Posted by: JanF | February 13, 2015

Why can’t we do this?

From the Brennan Center for Justice: Bipartisan Bill Introduced: Congress Must Restore Voting Rights Act

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, members of Congress [on Wednesday, February 11th] reintroduced a bipartisan bill to strengthen and restore the law’s core protection, which the U.S. Supreme Court gutted in 2013.

The measure is sponsored by Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), and others. The bill was also introduced last year, but the Senate held just one hearing on the legislation, and the House refused to hold a hearing.

“Fifty years ago, tragedy in the streets of Selma galvanized our nation to pass the Voting Rights Act and bring equality to the ballot box,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Brennan Center’s Washington, D.C., office. “Today, that core protection is in tatters and discrimination continues to tarnish our elections. America was founded on the principle that we are all ‘created equal.’ To fulfill that promise, we need an election system that works well for everyone, and doesn’t tolerate discrimination against anyone. We urge Congress to quickly pass this bill and ensure Americans have strong voting protections in time for the 2016 election.”

Here are the key provisions:

The Voting Rights Amendment Act would, among other changes:

– Require jurisdictions with a recent record of repeated Voting Rights Act violations to pre-clear election law changes.
– Expand the current “bail-in” procedures, which allow courts to subject jurisdictions to preclearance.
– Create a uniform requirement to inform voters of certain pending voting changes.
– Enhance the ability of lawyers to halt discriminatory election measures before they can harm citizens.
– Allow federal observers to monitor elections to ensure compliance with laws protecting the rights of Americans who speak limited English.

The VRA has been continually reauthorized since it was passed in 1965 and has always had bipartisan support. The most recent reauthorization, in 2006, was with a Republican Congress and a Republican president. Voting rights should not be a partisan issue: the right to choose our government is the most basic right in a democracy.

So why can’t we do this?

Because the Republican Congress is controlled by the teaparty with its scorched earth politics of exclusion. Their hold on power depends on disenfranchising those who disagree with them because their ideas are repulsive to the majority of Americans.

If there are any Republicans who still care about small “d” democracy, they should pressure their leadership to bring this bill to the House floor for a vote, get it passed and then send it to the Senate for a vote.

We can do it and we must.

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From the White House:

(Transcript below)

On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed his very first piece of legislation: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The law, named after a woman who discovered her employer was paying her less than men doing the same job, makes it easier for Mrs. Ledbetter and others like her to effectively challenge unequal pay.

Lilly Ledbetter took her pay discrimination complaint all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2007 that claims like hers had to be filed within 180 days of an employer’s decision to pay a worker less—even if the worker didn’t learn about the unfair pay until much later, as was the case for Mrs. Ledbetter.

To make sure that people can effectively challenge unequal pay, the law President Obama signed shortly after taking office amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 so that unfair pay complaints can be filed within 180 days of a discriminatory paycheck—and that 180 days resets after each paycheck is issued.

Since then, the Roberts Supreme Court has succeeded in undermining many other rights, including the right to vote and the right to fair elections – elections free of the corrupting influence of dark money. The difference was that in 2009, the president had partners in Congress who were willing to do the people’s work and fix the mistakes of the court. So much has changed, so much work that will not be done until we can elect a Congress that reflects the values of the majority of our people. That will not happen with the 114th Congress, dubbed “America’s New Congress ™” by the Republican majority – dubbed “America’s Nightmare Come True ™” by the majority of Americans.

We can fix this, we must fix this.

Between now and November 2016, tell everyone you know of the enormous power each and every citizen has: the power to choose our government. Talk it up, pump them up … so that when we all exercise that “most basic human right”, we can once again have a government creating laws like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act.

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Posted by: JanF | January 25, 2015

Thank you, Washington State!!

Wisconsin’s Dane County has been reviewing a tar sands oil pumping station permit from Enbridge Energy, the people who gifted Michigan with the $1.2 billion oil spill into the Kalamazoo River.

The county wants Enbridge to provide additional insurance to cover any spills so that Dane County and Wisconsin taxpayers are not left holding the bag as taxpayers were in Michigan. Enbridge is resisting because … free enterprise should be free!!: “Enbridge has said that its $700 million in system-wide insurance is sufficient, along with state and federal cleanup funds“. There you have it, vulture capitalism in a nutshell: privatize profits and socialize costs.

However, thanks to Washington State, who managed to extract an insurance concession from Enbridge, the Good Government people on the County Board may be convincing them to relent:

Enbridge has maintained that the federal law forbids local pipeline safety regulation. [County Board member and chairman of the zoning committee Patrick] Miles and others have expressed concerns about a costly court battle. But attorneys from the Environmental Law & Policy Center provided the county with a Jan. 9 opinion indicating it was unlikely a court would block a cleanup requirement.

“Financial requirements are not safety requirements,” the center said. “Such (cleanup) requirements are economic requirements, and well-justified ones in light of Enbridge’s track record of costly spills in the Midwest.”

Miles said he shares environmentalists’ concerns about high energy consumption and impact on climate change associated with extraction of tar sands crude, but the county doesn’t have authority to deny the permit based on those considerations – or based on worries that the pipeline can’t handle an increase in flow. But he said the county can act to protect residents’ welfare after a spill.

“That is an area where we do have some latitude in terms of what we can do in the interest of the public,” Miles said.

Kirkland, Washington, enacted an ordinance in 2011 requiring the Enbridge-owned Olympic line to purchase $100 million in general liability insurance and $50 million for pollution liability. The law is modeled on one enacted in Bellingham in 2001, two years after a 16-inch gasoline pipeline broke, spilling 237,000 gallons, which ignited, killing three teenagers and causing $45 million in property damage.

The final decision is expected this Tuesday. Will Enbridge blink? If not, I hope that the County Board spends my money to battle them in the courts: it is time to draw the line.

Posted by: JanF | January 25, 2015

Solid Waste from Iowa

On Saturday, the best and brightest of the Republican Party met in Iowa to plumb the depths of their descent into madness*.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) invited the 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls to strut their stuff (sorry for the visual!) at the Iowa Freedom Summit. King is most recently “famous” for calling young Latino college students, who were sitting with the First Lady at the State of Union, “deportables”.

The Iowa Freedom Summit was a Very Important Event: one can tell because it has “freedom” in the title and it is a “summit”. And IOWA!! The place of the first nominating contest because nothing says Bellwether like a state that is 98% white and which selected Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012 as the Republican standard bearers. Finger on the pulse of America, Iowa, finger on the pulse.

Eric Wolfson @EricWolfson
If ignorance is bliss, #IAFreedomSummit must be the happiest place on earth.

Watching the assault on our democracy, and on our common sense, unfold would be more entertaining if it were not for this sobering observation:

BWD @theonlyadult
One of these people might be the next president. Nothing funny about this #IAFreedomSummit

PLEASE don’t let that happen.

The one thing every Republican candidate seems to have in common with normal people is they don’t think Jeb Bush or Mitt can beat Hillary.

And with that, let’s follow the summit of freedumbs on Twitter …

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A recent Vox-planation about the options available to Republicans as they decide what to “do” with the Affordable Care Act had this marvelous comment from one of the leading lights on the right, Cato’s Michael Cannon:

“Conservatives are falling into the same trap now that they fell into with fighting the Clinton health plan … they’re conceding the left’s premises that the government should be trying to provide everybody with health insurance”.

Indeed, the conservatives would not want to fall into the “trap” of believing that letting people get sick and die is somehow wrong!! :( I hope that they never control all three branches of government … they should never be given the option of testing their theory that we simply need to invest in enough carts to wheel away the dead.

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Posted by: JanF | January 9, 2015

“Thanks, President Obama!” #FreeCommunityCollege

From the White House: The President Proposes to Make Community College Free for Responsible Students for 2 Years

Today, the President unveiled a new proposal: Make two years of community college free for responsible students across America.

In our growing global economy, Americans need to have more knowledge and more skills to compete — by 2020, an estimated 35 percent of job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree, and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree. Students should be able to get the knowledge and the skills they need without taking on decades’ worth of student debt.

This is a win-win for the economy and for the next generation. Cash-strapped states (many of which strapped themselves to tax-cut fever which is burning up their seed corn) are cutting back on their funding of higher education. A recent story in NPR reported that tuition now outweighs state aid as the major source of revenue for public colleges. Tuition that is paid for by student loan debt and parent loan debt … or the high cost of which has made it impossible for low-income students to afford college.

Why is a college education important? This:

According to new data, based on an analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Economic Policy Institute, Americans with four-year college degrees are not only equipped for a fulfilling adult and professional life but made 98 percent more an hour on average than those without a degree. And, the wage gap is only increasing, up from 89 percent five years ago, 85 percent a decade earlier, and 64 percent in the early 1980s.

College graduates are also more likely to be employed full-time than their less-educated counterparts, and are less likely to be unemployed, 4 percent versus 12 percent, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

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Posted by: JanF | January 7, 2015

And so it begins …

The 114th Congress was sworn in yesterday with much fanfare. Finally, according to the beltway pundits, we have Republican lawmakers ready to do the serious business of the people. Speaker John Boehner, entering his 5th year at the helm of the ship of fools known as the Republican House, is now joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the very very serious doer-of-the-people’s-business who once declared that the top priority of the Republican Senate was to make Barack Obama a one term president.

The 112th and 113th Congresses were marked by what they were against rather than what they were for. Repealing the Affordable Care Act consumed much of the time, forced birth initiatives consumed some and of course the investigations into the Fox scandals (IRS targeting of conservatives, Benghaziiii, the president’s birth certificate) consumed more. But they pretty much knew that the show bills they passed were big sloppy kisses to their base rather than legislation that would be taken up by the Senate for consideration. Now, every bill they pass will be part of the resume of Republican Governance that they are building to, according to them, “show the American people how grand this ol’ party is so that they will elect a Republican president”. Remember the Bush years of glorious health and prosperity for the American people? Funny, neither do I. Maybe we can ask a beltway pundit to help us remember.

And really, do we need a Republican Congress to serve as an example of the outcome of Republican Governance? We have evidence in state after state after state where anti-women, anti-black, anti-environment, anti-poors laws have made ordinary people’s lives miserable.

The House of Reprehensibles did not take long to show us what they will consume their time with over the next two years.

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From the White House: President Obama just took action to protect one of Alaska’s most powerful economic engines and one of America’s greatest national treasures: Bristol Bay.

Today, President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum that withdraws these beautiful and pristine waters from all future oil and gas drilling. “These waters are too special and too valuable to auction off to the highest bidder,” the President said.

Press Release: President Obama Protects Alaska’s Bristol Bay From Future Oil and Gas Drilling

This action safeguards one of the nation’s most productive fisheries and preserves an ecologically rich area of the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska that is vital to the commercial fishing and tourism economy and to Alaska Native communities.

Bristol Bay is at the heart one of the world’s most valuable fisheries, helping to provide 40 percent of America’s wild-caught seafood and support a $2 billion annual fishing industry. The beautiful and remote area is also an economic engine for tourism in Alaska, driving $100 million in recreational fishing and tourism activity every year. Bristol Bay hosts the largest runs of wild sockeye salmon in the world, and provides important habitat for many species, including the threatened Stellar’s eider, sea otters, seals, walruses, Beluga and Killer whales, and the endangered North Pacific Right Whale.

Today’s decision to withdraw the area from all future oil and gas leasing extends indefinitely a temporary withdrawal that President Obama issued in 2010 and was set to expire in 2017. This action builds on decades of local efforts to protect Bristol Bay from oil and gas development by Alaska Native tribes and organizations, as well as local seafood and tourism businesses that create jobs and strengthen Alaska and the nation’s economy. It also honors the legacy of Alaska residents like Harold ‘Harvey’ Samuelsen, a salmon fisherman who is legendary for his lifelong dedication to Bristol Bay and to creating economic opportunities for Alaska Native and rural communities.

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Posted by: JanF | December 14, 2014

Thank you, Mike and Ted!

Thank you, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Ted Cruz (T-TX), for standing up to the NRA and paving the way for Dr. Vivek Murthy to be our next Surgeon General!!!

What?!!?? That was not your intent when you forced the Senate to remain in session on Saturday? Regardless, Dr. Vivek Murthy will finally get a vote:

[Dr.] Murthy is an impressive medical professional with sterling credentials. He’s an attending physician, an instructor, and a public-health advocate, so when Obama nominated him for the post, no one questioned his qualifications. But Murthy, like so many in his field, also sees a connection between gun violence and public health, which meant Republicans and the NRA decided to destroy his nomination.

Dr. Murthy was nominated by the president on Nov. 14, 2013

Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, Nominee for Surgeon General, Department of Health and Human Services

Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy is the Co-Founder and President of Doctors for America, a position he has held since 2009. Dr. Murthy is also a Hospitalist Attending Physician and Instructor in Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School, a position he has held since 2006. In 2011, Dr. Murthy was appointed to serve as a Member of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. Dr. Murthy has been the Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board of TrialNetworks, formerly known as Epernicus, since 2007. Dr. Murthy co-founded VISIONS Worldwide in 1995, a non-profit organization focused on HIV/AIDS education in India and the United States, where he served as President from 1995 to 2000 and Chairman of the Board from 2000 to 2003. Dr. Murthy received a B.A. from Harvard University, an M.B.A. from Yale School of Management, and an M.D. from Yale School of Medicine.

Dr. Murthy’s nomination was approved by Senate committee but put on hold in February by red state Democrats frightened by the NRA. Yes, the same NRA that spent millions to support those red state Democrats’ opponents in November 2014 (how’d that work for you, soon-to-be-former Senator Mark Pryor?).

But Saturday afternoon, thanks to the “intervention” of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Dr. Murthy cleared the first procedural hurdles to his confirmation by a vote of 52-40. On Monday, Senators will vote on cloture, and because of the 50+1 rule, confirmation.

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On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new regulations to cut ground level ozone (smog) levels in order to improve public health.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy:

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Explains Proposed Smog Standards To Protect Americans’ Health

Her editorial, published at, explains the new regulations:

For 44 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has defended the American people’s right to breathe clean air by setting national air quality standards for common air pollutants.

Successful public health protection depends on the latest science. Think of it this way: If your doctor wasn’t using the latest medical science, you’d be worried you weren’t getting the best care.

That’s why the Clean Air Act requires EPA to update air quality standards every five years, to ensure standards “protect public health with an adequate margin of safety” based on the latest scientific evidence.

So today, following science and the law, I am proposing to update national ozone pollution standards to clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk — our children, our elderly, and people already suffering from lung diseases like asthma. […]

Ground-level ozone pollution, commonly known as smog, comes from industrial action, motor vehicles, power plants, and other activities. Breathing ozone irritates the nose, throat, and lungs. Thousands of scientific studies (from renowned institutions like Harvard University, the University of North Carolina Medical School, and many others) tell us that cutting air pollution to meet ozone standards lowers the risk of asthma, permanent lung damage, cardiovascular harm, and premature death.

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