Saturday, May 16, 2015

Obama: 'We Work Toward This Goal Every Day'

Statement by the President

Michelle and I join our fellow Americans and others around the world in commemorating the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia tomorrow, May 17.  We take this opportunity to reaffirm that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights are human rights, to celebrate the dignity of every person, and to underscore that all people deserve to live free from fear, violence, and discrimination, regardless of who they are or whom they love. 

We work toward this goal every day. Here at home, we are working to end bias-motivated violence, combat discrimination in the workplace, and address the specific needs of transgender persons.  Overseas, I am proud of the steps that the United States has taken to prioritize the protection and promotion of LGBT rights in our diplomacy and global outreach.

There is much more to do, and this fight for equality will not be won in a day.  But we will keep working, at home and abroad, and we will keep fighting, for however long it takes until we are all able to live free and equal in dignity and rights.
 Susan Rice, National Security Advisor, Said....
Tomorrow, the international community will mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.  This day and every day, the United States stands in solidarity with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and all those around the world who work to advance the unassailable principle that LGBT rights are human rights.

The recent unconscionable comments by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh underscore why we must continue to seek a world in which no one lives in fear of violence or persecution because of who they are or whom they love. We condemn his comments, and note these threats come amid an alarming deterioration of the broader human rights situation in The Gambia. We are deeply concerned about credible reports of torture, suspicious disappearances – including of two American citizens - and arbitrary detention at the government's hands.

The United States in late 2014 acted on The Gambia’s crackdown against its LGBT community and wider human rights violations by ending trade preferences, and we are reviewing what additional actions are appropriate to respond to this worsening situation.

We repeat our call for the Gambian government, and all governments, to lead inclusively, repudiate intolerance, and promote respect for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms of all people.

Alfred Delbello, Former NY Lt. Governor, Dies

Alfred Delbello

Statement from Governor Andrew Cuomo

"It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of Alfred DelBello. Over the course of his long and storied careers in both the public and private sectors, he demonstrated an enduring commitment to bettering the lives of others. This state is in a better place today because of his service. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I offer my deepest condolences to the DelBello family."

#WWJVD: The High Costs of Education

Real Life Vigilante: Dan Price, The Robin Hood of CEOs

White House: 'Abu Sayyaf, Senior ISIL Leader, Killed in US Operation'

Statement by NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on Counter-ISIL Operation in Syria

Last night, at the President’s direction, U.S. personnel based out of Iraq conducted an operation in al-Amr in eastern Syria to capture an ISIL senior leader known as Abu Sayyaf and his wife Umm Sayyaf.  During the course of the operation, Abu Sayyaf was killed when he engaged U.S. forces.

Umm Sayyaf was captured and is currently in U.S. military detention in Iraq.  The operation also led to the freeing of a young Yezidi woman who appears to have been held as a slave by the couple.  We intend to reunite her with her family as soon as feasible.

No U.S. personnel were killed or injured during this operation.

Abu Sayyaf was a senior ISIL leader who, among other things, had a senior role in overseeing ISIL’s illicit oil and gas operations – a key source of revenue that enables the terrorist organization to carry out their brutal tactics and oppress thousands of innocent civilians.  He was also involved with the group’s military operations.  We suspect that Umm Sayyaf is a member of ISIL, played an important role in ISIL’s terrorist activities, and may have been complicit in the enslavement of the young woman rescued last night.

The President authorized this operation upon the unanimous recommendation of his national security team and as soon as we had developed sufficient intelligence and were confident the mission could be carried out successfully and consistent with the requirements for undertaking such operations.  This operation was conducted with the full consent of Iraqi authorities and, like our existing airstrikes against ISIL in Syria, consistent with domestic and international law.

We are working to determine an ultimate disposition for the detainee that best supports the national security of the United States and of our allies and partners, consistent with domestic and international law.  We will follow our usual practice with respect to giving the ICRC notification and access to the detainee.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President is grateful to the brave U.S. personnel who carried out this complex mission as well as the Iraqi authorities for their support of the operation and for the use of their facilities, which contributed to its success.  The United States will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Iraqi partners in our effort to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

Friday, May 15, 2015

White House Press Briefing

Rhodes Meets with ASEAN Officials

 Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes

Statement by National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan

Today, Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes welcomed to the White House senior officials from all ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a warm and productive discussion on the U.S.-ASEAN relationship. Mr. Rhodes underscored President Obama’s strong personal commitment to the U.S.-ASEAN relationship and to his strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region, and noted that the President looks forward to attending the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit later this year in Malaysia.  

Mr. Rhodes discussed the broad agenda for cooperation between the United States and ASEAN on many political, security, economic, and people-to-people issues. In particular, Mr. Rhodes discussed maritime security and ongoing concerns regarding China’s extensive land reclamation in the South China Sea, and he expressed continued U.S. support for ASEAN’s efforts to conclude a Code of Conduct with China, and for a resolution of differences consistent with international law.  

Noting that Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia already host substantial migrant communities, Mr. Rhodes expressed our concerns over the tragic circumstances faced by Rohingya and other migrants at sea, and urged ASEAN countries to work expeditiously to save lives while also pursuing the broader efforts that are necessary to improve conditions in Rakhine state and address underlying challenges that contribute to the migration.

Biden, Al-Abadi Discuss Iraq & ISIL

Vice President Biden spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi today to reaffirm continued U.S. support for the Iraqi government’s ongoing efforts to defeat ISIL. The Vice President thanked Prime Minister Al-Abadi for his steadfast leadership in Iraq and for promoting national unity at a time of significant security challenges, including today’s ISIL attack on Ramadi. The Vice President assured the Prime Minister of continued and expedited U.S. security assistance to confront ISIL. This will include delivery of heavy weaponry, including AT-4 shoulder-held rockets to counter Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices, additional ammunition, and supplies for Iraqi forces. Both leaders agreed on the importance and urgency of mobilizing tribal fighters working in coordination with Iraqi Security Forces to counter ISIL and to ensure unity of effort among all of Iraq’s communities. 

UPDATE: Spill Clean-Up & Investigation at Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

Governor Andrew Cuomo today issued an update on the spill cleanup and investigation into the recent transformer fire at Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in Westchester.

“Since last week’s fire at Indian Point, our administration has taken an aggressive, hands-on approach to investigating the cause of the accident and overseeing a thorough cleanup," Governor Cuomo said.

"We will continue to work with our federal partners to investigate the situation and ensure the safety of the facility and surrounding environment – both on and off the Hudson River.”

As of mid-week:

    · 86,000 gallons of an oil/water mix of liquids have been pumped from moat and transformer area to storage tanks and oil separator on site (as of 5/15/15).
    · 2,271 gallons of transformer oil recovered (as of 5/13/15).
    · Entergy moved the damaged transformer today and found it to be empty. They had earlier reported it still contained approximately 900 gallons of transformer oil.

Update on spill and environmental clean-up:

Contractor Clean Harbors continues to remove foam, water and oil from the fire site, transformer, secondary containment structures, and the stormwater and drainage system leading to the Hudson River.

Efforts to quantify the total amount of fluids (transformer oil, water, and fire-fighting foam) lost to the system and environment is on-going. The transformer that burned held a capacity of 24,300 gallons; it is unknown how much transformer oil was burned in the fire.

A total estimate of the oil recovered will be available once the secondary containment moats are pumped out. At this time, most of the contents of the containment moats have been removed by Clean Harbors.

Booms and absorbent materials are still in place in the river near the plant site. Contractor Miller Environmental has 1,900 feet of containment boom deployed around the site. It is being checked daily and changed as needed. DEC and Miller Environmental continue to investigate reports of oil sheens observed on the Hudson River, but there is no longer a visible sheen in the outfall.

The US Coast Guard, accompanied by DEC Spills staff, also continues to inspect on-land and in-river recovery efforts, and has gather oil samples to be used to “fingerprint” oil sheens on the river.

The DEC Habitat unit is also inspecting possible oil stained areas, while providing oversight of any beach/shoreline cleanups performed by Miller Environmental. Several areas on the shoreline and beach are being cleaned by Miller Environmental, including Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Park, 61 Beach Road area in Stony Point, Vincent A. Clark Park and the River Road & Fifth Street area. All areas are in Rockland County.

The Palisades Park Commission has been advised of the impacted beach at the Stony Point State Park. Miller Environmental is currently remediating oil-stained sand at this area. The plan is to complete remediation at all the affected areas by next week.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation asks anyone who notices sheens in the area to call the DEC Spills Hotline at 1-800-457-7362. Reports of sheens will be investigated by state or federal responders and private contractors.

West Wing Week: 05/15/2015

Tsarnaev Receives Death Sentence

By Tom Winter, Andy Thibault and Jon Schuppe

A jury in Boston voted to execute Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, refuting his lawyers' argument that he was pulled into the plot by his radicalized Muslim older brother and overcoming Massachusetts' popular opposition to the death penalty.

After he is formally sentenced by a judge, Tsarnaev will likely end up at the U.S. Bureau of Prison's death row in Terra Haute, Indiana, where he is expected to embark on an appeals process that could last years before he is finally killed by lethal injection. At 21, he will become the youngest person on federal death row.

Source: NBC News 

Full article available here:

'Flashback Friday' - New York City Blackout of '77

Burundi's Authorities Apprehend Coup Leaders in Bujumbura

Burundi's authorities say they have arrested three generals for their role in an attempted coup but the leader of the bid to overthrow President Pierre Nkurunziza is still on the run. After Thursday’s heavy fighting for control of the state radio headquarters and frequent gunfire in the capital, the streets of Bujumbura were quiet on Friday morning. Nkurunziza, who had been in Tanzania since the coup began is said to have returned to Burundi on Thursday signaling that the government had regained control of the capital.

Source: KTN Kenya

Watch KTN Live

'I'm Going to Prove My Father Was Murdered'

After FBI Ruling, Daughter Creates “GoFundMe” Page to
Exhume Her Father’s Body, Have Autopsy Performed

On March 24th of this year, Denise Gordon and Jestina Weems, the ex-wife and daughter of Gary Jerome Weems, were featured in the episode “An Injustice in Lowell”. For the first time in 21 years, Mrs. Gordon discussed how she was allegedly treated by the medical examiner’s office and the Lowell Police Department while attempting to gain information on her husband's death. 

The mother and daughter also discussed how he was mysteriously buried as a "John Doe" in "Potter's Field" without the family being notified...until six weeks later. Members of the Lowell Police Department had obtained all Mr. Weems’s identification at the crime scene, including a birth certificate and family photos.

Mrs. Gordon and Miss Weems submitted case file documents to "The G-Man Interviews", including two autopsy photographs and several pages from the autopsy and police reports, to refute the initial claims made by the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Medical Examiner and the Lowell Police Department. The agencies stated Gary Jerome Weems died from a drug overdose.

Approximately 48 hours after the episode was posted on the Internet, Maura Healey, Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, ordered the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to "review and investigate" the death of Gary Jerome Weems.

In addition to Attorney General Healey’s directive, there have been a number of other stunning developments since the episode was posted online, which raise even more questions about how and why Gary Jerome Weems died….and whether or not Lowell officials linked to the case have revealed all of the details regarding his death.

Jestina Weems rejoins me to discuss her recent conversations with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the City of Lowell Cemetery Department and the Boston division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She will also respond to new information that was uncovered by The G-Man Interviews after the attorney general ordered the case be reviewed. The Skype interview was conducted on May 8, 2015.

Jestina Weems’s “GoFundMe” site:

WMUR-TV Interview with Former Governor Bob Ehrlich

Former Governor Bob Ehrlich (R-MD), a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, was interviewed as part of WMUR-TV’s “Conversation with the Candidate” series. He responded to questions of various topics, including riots and protests in Baltimore, ISIS*, the health care law, and the housing market.

*The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is a militant group that has called itself the Islamic State. 
Source: C-Span

Federal Counterterrorism Efforts

Gerald Roberts talked about his work leading the federal government’s global terrorist financing investigations, focusing on his latest efforts against ISIS. (May 15, 2015)

Source: C-Span

Video link:

Veterans Affairs Health Care Staffing

Witnesses testified at a hearing on ways to alleviate staffing issues at Department of Veterans Affairs run health care facilities. (May 15, 2015)

Source: C-Span

President Obama Honors 131 Police Officers Fallen in the Line of Duty

Wreckage of Missing US Military Helicopter Found

'There’s Going to Be One Killer Blues Session in Heaven Tonight'

Statement by President Obama on the Passing of B.B. King

The blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend.  B.B. King was born a sharecropper’s son in Mississippi, came of age in Memphis, Tennessee, and became the ambassador who brought his all-American music to his country and the world.  No one worked harder than B.B.  No one inspired more up-and-coming artists.  No one did more to spread the gospel of the blues.  

Three years ago, Michelle and I hosted a blues concert at the White House.  I hadn’t expected that I’d be talked into singing a few lines of “Sweet Home Chicago” with B.B. by the end of the night, but that was the kind of effect his music had, and still does.  He gets stuck in your head, he gets you moving, he gets you doing the things you probably shouldn’t do – but will always be glad you did.  B.B. may be gone, but that thrill will be with us forever.  And there’s going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The President Holds a Press Conference at Camp David


President Obama holds a press conference after meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders and delegations at Camp David, May 14, 2015.

The President Delivers Remarks on the Gulf Cooperation Council

President Obama and the Emir of Qatar delivered remarks after the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting at Camp David. May 14, 2015

White House Press Briefing

Army Sgt. William Shemin & Army Sgt. Henry Johnson Awarded Medals of Honor

 Honored for Conspicuous Gallantry
During World War I

WASHINGTON, DC – On June 2, 2015, President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor to Army Sergeant William Shemin and to Army Private Henry Johnson for conspicuous gallantry during World War I. 

Sergeant William Shemin will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving as a member of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces.  Sergeant Shemin distinguished himself during combat operations in the vicinity of the Vesle River, Bazoches, France, on August 7-9, 1918. 

Sergeant Shemin entered the Army on October 2, 1917. He was assigned as a rifleman to Company G, 47th Infantry Regiment, which moved from Syracuse, New York to Camp Greene, North Carolina, joining the 4th Infantry Division. The Division arrived in France in May, 1918. 

While serving as a rifleman from August 7-9, 1918, Sergeant Shemin left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded. After officers and senior non-commissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire, until he was wounded, August 9.

Ms. Elsie Shemin-Roth of Webster Grove, Missouri, will join the President at the White House to accept the Medal of Honor on her father’s behalf. 

Private Henry Johnson will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving as a member of Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, American Expeditionary Forces. Then-Private Johnson distinguished himself during combat operations in the vicinity of the Tourbe and Aisne Rivers, northwest of Saint Menehoul, France, on May 15, 1918.

Private Johnson entered the Army on June 5, 1917. He was assigned to Company C, 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment, an all-black National Guard unit that would later become the 369th Infantry Regiment. The Regiment was ordered into battle in 1918, and Private Johnson and his unit were brigaded with a French Army colonial unit in front-line combat. 

While on night sentry duty on May 15, 1918, Private Johnson and a fellow Soldier received a surprise attack by a German raiding party consisting of at least 12 soldiers. While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Johnson mounted a brave retaliation resulting in several enemy casualties. When his fellow soldier was badly wounded, Private Johnson prevented him from being taken prisoner by German forces.  Private Johnson exposed himself to grave danger by advancing from his position to engage an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Displaying great courage, Private Johnson held back the enemy force until they retreated.

Command Sergeant Major Louis Wilson, New York National Guard, will join the President at the White House to accept the Medal of Honor on Private Johnson’s behalf.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while:

engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.

Cuomo: "I Am Proud to See Them Awarded This Long Overdue and Well Deserved Honor.”

Statement from the Governor on Posthumous Awarding of Medals of Honor to Army Sgt. Henry Johnson and Army Sgt. William Shemin

Awards Granted Earlier Today to by President Obama

“Today, President Obama granted a well-deserved honor to two New Yorkers who served their state and country with bravery during World War I. Sgt. Henry Johnson was an Albany native and a proud member of the 369th Infantry “Harlem Hell Fighters.” He sustained multiple wounds in combat, and was even recognized by the French Army for his heroism. Sgt. William Shemin was a Bronx native and a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic actions with the 4th Infantry Division. Both of these brave souls put the needs of our country before their own, and their example of valor and integrity lives on today. I am proud to see them awarded this long overdue and well deserved honor.”

Politics in Action: H.R. 1314

Senate Amendments to H.R. 1314 - Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 and Trade Adjustment Assistance Reauthorization Act of 2015

(Sen. Hatch, R-UT)

The Administration strongly supports enactment of the Senate Amendments to H.R. 1314, the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Reauthorization Act of 2015.  Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is a vital tool for enabling the United States to expand economic opportunities, break down barriers, and establish global economic rules that support strong and enforceable standards that promote workers’ rights, the environment, and a free and open Internet.  U.S. exports support more than 11 million American jobs, which, on average, pay up to 18 percent more than jobs in other industries.  Enacting TPA will help America take another step toward delivering trade agreements that not only open new markets to ‘Made in America’ goods, but also level the playing field consistent with the Nation’s values and priorities.

This multi-title bill would grant TPA to support the negotiation of high-standard trade agreements that are good for the U.S. economy, businesses, farmers, innovators and workers, and would extend and enhance the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program.  The bill makes important updates to U.S. negotiating objectives that will promote human rights, facilitate digital trade, address state-owned enterprises, tackle localization barriers, and address currency issues in trade agreements subject to the bill.  The Senate Amendments to H.R. 1314 also provide a significant increase in the requirements for consultation, transparency, and accountability with Congress, stakeholders, and the public regarding such agreements.  Additionally, the bill will ensure that the United States will continue to maintain the highest level of health, safety, consumer, environmental, labor, and financial protections that ensure Federal, State and local governments continue to have the right to regulate in the public interest. 

The Senate Amendments to H.R. 1314 regarding TAA are an important partner to TPA, and would provide employment-related services and benefits to American workers and firms, helping all Americans participate in the global economy.  By providing income support, job training, re-employment services, and other services, TAA would help trade-impacted workers enter new industries and careers and would give firms access to the tools they need to compete.  In addition to extending TAA services for American workers and firms, this bill would reinstate key provisions from the 2009 and 2011 TAA reauthorizations that were regrettably allowed to expire.  For example, the bill would expand coverage to again include service sector workers and workers whose jobs have shifted to China, India, and other countries.  Reinstatement and reauthorization of the TAA expansion provisions first enacted in 2009 would significantly increase the number of workers who have access to TAA benefits.  It would provide up to 130 weeks of Trade Readjustment Allowance benefits, restore case management and employment services and the enhanced older worker wage supplement program, and maintain job search and relocation assistance.  It also would raise the annual cap for job training and other activities to $450 million per year – from the $220 million annual training cap under current law.  The Administration looks forward to working with Congress to secure the needed resources to effectively implement and administer a reinstated Health Coverage Tax Credit.  

The Administration also looks forward to providing technical assistance as necessary and continuing to work with Congress on successful passage and implementation on this important legislation.   

'This University's "Commitment" to Diversity is a Travesty'

“I No Longer Believe That Elite Private Colleges Can Be Reformed”

Chris Pepus is an American freelance writer whose work has appeared in such publications as Razorcake, The Progressive, In These Times, SCLC Magazine, the Chicago Reader, and American Theatre.

A son of manual laborers, his writings have focused on what he describes as “the most studiously ignored concept in the U.S.A.: social class”. He’s actively involved with researching legal and educational reform, as well as the ways culture reflects the values of the elite.

“As a white person of the working class, I’m not shy about addressing the media’s treatment of people it considers ‘white trash’. I believe the most important question today is how to unite working-class people of different racial and religious backgrounds, genders, sexualities, and nationalities,” Pepus notes.

The outspoken writer and activist, who’s penned controversial articles on comedian Bill Maher and New York Times columnist David Brooks, joins me to discuss his recent resignation from Washington University in St. Louis, his battle to have his page Facebook page reinstated, and the inherent danger facing many of this nation’s low-income teens and adolescents planning to attend top colleges or universities.

The Skype interview was conducted on April 2, 2015.

EANY: Flanagan’s Opportunity to Prove He’s Different from Skelos

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Long Island) 

Newly-minted Senate Leader Can Do “People’s Business” by
Allowing Up or Down Vote on Bills with More than 32 Sponsors

Albany – New Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Long Island) has the opportunity to break from the contributor-driven style of leadership of his predecessor and begin to rebuild the public’s faith by allowing a simple up or down vote on several key health and safety bills sponsored by more senators than votes needed for passage.

Today, several good government, public interest and environmental organizations outlined the details of five pieces of legislation currently stalled in the state Senate that are sponsored by more than 32 members of the Senate; it takes 32 votes to pass a bill.

The groups challenged Senator Flanagan to commit to allowing basic up or down votes on these broadly supported bills before the end of this legislative session. 

“All we are asking of Senator Flanagan is that he walk the talk,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York (EANY). 

“Senator Flanagan knows the public’s confidence has been shaken to the core by legislators and legislative leaders who are making policy decisions based on whether their family or campaign contributors profit. These five bills are supported by Republicans and Democrats, from Upstate and Downstate. They will pass or fail on their merits, and all we ask is that he let that happen. Senator Flanagan does not want his tenure to be a continuation of the Skelos agenda. This is his way to prove it won’t be.”

Dick Amper, executive director of Long Island Pine Barrens said, “Long Island is reeling from the corruption in the state Senate, and the only person who can begin to rebuild the public’s trust is Senator John Flanagan. Under Dean Skelos, the Senate became a place where legislation either passed or died based on who would profit. That hurt Long Island and all of New York. Senator Flanagan has used many catchphrases like ‘the people’s business,’ ‘protecting families’ and ‘one New York’ since his selection as leader. He can prove that he means what he says, and that the Senate will not be more of the Skelos years, by allowing bills sponsored by a majority of his colleagues to receive a fair vote.”   

“All too often, our state Senate is where good bills go to die," said Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York. 

"Senator Flanagan should take this chance to show that the Senate can be responsive to needs of voters instead of the greed of CEO campaign contributors.”

“There is no excuse for preventing bills, like the ones identified today, which have a majority of members as co-sponsors from receiving a vote,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY. 

“New Yorkers need to be shown that the new leadership is responsible and responsive to the people's concerns. Moving bills which have broad-based support is a common sense way to do that. Best practice demands that Senator Flanagan do away with unnecessary roadblocks that bottle up bills and facilitate procedures that foster open debate and allow up or down floor votes.”

“This is a moment for Senator Flanagan to demonstrate that the Senate will do the people's business,” said Kathy Curtis, executive director of Clean and Healthy New York. 

“When bills like the Child Safe Products Act have achieved critical mass – with support of legislators representing the majority of New Yorkers from across the state – they deserve a vote by the full Senate. We urge Senator Flanagan to seize this opportunity to demonstrate his willingness to lead with openness and transparency, and bring these bills to the floor.”

Caitlin Pixley, conservation program associate of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter said, “Three of the five bills currently sponsored by more than 32 senators concern New York’s public health and environment, making it clear that these issues are important to Senator Flanagan’s colleagues and all New Yorkers. We are confident these bills will pass and help to preserve New York’s air, water and natural resources.”

“While microbeads are small, the problem they are creating is very large,” said William Cooke, director of government relations for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. 

“The solution is unbelievably simple and absolutely free. The answer is to take them out of our products now. This legislation currently has more support than is needed to pass. The only question is will the new Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan allow it to move forward.”

Legislation Sponsored by More Senators than Votes Needed for Passage

40 SPONSORS/Child Safe Products Act (S4102): the toy industry has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to block this common-sense bill which will regulate toxic chemicals in children’s products. The bill is sponsored by Republican Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), co-sponsored by an additional 12 members of the Majority, and all five members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). The Assembly version passed overwhelming with Republican support in April. The bill also had more than 32 Senate sponsors in 2013 and 2014.

32 SPONSORS/Closure of the Hazardous Waste Loophole (S884): the U.S. Attorney’s complaint against Senator Skelos alleges conversations on how to benefit financially from fracking waste happened at the same time that legislation sponsored by more than 32 Senators to classify crude and natural gas drilling waste as hazardous died in the Senate. This bill will eliminate the existing hazardous waste loophole within state law and regulations (which will not be covered by Governor Cuomo’s impending ban) to ensure proper oversight of other states’ fracking waste inside our borders.

34 SPONSORS/Microbead-Free Waters Act (S3932): sponsored by Republican Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Tom O’Mara, this legislation is also co-sponsored by an additional nine Republicans and three IDC members. This bill will prohibit the distribution and sale of personal care products made with unnecessary tiny plastic pellets, which are hurting our waterways and wildlife because New York’s wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to filter them prior to their release into the environment.

41 SPONSORS/Elevator Safety (S1945): idle since 2012, this legislation would require the licensing of persons engaged in design, construction, operation, inspection and maintenance of elevators.

40 SPONSORS/NY ABLE Act (S4472A): this legislation would assist individuals in saving private funds to support individuals with disabilities to allow them to maintain health, independence, and quality of life.

Politics in Action: H.R. 1295 & H.R. 644

Senate Amendments to H.R. 1295 - Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015
(Sen. Hatch, R-UT)

The Administration strongly supports enactment of the Senate Amendments to H.R. 1295, the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015, which would extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), and the preferential duty treatment program for Haiti.

AGOA is the cornerstone of our economic relationship with sub-Saharan Africa, and a seamless, long-term renewal of the program improves the environment for investment, two-way trade, development, and economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.  The Administration welcomes a 10-year extension of the program, including of the third-country fabric provisions.  This will give buyers the certainty they need to build local supply chains and consider Africa as a destination for investment and a source for their purchases.  The Administration is also pleased that the bill includes changes that will improve implementation of the program, such as streamlined rules of origin and updates to the process to review country eligibility.

In addition to extending AGOA, the bill also renews the GSP program through December 31, 2017.  GSP promotes economic growth in the developing world by eliminating duties on a wide range of products from developing countries.  GSP also supports U.S. jobs by lowering the cost of imported inputs, which helps to keep U.S. manufacturers competitive, and reduces prices on many U.S. consumer goods.  The legislation also designates certain cotton articles for potential duty-free treatment under the GSP program for least-developed countries, pursuant to undertakings by the United States in the World Trade Organization.

The bill also extends the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE II) for five years, from 2020 to 2025.  Haiti remains the poorest country in the Americas, and one of the poorest in the world, with a significant need for basic services.  The HOPE program has been instrumental in economic development in Haiti, especially in the textile and apparel sector.  Early extension of this program will provide the stability and continuity needed to help ensure that companies will continue to invest in Haiti’s future.

Senate Amendments to H.R. 644 – Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015
(Sen. Hatch, R-UT)

The Obama Administration has made rigorous trade enforcement a central pillar of U.S. trade policy.  The Administration welcomes and supports most provisions of the Senate Amendments to H.R. 644 – Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, which would reauthorize trade facilitation and trade enforcement functions and activities, and for other purposes.  Most of the provisions included in this bill will strengthen the Administration’s ability to both facilitate trade and improve enforcement of the rules. These new tools will strengthen the Administration’s ability to level the playing field for U.S. workers, businesses and farmers.  The Administration strongly supports the enactment of these provisions.

The Administration strongly supports enactment of the provisions of Title III, Import-Related Protection of Intellectual Property Rights, within the bill.  These provisions will strengthen the authority and capacity of the Department of Homeland Security, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to combat the importation of infringing articles at the border. 

The Administration appreciates the need for swift action in response to those who attempt to circumvent our trade laws.  But we have concerns with a specific provision that would grant the violator or alleger the ability to file a complaint in the Court of International Trade.  This would undermine enforcement of antidumping/countervailing duty (AD/CVD) laws, going against a core objective of the bill.  The Administration welcomes the opportunity to work with Congress on these proposals going forward.

The Administration welcomes new enforcement provisions contained in the legislation which will strengthen the Commerce Department’s ability to address non-cooperative foreign companies and governments in trade remedy proceedings.  This provision and others contained in the legislation will enhance the Commerce Department’s implementation of U.S. AD/CVD laws. 

The Administration supports constructive tools to address unfair currency practices.  We support sections 711 and 712 of the bill, which target unfair currency practices and would establish objective standards and strong potential remedies that can further our goal of leveling the playing field for American workers and firms.  These provisions targeting currency practices in this manner would be the strongest in history if enacted.  But the Administration opposes the way the bill uses the countervailing duty process to address currency undervaluation.  Those provisions would undermine our international efforts to address this issue, raise highly problematic questions about consistency with our international obligations, lead to other countries pursuing retaliatory measures that could hurt our exporters, and be difficult to administer. 

The Administration supports a more transparent process for considering duty suspensions, but has concerns that trade policy considerations, such as the effect of duty suspensions on U.S. preference programs and current and future free trade agreement partners, have not been included in the bill.

The Administration looks forward to working with Congress to address these concerns and advancing the policies set forth in this bill.

House Speaker Weekly Briefing

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) briefed reporters and responded to questions on his party’s legislative agenda. (May 14, 2015)

Source: C-Span

Senator Marco Rubio on U.S. Foreign Policy

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke about his foreign policy doctrine and the global role of the United States. He said the “stakes of tomorrow are too high” for the nation to elect Hillary Clinton as president. He also said his first priority as president would be to restore funding to the military. Other topics included U.S. relations with Cuba and Iran, and the threat from ISIS.*

*The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is a militant group that has called itself the Islamic State.

Senator Sherrod Brown on Trade Promotion Authority

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) spoke about his opposition to Trade Promotion Authority legislation and criticized President Obama's push for the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, saying the agreement could hurt U.S. businesses. Senator Brown welcomed the Senate's vote Tuesday that stopped the bill from advancing. "This body delivered one strong message this week … We cannot have trade promotion without trade enforcement," he said.

Source: C-Span

New York’s Fracking Ban Released

Water & Natural Resources Associate Liz Moran Comments

 “New Yorkers asked Governor Cuomo to follow the science, and he did. Hundreds of thousands of people took time out of their personal lives, educated themselves on the danger of fracking, and engaged with their government in a way we’ve haven’t seen in years. This is a really proud moment for every one of them because protecting public health triumphed over industry pressure.  

There are thousands of pages of fine detail to sort through, and we know much work remains, like banning other states' fracking waste from being dumped inside our borders. This is an enormous victory for Upstate and all New Yorkers, and it gives hope to citizens across the country fighting back against a deep-pocketed industry!”