Worse than Congress

The Capital Times often runs a feature in its print edition called WisPolitics Stock Report. The article, written by WisPolitics staff, rates the fortunes of various politicians or political groups with an up arrow for rising or a down arrow for falling.

A recent edition of the report awarded an up arrow to former Senator Neal Kedzie, who recently resigned his office mid-term. He received the “rising” review because he landed a lucrative new job. He will replace Tom Howells, who has retired after many years lobbying for the Wisconsin trucking industry.

Kedzie’s move from legislator to lobbyist is nothing new in the revolving door of Wisconsin politics. Assuming he’ll soon be a registered lobbyist as was Howells, his abrupt shift from a legislator making laws to a lobbyist trying to influence what laws are made points to a deep flaw in Wisconsin’s ethical standards.

Wisconsin law should require a significant cooling-off period between legislating and lobbying. While Kedzie is a Republican, my criticism is by no means partisan or personal. I served with Neal and like him and the same switcheroo has been pulled by both Democrats and Republicans.

I’ve always felt it is unseemly to see legislators voting one day on important legislation and then coming back to the Capitol soon thereafter as highly paid, special-interest lobbyists. Most state officials are already prohibited by law from lobbying their agency for one year. Unfortunately, legislators exempted themselves from that common sense rule. It is time to close the loophole and subject legislators, at a minimum, to the same standard that applies to other state employees.

When I was in the Legislature, I repeatedly introduced legislation to Wisconsin lawmakers from lobbying for special interests after leaving office. I had support from a number of legislators, most notably former Republican Representative Steve Freese and current Democratic Senator Julie Lassa.

But the bill never went anywhere. In a rare show of bipartisan unity, most legislators wanted nothing to do with this reform. It seems like the one thing a majority of Democrats and Republicans could agree on was keeping the loophole open for legislators to lobby for special interests and cash in on their days in the Capitol. When legislators know they can count on receiving cushy jobs from the same corporations and groups they are supposed to oversee, people start to wonder whose interests they really represent.

Many states ban this revolving-door practice of legislators becoming lobbyists shortly after they leave public office. Even Congress, not generally known as a hotbed of ethical conduct, has a federal ethics law that prohibits former U.S. representatives and senators from lobbying their erstwhile colleagues for two years after leaving office.

It’s not so long ago that Wisconsin was considered the model of clean government. It’s hard to believe that the U.S. Congress is tougher on politicians’ ethics than is the Wisconsin Legislature. Wisconsin has fallen far from its once proud reputation as a state with clean, open and ethical government. That reputation was a strong asset for the state and it has for all practical purposes been lost. There are a great many reforms needed for Wisconsin to regain that progressive legacy. Closing the revolving door between lawmakers and special interests would be a good place to start.

Author – Spencer Black
www.fightingbob.com

Wisconsin progressives: the original Tea Partiers

Over at The Atlantic, Michael Wolraich has an excellent article outlining how Wisconsin progressives like “Fighting Bob” La Follette were the original Tea Party challenging the political status quo.


If “Fighting Bob” were alive today, he’d be howling in the Capitol. A hundred years before the Tea Parties, Senator Bob La Follette of Wisconsin was the original Republican insurgent. In the early 1900s, he led a grassroots revolt against the GOP establishment and pioneered the ferocious tactics that the Tea Parties use today—long-shot primary challenges, sensational filibusters, uncompromising ideology, and populist rhetoric. But there was a crucial difference between La Follette and today’s right-wing insurgents: “Fighting Bob” was a founding father of the progressive movement.

A century ago, the country struggled with challenges similar to our own—economic inequality, financial instability, low wages, and environmental devastation. The two major political parties, both corrupt and dominated by corporations, crushed reformers’ efforts to remedy the nation’s problems. Even President Theodore Roosevelt was powerless to push serious reform bills through Congress.

Unlike Roosevelt, La Follette did not believe that reform was possible under the prevailing political order. He insisted that the system must become more democratic and the parties be made accountable to the people. His political insurgency began as a forlorn and hopeless campaign, scorned by the party establishment, mocked by the press, and dismissed by Roosevelt. A decade later, it brought the once-dominant Republican Party to its knees and initiated the greatest period of political change in American history.

Author – Zach Wisniewski
www.bloggingblue.com

What Is Scott Brown Really Afraid Of? The Voters Of New Hampshire

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Over the past few weeks the national news media has been talking non-stop about how Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, was ousted by an unknown primary contender. The main talking point of the post primary results is that Cantor “phoned it in.” He spent all of his time traveling the country rallying the GOP base for other candidates, and neglected to spend any time in his own home district. At one point Cantor was booed off the stage during a campaign speech.

How does this relate to New Hampshire politics?

There is an eerie similarity to Cantor and former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown’s campaign for the US Senate seat from New Hampshire.

Scott Brown has been driving his truck all across New Hampshire in an attempt to convince Granite Staters that he is one of us. Telling people that by spending time in New Hampshire as kid or weekends at his vacation home makes him a real Granite Stater.

True Granite Staters are just not buying it.

If Brown were a real Granite Stater, he would understand that we are less about grandstanding and photo ops, and more about substance. We want candidates who talk about their positions and are willing to stand up for their beliefs.

Brown is snubbing the people of New Hampshire by refusing to participate in local debates. Brown skipped a debate in Bedford in April, and now he is “booked up” an unable or unwilling to participate in the Merrimack Business Association’s debate tomorrow.

David McCray, chairman of the Merrimack Business Association and a former Merrimack town councilor, was less than impressed at the way that the Brown campaign treated him and his initiation to debate.

“McCray is angry at the way his business group was treated by the Brown campaign. An invitation to the June 18 Merrimack event went out to the candidates by registered mail on April 23,” McCray told the Union Leader. “In early May, McCray learned that Brown would not be attending, not from Brown’s campaign but from a Union Leader reporter. Offer rescinded.”

The irony is that McCray was a supporter of Scott Brown when he ran against Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts.

“We went to Stoneham on the day of the Massachusetts election when he ran against Elizabeth Warren and held Scott Brown signs, standing out in the cold for eight hours,” McCray told the Sentinel Enterprise. “He knew that. And yet he didn’t even have the common courtesy to respond to our invitation to a debate in 16 days. That bothered me.”

Even ultra-right wing conservative blogger, Granite Grok, had some choice words about Brown skipping the debate.

“So, Scott Brown, you used a media outlet as a cover to screw over a forum in which you’d be a sitting duck in being directly compared to your competition. Sure, you’ve accepted the big TV event debate – but that’s not how campaigning works here in NH.”

This is not the first time that Brown has ducked constituent questions.

“Twice in the last week Brown was confronted by real Granite Staters who asked him straight out if he supported raising the minimum wage.”

Brown’s response:

“I’ve supported a minimum wage increase before. It’s something that I think needs to be periodically reviewed, but it’s really important to make sure that everyone’s at the table, especially people who are hiring and growing,” Brown told the Concord Monitor.

Avoiding actually answering questions from real Granite Staters is quickly becoming a trend for Scott Brown.

What is Brown afraid of? Is he afraid to tell the people where he stands because he thinks it will hurt him with the ultra-conservatives who tend to vote in the primary? Or is he afraid that it will hurt him in a general election, if he actually gets through the primary.

Granite Staters take pride in being informed about whom they are voting for, and Brown thinks he can get away with B.S. answers and newspaper quotes instead of participating in local politics. It is bad enough that he did not work his way up through the ranks in New Hampshire like many of the other candidates.

The Union Leader asked McCray why he thinks Brown is ignoring the Merrimack debate and the voters of Merrimack?

“He’s playing it as if he has already won,” said McCray.

I am sure that is exactly what Eric Cantor thought too.

If you liked this post consider subscribing to the NH Labor News via email. There are more great articles to come.

Author – Matt Murray
www.nhlabornews.com

Loretta Sanchez Introduces Anti-Human Trafficking Legislation

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WASHINGTON — Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (CA-46), senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, has joined Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) as the lead Democrat in introducing the Human Trafficking Detection Act, H.R. 5116, along with House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) and Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC).

This bill would require Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents responsible for monitoring travelers across U.S. borders and through airports receive training to identify potential victims of human trafficking and report these cases to local law enforcement officials. The bill will also require the DHS to annually report to Congress the number of potential human trafficking cases reported by its federal agents.

“Human trafficking is an atrocious crime that is often committed right under our noses. It is our responsibility in Congress to do whatever we can to stop illegal smuggling of innocent people, often children, through the United States,” said Rep. Sanchez. “This bill will give Homeland Security officials the training they need to identify trafficking victims and save lives.”

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Up to 17,500 people are trafficked through the United States each year—half of which are children, according to the State Department. But currently, only some DHS officials receive training to detect human trafficking, which often times merely consists of viewing an online slideshow. DHS doesn’t currently keep records of the number of human trafficking cases reported or confirmed, which the Human Trafficking Detection act would require.

The U.S. federal government currently spends billions of dollars annually on human trafficking prevention and treatment. This simple solution could significantly impact the success of those efforts without increasing federal spending.

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http://www.theliberaloc.com/2014/07/17/loretta-sanchez-introduces-anti-human-trafficking-legislation/

Let me introduce you to the hell of living in a district with a Republican Congressional primary

As a rule, I like primaries in theory but hate them in practice. It’s not the work of democracy, mind you. It’s the annoying way they become an overbearing millstone around everyone’s neck. It starts awful and gets worse and at the end of it everyone involved feels nothing but regret and loathing. That includes people who follow the damn things and write about them (that would be me).

Four years ago, for instance, there was this guy named Michael Trebesh running for the state Senate against our current lieutenant governor, Brian Calley. He filled my God damned mailbox with campaign mailings, sometimes two arrived in one day. I wrote a column about it, and he responded by writen a letter to the editor accusing me of trying to violate his Constitutional right to send out junk mail. And kept mailing shit to me. So, I wrote another column about it, and was advised by a guy now serving as a city commissioner to tell the Post Office that his mailings were pornographic in nature so they’d stop delivering them. Trebesh responded by building an entire campaign mailing about how I was influencing the race somehow (me and Phil Power, because the Michigan Truth Squad said that he was lying somewhere in the voluminous number of horrible things he said about Calley … like saying that he wasn’t really pro-Life while Calley was in an Ann Arbor hospital awaiting emergency heart surgery on his infant daughter). He also mentioned a different column I wrote in which I referred to a giant statue of Jesus in southern Ohio as an eyesore on the occasion of it being struck by lightning and torched (I believe I referred to the incident as part of God’s war on roadside drek).

I’ve had flashbacks the last month as the amount of junk mail from Paul Mitchell, candidate for the Republican nomination here in the 4th Congressional District, piles up*. The mail carrier and I have a running joke, where he hands it to me and says something like, “Someone really wants you to buy his shampoo.” I respond by telling him that I’m sorry for the wear and tear on his knees.

This was supposed to be a quiet primary, where Dave Camp’s annointed successor, state Sen. John Moolenaar, was given a promotion to Congress. Instead, as noted, it’s become irritating.

The attacks have stepped up the battle for a solidly Republican U.S. House seat that will be all but decided in the Aug. 5 primary. The two top candidates, who have low-key, nice-guy images, may slug it out mostly through ads and proxies.

And, mailings. Please, for the love of God, make it stop.

*–Actually, things have been a bit quiet since I posted about this last week. Hopefully, someone on his campaign noticed and got me off their mailing list.

Author – Eric B.
www.michiganliberal.com

Scientists Predict Increased Rain, Floods for Pennsylvania

Pennsylvanians will experience increased rainfall and floods if data analysis by a Penn State meteorologist and long-term projections by a fisheries biologist, with a specialty in surface water pollution, are accurate.

Paul Knight, senior lecturer in meteorology at Penn State, compiled rainfall data for Pennsylvania from 1895-when recordings were first made-to this year. He says there has been an increase of 10 percent of rainfall during the past century. Until the 1970s, the average rainfall throughout the state was about 42 inches. Beginning in the 1970s, the average began creeping up. “By the 1990s, the increase was noticeable,” he says. The three wettest years on record since 1895 were 2003, 2004, and 2011. The statewide average was 61.5 inches in 2011, the year of Tropical Storm Lee, which caused 18 deaths and about $1.6 billion in damage in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and devastating flooding in New York and Pennsylvania, especially along the Susquehanna River basin.

Dr. Harvey Katz, of Montoursville, Pa., extended Knight’s data analysis for five decades. Dr. Katz predicts an average annual rainfall of about 55 inches, about 13 inches more than the period of 1895 to 1975. The increased rainfall isn’t limited to Pennsylvania, but extends throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.

Both Knight and Dr. Katz say floods will be more frequent. The industrialization and urbanization of America has led to more trees being cut down; the consequences are greater erosion and more open areas to allow rainwater to flow into streams and rivers. Waterway hazards, because of flooding and increased river flow, will cause additional problems. Heavy rains will cause increased pollution, washing off fertilizer on farmlands into the surface water supply, extending into the Chesapeake Bay. Sprays on plants and agricultural crops to reduce attacks by numerous insects, which would normally stay localized, will now be washed into streams and rivers, says Knight.

Pollution will also disrupt the aquatic ecosystem, likely leading to a decrease in the fishing industry because of increased disease and death among fish and other marine mammals, says Dr. Katz.

Another consequence of increased rainfall is a wider spread of pollution from fracking operations, especially in the Marcellus Shale.

Most of the 1,000 chemicals that can be used in drilling operations, in the concentrations used, are toxic carcinogens; because of various geological factors, each company using horizontal fracturing can use a mixture of dozens of those chemicals at any one well site to drill as much as two miles deep into the earth.

Last year, drilling companies created more than 300 billion gallons of flowback from fracking operations in the United States. (Each well requires an average of 3-5 million gallons of water, up to 100,000 gallons of chemicals, and as much as 10 tons of silica sand. Flowback is what is brought up after the initial destruction of the shale.) Most of that flowback, which once was placed in open air pits lined with plastic that can tear and leak, are now primarily placed into 22,000 gallon steel trailers, which can leak. In Pennsylvania, drillers are still allowed to mix up to 10 percent of the volume of large freshwater pits with flowback water.

In March 2013, Carizo Oil and Gas was responsible for an accidental spill of 227,000 gallons of wastewater, leading to the evacuation of four homes in Wyoming County, Pa. Two months later, a malfunction at a well, also in Wyoming County, sent 9,000 gallons of flowback onto the farm and into the basement of a nearby resident.

Rain, snow, and wind in the case of a spill can move that toxic soup into groundwater, streams, and rivers. In addition to any of dozens of toxic salts, metals, and dissolvable organic chemicals, flowback contains radioactive elements brought up from deep in the earth; among them are Uranium-238, Thorium-232, and radium, which decays into radon, one of the most radioactive and toxic gases. Radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer, after cigarettes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A U.S. Geological Survey analysis of well samples collected in Pennsylvania and New York between 2009 and 2011 revealed that 37 of the 52 samples had Radium-226 and Radium-228 levels that were 242 times higher than the standard for drinking water. One sample, from Tioga County, Pa., was 3,609 times the federal standard for safe drinking water, and 300 times the federal industrial standard.

Radium-226, 200 times higher than acceptable background levels, was detected in Blacklick Creek, a 30-mile long tributary of the Conemaugh River near Johnstown, Pa. The radium, which had been embedded deep in the earth but was brought up in flowback waters, was part of a discharge from the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility, according to research published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Increased rainfall also increases the probability of pollution from spills from the nation’s decaying pipeline systems. About half of all oil and gas pipelines are at least a half-century old. There were more than 6,000 spills from pipelines last year. Among those spills were almost 300,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil from a pipe in Arkansas, and 100,000 gallons of oil and other chemicals in Colorado.

Increased truck and train traffic to move oil and gas from the drilling fields to refineries along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts has led to increased accidents. Railroad accidents in the United States last year accounted for about 1.15 million gallons of spilled crude oil, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Many of the spills were in wetlands or into groundwater and streams.

A primary reason for increased rainfall (as well as increases in hurricanes, tornadoes, ocean water rises, and other long-term weather phenomenon) is because of man-made climate change, the result of increased carbon dioxide from fossil fuel extraction and burning. It’s not a myth. It’s not a far-fetched liberal hoax invented by Al Gore. About 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists agree we are experiencing climate change, and that the world is at a critical change; if the steady and predictable increase in climate change, which affects the protection of the ozone layer, is not reduced within two decades, it will not be reversible. Increased rainfall and pollution will be only a part of the global meltdown.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and emeritus professor. He is a syndicated columnist, radio commentator, and the author of 20 books, the latest of which is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the effects of horizontal fracturing. He is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor and multimedia writer-producer.]

Author – Walter Brasch
www.thepennsylvaniaprogressive.com

Glenn Greenwald Decries The Spying He Helped Enable When He Supported Bush!

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I have this fantasy that there are real journalists left in the world of cable news. But just like my other fantasies, they never seem to come true. (Insert Rimshot here)

Glenn Greenwald’s latest piece of “advocacy” journalism deals with events that started in 2002 and ended in 2008. It involves the NSA under President Bush spying on 5 prominent Americans who are Muslim. For the record, at the time the Cheney/Bush administration was selling their lies to the American people, I was marching against their march to war.

What was Glenn Greenwald thinking in 2002, when this spying began. From the preface to one of Glenn’s books, his own words…

I believed that Islamic extremism posed a serious threat to the country, and I wanted an aggressive response from our government. I was ready to stand behind President Bush and I wanted him to exact vengeance on the perpetrators and find ways to decrease the likelihood of future attacks. (emphasis mine)

Think about that for a minute. Greenwald was 36 years old at the time, according to my calculations. Not some young naive kid. Whenever he has tried to refute my pointing that out, he usually says something like, “everyone was doing it.” As my mother would occasionally say, if everyone jumped off a cliff, does that mean you should too?

More from Glenn Greenwald’s own keyboard…

During the following two weeks, my confidence in the Bush administration grew as the president gave a series of serious, substantive, coherent, and eloquent speeches that struck the right balance between aggression and restraint. And I was fully supportive of both the president’s ultimatum to the Taliban and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan when our demands were not met. Well into 2002, the president’s approval ratings remained in the high 60 percent range, or even above 70 percent, and I was among those who strongly approved of his performance. [...]

Glenn “strongly approved of his (Bush’s) performance.” As I was screaming at my television as the propaganda poured out of the television, with conjecture, flag waving, minimization of dissenting opinions…”if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Well, Glenn Greenwald was WITH President George W. Bush as he started his “aggressive response” and “exact(ed) vengeance on the perpetrators.”

I’m sure Glenn regrets writing that preface, just a little more of his love for President Bush.

Despite these doubts, concerns, and grounds for ambivalence, I had not abandoned my trust in the Bush administration. Between the president’s performance in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the swift removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the fact that I wanted the president to succeed, because my loyalty is to my country and he was the leader of my country, I still gave the administration the benefit of the doubt. I believed then that the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.

I guess Glenn Greenwald made the cable TV rounds the other day after publishing his latest piece. Back to my fantasy. I was amusing myself by thinking of questions Chris L. Hayes might ask him on his show like…

1. In 2002, when this surveillance began, you were supporting President Bush and even put in the preface to your book that you were “ready to stand behind President Bush and I wanted him to exact vengeance on the perpetrators.” Do you feel any remorse for enabling the exact thing that you now decry?

2. Do you still believe that “American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country”, as you put in your book? What exactly were you thinking in 2002 when you wrote that?

3. Why is it that you “trusted”, “deferred to”, had “confidence in”, “strongly approved”, was “fully supportive” of Bush, gave Bush the “benefit of the doubt” and believed that President Bush “was entitled to have his national security judgement deferred to” BUT when a Democratic president comes into office, one who ended the Iraq War, ended the torture of innocent people, ended DADT, is ending the war in Afghanistan and hasn’t started any wars…why has that president has had nothing but negative blog posts written by you about him?

Those are just a few of the questions I fantasize about journalists asking of Glenn Greenwald.

Feel free to make your own conclusions about why Greenwald was so supportive of the administration that brought on most of the NSA abuses but has nothing but contempt for President Obama, one of the very few voices in the lead up to the Iraq war who was brave enough to stand up as a State Senator and say…

What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income — to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression. That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics. Now let me be clear — I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him. (emphasis mine)

There is quite a contrast there, wouldn’t you say?

Check out this quote from an article in the New York Times about Glenn Greenwald when he shared his approach to “journalism”…

“I approach my journalism as a litigator,” he said. “People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove it.”

Jonathon Chait talked about this quote in an interesting article he wrote comparing Glenn Greenwald to Ralph Nadar

That is a highly self-aware account. Of course, the job description of a litigator does not include being fair. You take a side, assume the other side is lying, and prosecute your side full tilt. It’s not your job to account for evidence that undermines your case — it’s your adversary’s job to point that out.

Glenn Greenwald has clearly taken a side, just like he did in 2002 when the Cheney/Bush administration began to “exact vengeance on the perpetrators” and Glenn was there cheering them along.

Author – Extremeliberal
www.extremeliberal.wordpress.com

SCOTUS Turn Their Own Decisions Into A Moving Target

Just days after opening a second front on the war on women, the Supreme Court of the United States back tracks on one of the alternatives they delineated in their Hobby Lobby decision. No really!

Birth Control Order Deepens Divide Among Justices
WASHINGTON — In a decision that drew an unusually fierce dissent from the three female justices, the Supreme Court sided Thursday with religiously affiliated nonprofit groups in a clash between religious freedom and women’s rights.

The decision temporarily exempts a Christian college from part of the regulations that provide contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The court’s order was brief, provisional and unsigned, but it drew a furious reaction from the three female members, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. The order, Justice Sotomayor wrote, was at odds with the 5-to-4 decision on Monday in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, which involved for-profit corporations.

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “Not so today.”

The court’s action, she added, even “undermines confidence in this institution.”

Monday’s decision and the order on Thursday were dual blows to the Obama administration’s efforts to provide contraception coverage, said Walter Dellinger, who was acting United States solicitor general in the Clinton administration.

“Before the Hobby Lobby ruling women had guaranteed contraceptive coverage as part of their employment health insurance,” he said. “After today, it is clear that their access to contraception is by no means guaranteed given the administrative complexities the court has now imposed upon” the Department of Health and Human Services.

Justice Sotomayor said the majority, which acted on an emergency application, had not only introduced pointless complexity into an already byzantine set of regulations but had also revised its Hobby Lobby decision.

That decision, Justice Sotomayor said, endorsed an arrangement allowing nonprofit groups to sign a form that would transfer the delivery of free contraception under the Affordable Care Act to others. But Thursday’s order rejected the mandatory use of the forms for Wheaton College in Illinois.

Justice Sotomayor said the ruling reached beyond Wheaton and could lead to similar results at many other nonprofit religious organizations that have similar concerns. “The issuance of an injunction in this case will presumably entitle hundreds or thousands of other objectors to the same remedy,” she said.

This is turning into a really ugly mess!

Author – Ed Heinzelman
www.bloggingblue.com

Reflections on Cantor and Brat

Viewing the political chaos on the TV news regarding the Cantor/Brat primary sends a shudder up your spine. It is clear we have reached a point in politics where it it is hard to imagine what absurdity will come next.

Every society has to look for a balance between the competing philosophies of individual freedom and the idea of the “greatest good for the greatest number” which is attained by maintaining a just and competent government. Between the 1930s and the 1960s we spent much effort using government programs to mitigate individual greed and avarice. Since then we have tilted toward excessive individual freedom with a new definition of corporations as individuals.

A healthy economy with a fair distribution of equality of wealth helps maintain a culture of justice enabling all a chance for a successful material existence. Collectivism for the common good and individual freedom has the possibility of being a positive partnership in creating a just and free society. The challenge is to find a proper balance.

We have currently descended into the depths by falsifying a myth that a completely free market economy with no restraints (a la Ayn Rand) is the ultimate goal. In doing so we have demonized government as the great Satan. We have polarized ourselves into two groups with eternal opposition being our expressive mode. With a religious zealotry compromise is forbidden and viewed as a mortal sin.

The election of Dave Brat, an advocate of Ayn Rand, over Congressman Eric Cantor in the Virginia GOP primary is an example of how Republicans are so afraid of compromise that they can never achieve an acceptable level of purity no matter how far right they advance.

How far will we go with this insanity? When will we come to our senses?

Author – Bob Menamin
www.fightingbob.com

Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus Unveils Phase 2 of Legislative Agenda

HARRISBURG, June 3 – Members of the legislature’s bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus today unveiled the second phase of their “Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health,” which includes seven new pieces of legislation.
The caucus is co-chaired by Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, and Sens. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, and Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks.

Frankel said, “I’m pleased that we are continuing to build on the original Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health to represent an even wider cross-section of issues and concerns facing women today. This is truly a comprehensive collection of bills based on what women want in regard to their own health and issues we can address to help women in the commonwealth live longer, healthier lives.”

Schwank said, “The issues women face, and that are vital to us, our families and our communities, are as different from each other as our faces and lives are. These bills reflect real differences in women’s lives. But we need to work on them together because success will improve all our lives.”

McIlhinney said, “The purpose of social programs is to help families acquire the basic necessities of life until they can afford to meet these needs on their own, but current program guidelines can make reaching this goal difficult or even impossible when working families lose access to valuable benefits based on minor increases in income. Ensuring access to services such as health care, child care and nutritional assistance is an essential component of protecting the overall health and welfare of women in Pennsylvania.”

The bills in phase two of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health include:

· Patient trust: H.B. 2303, to be introduced by Frankel; Senate version to be introduced by Sen. Mike Stack, D-Phila. This legislation would protect patients and providers from inappropriate, unscientific legislative intrusion into medical decision-making. It would protect the patient-provider relationship from statutory directives to practice care in a manner that is not in accordance with the standard of care.

· Requiring a “cliff effect” study: S.R. 62, sponsored by McIlhinney, would require the nonpartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the “cliff effect,” where working parents receive a minor increase in their income that makes them ineligible for various programs that allow them to work such as child care assistance, transportation, food stamps and free and reduced school lunches. The phenomenon often creates disincentives for poor families to achieve self-sufficiency.

· Creating a task force on women veterans’ health care: S.R. 262, sponsored by Sen. LeAnna Washington, D-Phila./Montgomery; House version to be introduced by Reps. Pamela DeLissio, D-Phila./Montgomery, and Kevin Schreiber, D-York. The task force would submit a report by Nov. 30 on health-care issues unique to women veterans, along with the quality of and access to care for women veterans.

· Increasing Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits: H.B. 2305, sponsored by Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery. This legislation would increase the maximum TANF grant amount to 50 percent of the poverty guidelines published annually in the Federal Registry. Grants to families under the TANF program have not been increased in over 24 years, while inflation has dramatically eroded their buying power.

· Exempt more earned income from TANF income limits: H.B. 2306, to be introduced by Rep. Michelle Brownlee, D-Phila.; Senate version to be introduced by Schwank. This legislation would raise the exemption from 50 percent to 75 percent to encourage people to work, acknowledging that low-income working families’ expenses use up a large percentage of their take-home pay. At the current level, families in Pennsylvania often find themselves in roughly the same spot financially after they start working as they were before they started working, taking into account taxes, transportation, clothing and child care co-payments.

· Ensuring fair pensions for widows of state and municipal employees: H.Bs. 2307 and 2308, to be introduced by Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks; Senate versions to be introduced by Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Phila./Montgomery. This legislation would require that a public employee obtain spousal consent for any benefit payment structure that does not provide at least a 50 percent survivor benefit to the employee’s surviving spouse. The federal government and 27 states have a spousal consent requirement to protect spouses, usually women, from being blindsided after a spouse’s death when they discover that they are not entitled to any of their deceased spouse’s pension benefit.

· Protecting all employees from sexual harassment: H.B. 2300, sponsored by Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh; and S.B. 475, sponsored by Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. These similar bills would end the exemption from state sexual harassment law for those who employ three or fewer people.

Bills from phase one of the Women’s Health Caucus agenda that have advanced include:
· Equitable protections for domestic violence victims: H.B. 1796, sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery. This legislation would ban municipal ordinances that penalize crime victims for calling for help. This bill passed the House 197-0 in January but has been delayed by an unrelated issue in the Senate.

· Stop intimate partner harassment (ban “revenge by invasion of privacy”). The Senate version, S.B. 1167, sponsored by Schwank, passed the Senate 49-0 in January and awaits action in the House Judiciary Committee. This legislation would ban publishing any photo or video identifying another person, who is naked or engaging in a sexual act, without that person’s consent.

More information about the phase-one bills can be found at http://is.gd/PaWomenPhaseOne.

The Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus is a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of legislators partnering with interest groups and advocacy organizations seeking to develop and implement legislation and social policy that protects and respects a woman’s right to make private, personal medical decisions.

Author – John Morgan
www.thepennsylvaniaprogressive.com