Tuesday, July 25, 2017

First Liberty Institute Attorneys Meet with Executive Agency on Draft HHS Contraceptive Mandate Rule

Washington, D.C. - July 25, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- On Monday, attorneys with First Liberty Institute held an on-the-record meeting with officials from the executive agencies tasked with reviewing rules related to the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate following President Trump's Executive Order from May 4, 2017, entitled, "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty." During the meeting, First Liberty urged that the draft interim final rule leaked to the press last month and offering broad conscience protections be made final as soon as possible.

Read First Liberty's letter provided to Director Mick Mulvaney on behalf of its clients at Monday's meeting by clicking here.

"Our clients have been litigating against the government's effort to punish business owners and ministry leaders for following their religious beliefs and moral convictions since 2013," said Matthew Kacsmaryk, Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty. "As President Trump recognized in the Rose Garden on May 4, it is time to reaffirm 'America's leadership role as a nation that protects religious freedom for everyone.' That starts by finalizing this draft interim final rule and ending years of litigation."

First Liberty Institute currently represents the Insight for Living Ministries, the Bible-teaching ministry of Pastor Charles R. Swindoll, along with four retirement communities and two colleges associated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.

In late May, a draft of an interim final rule was leaked the press. The draft rule proposes to reverse guidelines instituted during the Obama administration. Rather than offer narrow exemptions limited primarily to churches and their auxiliaries, under the draft interim final rule, Trump administration officials appear poised to adopt broad exemptions based upon an individual, business, or organization's religious conscience or moral conviction.

First Liberty is a non-profit, public interest law firm dedicated to defending religious liberty for all Americans.

USW Opposes Trump Administration's New Voter Fraud Commission

Pittsburgh, PA - July 25, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard released the following statement following the Trump administration's announcement this week regarding its newly formed commission to investigate voter fraud:

"Despite no evidence to support the claims and despite the many issues our government should be focusing its efforts on, the Trump administration has chosen instead to launch a reckless and expensive investigation into what it asserts to be 'widespread voter fraud.'

"This investigation, which will be led by Vice President Pence, found its roots in the November 2016 election when then President-elect Donald Trump went on a Twitter rampage about the popular vote, despite winning the presidency through the electoral college. He claimed he would have won the popular vote too if not for 'the millions of people who voted illegally.'

"But the fact is these 'millions of people who voted illegally' don't exist. It never happened. State and local election officials have not found any evidence to support the claims, and the Trump administration itself hasn't offered anything either except some shady math and questionable studies. All we have are trumped-up allegations that merely distract the media and U.S. citizens from the chaos that has ensued within Trump's own cabinet, but we know better than to fall for them.

"It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that this investigation is all just an effort to eventually legalize voter suppression, which is one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our time. Since 2008, state legislatures across the country have passed measures to make it harder for Americans—particularly black people, the elderly, students and people with disabilities—to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. Some of these measures include strict voter ID laws, eliminating same-day voter registration, and cutting a full week of early voting.

"These are the things the Trump administration should be investigating in regards to the voting booth. We should be protecting and enhancing everyone's ability to vote, not making it harder and definitely not asking states to hand over private information about their citizens, which is what the president's commission recently asked state election officials to do. Of course, nearly all of them have denied that request to at least some degree.

"This probe into so-called 'widespread voter fraud' is not only a waste of time and money, it is also a violation of civil rights. Strengthening the voting process is something we all want, but this fraud squad does the exact opposite.

"There is dignity in our democracy, and we have to fight to keep it that way. We must urge the Trump administration to call off this investigation and invest its energy in the issues that truly matter to the American people."

Hamilton Crawford: No Agreement in China/US Trade Talks

Shanghai - July 25, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Hamilton Crawford: Bilateral talks held in Washington D.C. between U.S. and Chinese trade delegates have concluded without reaching an agreement. Both sides failed to issue a joint statement or a plan of action for future talks and a scheduled joint press conference was canceled.

The U.S. has been highly critical of China's $347 billion trade surplus and have been demanding fairer trade that gives its exporters access to Chinese consumers as well as seeking to address the contentious issue of cheap Chinese steel being dumped on global markets, depressing prices and hurting U.S. steel exporters.

"We don't think anyone had any serious hopes that significant headway would be made at such an early stage but the fact that the joint press conference was canceled suggests there are some significant obstacles for both sides to overcome," explained a senior market strategist at the Shanghai-based investment house, Hamilton Crawford.

President Trump, who was highly critical of China's trade policies during his election campaign, told a reporter that the trade tariffs he has frequently alluded to in rhetorical tweets and statements "could happen."

"Mr. Trump has a penchant for bluster so we don't expect the U.S. to impose tariffs on Chinese goods especially if he wants their help in dealing with errant North Korea," added the Hamilton Crawford strategist. "We have an optimistic view of the future for trade between these two economic powerhouses and expect good news from future meetings."

In May this year, the U.S. and China reached agreement on a deal that grants credit ratings and credit card companies access to the Chinese market while China lifted its ban on U.S. beef and began accepting LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) shipments.

NDIA applauds, offers its help to Trump effort to review defense industrial base

Arlington, VA - July 25, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The National Defense Industrial Association applauded Friday President Donald Trump's intent to sign an executive order for a wide "whole of government" review of the defense industrial base, saying the action is a long time in coming and offering its hand in research and study.

"The review is long overdue," said retired Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle on Friday. "Fully understanding sound, solid ways to strengthen our industrial base is crucial to U.S. national security."

Comments from Carlisle, president and CEO of the Arlington, VA-based defense nonprofit organization that champions issues and policy for a strong defense industrial base, came after the White House announced Friday that Trump would sign the "Executive Order on Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States."

The order says the United States has lost more than 60,000 factory jobs and more that 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2001, Trade Policy Director Peter Navarro said during a press briefing. America's defense industrial base now facing increasing gaps in its capabilities, he said.

Carlisle agreed. "The United States must concentrate on its ability to stay ahead," he said. "We need to ensure that we maintain core capabilities and advance our manufacturing capacity and supply chain. We have to build better and faster, and we have to ensure that we have the workforce available to make that happen."

Warfighting capability versus capacity is among those issues. "We don't have capacity for what the nation is asking our warfighters to do," Carlisle said. For instance, he said, there is a shortage of fighter jets as well as pilots to fly them.

"We are on a precipice," he said, "and we are burning out our warriors."

Carlisle said NDIA is ready to work with both the Defense Department and industry to complete this review under the whole-of-government approach, which calls on diverse segments of government to study an issue for a common solution.

"Our 80,000-plus members are the best and brightest, and the reason NDIA remains a leader in defense and national security organizations," Carlisle said. "We are ready to get this examination started."

Trump was expected to sign the executive order Friday night; it is then due to be done 270 days later, likely by next spring. The Pentagon will lead the review, considered the first such assessment of the defense industrial base.

NDIA offers Carlisle and its broad base of defense industry experts for further comment on this executive order.

The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) is the trusted leader in defense and national security associations. As a 501(c)(3) corporate and individual membership association, NDIA engages thoughtful and innovative leaders to exchange ideas, information, and capabilities that lead to the development of the best policies, practices, products, and technologies to ensure the safety and security of our nation. NDIA's membership embodies the full spectrum of corporate, government, academic, and individual stakeholders who form a vigorous, responsive, and collaborative community in support of defense and national security.

Bipartisan Tribute to Veterans and Those Serving in Congress Was Smashing Success

Washington, D.C. - July 25, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- On June 27, 2017, the Sixth Annual Bipartisan Tribute to Veterans and Those Who Serve honored military veterans and those who serve in the U.S. Congress at a summer kick-off reception with a powerful line-up of speakers and inspiring songs by renowned tenor Anthony Kearns.

The purpose of the event, in addition to calling attention to veterans’ causes -- was to recognize those who have continued their service to country in elected office. U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin was among the distinguished guests to attend. His presence underscored his commitment to working with Congress to reform the Veterans Administration.

A long list of veterans in Congress were represented by U.S. Representatives Mike Coffman (CO) and Steve Russell (OK) at the podium. Coffman, a Marine combat veteran is the only member of the U.S. Congress who served in both Gulf Wars and is the only veteran in the Colorado delegation. Russell was an Army Ranger and was part of the team that captured Saddam Hussein. Both are among the large group of Hill veterans with post 9/11 military service.

“I appreciated the opportunity to be a part of this important annual tribute. Those who serve our nation in defense of freedom must never be forgotten when they return home,” said Coffman, a Marine combat veteran, and distinguished member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Russell, who commanded the Army’s 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry in Iraq, and retired as a lieutenant colonel, said: “It is important to remember the legacy of those who serve our great nation in battle, and to have their perspective as lawmakers shape policy. Often, veterans are more hesitant to get involved in conflict because they understand the costs of war.”

Dignitaries included former Virginia Governor James Gilmore, New Zealand Ambassador Tim Groser, Irish Deputy Chief of Mission Michael Lonergan, Washington Examiner columnist Tom Rogan, and many other high-ranking officials from government, military, media, and the business sectors.

The evening began with a presentation of the flag by the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard, the National Anthem sung by Mr. Kearns, an invocation by Father Patrick Conroy, the Chaplain of the House of Representatives, and the Pledge of Allegiance led by Fame Academia and Will Hubbard. Mr. Hubbard is Vice President of Student Veterans of America, the largest student organization in the country.

The evening also featured Private First-Class Fame Academia and retired Marine Corporal Jeff DeYoung with his war-dog, Cena.

Ms. Jennifer Griffin, Fox News’ National Security Correspondent and the evening’s emcee, told the extraordinary story of Mr. Academia during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II. As a boy, his family helped downed U.S. pilots elude capture, at least one making it to safety. He joined the U.S. Merchant Marine and then the U.S. Navy in time for the Korean War. His Navy career saw his eventual appointment to the office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Hinman Moorer.

Former Congressman and Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Bob Livingston gave an inspirational introduction of former Corporal DeYoung, who told the story of his valiant and devoted dog, Cena, and his difficulties in re-uniting with him after they left the Marine Corps. Without the help of the humane organization American Humane, Cena, who saved Jeff’s life in Afghanistan, might never have seen Corporal Young again.

American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization, has been supporting the U.S. military, veterans and military animals since 1916 when the U.S. Secretary of War asked them to go overseas and rescue more than 68,000 wounded horses each month on the battlefields of World War I. Following World War II, American Humane helped pioneer the use of animal therapy to aid veterans returning to civilian life, aided children of military families, and has been bringing back retired war dogs, reuniting them with their handlers, and providing them with free specialized healthcare. Their newest “Shelter to Service” program rescues abandoned animals in the nation’s shelters and trains them to become lifesaving service dogs for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury.

The program included several patriotic and classic songs sung by world-renowned tenor, Anthony Kearns, fresh from starring in Donizetti’s opera, L'Elisir d'amore, in Ireland’s prestigious Lismore Opera Festival. His program featured well-known favorites such as “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” concluding with “God Bless America.” Of note, Mr. Kearns dedicated “Shelter Me,” a song he sang at the Pre-Mass Concert for Pope Francis I, to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-LA, and his recovery.

Mr. Kearns also dedicated a song from “Camelot” – the well-known musical about the King Arthur legend – to the memory of the late President John F. Kennedy, whose 100th birthday is being commemorated this year. Kearns headlined a sensational concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts last year, and sang at the gravesite of the late President at Arlington Cemetery in 2013. Kearns, accompanied by Jon Laird, said he was honored to return to the nation's capital to perform for such a distinguished audience.

The bipartisan reception and tribute was co-hosted by The Congressional Institute, The Washington Examiner, National Defense Foundation, Emergent, American Humane, the Veterans Campaign, and others. It was organized by Kirsten Fedewa & Associates, L.L.C., with hospitality by Beam Suntory, Beer Institute, and Wine Institute. Distillery diplomat John Vickers-Smith held a Maker’s Mark bourbon tasting for the several hundred guests.

Ms. Fedewa commented, “We have held this event annually since 2012 to help all Americans remember the sacrifices our veterans have made to protect our country as well as our strong national commitment to those who suffer from war traumas. This event honors those who have served our country not only once, but twice -in uniform and public service. We are grateful to receive so much support.”


Washington, D.C. - July 25, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) issued the following statement on Democrats’ new economic agenda for the American people – A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future:

“It’s time for us to tackle our toughest challenges with bold solutions.

“That’s why today, Democrats released an economic plan that’s a better deal for the American people. We’re calling for investments in our nation’s infrastructure, in apprenticeship programs that open up access to good paying jobs, and in advanced research to unleash innovation. Americans who work hard and play by the rules shouldn’t be crushed by prescription drug costs, student loan debt, or child care costs.”

“The graduate student who is working two jobs to pay for student loans deserves a better deal. The parent struggling to afford childcare and put food on the table deserves a better deal. The couple that has saved their entire lives for retirement deserves a better deal.

“Democrats are ready to get to work so the American people have an economic future they can count on.”


Reps. Maloney & Trott Move to Strengthen Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Law

Washington, D.C. - July 25, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY-12) and Dave Trott (R-MI-11) introduced the bipartisan Stopping Abusive Female Exploitation (SAFE) Act, legislation that would increase the federal penalty for female genital mutilation from 5 years to 15 years in prison and encourage states to implement reporting requirements for suspected genital mutilation:

“Female genital mutilation is a disturbing abuse of women and girls not just around the world but also here at home and it is up to us to stop and properly punish this illegal exploitation,” said Rep. Maloney. “This practice has increased in prevalence in the United States over the last 30 years while it has decreased abroad. We’re clearly moving in the wrong direction. In 2008, ten global agencies called the practice a human rights violation and called for its elimination. The list of health risks associated with this barbarism is long and serious, including death, childbirth complications and newborn death. By increasing the penalty for this despicable crime and introducing a provision to encourage states implement reporting laws, we hope to make it clear that this behavior will not be tolerated.”

“The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 500,000 females in the United States have undergone or are at risk for genital mutilation and, this year, this staggering statistic hit home in Oakland County. In April, three physicians were arrested, suspected of performing over 100 female genital mutilations, most recently, out of their practice in Livonia, Michigan,” said Rep. Trott. “These doctors, and all those who commit these horrendous crimes against innocent children, must be held accountable for their unconscionable actions. We must protect our girls, and this legislation increasing the federal penalty is critical to eradicating this despicable practice from our communities.”

Under current federal law, female genital mutilation is punishable by 5 years in prison. The Stopping Abusive Female Exploitation (SAFE) Act would increase the punishment to 15 years imprisonment. Additionally, it implores states to enact into law reporting requirements for suspected female genital mutilation.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates more than 500,000 females in the United States have undergone or are at risk of female genital mutilation.

In stark contrast to other developed countries, the 5-year penalty for perpetrators of female genital mutilation in the U.S. is significantly shorter. For example, the penalty in the United Kingdom is up to 14 years imprisonment and in France up to 20 years imprisonment.

Congressman Lowenthal Sued to Remove Historic Pride Flag From Outside His Capitol Hill Office

Washington, D.C. - July 25, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) vowed to fight a lawsuit that seeks to force him to remove a historic Pride Flag from outside his Washington, D.C. Congressional office.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the suit claims that the plaintiff is “offended and injured by the placement of the Gay Pride Rainbow Flag,” and requests that the court order the flag removed and declared a “religious symbol,” homosexuality be declared a “religion,” and marriage equality be overturned nationwide. He is also seeking $1 in damages.

Congressman Lowenthal was the first Member of Congress to permanently fly the Pride flag outside his Capitol Hill office. Congressman Lowenthal first flew the Pride flag outside his DC office in March, 2013 (and inside his Long Beach district office) to show his solidarity with LGBT Americans, in support of marriage equality, and in opposition to discrimination and violence.

“I fly the Pride Flag outside my office in support of every LGBTQ individual—those in my district, those in our nation, and those around the world,” Congressman Lowenthal said. “It is a symbol of both how far we have come on equality for all Americans and, as these incidents illustrate, how far we still have to go. It is a symbol of love, of peace, and diversity. I will fight this hateful attempt to silence equality and justice. We have come too far to allow the voices of bigotry and hate to win.”

In a separate incident involving a different individual earlier this year, a visitor to the Cannon House Office Building entered the Congressman’s office and angrily exclaimed his belief that the Pride Flag outside the office was inappropriate alongside the American flag.

Members of Congress have permanent fixtures outside each office to accommodate three flags, with two spaces going to the American flag and the member’s state flag. The third slot is used for a personal selection of the Congress member.

The man left the Congressman’s office, removed the Congressman’s Pride Flag from its holder, threw it to the ground, and proceeded to repeatedly stomp on it. The man was ultimately escorted into the custody of Capitol Police officers.

Following a lengthy investigation, Capitol Police were ultimately unable to identify the perpetrator.

Three other Members of Congress who fly the Pride Flag outside their D.C. offices were also named in the suit. They are Congresswoman Susan Davis (CA-53), and Congressmen Don Beyer (VA-08) and Earl Blumenauer (OR-3).