Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Judicial Watch announced that the State Department revealed in a federal court hearing that it has yet to process 40,000 of 72,000 pages of Hillary Clinton records that the FBI recovered last year. The revelation came during a federal court hearing in Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails that were sent or received during her tenure from February 2009 to January 31, 2013 (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00687)). The case is before Judge James E. Boasberg.
The hearing focused on the State Department’s progress on processing the tens of thousands of emails Clinton failed to disclose when she served as Secretary of State, some of which were emails sent by Clinton aide Huma Abedin that were found on the laptop of her estranged husband Anthony Weiner. The State Department has processed 32,000 pages of emails so far, a small number of which have been released, but 40,000 pages remain to be processed.
Judicial Watch asked the court to require the State Department to identify any records from the seven FBI discs that it intends to withhold, and why, in a timely manner. The State Department disclosed to the Court that it was adding extra resources to its FOIA operation but would not commit to a faster production of the Clinton emails. On October 19, Judge Boasberg ordered the State Department to “explain how its anticipated increase in resources will affect processing of records in this case and when the processing of each disk is likely to be completed.” Surprisingly, the Tillerson State Department and Sessions Justice Department previously argued to the court that there was diminished public interest in the Clinton emails.
In November 2016, the State Department was ordered to produce no less than 500 pages of records a month to Judicial Watch, emails of which the FBI found in its investigation into Clinton’s non-government email system. The State Department has produced 23 batches of documents so far. At the current pace, the Clinton emails and other records won’t be fully available for possible release until at least 2020.
Clinton attempted to delete 33,000 emails from her non-government server. The FBI investigation recovered or found a number of these missing emails, many of which were government documents.
The lawsuit was originally filed in May 2015.
“Secretary Tillerson should be asked why his State Department is still sitting on a motherlode of Clinton emails,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is disheartening that an administration elected to ‘drain the swamp’ is stalling the release of documents to protect Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration.”
In a related lawsuit Judicial Watch recently revealed that the State Department admitted it received 2,800 Huma Abedin work-related documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that were found on her estranged husband Anthony Weiner’s personal laptop. The State Department expects to complete its review and production of the FBI records by December 31, 2017.
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Sudanese Americans are set to gather Wednesday in Washington, D.C. in order to urge the Trump Administration not to permanently lift sanctions on Sudan’s government. Sanctions were temporarily lifted by President Barack Obama days before he left office.
The Institute on Religion & Democracy Church Alliance for a New Sudan is a co-sponsor of the demonstration to support the continuation of sanctions and call attention to the Government of Sudan’s ongoing atrocities against indigenous peoples.
In an open letter to President Trump from “American citizens, genocide survivors, and human rights activists” the Sudanese Human Rights Advocacy Group asks for sanctions to remain and for additional sanctions to be imposed on Sudanese officials. Activists from Sudan argue that the Khartoum government has consistently worked to undermine U.S. national security by supporting terrorism, committing genocide, persecuting Christians and political dissidents, demolishing churches, imprisoning priests, destabilizing neighboring countries, and preventing access to humanitarian relief for internally displaced people.
The letter outlines Sudanese regime atrocities from the time of now-President Omar Al-Bashir’s recruitment by Islamists in 1989 to seize power. The writers remind President Trump that “U.S. sanctions were mainly imposed to curb the actions of the Sudanese regime and prevent it from continuing its genocide.”
IRD Religious Liberty Program Director Faith J.H. McDonnell commented:
“The Islamic Republic of Sudan is waging genocidal war against the black, African marginalized people groups in Darfur, Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile State, and in the Nubian areas of North Sudan.
“The Khartoum regime is, and has been for decades, a key player in global jihad and the violent spread of Islamic imperialism. The Obama policy has been one that has cast the regime persecutors as morally equivalent with the persecuted and their defenders.
“Although the sanctions have not prevented Khartoum’s prosecution of genocide, to lift them would increase the atrocities and the speed of the Government of Sudan’s Final Solution against marginalized peoples.”
Congressional Delegation to Protect Middle-Class Homeowners by Opposing Repeal of State & Local Tax Deduction
New York, NY - October 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today launched a statewide push across congressional districts to urge New York's delegation to stand up for this state's middle class and oppose the repeal or reduction of state and local tax deductions. Governor Cuomo and Senator Schumer today stood with homeowners from Albany, Rensselaer and Saratoga Counties and urged every New York House member to fight against any effort to repeal or reduce the state and local tax deduction, which thousands of Upstate New Yorkers rely on. If the Republican tax plan were to pass, many New Yorkers could be saddled with a tax increase of thousands of dollars. In Albany County, where average state and local taxes amount to $7,250, this proposal would raise taxes on one in three taxpayers by an average of $3,438. Eliminating or reducing the state and local tax deduction would have ripple effects of decreasing home values in the region and placing pressure on state and local governments to reduce their taxes and cut spending on education and their local fire and police departments.
"While Washington is considering a 'tax cut' plan, what it really amounts to is a "tax increase" plan for New York," Governor Cuomo said. "The elimination of State and Local Tax deductibility is a death blow to New Yorkers and our economy. The current plan only makes it possible to cut taxes for other states by using New York and California as the piggybank. Every member of our Congressional delegation must do everything they can to stop this devastating proposal."
"Whether the savings from these deductions becomes money for home repairs, groceries, school supplies or even the yearly vacation, it belongs in the pockets of New Yorkers, period," said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. "These deductions should not be eliminated so people making millions of dollars a year can catch a tax break of their own. It simply makes no sense for Congress to eliminate the SALT deduction, which has helped steady the cost of many middle-class families including those living in the Capital Region-it would be double taxation on the middle class. Without state and local deductions potential homeowners may look elsewhere which could devastate the New York State including the Capital and North Country economy. So, today, with Governor Cuomo we are calling on every member of Congress from New York: do the right thing and block this gut-punch to New York's middle-class. In the meantime, I will do everything in my power here in the U.S. Senate to fight this GOP-led effort to end critical mortgage, state and local property tax deductions."
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- API welcomed a bipartisan letter, led by Congressman Ken Buck, R-Colo., sent today by 84 members of Congress urging U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to protect against the sabotage of oil and natural gas pipelines, such as the dangerous tactics taken by extremists in October 2016 to illegally shut off several cross border pipelines.
“Safety is our industry’s core value, and any illegal or dangerous effort to undermine safety and bring harm to the environment and communities should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said API Midstream and Industry Operations Group Director Robin Rorick. “We take these attacks very seriously, and we welcome the bipartisan efforts in Congress to strengthen our nation’s infrastructure that delivers the energy Americans demand every day.”
The bipartisan Congressional letter reinforces API’s efforts to engage with the Administration, including the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and the Transportation Security Administration, on the need for effective deterrence against the willful disruption of and damage to pipeline infrastructure.
“A key component of securing our nation’s energy infrastructure is ensuring that law enforcement has the tools needed to prosecute those who attack it,” Rorick said. “We appreciate this bipartisan effort and look forward to working with lawmakers and law enforcement in protecting our industry’s personnel, the environment and communities across the country.”
Click here to view the letter.
API is the only national trade association representing all facets of the oil and natural gas industry, which supports 10.3 million U.S. jobs and nearly 8 percent of the U.S. economy. API’s more than 625 members include large integrated companies, as well as exploration and production, refining, marketing, pipeline, and marine businesses, and service and supply firms. They provide most of the nation’s energy and are backed by a growing grassroots movement of more than 40 million Americans.
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Members of the Klickitat and Cascade Tribes went to court this morning, asking for justice after the government needlessly bulldozed their sacred burial grounds for a highway widening project (watch video). Following years of failed negotiations in Slockish v. U.S. Federal Highway Administration, the government refuses to return the Tribes’ sacred artifacts or allow the tribes to return and rededicate the site. Today in court, the tribes argued that enough is enough.
The highway project, begun in 2008, destroyed a sacred site located off Highway 26 near Mount Hood that included a stone altar, ancient burial grounds, a campground, and trees and medicine plants used for religious rituals. The tribes argued in court today that the Government could have widened the highway and simultaneously protected the sacred site by widening the opposite side of the road or using a retaining wall—as it did to protect nearby wetlands and a tattoo parlor.
“The government has been destroying sacred Native American land for far too long,” said Carol Logan, elder of the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde. “All we want is to practice our faith as our tribes have for centuries. We are hopeful that justice will be served and that our sacred spaces will at least be given the same protection as tattoo parlors.”
Native Americans have lived in the areas surrounding Mount Hood for centuries. It has been the center of tribal quests, spiritual rituals, and sacred burial ceremonies long before this nation was founded. In 2006 the Oregon Department of Transportation announced a project to expand U.S. Highway 26, which follows portions of a traditional Native American trading route from Portland to Mount Hood. Tribal members alerted officials to the importance of the burial grounds as tribal members had done prior to previous government expansion plans. Yet this time the government refused to listen and approved the project, which bulldozed the ancestral burial grounds. Although the government left the other side of the highway untouched, the highway expansion covered the Natives’ ancestral grave sites, destroyed sacred stone markers, and removed safe access to the sites.
The tribes are seeking justice under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the same law relied on by the Supreme Court to protect the Green family of Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor, to ensure that sacred places are respected for people of all faiths.
“The saddest thing about this case is that this destruction never had to happen. The government had numerous alternatives for widening the highway without harming the sacred site,” said Stephanie Barclay, counsel at Becket. “The court did not seem to take kindly to the government’s extreme argument that it can destroy Native American sacred spaces with impunity.”
Wilbur Slockish, Johnny Jackson, and Carol Logan are joined in their lawsuit by the Cascade Geographic Society and the Mount Hood Sacred Lands Preservation Alliance. They are represented by Becket, together with Seattle-based law firm Patterson Buchanan Fobes & Leitch and Oregon City attorney James Nicita.
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- On this day seventy years ago, the NAACP submitted a petition, “An Appeal to the World” edited by W.E.B. Du Bois to the United Nations to address the denial of human rights to African Americans in the United States. Our organizations commemorate the 70th anniversary of this historic document and affirm our commitment to the goals of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the significance of the upcoming U.N. review of United States’ record on ending racism and racial discrimination in the United States.
The ICERD is the principal human rights treaty designed to protect individuals and groups from discrimination based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin, whether the discrimination is intentional or the result of seemingly neutral policies. After the last U.N. review in 2014, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which monitors compliance with ICERD, issued Concluding Observations expressing concerns over prevalent racial discrimination in the United States that Du Bois first voiced in 1947.
Among other observations, the Committee expressed concern over, but not limited to: 1) the practice of racial profiling of and police violence against racial and ethnic minorities, 2) lack of equal access to quality education and the ongoing segregation in schools, 3) the unfairly and disproportionately use of discipline in schools based on race, including more frequent referral to the criminal justice system of racial and ethnic minorities , and 4) the ongoing weakening of the Voting Rights Act and the obstacles to the vote such as restrictive voter ID laws, gerrymandering and felony disfranchisement laws.
The United States ratified the ICERD in 1994 and is obligated to uphold and promote the human rights protections detailed in the treaty, including in the areas of education, housing, criminal justice, health, voting, labor, access to justice, and more. The deadline for the Trump administration to submit its report to the U.N. CERD committee is November 17, 2017. Civil and human rights groups in the United States urge the Trump administration to submit a comprehensive report, which thoroughly reviews both U.S. progress and setbacks in implementing the ICERD and 2014 Concluding Observations on the federal, state and local levels. The CERD periodic review process is the world’s answer to W.E.B. DuBois’ Appeal and the U.S. still has a long way to go to address structural discrimination and the inequities DuBois detailed in his historic appeal.
Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: Seventy years ago, W.E.B. DuBois spearheaded an Appeal to the World that detailed the discrimination faced by racial minorities in the United States. Today, the fight against discrimination is ongoing as many fear the country is heading in the wrong direction. The review of U.S. compliance with the CERD treaty offers an opportunity for both reflection and action. We must continue to move our nation towards the ideals of democracy and work to be the exemplar for all democracies across the globe.
Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO: “We request that the American government pay heed to the racial injustices that Du Bois and his NAACP colleagues exposed seventy years ago. Du Bois’ warning, that a ‘great nation, which today ought to be in the forefront of the march toward peace and democracy, finds itself continuously making common cause with race hate,’ rings all too true today. America’s greatness can only be realized if it models integrity and inclusivity and is willing to confront the inequities that still persist within its democracy and society.”
Jamil Dakwar, Director of ACLU Human Rights Program: “We continue to be inspired by DuBois’ vision and actions of holding the United States internationally accountable for failure to end structural racism and racial discrimination. Today, we are especially concerned about the rise of white supremacy, racism, and xenophobia. We are also troubled by federal government statements and actions such as rollback of civil rights enforcement efforts since January 2017 that will only widen existing racial disparities. The world is and will continue to be watching and we will not rest until DuBois’ vision for racial equality is fully realized.”
Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director of the US Human Rights Network: “Now more than ever we must heed the appeal of Dr. W.E.B Dubois and connect the human rights movement in the US to the struggle for justice across the global south. What was true 70 years ago holds true today, we must support the voice and follow the vision of those most directly impacted if we are to see long-term change for a better America.”
ABOUT THE ORGANIZATIONS:
LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER LAW: The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.
NAACP: Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. You can read more about the NAACP’s work and our six “Game Changer” issue areas by visiting www.NAACP.org.
ACLU: The ACLU is a nationwide, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with offices in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. and more than one million members. For nearly a century, the ACLU has been working in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution, laws and treaties of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.
US HUMAN RIGHTS NETWORK: The US Human Rights Network (USHRN) is a national network of organizations and individuals working to strengthen a human rights movement and culture within the United States led by the people most directly impacted by human rights violations. It is a network of over 300 organizational members that is working to popularize human rights in communities across the United States in order to secure dignity and justice for all. www.ushrnetwork.org
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers has joined the NAACP’s landmark lawsuit against the Trump administration’s cruel and callous cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Today, the AFT formally joined the suit as a plaintiff, filing an amended complaint in federal court to bring its organizational resources and experience to the fight to defend Dreamers attacked by the administration’s decision to end DACA. DACA permits undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to work and live free from the threat of deportation.
The suit argues that that the termination of the DACA program violates the Constitution and other laws of the United States, and as such calls for an immediate halt to the rescission and requests an order prohibiting the government from using information to identify, detain or deport DACA recipients.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union also joined the case.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “We are joining this lawsuit because the pain and frustration caused by the Trump administration’s decision to attack DACA recipients in the only country they have ever known cannot be allowed to stand. DACA recipients embody the hope and aspiration that unites this country; they work hard and play by the rules to build a better life.
“By terminating DACA, President Trump is exploiting fear, pandering to those who want to scapegoat immigrants and using DACA recipients as a political football. The AFT will use every legal and practical tool at our disposal to ensure Dreamers continue to thrive in the country they proudly call home.”
AFT members throughout the country have received work permits through the DACA program and serve the public in healthcare and education. Furthermore, AFT members teach students who have received DACA status. DACA students contribute to the diversity of experience and perspectives in classrooms, engage in valuable research projects, and play key leadership roles in student life.
The AFT has a long-standing history of supporting and advocating for the civil rights of our members and the communities they serve.
The AFT and the NAACP will be represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC in the matter. The NAACP filed its initial suit on Sept. 18.
by Marian L. Tupy
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The Trump administration announced earlier this month that the United States will be leaving the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the end of 2018.
The United States previously withdrew from UNESCO in 1984, because of "corruption" and what it saw as the organization's "ideological tilt toward the Soviet Union [and] against the West." George W. Bush, in his wisdom, reversed Ronald Reagan's decision in 2002.
The State Department has long complained about the organization's anti-Israeli bias and the U.S. stopped paying America's membership fee after UNESCO admitted Palestine as an independent member in 2011.
The stated causes of the United States decision to withdraw aside, it is difficult not to marvel at the goings on at the United Nations, and the U.S. should look at other U.N. organizations to exit.
The U.N. Human Rights Council, for example, currently includes Qatar, which imposes the death penalty for such crimes as apostasy and adultery and flogging for alcohol consumption. Venezuela, which censors its press, and tortures and kills its political prisoners, is on the council. So is China, which does not permit basic human freedoms, including those of religion, speech and assembly, and occupies Tibet. Rwanda, which kills the ruling regime's opponents at home and abroad, is in, and so is Saudi Arabia, a medieval kingdom that, among countless other transgressions against civilized norms of behavior, beheads homosexuals.
And then there's the World Health Organization, which last week appointed the 93-year-old Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, as its "goodwill ambassador." Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian director-general of the organization, has previously praised Zimbabwe for "its commitment to public health" and said that Zimbabwe "was a country that "places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide healthcare to all."
After a public outcry, Adhanon rescinded Mugabe's appointment. That said, let's ponder the WHO action for a moment, since, in the long line up of the world's most destructive leaders, Mugabe surely belongs to the top five.
First, consider the gaping abyss between the rhetoric of universal health coverage and the reality of life in many countries. Critics of the U.S. healthcare system often point to some God-forsaken nation that claims to "provide healthcare to all." The American left has for decades lauded Cuba as an example of a free and universal healthcare system for its citizens, ignoring that country's ramshackle hospitals, primitive medical instruments, lack of basic medicines, phlegmatic staff, dirty linen, and lack of food. Michael Moore even made a Goebbelesque propaganda movie about it.
Second, consider the actual legacy of Mugabe's rule on the health of ordinary Zimbabweans. There are, of course, many examples to choose from, but the following is pertinent for it involves the well-fed and handsomely remunerated invertebrates who stalk the hallways of the United Nations and staff the organization's many offices throughout the world.
In 2005, the Mugabe government nationalized Zimbabwe's water supply, then quickly ran out of money to treat the water and maintain the infrastructure. The government ended up shutting down the water supply altogether and people had to drink from ponds and sewers. In 2008, cholera broke out. The United Nations stepped in to help the cash-strapped country, but moved at a glacial pace.
The government's official line, after all, was that there was "no cholera" in Zimbabwe. Georges Tadonki, who headed the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Harare, noted that the United Nations "didn't want to anger the host government, which was trying to convince the world in general and Africa in particular that all was well in Zimbabwe."
Agostinho Zacarias, who headed the overall U.N. mission in Zimbabwe, refused to give the go-ahead for anti-cholera measures for four months, which was crucial, for "cholera is highly contagious, has an incubation period between one and two days and can kill soon afterwards." By the time the United Nations finally intervened, I wrote at the time, there were already "over 4,000 deaths, more than 100,000 people sick of cholera and millions [of] people affected directly or indirectly not only in Zimbabwe, but also in neighboring South Africa, Zambia, and Mozambique."
The United Nations is a sick organization and the Trump administration would be fully justified to look at America's participation in its other offshoots, well beyond the hapless UNESCO.
Marian L. Tupy is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity and editor of www.humanprogress.org
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Sens. Amy Klobuchar, John McCain and Mark Warner introduced the “Honest Ads Act.” The bill is Congress’ first effort since last year’s election to introduce some transparency and accountability in the massive online political-advertising market on platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter.
The bill requires online platforms with a monthly average of at least 50 million unique monthly visitors to maintain a searchable record of ads “made by or on behalf of a candidate” and of those communicating a “message relating to any political matter of national importance.”
The bill also includes penalties for noncompliance and requires the platforms to take reasonable measures to reject political ads purchased by foreign nationals. The legislation would strengthen prohibitions in current law against foreign nationals’ involvement in U.S. elections.
Free Press Action Fund Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia made the following statement:
“This bill represents a necessary first step toward ensuring there are adequate protections against the abuse of social media and other online platforms to shape the news and information we consume and influence the choices we make in a democracy.
“We can’t understand what we can’t see. As online advertising grows, the public must be able to know who is paying to influence our elections. The bill represents the tip of a very large iceberg as new media gatekeepers like Facebook, Google and Twitter come under much-needed scrutiny for their role in our economy and our society. This bipartisan effort to better understand and disclose the forces seeking to influence our elections is a good place to start.”
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The following statement was issued by Dan Stein, president of Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), urging Congress to not consider a controversial DACA amnesty until after President Trump’s immigration priorities are implemented:
“President Trump recently laid out a set of major immigration priorities that are overwhelmingly popular with the American electorate – including enhanced border security, robust interior enforcement, and reducing legal immigration levels while moving to a modern, merit-based system. These are all issues the president was elected on, and therefore should be priorities of the administration and Congress. These priorities seek to implement a long overdue lawful system of immigration – one where laws are enforced, rules are followed, and the needs of Americans citizens come first.
“Unfortunately, the Republican congressional leadership seems headed toward passage of a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty in exchange for token and ineffective immigration enforcement provisions. This would, in essence, reward illegal aliens who brought their minor children to the United States illegally, or teens who entered the country illegally on their own, without first ensuring that the enforcement framework is in place to prevent the conditions for future illegal immigration and continued mass chain migration.
“Any immigration reform plan that isn’t grounded in the well-being of the nation’s citizens and undermines the rule of law is doomed to fail. That’s why it’s critical that prior to even the consideration of a DACA amnesty, Congress must first pass the reforms outlined in the Trump administration’s immigration principles. Congress needs to avoid making another mistake like the 1986 amnesty where the legalization happened immediately and the enforcement provisions were never put in place.
“The Republicans who now control both houses of Congress and the White House have struggled for legislative success. It would be ironic if their only significant legislative ‘achievement’ this session is the passage of something they and the president ran against: A massive amnesty bill for illegal aliens that delivers nothing of significance for the people who elected them.”
American Trucking Associations, along with the Canadian Trucking Alliance and Cámara Nacional del Autotransporte de Carga – CANACAR – the three largest trucking industry organizations in North America issued a joint statement encouraging their governments who are currently renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement to craft an updated pact that benefits all nations.
“The trucking industries in Canada, Mexico, and the United States have all benefited significantly from NAFTA and we, the national trucking associations from all three countries, urge negotiators to update the trade agreement in a manner that continues to benefit trade,” the statement reads in part. “We strongly encourage our governments to update NAFTA to keep North America competitive internationally. In this endeavor, making border crossings and rules governing international commercial transportation more efficient is a crucial element that will only help our industries make North America stronger.”
The full statement is available here.
“Trucking and trade are synonymous,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “In the more than two decades since NAFTA was enacted, we have seen strong growth in trade – the majority of which is moved by truck – between the United States, Mexico and Canada. It is vital to the health of our industry and our economy that we maintain and strengthen these relationships.”
“Cross-border trade supports over 46,000 U.S. trucking jobs, including 31,000 U.S. truck drivers, and generates $6.5 billion in revenue for our industry annually,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “As the U.S. renegotiates this agreement with Canada and Mexico, we urge them to keep the tremendous benefits to our economy and our industry in mind.”
American Trucking Associations is the largest national trade association for the trucking industry. Through a federation of 50 affiliated state trucking associations and industry-related conferences and councils, ATA is the voice of the industry America depends on most to move our nation’s freight. Follow ATA on Twitter or on Facebook. Trucking Moves America Forward
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The nation's largest federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees, is calling out Rep. Keith Rothfus of Pennsylvania for voting to slash wages for federal law enforcement officers as part of the House budget resolution.
A provision in the 2018 House budget, which passed the House on Oct. 5, would cut at least $32 billion in retirement benefits from federal employees. One of the provisions would eliminate supplemental payments to employees who must retire before Social Security payments kick in at age 62, including law enforcement officers and federal firefighters.
AFGE has posted five digital billboards near the local offices of Rep. Rothfus, who represents Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district in the U.S. House, to raise public awareness of his vote in favor of these cuts. The billboards are located near his offices in Pittsburgh, Johnstown, and Beaver.
"Rep. Rothfus should be ashamed of himself for voting to cut the pay and benefits of federal law enforcement officers and other federal civil servants, many of whom live in his district," said Phil Glover, national vice president for AFGE's 3rd District, which includes Pennsylvania.
The billboards, which will be up for the next four weeks, ask residents to call Rothfus' office at 844-669-5146 and complain about the cuts.
"Cutting the pay and benefits of civil servants who in many cases have risked their lives to protect the public is disgraceful," Glover said. "These cuts would affect tens of thousands of Pennsylvania families who live in the congressman's own district."
There are 30,480 federal employees and retirees in Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district, according to 2014 data from Office of Personnel Management.
In addition to cutting payments for retiring law enforcement officers, the House budget resolution also calls for increasing how much current federal employees pay into their fully funded pension and eliminating the defined pension benefit for new federal workers.
The Senate has passed its own 2018 budget resolution that does not include the cuts to federal employees' pay and benefits.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.
Murkowski Introduces Bill to Authorize Cooperative Management Agreements Between District of Columbia and the National Park Service
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, recently introduced a bill that authorizes the District of Columbia (District) to enter into cooperative management agreements (CMAs) with the National Park Service (NPS) to more efficiently manage park sites across the District. The bill, S. 1956, is the companion bill to H.R. 2897, which was introduced in June by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.
“Both the District and the Park Service share the mutual goal of providing better, more cost-effective management of our park sites across the nation’s capital,” said Murkowski. “S. 1956 would facilitate the implementation of this goal by extending authority to the District to enter into cooperative management agreements. Residents and visitors will reap the benefits of these agreements, starting with Franklin Park.”
“I am grateful to my friend Senator Lisa Murkowski for introducing her Senate companion bill supporting the District’s efforts to work with NPS to rehabilitate Franklin Park and other underfunded NPS properties across the nation’s capital,” said Norton. “This legislation is a big win for the federal government and the District and will allow residents and visitors alike to enjoy greenspace and amenities right in downtown D.C. Our House bill has already been passed by two committees and is on its way to the floor. I look forward to working with Senator Murkowski to advance this noncontroversial bill through Congress.”
“S. 1956 will enable the District to move forward on projects that will improve Washington, DC for residents, visitors, and businesses, and we are pleased to collaborate with Senator Murkowski on this legislation,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser, D-D.C. “With the authority to enter into cooperative management agreements, the District and the National Park Service will be able to restore urban spaces like Franklin Park so that they better represent and reflect the strength and grandeur of our nation’s capital.”
Murkowski is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Click here to view the text of the bill.
Senator Markey Joins Legislation Repealing 2016 Law After Reports It Prevented Aggressive DEA Enforcement of Opioid Distributors
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) announced his co-sponsorship of Senator Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) legislation repealing the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 after reports from The Washington Post and 60 Minutes indicated that it had dramatically restricted the ability of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to crack down on opioid distributors suspected of wrongdoing.
“Wholesale opioid distributors have the capacity to put massive numbers of addictive painkillers in the hands of bad actors, and we need to make sure they are held to account,” said Senator Markey. “We need the DEA to have the tools and authority it needs to fully investigate violations and disrupt the flow of illicit opioid pharmaceuticals into our communities.”
The 2016 bill purported to “improve enforcement efforts related to prescription drug diversion and abuse” by altering DEA procedures for revoking or suspending registrations for opioid distributors under the Controlled Substances Act. However, the effect of these changes, according to media reports, has been to significantly curtail the ability of DEA to bring enforcement actions against drug distributors.
Additionally, Senator Markey joined Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in leading a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the DEA requesting information on the impact of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act. Current law requires the DEA Administrator to submit a report to Congress identifying any residual issues with diversion efforts, including information on whether coordination between the industry and law enforcement has helped with diversion. This report is past-due, and the Senators want HHS and the DEA to provide the information so they can determine the best action to take to ensure the DEA has the tools it needs to fight the opioid epidemic.
“In light of these reports and as Congress evaluates this law taking into account the nation’s addiction epidemic, it is critical that we have all the information necessary to ensure the federal government is doing everything it can to help support our states and local communities in our collective fight against this epidemic,” write the Senators in their letter. “We want to ensure the Drug Enforcement Administration and other related agencies have all of the tools necessary to fight this epidemic.”
A copy of the letter can be found HERE.
The letter is was also signed by Senators Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn..), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) Chris A. Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Gary C. Peters (D-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.).
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) today released the following statement on the death of a coal miner in Raleigh County.
“I am heartbroken to learn of the loss of James Adkins in Raleigh County today. We are again reminded of the incredible sacrifices made by our coal miners and their families each and every day. Gayle and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the friends and family of Mr. Adkins.”
Source: Senator Patrick J. Leahy - (D - VT)
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- No one in this chamber is immune from disaster. Six years ago, Marcelle and I watched with great alarm as communities around Vermont felt the devastating impact of Tropical Storm Irene. That storm washed away entire communities in our state, tearing down homes, local landmarks and bridges alike.
Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, from across the country, stood by Vermont’s side then to help us rebuild. Because that is who we are as Americans. We lift each other up in times of disaster.
Today, in California and across the West, families are returning to the charred ruins of their homes. In Florida and Texas communities are trying to put their lives back together after Hurricane Harvey and Irma. And in Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands are still without potable water, electricity, cell service, or adequate medical supplies following Hurricane Maria. Millions of Americans need us to work together to help lift them up.
That is why it is so disappointing that President Trump seems more concerned with claiming credit for a job well done than the actual situation on the ground, particularly in Puerto Rico. President Trump has given himself a “10 out of 10” for the Administration’s response to the devastating hurricane, but let’s look at some numbers that really matter.
It has been 48 days since Hurricane Irma made landfall in Puerto Rico, and 34 days since Hurricane Maria tore through the island. These storms wreaked havoc on those who live there, destroying houses, and killing at least 49 people. Yet 48 days later nearly 80 percent of the island is still without power, and over 30 percent of the population is without clean drinking water. Roads are impassable. Bridges are down. Hospitals operate on generators.
The Administration was slow to respond to the disaster, and to claim that they get a “10 out of 10” for their response is to ignore the facts. This is not a reality TV show where the participant with the highest score advances to the next round. These are people’s lives. These are people’s homes. This is the hard part of governing. This is where we roll up our sleeves and dig in for the long haul.
Today we will vote to advance a disaster package containing $36.5 billion in additional emergency relief. The bill includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund, $16.0 billion for National Flood Insurance Program debt forgiveness, $1.2 billion for nutrition assistance, and $576.5 million to address wildfires in the Western United States.
As Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I support this bill and urge my colleagues to do the same. If we do not act, the Disaster Relief Fund and the Flood Insurance Program will run out of resources in a matter of days. This money will allow FEMA, the Department of Defense, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies to continue their work in all of the devastated communities, and families to begin rebuilding their homes.
But this is still just the next step on the path to recovery.
Last week I met with the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló. He detailed the unique challenges facing Puerto Rico. The electric grid was almost completely destroyed. Its infrastructure was demolished. Houses were flattened. At the same time, Puerto Rico faces a fiscal situation that will make it nearly impossible for it to provide the federal match required for most disaster assistance programs, and it faces a Medicaid funding crisis that may leave nearly one million people without health care in just a matter of months.
Our response cannot be business as usual. Going forward we need to tailor disaster assistance to meet Puerto Rico’s unique challenges. We may need to consider legislation to address its unique needs. And, most importantly, we need to think long term. To simply replace and repair what was destroyed would be short-sighted.
We must help Puerto Rico recover and rebuild to be more resilient and better prepared. We should invest in the 3.4 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and their infrastructure so the next disaster is not a humanitarian crisis.
This opportunity is not unique to Puerto Rico. We must acknowledge that historic storms are now annual occurrences, and we must respond accordingly. Across the country, from the wildfires in California to the flood damage in Florida, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, we can invest in technology, conservation and infrastructure that will mitigate further damage and make our communities more resilient.
This will require a commitment from the United States Government that is not measured in days, or weeks or months, but in years. A commitment that does not waiver, and a commitment that does not depend on whether you live in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Today, I urge all Senators to support this emergency supplemental that will provide much needed assistance to disasters across the country. But this is still just the next step on the path to recovery.
The Trump Administration has committed to putting forward a third, more comprehensive disaster package in the coming weeks. As Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I intend to hold the Administration to that commitment.
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) spoke at the Opportunity Alliance in South Portland to urge Maine people to prepare for the Affordable Care Act 2018 Open Enrollment Period, which begins November 1st. Senator King was joined by healthcare advocates, application assisters, healthcare providers and insurers to highlight the continued availability of ACA healthcare plans, as well as reinforce the shortened enrollment window to sign up for coverage.
“Reports of the Affordable Care Act’s death have been greatly exaggerated,” said Senator King. “The fact is, the ACA is still the law of the land, and the marketplace offers a variety of plans to help the people of Maine find affordable healthcare that can protect them from the financial risk that accompanies an illness or injury. As the Open Enrollment Period approaches, I urge eligible individuals to take steps to finalize the necessary information and ensure that you can get covered before time runs out.”
With the opening of the enrollment window nine days away, Senator King presented four steps that individuals can take to make sure they have the correct materials to enroll in coverage. These steps are:
1. If you have a Marketplace account, make sure you have your login info or reset your password if you can’t remember it.
2. Get income documents (i.e. pay stubs, last tax return) for everyone you file taxes with.
3. If you are offered health coverage through a job, get information about it.
4. Create a list of the doctors and prescriptions you want your plan to cover.
Senator King’s visit to the Opportunity Alliance comes after months of efforts from the Administration to undermine the ACA, including reducing the length of Open Enrollment from 12 weeks to 6 weeks and announcing a 12-hour shutdown of the ACA website over weekends. Despite these changes, the Affordable Care Act’s benefits and assistance with enrollment remain available for those who sign up within the shortened time period.
Senator King has been outspoken in his desire to improve the Affordable Care Act through legislation. He has also been a vocal advocate for bipartisan solutions to protect coverage for the millions who currently rely on the ACA for affordable healthcare, and is a cosponsor of the bill introduced by Senators Alexander and Murray to stabilize the individual health insurance marketplace.
Senator King was joined at the Opportunity Alliance by representatives from AARP, Community Health Options, Harvard Pilgrim, Consumers for Affordable Healthcare, Maine Health, the Opportunity Alliance, and medical professionals. Following the press conference, Senator King met with Opportunity Alliance leadership.
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa made the following comment on the State of Iowa’s withdrawal of its Section 1332 waiver, also known as the Iowa Stopgap Measure.
“In Iowa and across the country, Americans are witnessing the ‘death spiral’ of Obamacare. Premiums are skyrocketing, provider options are disappearing and people are leaving the market because what is available isn’t affordable. The reason Iowa had to apply for a waiver was because of Obamacare’s flaws, which collapsed the individual market. Obamacare promised to allow states to waive certain portions of the ACA in order to provide affordable insurance options. This turns out to be another broken promise of Obamacare. As written, the law hamstrings the Administration’s ability to help Iowa. I hope Congress will act soon to repeal and replace this unworkable and unaffordable law.”
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Source: Senator Lindsey Graham - (R - SC)
Washington, D.C. - October 24, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) today released this statement on the short-term health care stabilization deal brokered by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Washington).
“Senators Alexander and Murray have worked hard to bring all sides to the table and we appreciate their efforts. We believe we need a package which stabilizes the market in the short-term and lays the groundwork for a long-term solution like Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson.
“However, we recognize this short-term stabilization will not pass unless concerns of the House are addressed.
“We are working with Senator Johnson and House members to include more flexibility provisions like the ones found in our legislation, Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson.
“Without a stabilization package, the market will collapse and advance premium tax credits will spike. This would increase the costs to the American taxpayer.”
Pass Tax Overhaul That Protects Corporate Profits, Gillibrand Calls On Congress To Close Tax Loopholes That Force Taxpayers To Subsidize Massive CEO Compensation
Source: Senator Kirsten E.Gillibrand - (D - NY)
New York, NY - October 24, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand stood with community advocates and workers and called on Congress to reject the GOP’s tax overhaul that protects corporate profits and the wealthiest Americans, and urged her colleagues to pass her legislation to close tax loopholes that force taxpayers to subsidize massive CEO compensation. Gillibrand’s legislation, the Stop CEO Excessive Pay Act would put taxpayers first by closing the tax loophole that allows companies to deduct part of the amount they spend on executive compensation. Gillibrand’s bill would give shareholders more oversight in determining whether CEOs should receive substantial raises or bonuses. Under the current system, companies can get a tax deduction for excessive CEO pay and pay CEOs massive amounts of money with little input from shareholders.
“We need to simplify our tax system, but we need to do it in a way that rewards work and not just profitable corporations and their CEOs,” said Senator Gillibrand. “A good place to start is by closing loopholes that let corporations deduct excessive CEO pay from their taxes as a business expense. Even while the middle class has been shrinking and workers’ wages have hardly budged, corporations have been paying their CEOs higher and higher salaries – in some cases more than 300 times higher than regular employees. This is unacceptable, and it would not be fixed by the tax plan Republicans are moving to pass, which I urge all of my colleagues to reject. We need to start rewarding work again in this country, and ending taxpayer subsidies of CEO pay is a good start.”
“Corporate greed in this country has led to unacceptable levels of income inequality. Corporations should not be allowed to take advantage of tax laws that force working men and women to subsidize exorbitant CEO pay. It’s outrageous that the same hardworking employees, responsible for making their employers profitable in the first place, struggle to get by, while CEOs receive 347 times what they earn on average. I want to thank Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for spearheading this legislation, which is a positive step toward addressing these inequalities and making profitable companies pay their fair share,” said Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO.