Monday, December 18, 2017

We Can Put Our Embassies Wherever We See Fit

By Shonda Ponder

The United Nations security Council demanded that Donald Trump rescind his December 6th decision to put the American Embassy in Jerusalem following a statement that proclaims that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel. And then the protests broke out around the world in opposition to Trump's decision.

When I saw this on the news, my first thought was, who are they to tell us where to put our embassies? Does the world think it can dictate how America makes its own decisions? Who gave them that idea? Of course, we all know who. What they need to realize, is that he  no longer represents our best interests. Trump is our president now, and Obama is not.

Nikki Haley, our ambassador to the UN, as they mulled over the resolution, stated that it was obvious that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel. Then, in so many words, she basically told the UN they had no right to tell us where to put our embassies.

I love our president for standing up to the UN. And I believe Nikki Haley is doing a fine job. Keep it up.

Sexual Harassment Remains Persistent Problem for Tipped Workers, Particularly Women of Color

By Senator Elizabeth Warren (D - MA)

Washington, D.C. - December 18, 2017  (The Ponder News) -- Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and 17 of their colleagues sent a letter to Acting Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Victoria Lipnic requesting information on the commission's efforts to address sexual harassment in the food and hospitality industries, which have high numbers of tipped workers. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal workplace anti-discrimination laws and investigating discrimination charges that employees file with the commission. In fiscal year 2016 alone, the EEOC received close to 13,000 complaints involving sexual harassment.

"Women are coming forward to tell stories of the sexual harassment they have endured in jobs in Hollywood, in Congress, and in the news industry. But there are millions more women who work in jobs outside the limelight who fear coming forward because they can't afford to lose their jobs, " said Senator Warren. "The EEOC was created to protect workers, and we want to know what it is doing to make sure that workers all across this country are safe from sexual harassment.  We want the EEOC to do its job."

"Sexual harassment is pervasive throughout the United States, and it does not discriminate by industry. Yet EEOC data shows that the ‘accommodation and food services' industry-including restaurants and the hospitality industry-is particularly rife with harassment," wrote the senators. "Sexual harassment remains a persistent problem for American workers-particularly women and people of color."

From fiscal years 2005 to 2015, complaints from accommodation and food services workers accounted for 14.2% of all sexual harassment allegations filed with the EEOC. Over 60% of workers who rely on tips are women, and 40% are people of color. Data show that tipped workers are particularly susceptible to sexual harassment. Some evidence also suggests that tipped workers who are paid less than the minimum wage experience higher rates of sexual harassment than tipped workers paid the standard minimum wage.

To better understand the EEOC's ongoing efforts to address sexual harassment, the senators asked the EEOC to provide thorough answers on what the EEOC has done to identify, investigate, and limit sexual harassment in the workplace no later than January 5, 2018. 

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Corey Booker (D-N.J.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also signed the letter.

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Senator David Perdue: UN Report On Iran Validates U.S. Concerns

By Senator David Perdue (R-GA)

Washington, D.C. - December 18, 2017  (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-GA), a member of the Armed Services Committee, comments on the United Nations report describing Iran’s repeat violations of UN resolutions, including weapons transfer and arming Houthi rebels in Yemen:

“President Trump and Ambassador Haley have been consistently calling Iran out for its nefarious behavior and this report validates their concerns. The UN’s acknowledgement of Iran’s destabilizing actions is also critical to global efforts to rein in Iran and hold them accountable. This report is another testament to Ambassador Haley’s leadership at the UN and the great job she is doing to defend America’s national security interests.”

Read the full report from the United Nations here.

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Dr. Rand Paul Applauds First Full-Scale Defense Department Audit

By Senator Rand Paul - (R - KY)

Washington, D.C. - December 18, 2017  (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) issued the following statement regarding the Pentagon’s recent announcement of the first full-scale financial audit of the Department of Defense (DoD), with audits to be conducted annually going forward: 

“Our men and women on the frontlines deserve to know their funding is being used as intended and to the maximum possible effectiveness. Unfortunately, the department charged with carrying out our greatest constitutional responsibility has set the lowest possible standard for accountability. I applaud President Trump’s administration for changing this course, and I will keep working to ensure this is only the start of reform,” said Dr. Paul.

As part of a series on the DoD in 2013, Reuters stated that it had “found that the Pentagon is largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies; thus it continues to spend money on new supplies it doesn’t need and on storing others long out of date.”  

Since his arrival in the U.S. Senate, Dr. Paul has been a leading voice for increasing fiscal responsibility at the DoD, including working with former Senator Tom Coburn to introduce the Audit the Pentagon Act, which he has continued to support in the 114th and 115th Congresses. 

Dr. Paul has also called attention to waste and mismanagement of funds at the DoD through his Waste Report, which has covered stories including millions of dollars in equipment and parts failing to reach their destination or going unaccounted for and a $6 million renovation of a Fort Belvoir dining facility that closed less than a year later.

You can read these Waste Reports HERE.

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Grassley Seeks Clarity on Justice Dept.’s Response to Political Texts

By Senator Chuck Grassley - (R - IA)

Washington, D.C. - December 18, 2017  (The Ponder News) -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley sought additional background on text messages exchanged between two senior FBI employees and records of their communications with the current FBI Deputy Director.  One of the employees, Peter Strzok, played a critical role in the FBI’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for official business and mishandling of classified information.  He also appears to be involved in helping to launch the FBI’s investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election.

The text messages provided to Congressional investigators on the eve of testimony by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the special counsel’s investigation, appear to indicate that some officials took actions beyond expressing their political opinions.  One message by Strzok apparently referenced a discussion in the current deputy director’s office about the chances that candidate Donald Trump could be elected, saying “I’m afraid we can’t take that risk” and making a comparison to the need for an insurance policy. Another missive referenced a second phone used to “talk about hillary because it can’t be traced.”

In a letter Wednesday to Rosenstein, Grassley is seeking additional information, including when and how the department became aware of the politically-charged messages, and what steps are being taken to fully review the activities referenced in the messages and take any necessary disciplinary measures.

In October, Grassley sought an interview with Strzok as a part of his ongoing investigation into improper political influence or bias in the Justice Department or FBI. Grassley called on the FBI to turn over any documents related to Strzok’s work and communications following reports of the political messages.

Full text of the letter along with the press release can be found here

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Graham: Disappointed Trump Administration Treating Terrorists Like Common Criminals

By Senator Lindsey Graham  - (R - SC)

Washington, D.C. - December 18, 2017  (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) made this statement on the Trump Administration not holding New York terror suspect Akayed Ullah as an enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.

“I am incredibly disappointed to see the Trump Administration continue to treat terrorists as common criminals.  Giving Akayed Ullah a lawyer and putting him directly into the criminal justice system means we lose the ability to gather intelligence from a person who fits the profile of an enemy combatant. 

“We couldn’t possibly have gathered information on the multiple trips Ullah made to Bangladesh and other relevant activity in such a short period of time.  Now that he has a lawyer, there will be no more intelligence gathering and everything will have to be done through plea bargaining. 

“When it comes to the potential interrogation policies regarding terrorists, it is as if President Obama and his team never left.  How many more attacks will it take before the Trump Administration embraces the fact that we are fighting a war, not a crime? 

“The evidence against Ullah is so overwhelming, a first year law student could convict him.  Our primary goal for terror suspects like Ullah should be to gather intelligence to ensure we prevent and disrupt future attacks.  Only after all intelligence gathering is complete, should the suspect be turned over for trial.”

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After FCC Vote To Eliminate Net Neutrality Rules, Gillibrand Joins Colleagues To Introduce Senate Resolution To Reverse FCC Decision, Restore Net Neutrality

By Senator  Kirsten E.Gillibrand - (D - NY)

Washington, D.C. - December 18, 2017  (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has announced that she is cosponsoring a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to restore the 2015 net neutrality rules that have kept the Internet open and free. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted yesterday on party lines to eliminate the net neutrality rules. The CRA resolution is sponsored by Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and will be introduced when the new FCC rule is formally submitted to Congress.

“The FCC just voted to give the biggest corporations much more control over what people see on the Internet,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This was a shameful decision, and now that it has gone through, the biggest service providers could be able to decide which sites are fast and which sites are slow with little oversight. This is an attack on free speech, it’s a disturbing example of the corrupt relationship between corporations and the government, and I urge all of my colleagues to join this resolution and overturn this vote by the FCC.”

CRA resolutions allow Congress to overturn regulatory actions at federal agencies with a simple majority vote in both chambers. In accordance with the Congressional Review Act, the Senators will formally introduce the resolution once the rule is submitted to both houses of Congress and published in the federal register. Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA) plans to introduce a CRA resolution in the House of Representatives.

The other cosponsors of Senator Markey’s CRA resolution include Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Gary Peters (D-MI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

A copy of the CRA resolution can be found HERE.

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Gardner, Bipartisan Senators Introduce Legislation to Combat Sexual Harassment in Congress

By Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO)

Washington, D.C. - December 18, 2017  (The Ponder News) --  U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), along with several of their colleagues, have introduced new bipartisan legislation that would overhaul the current process that victims of harassment in Congress must go through when reporting a claim, eliminate the use of taxpayer funds to pay out claims, and increase public disclosure of claims against Members.

The current process for victims of harassment in Congress lacks transparency and is difficult to navigate. This legislation, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act, would bring transparency and accountability to the current process by extending protections to interns and fellows, eliminating forced mediation, ending the current required secrecy in the process by allowing victims to speak publicly about their case, requiring Members of Congress found personally liable for harassment to pay settlements out of their own pockets, and improving systems to address harassment and discrimination in Congress.

“Over the past few months, our country has experienced a much-needed transformation when it comes to listening to courageous women share their stories about harassment. No one should be forced to work in an environment where they are made to feel uncomfortable or intimidated. Let me be extremely clear: sexual harassment and workplace misconduct has no place in America, and certainly has no place in the United States Congress,” said Senator Gardner. “I’m proud to join Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and my other colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to introduce this bipartisanlegislation that reforms the way Congress deals with harassment. This legislation ensures we have an open, transparent process that does not leave the taxpayers on the hook for Members of Congress’ misconduct. I’m proud to introduce this bill today and call on each of my colleagues to support this important proposal.”

“Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We should treat every person who works here with respect and dignity, and that means creating a climate where there is accountability, fairness, respect, and access to justice if sexual harassment takes place. There are real costs to sexual harassment in the workplace. We now know that many people quit their jobs because of it, or miss out on promotions or raises, all of which can throw off the entire trajectory in their careers. We must ensure that Congress handles complaints to create an environment where staffers can come forward if something happens to them, without having to fear that it will ruin their careers. This bipartisan legislation would bring us much closer to that goal.”

“Sexual harassment is wrong. Every person, man or woman, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace,” said Senator Cruz. “In recent months, we've seen wave after wave of appalling sexual harassment and assault allegations -- from Hollywood, to newsrooms, to the halls of Congress. And powerful men who have abused their positions have been held to account. Congress is not above the laws, and secret settlements with taxpayer money to cover up harassment should no longer be tolerated. This legislation seeks to empower victims of harassment to report those crimes and to hold the perpetrators accountable."

Specifically, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act would do the following:

1. Extends protections to interns and fellows.
2. Requires everyone working on Capitol Hill, including Members, to take the Office of Compliance training.
3. Changes the name of the Office of Compliance (OOC) to the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.
4. Puts victims in the driver’s seat by allowing them to choose how to resolve their complaint (e.g. counseling and mediation are both no longer mandatory) and protecting their option to discuss their claim publicly
5. Establishes a Confidential Advisor to consult, on a confidential basis, with any employee who has alleged harassment or discrimination; and assist any employee who has an allegation under Title IV in understanding the procedures, and the significance of the procedures.
6. Gives OOC’s General Counsel the authority to conduct interviews and gather evidence regarding complaints of covered harassment and discrimination filed under this section, including interviews with former employees.
7. Allows individuals to work remotely without penalty throughout proceedings.
Improves tracking of complaints and procedures by implementing an online platform.
8. If a Member of Congress is found to be personally liable for harassment or discrimination, they will be responsible for the cost of any settlement.
9. If a Member of Congress is found to be personally liable for harassment or discrimination, any settlement must be approved by the appropriate Senate or House committee.
10. Requires settlements to be publicly disclosed unless the victims choose to keep them private or the Member of Congress is found to have not committed the harassment or discrimination.
11. Requires offices to post notices with information about employees’ rights and how to contact the Office of Compliance.
12. Provides for a climate survey to identify the pervasiveness of the problem and what gaps continue to exist in its resolution.