Saturday, July 22, 2017

Spicer resigns amid White House shake-up of press and legal teams

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s well-known press secretary, Sean Spicer, resigned Friday, as the beleaguered president shuffled his legal and communications team amid mounting investigations and legislative troubles.

The decision came after Trump hired Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier, as communications director. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will take over as press secretary.

Spicer will leave the White House in August, he wrote on Twitter.

For months, Spicer’s daily news briefings were must-see television, although he took on a more behind-the-scenes role in recent weeks. Sanders had largely taken over the briefings, with most of them taking place off-camera.

Spicer hasn’t given a press briefing since June 23.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday, Scaramucci said Spicer’s departure is “obviously a difficult situation.”


FAIR Responds to the Newly Reintroduced Dream Act

Washington, D.C. - July 22, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The following statement was issued by Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in response to the introduction of the Dream Act.

"Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin have still not grasped the idea that the starting point for any immigration reform legislation must be in addressing decades of failed policies that have undermined the interests of the American people. The Dream Act of 2017, introduced by Graham and Durbin, once again attempts to serve the interests and address the demands of the people who break our immigration laws ahead of the longstanding concerns of the American people.

"The voters sent a very clear message that they want true immigration reform. These reforms include a revamping of legal immigration policies that create endless chains of family migration, enforcement of laws that prevent illegal aliens from claiming American jobs, enhanced border security, and a demonstrable effort on the part of the government to enforce our nation’s immigration laws.

"Amnesty for illegal aliens is not immigration reform. It is simply repeating the mistakes of the past. The American people have repeatedly rejected sweeping amnesties for illegal aliens, and targeted ones such as the Dream Act, because amnesty is unwarranted and fails to recognize the American public as the primary stakeholder in U.S. immigration policy.

This latest amnesty attempt by Senators Graham and Durbin will similarly be rejected by the American people.”

Appellate Court Prohibits Legislative Meetings from Opening with Invocation by Government Officials

Washington, D.C. - July 22, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided 10-5 to prohibit First Liberty Institute clients, Rowan County, NC, Commissioners, from opening commission meetings with an invocation by government officials. This decision comes three years after the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that legislative meetings may open with a prayer given by local religious leaders even if all the prayer givers are of the same faith.

“While we are disappointed in the Fourth Circuit’s decision to ban invocations before legislative meetings contrary to Supreme Court precedent, we are encouraged that the split in the vote on the Fourth Circuit demonstrates the need for Supreme Court review on this issue,” said Mike Berry, Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty Institute.

First Liberty Institute is one of the law firms representing Rowan County in this matter and is also representing Jackson County, Michigan in a similar matter that is currently pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

U.S. Chamber Pens Open Letter on Tax Reform to Congress: ‘Failure is Not an Option’

Washington, D.C. - July 22, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue penned an open letter to all members of Congress demanding an end to the legislative gridlock that is holding progress hostage on critical issues like health care, tax reform, and infrastructure investment.

“In the upcoming cycle, in addition to looking for candidates who support free enterprise, we will be focusing on individuals with a demonstrated willingness to govern, which means reaching consensus so that legislation can be passed and enacted into law,” Donohue wrote. “Promises were made; promises must be kept.”

While the U.S. Chamber will continue to look for opportunities to improve access to affordable health care coverage and services, it is urging Congress to turn its attention to tax reform, which is a priority many in Congress share. Comprehensive tax reform will grow the economy and create jobs.

Donohue noted that true reform will “require compromise and give and take.” He added, “On issues requiring negotiation and compromise...there is a seeming inability to come together…And the problem isn’t just on the left, the right, or the center; it spans the political spectrum.”

The nation’s leading business group also said that it will evaluate 2018 congressional candidates based on their “support of the free enterprise system and their willingness to govern, as demonstrated by what role they played in helping enact the first major tax reform in 30 years.” The U.S. Chamber will also activate the business community, and its grassroots and national networks including state and local chambers of commerce, to hold their representatives accountable on this critical issue.

Donohue ended his open letter with stern words for lawmakers: “Members of Congress be warned: Failure is not an option.”

FCC Plan to Scuttle Open Internet Rule 'Disastrous' For the Future of the Internet, Experts Say

Washington, D.C. - July 22, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged the FCC to keep in place net neutrality rules, which are essential to prevent cable companies like Comcast and Verizon from controlling, censoring, and discriminating against their subscribers’ favorite Internet content.

In comments submitted today, EFF came out strongly in opposition to the FCC’s plan to reverse the agency’s 2015 open Internet rules, which were designed to guarantee that service providers treat everyone’s content equally. The reversal would send a clear signal that those providers can engage in data discrimination, such as blocking websites, slowing down Internet speeds for certain content—known as throttling—and charging subscribers fees to access movies, social media, and other entertainment content over “fast lanes.” Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T supply Internet service to millions of Americans, many of whom have no other alternatives for high-speed access. Given the lack of competition, the potential for abuse is very real.

EFF’s comments join those of many other user advocates, leading computer engineers, entrepreneurs, faith communities, libraries, educators, tech giants, and start-ups that are fighting for a free and open Internet. Last week those players gave the Internet a taste of what a world without net neutrality would look like by temporarily blocking and throttling their content. Such scenarios aren’t merely possible—they are likely, EFF said in its comments. Internet service providers (ISPs) have already demonstrated that they are willing to discriminate against competitors and block content for their own benefit, while harming the Internet experience of users.

“ISPs have incentives to shape Internet traffic and the FCC knows full well of instances where consumers have been harmed. AT&T blocked data sent by Apple’s FaceTime software, Comcast has interfered with Internet traffic generated by certain applications, and ISPs have rerouted users’ web searches to websites they didn’t request or expect,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. “These are just some examples of ISPs controlling our Internet experience. Users pay them to connect to the Internet, not decide for them what they can see and do there.”

Nearly 200 computer scientists, network engineers, and Internet professionals also submitted comments today highlighting deep flaws in the FCC’s technical description of how the Internet works. The FCC is attempting to pass off its incorrect technical analysis to justify its plan to reclassify ISPs so they are not subject to net neutrality rules. The engineers’ submission—signed by such experts as Vint Cerf, co-designer of the Internet’s fundamental protocols; Mitch Kapor, a personal computer industry pioneer and EFF co-founder; and programmer Sarah Allen, who led the team that created Flash video—sets the record straight about how the Internet works and how rolling back net neutrality would have disastrous effects on Internet innovation.

“We are concerned that the FCC (or at least Chairman Pai and the authors of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) appears to lack a fundamental understanding of what the Internet’s technology promises to provide, how the Internet actually works, which entities in the Internet ecosystem provide which services, and what the similarities and differences are between the Internet and other telecommunications systems the FCC regulates as telecommunications services,” the letter said.

“It is clear to us that if the FCC were to reclassify broadband access service providers as information services, and thereby put the bright-line, light-touch rules from the Open Internet Order in jeopardy, the result could be a disastrous decrease in the overall value of the Internet.”

Further delaying full implementation of the fiduciary rule will cost retirement savers $7.3 billion

EPI Policy Director Heidi Shierholz submitted a comment in response to a Department of Labor Request for Information about a potential delay in the full implementation of the conflict of interest rule, also known as the fiduciary rule.

The fiduciary rule protects working Americans by requiring financial professionals to act in their clients’ best interests when recommending investments to people saving for retirement. In her comment, Shierholz opposes any further delay in fully implementing the rule.

“Any delay will be enormously expensive to retirement savers—and not just during the period of the delay,” said Shierholz. “The losses that retirement savers experience from being steered towards higher-cost investment products during the delay would not be recovered, and would continue to compound.”

At the behest of financial services industry interests, the Trump administration has already acted to delay the rule, and is now working to weaken it and further delay key provisions. Shierholz estimates that the delays the Trump administration has already instituted will cost retirement savers $7.6 billion over the next 30 years. Each year of further delay will cost retirement savers an additional $7.3 billion dollars over the next 30 years.

“The only beneficiary of President Trump’s move to delay this rule is the financial services industry, which wants to continue to take advantage of retirement savers for as long as possible,” said Shierholz. “Working people trying to save for retirement need to be able to invest their hard earned savings without being fleeced.”

Before the rule went into partial effect in June, it was legal, in many cases, for financial salespeople to recommend higher-cost investment products that provide them with a higher commission but provide lower returns to their clients. If fully implemented and enforced, the fiduciary rule will eliminate the loopholes that made providing this kind of conflicted advice a widespread practice among financial advisers.

The Trump administration claims that delaying the rule will give it time to determine whether the rule would adversely affect the ability of Americans to gain access to retirement advice. This is a thinly-veiled tactic to kill or weaken the rule and allow the financial industry to continue taking advantage of retirement savers.

“We have a retirement crisis in this country. We need an America where working people can get advice on how to invest what they’ve earned without being taken advantage of by the financial professionals they go to for help,” said Shierholz.

Kamala Harris and Rand Paul Spearhead Senate Bail Reform Effort

Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation to reform the country’s money bail system. The proposal – the first of its kind in the U.S. Senate – would provide grants to states to reform their bail system.

“We have a mass incarceration problem in this country, and it starts with our broken bail system,” said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “There are people held in jail without trial because they do not have the financial means to post bail. Many are charged with drug offenses, and are casualties of the racist war on drugs.”

The Harris-Paul bill would provide funds for states to replace money bail with pretrial assessments, provide for the presumption of release, ensure counsel, and guarantee a speedy trial for defendants.

Currently, around 60 percent of individuals in jail in the U.S. are pretrial detainees who have not been convicted of any crime. Such a system contradicts the ethos of “innocent until proven guilty,” and has an adverse impact on low-income families and communities of color. While some states have taken steps to reform their criminal justice system, more needs to be done.

Recently, New Jersey’s historic bail reform law has been the focus of national attention as other states grapple with reforming their broken bail systems. The Drug Policy Alliance led the campaign that overhauled New Jersey’s system and the reform resulted in cutting the state jail population by a third. The reform changed the system by 1) declaring non-monetary pretrial release the default option for the majority of defendants; (2) establishing a pretrial services agency in each county to monitor low-risk individuals who are released pending trial; (3) mandating the use of a validated risk assessment tool when evaluating individuals for release; (4) permitting the detention of truly dangerous individuals; and (5) guaranteeing timelines for speedy trial for those who are detained.

Court Ruling on E-Cigarettes Could Set Dangerous Precedent

Washington, D.C. - July 22, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against a lawsuit brought by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association (CASAA), and former CEI employee Gordon Cummings challenging a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulation banning use of e-cigarettes on planes.

By a 2-to-1 majority, the appeals court said that DOT could ban e-cigarette use on planes under Congress’s 1987 no-smoking law for airlines. In a lengthy dissent, Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg stated that this was an unjustified distortion of the statute’s meaning. Airlines already ban vaping on planes, but DOT nonetheless imposed its own regulatory ban as well, essentially freezing those airline policies in place.

Sam Kazman, CEI general counsel, made the following statement on the ruling:

“Today’s court ruling creates a dangerous new rule for interpreting the law. It allows the commonly-understood language of Congress’s 30-year old no-smoking statute to be stretched into a ban on e-cigarettes—even though e-cigarettes involve no combustion and produce no smoke. The detailed dissent by Judge Ginsburg on this point indicates the seriousness of this issue. The ruling also upholds a DOT ban that is regulatory showboating at its worst. That ban has no real effect, since airlines already ban vaping on their own. But DOT has been permitted to mangle the English language by stretching its statutory authority over smoking to encompass vaping. Vaping is an entirely different activity, and any risks to airline passengers are totally undemonstrated.

“One point that does stand out in the majority ruling is its criticism of the ‘Precautionary Principle’ as ‘literally paralyzing—forbidding inaction, stringent regulation, and everything in between’.”

CEI is considering whether to appeal the ruling.

The lawsuit, initially filed in April 2016, alleged that DOT has no authority to issue such a ban and that the agency is illegally rewriting congressional law.