Saturday, December 14, 2013

What's on the Council Agneda for Dec 17th? Council may Free Transportation Services! My analysis and commentary.

In my view, the most important bill on the Agenda is one that may free transportation services from Metro's protectionist minimum pricing and restrictions. Free enterprise may come to Nashville!

The Metro Council agenda and staff analysis for December 17th is now available at these links: Agenda and Analysis. If you know what the Council is voting on it is still boring but not quite as boring.

There is a Proposed amendment to Rule No. 47 of Rules of Procedure of the Metropolitan Council. This rule change is not explained on the staff analysis. Rule 47 concerns use of the chamber by groups other than the Council and the placement of printed material on Council members desk.

Elections and Confirmations: There is only one position up for confirmation and that is an appointee to the Convention Center Authority. Council does not take its responsibility of filling positions on Boards and Commissions seriously and always approves the Mayor's appointees.

There are no Bills on Public Hearing.

Consent Agenda:
There are twenty resolutions all of which are on the consent agenda. A resolution is put on the consent agenda if it is likely to be non-controversial and it stays on the consent agenda if it passes the committees to which it was assigned unanimously. Bills on the consent agenda are usually not controversial and tend to be routine matters, such as accepting grants from the Federal or State Government or authorizing the Department of Law to settle claims against the city or appropriating money from the 4% fund. Resolutions on the consent agenda are passed by a single vote of the Council rather than being considered individually. However, any member of the body may have a bill pulled off of the consent agenda. There are a few resolutions of interest and some that concern me. I hope they are given a lot scrutiny in committee meetings. They are listed below.

  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2013-904 provides compensation for special judges presiding in Davidson County General Sessions Court. I would question if this is really necessary. Maybe it is, but I have reservations about this bill. It is my understanding that General Sessions judges do not work that many hours anyway, and if one must be out, it seems like another judge could fill the vacancy. Immediately this would not cause the city any additional money, since there is enough money in the operating budget to pay special judges, but this could result in increased budget request in future budgets. I hope someone who is fiscally conservative and not afraid of offending a sitting judge would carefully evaluate this bill. It is so easy for everyone to just go along, that I feel this will not get careful scrutiny. It takes 27 votes for this to pass. 
  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2013-930 appropriates $4.7 million to various departments, but $4.3 million are to go to the schools to fund a teacher early retirement buy-out program. While I think the buy-out program makes sense, I question if it should be paid for in this manner. Why can the Schools not pay for it out of their own funds? Anyway, since the MNPS refused to comply with a directive from the State Department of Education regarding the approval of Great Hearts Academy, which resulted in the State withholding $3.4 million as punishment and since the MNPS have a taken such a anti-school choice policy position, and since it appears to me they waste a lot of money, I don't know that I would be inclined to give any additional funds to the schools unless they exhibit some changes.  
  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2013-931 appropriates over $9 million to various departments. I am not alarmed by any of these appropriations, I just hope appropriate oversight has been exercised by the administration and the Council.

Bills on First reading almost always pass. They are considered as a group and are seldom discussed. First reading is a formality that allows the bill to be considered. Bills are not assigned to committee or analyzed by council staff until after they have passed first reading. There are only three bills on first reading.

Bills on Second Reading:
It is on Second reading, after bills have been to committee, that discussion usually takes place. There are fourteen bills on second reading. The following items are interesting:
  • BILL NO. BL2013-603 would regulate small outdoor music events intended to draw not over 150 people. This seems like overkill to me unless this has proven to be a big problem.
  • BILL NO. BL2013-605 would reduce the minimum fee for vehicles for hire from $45 to only $9 and would allow ride-share type services such as Lyft or Sidecar.  To paraphrase Joe Biden, "This is a really big deal."

    While I would prefer there be no minimum, a $9 minimum is so low that there might as well be no minimum.  Maybe Nashville is ready to embrace competition and innovation and abandon its record of anti-market crony capitalism.

    In 2010 the Metro Council passed a bill requiring the minimum fee of $45 for vehicles for hire that were not taxi cabs. The impetuous behind that was to protect luxury limo services from the new competition presented by "Black Sedans." Black Sedans is a type service that is not quite a taxi or a limo but something in between and metro wanted to force them to function as limousines. In addition to the $45 minimum, Metro passed other restrictions that unnecessarily added to the cost of Black Sedans doing business. In addition the Transportation Licensing Commission engaged in a policy of harassment and intimidation of Black Sedan operators. The Institute for Justice brought a law suit against the city, representing the Black Sedan companies, alleging the city's $45 minimum and other regulations were unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the city prevailed. Nashville's unconscionable actions to protect the luxury limo operators and put Black Sedans out of business was the subject of national exposure by John Stossel, George Will, The Huffington Post and others. Metro also has a pitiful record when it comes to allowing additional taxi cab competition also. I have covered this issue extensively, to read more follow this link.

  • I suspect that this bill will run into opposition and probably will be deferred. I don't think the existing transportation providers are going to roll over and play dead. They will fight to keep their protected status and market share. It looks like, however, the proponents of growth who want Nashville's new convention center to be a success realize we need more transportation and more transportation options. I don't think they have suddenly embraced free enterprise but a pragmatic concern may cause them to act as if they have. I suspect some influential people have switched sides on this issue. 
    It has been disappointing that some Council member who profess to be conservative and Republican have supported Metro's transportation price fixing when it was passed in 2010 and opposed efforts to repeal it. Now we can see who supports freedom and a market economy in the council and who does not. No one who opposes this bill should be reelected. Those who previously voted for price-fixing can redeem themselves.
Bills on Third Reading:
Third reading is the final reading and when a bill passes final reading it becomes law unless vetoed by the mayor and that almost never happens. There are fourteen bills on third reading. Most of the bills on third reading this time are really boring things like abandoning easements and accepting easements. None of them concern me.

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Same-sex marriage? Polygamy not far behind.

In a game-changer for the legal fight over same-sex marriage that gives credence to opponents’ “slippery slope” arguments, a federal judge has now ruled that the legal reasoning for same-sex marriage means that laws against polygamy are likewise unconstitutional. 

In his 91-page opinion in Brown v. Buhman, on Dec. 13, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups struck down Utah’s law making polygamy a crime. In so doing, he may have opened Pandora’s Box. (link)

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Sen. Mark Green: My Night With Saddam Hussein

I treated the Iraqi dictator after American forces captured him 

by Mark Green, years ago today, at around 8:30 p.m. Baghdad time, U.S. Special Forces pulled a cowering Saddam Hussein from a hole in the earth. By sheer happenstance, I wound up spending that night with him and an interpreter, engaging in a conversation that even now seems surreal to me.

I was privileged to wear the uniform of an Army flight surgeon with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the legendary "Night Stalkers." Our ambulance was a Blackhawk helicopter that didn't have any crosses on it and was capable of firing 8,000 rounds each minute; my patients were brothers and sisters in arms who had, like me, traveled to the other side of the globe in the cause of freedom.

Saddam wasn't the first high-value target I had treated. As the first weeks of December ticked by, Special Operations had moved closer and closer to him: first his girlfriend was captured, then his secretary, even his personal physician.

I treated each of them with respect, and my being a doctor seemed to relax them. Apparently relieved to meet the first of their captors whose mission wasn't to extract information, they opened up to me. It was an interesting dynamic, and it repeated itself with Saddam. (read more)

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Liberty on the Rocks Christmas Libertacular Thursday, Dec. 19th

Liberty on the Rocks Christmas Libertacular 
Thursday, December 19, 2013, 5:30 PM
Mafiaoza's, 2400 12th Ave S, Nashville, TN ,37204

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Marsha Blackburn Votes for Budget Deal

In yesterday's vote on the budget deal negotiated by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and  Democrat Patty Murry, Tennessee's delegation supported it 7-2 . The "no" votes were DesJarlais and John Ducan. The budget deal passed the house by a vote of 332-94. Republicans split 169-62. To view the complete roll call vote record follow this link: Final Vote Results for Roll Call ..

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Charlie Tygards says Metro is Kicking the Can Down the Road on Metro's Pension Liability

by Councilman Charlie Tygard

Charlie Tygard
Last month, Mayor Karl Dean and Finance Director Rich Riebeling floated an idea to sell $200 million in bonds and invest the proceeds into Metro’s long-term pension fund. The principle was “buy low – sell high”. The Administration argued that with bond rates at near all-time lows, Metro Government could sell the bonds at a favorable rate, invest the proceeds in a rising stock market and benefit from the difference.

As a point of information, actuarial studies estimate Metro’s current pension shortfall at nearly $400 million, but also estimates Metro is around 90% funded. A pension fund over 80% funded is considered sound. It is also interesting to note that the City of Detroit, currently bankrupt, was deemed solvent and viable as late as 2011.

The overlooked point in this argument is potential risk, ie gamble, for taxpayers. As long as the economy and stock market is strong and growing, no problem. But the problem arises in times of economic crisis, such as 2008. It is in the tough times where the argument for this type arrangement falls short. Several cities in California gambled on this method and are now in bankruptcy.

I would ask the question – Would you borrow money to take to Las Vegas and gamble on a high return? Any prudent, financially savvy individual wouldn’t even hesitate in answering “no way.” Since there was no 100% guarantee that Metro would come out ahead on the deal, the Administration, at the urging of the Metro Council, did the right thing to pull the plug on this issue quickly.

But unfortunately, the issue didn’t end there. Based on the red flags raised by the Finance Director concerning the pension fund shortfall, I filed legislation to transfer $10 M from our Unappropriated Fund Balance (Metro’s savings account, commonly called the “rainy day fund”) to the Pension account. Such a transfer would have still left Metro comfortably above the mandated level of 5%.But such a transfer would have been a powerful message from the Metro Council that shoring up our pension account was a top priority.

Eventually though, based on strong opposition from the Administration which cited such a move a “ill-advised and not financially prudent,” the resolution was soundly defeated. In my viewpoint, the Metro Council essentially did what Congress does – kick the can down the road for another day.

Charlie Tygard is a Metro Councilman-at-Large having served in that position since 2007 and now serving his last term. He previously served in the Council representing District 35 from 1989 to 1995 and again from 2002 to 2007. He is an accountant and owns Accurate Tax and Bookkeeping Service. 

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President Barack Obama, shakes hands with Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela's funeral.

President Barack Obama, shakes hands with
Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela's funeral.
As anyone who is familiar with my blog knows, I am not a fan of President Obama. In fact, I think he may be the worst President our nation has ever had.  However, I think those who are making an issue of President Obama shaking hands with Raul Castro are making something out of nothing. If I was introduced to Barack Obama, I would shake his hand.  I have shaken hands with my wife's attorney in the mist of a nasty divorce. I have shaken hands with my opponent who campaigned dirty and said very nasty things about me when I was running for Council. Shaking hand is not an endorsement. It does not mean "I like you" or approve of you. It is just what civilized people do, unless they are a total jerks.

Ron Paul and Bill Mahar
Libertarian Republican Congressman Ron Paul (right)
 shakes hands with left-wing comedian Bill Mahar (left).

President Ronald Reagan shakes hands with
Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev

President Nixon and Chairman Mao
President Richard M Nixon shakes
 hand with Chairman Mao Zedong

Winston Churchill, Harry Turman and Joseph Stalin
shake hands

Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant
General Robert E. Lee shakes hands with General Ulysses S. Grant

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The agenda for the December 17th Metro Council meeting is now available

The agenda for the December 17th Metro Council meeting is now available and you can get it at this link: Council Agenda. The Council staff analysis is not yet available. Watch for my update. I will read and analyze the Council agenda for you.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Update: School Board ask for more state funding. School Board meeting of 12-10-13

School Board meetings can be really long. This one is 3 1/4 hours long. Last night the MNPS Board joined Tennessee's three other large school systems in asking Governor Haslam to direct more state education funds to the big cities by making changes to the Basic Education funding formula. Amy Frogge led the discussion, which begins at the 1h 39m time stamp. I have not watched it all myself and may not get a chance to a do a play-by-play report, so if you are interested in this, go ahead and watch it.

Here is a link to a concise summary of last nights meeting from The Nashville Scene: School Board Takes On The BEP.

Here an excerpt from the above:

Debate fell along what appears to be subtle lines of allegiance, with Chairwoman Cheryl Mayes, Amy Frogge and Will Pinkston stressing importance of the resolution and members Elissa Kim and Sharon Gentry warning against spending too much energy on this fight. School districts large and small dislike the state’s current funding formula, but Gov. Bill Haslam is uninterested in the complex task of changing it right now.
Here is a link to The Tennessean's report on the school Board Meeting: Metro Nashville challenges adequacy of state's education funding.

And here are some excerpts:
The Metro Nashville school district has taken aim at the state’s level of education funding, arguing that Davidson County has been shorted millions of dollars and setting the stage for what could be a broad-based assault on state funding levels by districts all over the state.

The Metro school board voted unanimously Tuesday to ask Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly to “adequately fund public education” in a way that would allow local districts to meet rigorous new academic standards.

....... The resolution cites a November report from the BEP’s Review Committee that found Metro would need an additional $12.7 million on top of the $253.4 million it got this year from the state to become fully funded under the program. Statewide, that gap is $146 million, the report says. School officials claim an additional $74.6 million was required for Nashville this year to meet the committee’s funding recommendations, which include adequate teacher salaries.
.......  Board colleague Elissa Kim questioned the wisdom and focus of digging deeper into an ongoing rift with the state — one that grew out of the board’s disapproval of a charter school proposal a year ago.
“Having tussled with the state like we have in the past, this strikes me not necessarily as the highest-value thing we could do,” Kim said, though she ultimately supported the resolution.

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Sen. Alexander's Chief of Staff Ryan Loskarn subject of Child Porn Investigation. Arrested. Fired. David Cleary new Chief of Staff

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) released the following statement:
I was just informed by the United States Senate legal counsel’s office that law enforcement agents are conducting a search of the personal residence of Ryan Loskarn, the chief of staff of my Washington, D.C., office regarding allegations involving child pornography. I am stunned, surprised and disappointed by what I have learned.
The courts will judge Mr. Loskarn’s guilt or innocence, but under these circumstances, he cannot continue to fulfill his duties as chief of staff of this office. Therefore, as of today, I have removed him from the payroll.

I have named David Cleary as my chief of staff. David has worked with me for eight years and fortunately is well-prepared to step into this position.

David Cleary has served as Alexander’s legislative director since 2011 and as Republican staff director for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee since 2012. He has been working with Alexander since 2006. Cleary previously served as a staff member on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce under then-Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio), and as a legislative analyst for the U.S. Department of Education. Cleary earned a B.A. in Political Science and Master of Public Administration from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Loskarn, was arrested on Wednesday afternoon by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service on probable cause for possession and distribution of child pornography. He will remain in custody and is expected to appear in federal court in D.C. tomorrow. (link)

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Council Approves Sulphur Dell Ball Park in Sepcial Meeting

This is a short meeting at under thirty minutes. It is a special meeting with only three bills, all related to the Sulphur Dell Ball Park. The outcome was never it doubt and it is approved. Councilman Stanley and Councilman Stites speak in opposition and  Council member Weiner, Gilmore, and others speaks in favor before "the previous question" is called to cut off debate on the first of the three bills (593) under consideration. The motion to cut off debate fails by a vote of 22 to 14. However, no one else wanted to speak and the final vote was taken and that vote was 29-7 in favor. Those voting in opposition were Tygard, Gover, Stites, Stanley, Tenpenny, Dominy and Mitchell.

On 594 the vote is 31-5 and on 595 the vote is 34-2.

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Governor Haslam to Dedicate Virgin Falls State Natural Area Wednesday, Dec. 11.

NASHVILLE. TN Press Release – Governor Bill Haslam, along with leaders from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation will be officially dedicating the purchase of Virgin Falls State Natural Area this Wednesday, December 11.

Through the support of a number of private/public partnerships, the state acquired the land in November 2012. Prior to that, Virgin Falls had been under private ownership, but managed by the state as a natural area for nearly 40 years. Working closely with the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, the state of Tennessee was able to purchase the 1,551-acre parcel near Sparta through a combination of funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and private donations.

A favorite hiking destination for decades, Virgin Falls features a waterfall that exits a cave at the top of a cliff and then disappears into a second cave at its base. Nature lovers have noted the existence of unique flora and fauna and amateur geologists have explored the composition and structure of its many caves.

My Comment: I had the good fortune to be at the dedication last year when the state acquired Cummins Falls. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend tomorrow's dedication ceremonies. I wish I could be there. Kudos to my sister, Kathleen Williams, Director of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, who was instrumental in making this happen. We are fortunate to live in Tennessee which has some of the most precious natural treasures in the world. I think it is important that we save beautiful waterfalls and vistas and critical habitats for future generations. 

If you are reviewing your end of year giving and looking for a good cause to support, join me in contributing the the Tennessee Parks and Greenways foundation and help save Tennessee's natural treasures. Without the work done by TPGF and similar organizations, these natural treasures would be lost for ever. State government is slow and cumbersome. An organization like TPGF can raise private money, purchase the property or option the property and then sell it to the state when the state is ready to purchase it. Without the intermediary roll of TPGF, these treasures would be lost forever.

“This is the fifth land project for our small non-profit foundation in the corridor that connects Fall Creek Falls to Virgin Falls.  We’ve helped protect more than 4,500 acres along the Caney Fork, the Cane Creek Gorge, Welch’s Point and now Virgin Falls,” said Kathleen Williams, Executive Director of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation. 

Saving Virgin Falls had been a priority of TPGF for  more than a decade.

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Monday, December 09, 2013

How to counter the Obamanistas "pre-existing condition" talking point.

Since President Obama has urged the Obamanistas to argue the merits of Obamacare at the dinner table this holiday season and has issued talking points to guide the discussion, the opponents of this massive government takeover of health care need to brush up on the arguments of why Obamacare is a mistake.One of the pro Obamacare talking points is that it helps people with preexisting condition. Below is the counter argument.

If I am able to be with my family this Christmas and one of my liberal siblings brings up Obamacare, before I launch into my counter argument I am going to try to be a peace maker and say, "Do we really want to have this discussion? I could counter your agreement and tell you why you are mistaken If you want to debate, but let us not talk politics and ruin our holiday time together."

 If they persist, I will be ready. This is from the Heritage Foundation.

How to Help Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a health problem.
Contrary to President Obama’s warnings about health care in America, health insurance isn’t impossible for everyone who just raised a hand.
The President spoke—and still speaks—about Obamacare solving the problem of pre-existing conditions that have hindered health insurance for some people. Without Obamacare, he says, these people would be left out in the cold.
In 2011, the Obama Administration suggested that as many as 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions were “at risk” and “could be denied coverage” without Obamacare’s massive changes in America’s insurance markets.
That’s an emotional—and false—claim.
The vast majority of Americans have insurance coverage through an employer or a government program. Employer-sponsored insurance is not allowed to exclude people based on pre-existing conditions, and neither are government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Those who buy health insurance on their own in the individual market—about 10 percent of the private market—are the ones who need the protection. So let’s send the help there.
Heritage experts have said that we can help these individuals without “the massive changes in America’s health care system included in Obamacare.”
How should we help our fellow Americans having trouble with pre-existing conditions?
First, extend the same protections to the individual market that people with employer-sponsored health insurance enjoy. As Heritage’s Alyene Senger explains, “This small reform would ensure protection against unjust pre-existing condition exclusions.”
For those who have not had insurance coverage, states have already led the way. Thirty-five states have high-risk pools that ensure access to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Another state-based solution is to have insurance companies share the costs of treating high-risk individuals.
These solutions are closer to the people who need the help—and they are specifically for people who need help. One of Obamacare’s problems is that it blankets the entire nation with taxes, mandates, and negative consequences instead of providing targeted relief for those who truly need it.
This doesn’t help our fellow Americans who are suffering from health problems—and it hurts everyone else in the process.
Learn more about alternatives to Obamacare.

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Metro Council to Meet in Special Session to Vote on Ball Park

The Metro Council will meet Tuesday December 10th at 6 PM.  The only thing on the agenda is three bills on third and final reading concerning the Ball Park. To view the agenda follow this link.

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Tonight -- Tennessee Republican Minority Coalition Christmas Party

Keynote Speaker: Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
Monday December 9th, 6:30-8:30
The Office of Dr. Ming Wang
1801 West End Ave. Suite 1150
Light hors d'ouevers and wine will be served
Suggested donation: $10 and a toy for returning soldier's children

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Sunday, December 08, 2013

Ted Cruz, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Marsha Blackburn: Mandela Will Live In History for Defenders of Liberty. He was a great man. Enormous loss ....

December 5, 2013, Ted Cruz Press Release, WASHINGTON, DC -- U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, reacted today to news of former South African President Nelson Mandela's passing:

Nelson Mandela will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe. He stood firm for decades on the principle that until all South Africans enjoyed equal liberties he would not leave prison himself, declaring in his autobiography, 'Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.' Because of his epic fight against injustice, an entire nation is now free.

We mourn his loss and offer our condolences to his family and the people of South Africa.

Alexander Statement on the Passing of Former South African President Nelson Mandela, December 5, 2013 - WASHINGTON, Dec. 5– U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today made the following statement on the passing of Nelson Mandela:
Visiting Nelson Mandela's Robben Island prison cell and then reading his autobiography taught our family inspiring lessons from a remarkable life that helped to achieve a political result few imagined possible 
Dec 05 2013, Corker Comments on Passing of Former South African President Nelson Mandela-U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made the following statement regarding the passing of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
As an inspirational leader, Nelson Mandela brought about a better way of life for his people of South Africa and inspired millions throughout the world.  While we are all saddened by his passing, his personal story and contributions to freedom, democracy, and human rights will live on forever.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah: "Nelson Mandela was a great man. This is an enormous loss for the world."

Marsha Blackburn: "Saddened by the passing of Nelson Mandela. His perseverance, virtue and grace will always serve as an inspiration to the world."

Sen. Marco Rubio: "The world has lost one of history’s most important figures, though Nelson Mandela’s example will live on for generations to come. Men and women striving for justice and fairness around the world have drawn inspiration from Nelson Mandela, and he showed South Africans and the entire world what the power of forgiveness truly means and can accomplish."

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