) not involve boots on the ground,

“This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan.”

Syria Bloody Info Graphic

After three hours behind closed doors, Sunday night, many lawmakers emerged still unconvinced Obama’s proposal to launch airstrikes against Assad would make it through the legislative branch.

“I am very concerned about taking America into another war against a country that hasn’t attacked us,” Representative Janice Hahn, a California Democrat, told Reuters after the meeting.

Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick, the Reuters reporters who covered the briefing, noted that most of those in attendance were convinced that Assad had used sarin gas on civilians.

“The searing image of babies lined up dead, that’s what I can’t get out of my mind right now,” Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz told reporters.

However, not everyone came away from the meeting believing strikes against Syria would solve problems there.

“I’m not convinced that the administration’s support will resolve the issues in Syria,” Representative Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, told Reuters, adding he was leaning toward a “no” vote.

When Obama announced plans Saturday to seek Congressional approval for strategic airstrikes, some Congressmen offered immediate support while others balked.

Syria Ruins

Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, criticized the White House resolution as “too broadly drafted” adding he won’t vote for “a partial blank check.” “The draft resolution presented by the administration does not currently meet that test,” Van Hollen said.”It is too broadly drafted, it’s too open ended.”

Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also a Democrat, went on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday and offered his support for the resolution and predicted that Congress would ultimately approve the administration’s proposal “I think at the end of the day, Congress will rise to the occasion,” Rogers told CNN. “This is a national security issue. This isn’t about Barack Obama versus the Congress. This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats.”

He’s certainly right. It’s not about Republicans versus Democrats. It’s about Democrats versus Democrats. After all, Representatives Hahn, Van Hollen and Thompson all belong to the president’s party, but they aren’t ready to line up behind his proposal – yet. Winning Democratic support in the House will be the key for the White House to get the resolution passed through Congress.

Syria Banner Comparison to Boston Bombings

Rogers is probably also right that The People’s Branch will authorize U.S. military intervention eventually. But being skeptical about the intelligence community’s claims that our enemies have or are using weapons of mass destruction was a hard-learned lesson for many members of Congress. As Jim Naureckas pointed out yesterday on the blog for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:

“The U.S. government, of course, has a track record that will incline informed observers to approach its claims with skepticism–particularly when it’s making charges about the proscribed weapons of official enemies. Kerry said in his address that “our intelligence community” has been “more than mindful of the Iraq experience”–as should be anyone listening to Kerry’s presentation, because the Iraq experience informs us that secretaries of State can express great confidence about matters that they are completely wrong about, and that U.S. intelligence assessments can be based on distortion of evidence and deliberate suppression of contradictory facts.”

Naureckas wears his own incredulity on his sleeve. Even while acknowledging that thousands of people in Damascus were treated for sarin gas exposure, he leaves room for the possibility that it wasn’t the Assad regime who released the toxin. He also points out several “strikingly vague,” claims from Secretary of State John Kerry about the origins of the chemical weapons attack, while calling into question the overall credibility of the evidence Kerry presented this weekend:

“It gives the strong impression of being pieced together from drone surveillance and NSA intercepts, supplemented by Twitter messages and YouTube videos, rather than from on-the-ground reporting or human intelligence. Much of what is offered tries to establish that the victims in Ghouta had been exposed to chemical weapons–a question that indeed had been in some doubt, but had already largely been settled by a report by Doctors Without Borders that reported that thousands of people in the Damascus area had been treated for ‘neurotoxic symptoms.'”

And Naureckas is not the only skeptic. Brazilian investigative reporter Pepe Escobar went on Russia Today on Saturday to call the administration’s intelligence into question. According to Escobar, Secretary of State Kerry is relying heavily on information received from Israel, a neighbor to Syria, which may have its own motivations to encourage U.S. intervention:

“The evidence that they have was offered essentially by (Binyamin) Benny Gantz – the chief of the Israeli Defense Force (Israel’s army) – directly to Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was intel, basically, by Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency). It can be extremely compromised. On top of this, we have a triple agenda here: the Obama administration, Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

Syria Child Free

But leaving aside the question of whether it was Bashar al-Assad’s army that used the chemical weapons or rebel groups hoping that the international community would believe it was Assad – thus triggering outside intervention – there are a number of factors that are not in question.

First and foremost, the Assad regime is exceedingly brutal to Syria’s people. Monstrous is not too strong a word. More than 100,000 people have died since the fighting began in 2011, many of them killed by the government – most of them are civilians, including women and children. It is notable here that the rebellion Assad is trying to put down is led by civilians, not soldiers, which means civilians are targets. Their deaths are not collateral damage caused by conventional warfare in an urban setting – the government wants them dead.

And from a certain perspective, the dead are the lucky ones. Other victims of the regime are kidnapped, tortured, raped and otherwise terrorized. Take for example the testimony of Navanethem Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations, who testified before the U.N. Security Council in December 2011:

“Credible information gathered by my staff demonstrates patterns of systematic and widespread use of torture in interrogation and detention by Security forces. The pervasive readiness to resort to torture to instill fear indicates that State officials have condoned it. Information received from defectors indicates that they received orders to torture. Extensive reports of sexual violence in places of detention, primarily against men and boys, are particularly disturbing. These include reports of rape.” “Children have not been spared. State forces have disregarded children’s rights when acting to quell dissent. Killing of children by beating or shooting during demonstrations, as well as their torture and ill treatment has been widespread. According to reliable sources more than 300 children have been killed by State forces, including 56 in November. Schools have been used as detention facilities, demonstrating utter disregard for children’s rights to education and personal safety.”

Syrian troops controlled by Assad have been known to roll up on peaceful demonstrations against the regime and open up with machine gun fire. Spraying indiscriminately into crowds, Assad’s troops then cut off escape routes and pick off the survivors.

Bashar al Assad

They send explosives into residential neighborhoods, wait rescue workers to arrive, then bomb the area again. This has been happening in Syria for more than two years.

The United Nations says that one-third of Syria’s population have been forced from their homes to escape the fighting. Out of a total population of 22.5 million, that’s 7.5 million who have fled the violence, and 1 million of those are children. The 7.5 million figure includes more than 2 million who have left the country altogether, and most of those are living in tents near Syria’s borders with Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey according to the U.S. High Council on Refugees. That makes the civil war there a full-blown, international, humanitarian crisis.

So why hasn’t the Obama administration taken a stronger stance against Assad before now? Part of it is because Syria’s civil war doesn’t affect American interests directly.

Part of it is because every time Americans go to war in the Middle East, the consequences are disastrous. And up to this point, there has been some hope that the situation may sort itself out without direct American intervention. After the chemical weapons attack, it’s obvious it will not sort itself out.

A year ago, Obama said if Syria’s government used chemical weapons on its own people, that would mean Assad had crossed “a red line,” provoking an American response. If the Syrian government could get away with that, the president said, it would send dangerous signals to other hostile governments – such as Iran and North Korea –they could use weapons of mass destruction and America would sit on its hands. He reiterated that point in the Rose Garden Saturday.

Syria Injured Child“Here’s my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community,” Obama said. “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?”

If Congress doesn’t get on board with his plan, the president has indicated a willingness to use his executive authority to carry out the airstrikes anyway. But he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want to take that route.

“While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective,” Obama said.

He may not have a choice. Especially since the administration is facing challenges on Syria on the international front as well.

Great Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron made a similar plea to parliament last week and they turned him down. And although he has the authority to commit military resources without approval from his government’s legislative body, he has said he won’t. So if America does strike Syria, it will be without the help of our strongest ally.

The French government has indicated a willingness to get involved, but only if America goes first. “France cannot go in alone,” French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said in a radio interview this weekend. “A coalition is necessary.”

“We are entering a new phase,” Valls said against the backdrop of growing pressure on President Francois Hollande, because of the chemical weapons attacks. “We now have time and with this time, we must put it to good use so that things move.”

I confess. I went to a Fast Food Forward protest yesterday to support striking workers… and then I went to McDonald’s.

Sandwiched between the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Labor Day, fast food workers in dozens of American cities participated in a one-day strike Thursday, demanding $15-an-hour, benefits and the right to unionize.

Workers in Detroit, St. Louis, San Diego and Los Angeles were joined by those in New York, Durham, N.C. and Hartford, Conn., in what activist-types call “a day of action.” Workers and organizers used social media to keep each other posted on what was happening  throughout the day. And commentators  and supporters across the web weighed in on the subject  on various platforms. (You can see some examples of that sprinkled throughout this article.) A perfunctory glance at the Web on Thursday afternoon: a search for “fast food protest” showed 161 videos posted to YouTube this week; the same search turned up hundreds of posts on Google+ from Wednesday and Thursday; and on Twitter, scores of tweets were coming in every minute with the hashtags #829strike and #fightfor15.

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I went to a Fast Food Forward protest in Manhattan’s Union Square Park to support the workers and do some reporting. There were hundreds of fast food workers, sympathy strikers and onlookers in attendance. And since it’s an election year here in New York, several candidates for public office addressed the crowd.

“This is not a cause,” said Brooklyn City Councilwoman Letitia James. “This is a movement. One day after we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington this is about economic justice. It’s about a dream where all of us can live in the city of New York, where all of us do not have to struggle.

“They would like you to believe that all fast food workers are teenagers. They are not. They are primarily women with children who are struggling to make ends meet, so this is about economic justice. We are here today to honor the legacy of Dr. King by standing with these fast food workers.”

James is being forced out of her 35th District council seat by term limits, but she’s running for the citywide office of Public Advocate, an office currently held by Bill De Blasio, who is running for mayor. She is also a member of the council’s Progressive Caucus. Her district includes the neighborhoods of Clinton Hill and Fort Greene; and parts of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant.

De Blasio, whose progressive bone fides were recently endorsed by The Nation, also addressed the rally.

“We’re here to talk about an injustice that cannot stand,” De Blasio said. “There’s no one in this city, there’s no one in this country who can’t tell you that the fast food industry is doing very, very well. Wherever you go, they’re full, they’re thriving, but until today I didn’t know that chains like McDonald’s and Burger King are part of a $200-billion industry.

YouTube Fast Food Comments

“An industry known for trying to hold down its workers to minimum wage and not give them the benefits they deserve. This is unacceptable. This is not the kind of country or the kind of city we should have, where hard working people in an industry that is more lucrative all the time, can’t get a modicum of economic justice. And I won’t stand for it.

“If I have the honor of being mayor of New York City I will have the honor of standing with you at rallies just like this until you get the justice you deserve.”

The politicians were there to show their support, but also to court votes. The protest was really focused on workers like Tamara Green, a Burger King employee who gave a stirring address that covered the hard facts of the situation the striking workers face.

“I am one semester away from graduating from college,” Green said. “And I know college graduates who stand next to me and make a burger. They say that if you’re educated, you can get anywhere. If you’ve got this, you can go far. A lot of us graduated high school, a lot of us can enunciate, a lot of us are extremely intelligent. A lot of us are not ‘hood rats. A lot of us are not doing this for a new pair of sneakers.

“I was talking to a reporter today and he said to me ‘Well it seems like it’s about the money.’ We’ve been so long without money, that’s it’s not about the money. It’s about the respect we are due as people, as workers, as those that make these companies groove and swing.

“These companies are making their money on our shoulders. We are not only here in New York doing this. We are 50 cities strong. And I don’t think today is the last day. We’ve got to do this every day; rain, sleet, snow, feet hurt, may not have a job tomorrow; but guess what? A youngster coming up behind me, they’re going to have a job and benefits and they’ll look at their self in the mirror and say ‘I am my best me.’”

On a personal note: I’ve worked in the fast food industry, so I understand why these workers are striking. I was a teenager when I started working at Taco Bell. I had just moved out of my parents’ house and was trying to support myself – pay rent, bills and buy groceries – while going to school part-time and paying my own tuition. Technically I was a “shift manager,” which meant that I earned a little more than the bottom-rung employees I was “supervising.” In the late 1990s, Congress had recently raised the minimum wage to just above $6-an-hour and I was earning $8 and change. Eventually I left Taco Bell to manage an Einstein Bros. bagel shop. I got a bump in pay when I changed jobs, but it still wasn’t enough to sustain myself so I had to move back home.

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It’s worth noting that in addition to being 15 years ago, it was also in the Midwest, where the cost of living is substantially lower than it is here in New York. (I was renting a one-bedroom with a den for $450/month, including two reserved parking spaces, and my apartment complex had a swimming pool!)

I was lucky enough to be able to move back in with my folks to save some money. But many of the people I worked with at those jobs didn’t have that option. They were single parents, trying to support their families. They were middle-aged workers who didn’t have any marketable skills to speak of. They were immigrant families (Yes, whole families – fathers, mothers, daughters and sons.) They were combat veterans and starving artists trying to make their way in the world.

The pay is low, the benefits are non-existent, the work is dangerous and grueling. And nobody – not customers, not management and least of all corporations – gives fast food workers any respect.

So I can sympathize with the striking workers, and I support them. Antagonists who say: “If they get what they want, the price of a Big Mac will skyrocket,” besides being wrong, are missing an important point. Fast food is a multi-billion dollar industry – it is not true that the corporations have to pass the cost of raises onto the customer.

The corporate types who sit behind desks and wouldn’t be caught dead flipping a burger – or eating one for that matter – could take corresponding pay cuts to offset the cost of paying their workers a wage they can live on. They could cut back on the money they spend researching and developing the next great dipping sauce or coming up with new ways to inject cheese into pizza crusts. They could stop building new locations on every corner in America. How about cutting back on advertising? What if they reduced the portions they served? Aren’t there ways of controlling costs that don’t involve raising prices or paying workers poverty wages?

Yes. There are. And if you’re still reading, you know I just named five of them.

A protester in Chicago held up this sign Thursday outside a McDonald's.

A protester in Chicago held up this sign Thursday outside a McDonald’s.

A further confession: I’m a hypocrite. I admit it. I support these workers and I should have steered clear of all fast food restaurants yesterday. In my defense, I really tried. After I left the Union Square protest I was hungry. But I was resolved, so I walked out of my way – past a Taco-Hut, (a combination Taco Bell/Pizza Hut, owned by Yum! Brands, Inc.) two Subways, a Wendy’s and handful of other national chains – to buy my lunch. Then I walked back to the subway (the trains, not the sandwich shop) and headed out to Coney Island. I was hoping to catch a baseball game and ride the Wonder Wheel.

I was frustrated on both counts, but was pleased instead to see a burlesque show at Coney Island U.S.A. I arrived at Coney at 5:30 p.m. when the gates opened to MCU Park, home of the Cyclones, but the bleacher seats were sold out. And the burlesque show didn’t start until after 9. So, I decided to find a free Wi-Fi connection and upload the videos I had taken at the protest to YouTube.

There aren’t a lot of options for free internet connections in Coney Island and they’re pretty much all fast food joints. I walked a great distance to what my phone told me was a Starbucks, where I could get online. But it turns out it was a drive-thru shack with no way inside, so I turned around and headed back towards a McDonald’s. I knew I shouldn’t, but I had time to kill and work to do, so I decided to swallow my pride – bite the bullet – as it were and do what I needed to do.

Retrospectively, I’m glad I did. Because the experience helped me think more about why I support the striking workers and why the corporations who employ them ought to pay them well enough to support themselves and raise their families.

When I got inside the restaurant, it was packed with customers. It was the dinner hour and affordable food options at the People’s Playground are scarce, unless you want a hot dog or a slice of pizza. Surely withholding my $3 wasn’t going to shut the industry down, or get anyone’s attention. So why not? I ordered a medium iced mocha.

What happened next is an anecdote parallel to many of the arguments I’ve seen in the category of here’s-why-fast-food-workers-don’t-deserve-a-raise. It took way too long for me to get my drink. And when I did there was no ice in it. In fact it was a little hot. It’s called an iced mocha for pity’s sake – putting ice in it doesn’t require any deductive reasoning or superior cognition – it’s right there in the name of the drink. But it’s busy in this McDonald’s at this particular moment, so I understand. A simple oversight made by an overworked, underpaid employee. I forgive her.

So I walk up to the counter and politely say: “Excuse me, there’s no ice in this and it’s hot. Would you put some ice in it for me?” She was happy to oblige.

Those familiar with the McDonald’s mocha products know that they come topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce and have those domed lids with the extra-large hole in the top, presumably so the whipped cream nozzle will fit inside. I watched in wonder as the employee took my drink to the ice bin and tried to dump a scoopful of cubes through the hole in the lid. As you can imagine, the results were disastrous.

LinkedIn Fast Food Start

She walked back over to the counter – sloppy mess in hand. “It was really hard to get ice in here,” she said as she wiped the spillage off the side of the cup. She set it on the counter as if to offer me the now destroyed mocha. I smiled patiently, (You support these workers remember? They deserve better than this, don’t they?) “Maybe it would be easier if you put this in a new cup, or just started over from the beginning?” I said. She agreed. It seemed obvious to both of us once one of us had said it aloud. In the end I got my drink and uploaded my videos – no big deal.

But it made me wonder. Am I wrong to dismiss the arguments of those who say fast food workers don’t deserve a raise because they’re unskilled and hopelessly incompetent?

No, I’m not. That’s baloney, because the issue here is not competence. Incompetent workers in all industries should be corrected, disciplined and ultimately, if they don’t improve – fired. That’s to say nothing of the fact that employees who receive better pay are more likely to perform their duties competently. The real issue is anyone in America who is willing to work for a living ought to earn enough to live. It’s just that simple. Many of these workers depend on food stamps, housing subsidies, Medicaid and other government assistance to survive. That’s taxpayer money – yours and mine – spent on keeping workers afloat. Isn’t that a responsibility that ought to be borne by their employers? They work. Hard. In lousy conditions. The least the filthy rich industry can do is compensate them enough so they can live.

Weiner Iterns wantedThe Daily News posted this exclusive about mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner casting his campaign interns as “regular New Yorkers'” who support him.

But they don’t mention they work for him.

The ad is one of the first for Weiner that features New Yorkers speaking on his behalf. Previous ads, especially since his campaign imploded amid new sexting revelations, have largely featured only the candidate.

Weiner, who briefly topped the polls in the mayor’s race,  has been languishing in fourth place in recent polls.

Weiner spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said of the ad, “They are all real live supporters who have chosen Anthony Weiner.”

She pointed out that none of the people in the ad were ever paid by Weiner.

Anthony Weiner features current and former interns as the ‘regular New Yorkers’ who speak on his behalf in new TV ad

Choices from Anthony Weiner on Vimeo.

CBS Dallas / Fort Worth

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry is planning an upcoming trip to Missouri — and he’s injecting his opinion into that’s state’s debate over Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of an income tax cut. Perry is endorsing the effort by Republican lawmakers to override the veto.

Perry’s backing of the proposed tax cut came on the same day that a Texas marketing group began running a radio ad in Missouri criticizing Nixon’s veto and encouraging Missouri businesses to consider moving to Texas.

The Texas Republican plans to make a personal appearance Aug. 29 in Missouri to tout Texas’ business-friendly environment during events sponsored by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a coalition of groups backing the veto override attempt.

Perry said he also plans to meet with specific Missouri businesses as part of a Texas recruitment effort, though he declined to identify them.

“The veto…

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CBS New York

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Unveiling the first policy proposals of his comeback campaign, New York City comptroller candidate Eliot Spitzer called Wednesday for sweeping reforms to the public housing system and delivered a sharp rebuke of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s suggestion of fingerprinting tenants.

Spitzer, the former governor who resigned in 2008 after admitting to paying for sex with prostitutes, urged more spending on housing repairs and criticized the city’s plan to lease public housing land to private developers.

“If there’s property that’s underutilized, use it, but use it for the folks who live here right now,” Spitzer said during a tour of  the Frederick Douglass Houses in Harlem. “Selling off parkland in the middle of housing to the highest bidder, that’s wrong.”

[cbs-audio url=”http://cbsnewyork.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/alex-spitzer.mp3″ size=”340px” download=”false” name=”Spitzer Lays Out Plan To Improve NYCHA, Blasts Mayor’s Fingerprinting Idea” artist=”WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman Reports”]

Spitzer also said making sure money for public…

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CBS New York

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Leading mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio had to take time out from courting voters to go to court Tuesday, appearing before a judge over his arrest at a hospital protest.

De Blasio, City Councilman Stephen Levin (D-33rd) and about a dozen nurses and others had their disorderly conduct cases put on track to be dismissed if they avoid rearrest for six months.

The method is a common way for Manhattan courts to resolve such cases.

De Blasio, who now serves as the city’s public advocate, and the others were arrested July 10 after they ignored a police officer’s order to stop blocking the entrance to a midtown Manhattan office of the State University of New York, according to a court complaint. The group was protesting the university system’s plan to close Long Island College Hospital and sell its Brooklyn property, valued at up to $1 billion.

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Phil Ebersole's Blog

Ladar Levison, who closed down his Lavabit e-mail service rather than comply with a secret government order, is in the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma situation.

h-LAVABITHe and other business owners would be better off if they stuck together and resisted the government’s secret demands in the courts.  But because of the government’s gag orders, none of them has any way of knowing whether others are fighting the same battle or they are all alone.

Levison is forbidden to say just what the government ordered him to do and what his objection was.  His secret appeal against a secret order will be tried in secret.  This is crazy.   This is bizarre.  It is like some unpublished short story by Franz Kafka.

We have a huge national security apparatus which operates in secret.  The President of the United States issues secret orders for assassinations of people deemed national enemies, based on a secret…

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FOX 4 Kansas City WDAF-TV | News, Weather, Sports

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It’s been 40 years since the metro hosted a political party convention.

But area leaders and area Republicans are hoping to change that and lobbying hard Wednesday.

Mayor Sly James of KCMO and Mayor Mark Holland of KCK, both took trips to Boston, where the GOP was holding a summer meeting. They, along with other KC delegates, are battling to get the Republican National Convention here in 2016.

“There have been a couple of times when people have said that they heard that we were in town and have been looking forward to hearing what we’ve got to say,” Mayor James said by phone.

“The message we want them to hear from us is how well we work together, our willingness as a region to come together and put our way foot forward,” Mayor Holland said by phone.

Amy Jordan Wooden, an aide…

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