Represent the interests of the tobacco industry – U.S. Chamber of Commerce Works Globally to Fight Antismoking Measures

From Ukraine to Uruguay, Moldova to the Philippines, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its foreign affiliates have become the hammer for the tobacco industry, engaging in a worldwide effort to fight antismoking laws of all kinds, according to interviews with government ministers, lobbyists, lawmakers and public health groups in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States.

The U.S. Chamber’s work in support of the tobacco industry in recent years has emerged as a priority at the same time the industry has faced one of the most serious threats in its history. A global treaty, negotiated through the World Health Organization, mandates anti-smoking measures and also seeks to curb the influence of the tobacco industry in policy making. The treaty, which took effect in 2005, has been ratified by 179 countries; holdouts include Cuba, Haiti and the United States.

Facing a wave of new legislation around the world, the tobacco lobby has turned for help to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with the weight of American business behind it. While the chamber’s global tobacco lobbying has been largely hidden from public view, its influence has been widely felt.

In the capitals of far-flung nations, the chamber lobbies alongside its foreign affiliates to beat back antismoking laws. And in Washington, Thomas J. Donohue, the chief executive of the chamber, has personally taken part in lobbying to defend the ability of the tobacco industry to sue under future international treaties, notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement being negotiated between the United States and several Pacific Rim nations.

“They represent the interests of the tobacco industry,” said Dr. Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, the head of the Secretariat that oversees the W.H.O treaty, called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. “They are putting their feet everywhere where there are stronger regulations coming up.”

The increasing global advocacy highlights the chamber’s enduring ties to the tobacco industry, which in years past centered on American regulation of cigarettes. A top executive at the tobacco giant Altria Group serves on the chamber’s board. Philip Morris International plays a leading role in the global campaign; one executive drafted a position paper used by a chamber affiliate in Brussels, while another accompanied a chamber executive to a meeting with the Philippine ambassador in Washington to lobby against a cigarette-tax increase. The cigarette makers’ payments to the chamber are not disclosed.

The chamber’s tobacco lobbying has led to confusion for many countries, Dr. da Costa e Silva said, adding “there is a misconception that the American chamber of commerce represents the government of the U.S.” In some places like Estonia, the lines are blurred. The United States ambassador there, Jeffrey Levine, serves as honorary president of the chamber’s local affiliate; the affiliate quoted Philip Morris in a publication outlining its priorities.

The tobacco industry has increasingly turned to international courts to challenge antismoking laws that countries have enacted after the passage of the W.H.O. treaty. Early this year, Michael R. Bloomberg and Bill Gates set up an international fund to fight such suits. Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group that administers the fund, called the chamber “the tobacco industry’s most formidable front group,” adding, “it pops up everywhere.”

In Washington, the U.S. Chamber’s tobacco lobbying has been visible in the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a priority of the Obama administration that recently received critical backing in Congress.

One of the more controversial proposals would expand the power of companies to sue countries if they violate trade rules. The U.S. Chamber has openly opposed plans to withhold such powers from tobacco companies, curbing their ability to challenge national antismoking laws. The chamber says on its website that “singling out tobacco” will “open a Pandora’s box as other governments go after their particular bêtes noires.” The issue is still unresolved. A spokesman for the United States trade representative said negotiators would ensure that governments “can implement regulations to protect public health” while also “ensuring that our farmers are not discriminated against.”

(Excerpted from New York Times 6/30/15)

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The great conservative nightmare has come true – government action can improve ordinary Americans’ lives

The Affordable Care Act is now in its second year of full operation; how’s it doing? The answer is, better than even many supporters realize.

Start with the act’s most basic purpose, to cover the previously uninsured. Opponents of the law insisted that it would actually reduce coverage; in reality, around 15 million Americans have gained insurance.

In states that have implemented the act in full and expanded Medicaid, data from the Urban Institute show the uninsured falling from more than 16 percent to just 7.5 percent — that is, in year two we’re already around 80 percent of the way there. Most of the way with the A.C.A.!

But how good is that coverage? Cheaper plans under the law do have relatively large deductibles and impose significant out-of-pocket costs. Still, the plans are vastly better than no coverage at all, or the bare-bones plans that the act made illegal. The newly insured have seen a sharp drop in health-related financial distress, and report a high degree of satisfaction with their coverage.

What about costs? In 2013 there were dire warnings about a looming “rate shock”; instead, premiums came in well below expectations. In 2014 the usual suspects declared that huge premium increases were looming for 2015; the actual rise was just 2 percent. There was another flurry of scare stories about rate hikes earlier this year, but as more information comes in it looks as if premium increases for 2016 will be bigger than for this year but still modest by historical standards — which means that premiums remain much lower than expected.

And there has also been a sharp slowdown in the growth of overall health spending, which is probably due in part to the cost-control measures, largely aimed at Medicare, that were also an important part of health reform.

What about economic side effects? One of the many, many Republican votes against Obamacare involved passing something called the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act, and opponents have consistently warned that helping Americans afford health care would lead to economic doom. But there’s no job-killing in the data: The U.S. economy has added more than 240,000 jobs a month on average since Obamacare went into effect, its biggest gains since the 1990s.

Finally, what about claims that health reform would cause the budget deficit to explode? In reality, the deficit has continued to decline, and the Congressional Budget Office recently reaffirmed its conclusion that repealing Obamacare would increase, not reduce, the deficit.

Put all these things together, and what you have is a portrait of policy triumph — a law that, despite everything its opponents have done to undermine it, is achieving its goals, costing less than expected, and making the lives of millions of Americans better and more secure.

Now, you might wonder why a law {Affordable Care Act] that works so well and does so much good is the object of so much political venom — venom that is, by the way, on full display in Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion, with its rants against “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” But what conservatives have always feared about health reform is the possibility that it might succeed, and in so doing remind voters that sometimes government action can improve ordinary Americans’ lives.

That’s why the right went all out to destroy the Clinton health plan in 1993, and tried to do the same to the Affordable Care Act. But Obamacare has survived, it’s here, and it’s working. The great conservative nightmare has come true. And it’s a beautiful thing.

(Excerpted from Krugman New York Times 6/26/15)

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Republican assault on the American worker – stopping the National Labor Relations Board from enforcing its own rules facilitating union elections,

Congressional Republicans are using the power of the purse to do battle against a series of controversial labor regulations from the Obama administration.

They say the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) gave a gift to labor unions by issuing what they call an “ambush election” rule that speeds up the process for organizing in the workplace.

Republican lawmakers are also incensed by a joint-employer policy that holds companies responsible for the labor violations of their business partners, and by a “micro-union” policy that paves the way for multiple labor unions to organize in a single workplace.Now tasked with crafting a funding bill for the labor board, Republicans are moving to cut the NLRB’s by funding by 10 percent while blocking officials from enforcing any of these controversial rules.

The effort is drawing heavy fire from Democrats and labor unions.

“It’s an obvious effort by the Republican leadership to weaken the NLRB and undermine workers’ rights,” AFL-CIO general counsel Lynn Rhinehart told The Hill in a statement.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who mounted a failed attempt to remove the anti-NLRB provisions from the labor-funding bill, warned the House GOP bill would “weaken and really undermine our workforce.”

“It continues the majority’s assault on the American worker by stopping the National Labor Relations Board from enforcing its own rules facilitating union elections,” added Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).

f Obama vetoed the labor-funding bill, federal agencies could go unfunded, potentially resulting in a partial government shutdown.

The question is whether Republicans will insist on keeping the anti-NLRB provisions as they negotiate a final funding bill.

Of the three rules the GOP is seeking to stop, it is the union election rule that has generated the most controversy, and the fiercest opposition from business groups.

The rule, which took effect in April, speeds up the process by which unions can organize a workplace. On average, it takes 38 days after a petition is filed with the NLRB for a union election to take place, but Republicans say the new rule will speed up the process to as little as two weeks.

Labor groups say the rule prevents businesses from intimidating their employees against unionizing.

(Excerpted from The Hill 6/28/15)


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Why Haven’t the Poor Rebelled?

“Society has drastically changed since the high-water mark of the 1930s and 1960s when collective movements captured the public imagination. Now, there is an inexorable pressure on individuals to, in effect, fly solo. There is very little social support for class-based protest – what used to be called solidarity.”

“In effect, individualization is a double-edged sword. In exchange for new personal freedoms and rights, beneficiaries are agreeing to, if not being forced to, assume new risks and responsibilities.”

The reality is that “those bearing the most severe costs of inequality are irrelevant to the agenda-setters in both parties. They are political orphans in the new order. They may have a voice in urban politics, but on the national scene they no longer fit into the schema of the left or the right. They are pushed to the periphery except for a brief moment on Election Day when one party wants their votes counted, and the other doesn’t.”

(Excerpted from Wonk Wire 6/26/15)

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Equal dignity in the eyes of the law – where they stand

Stephen Webber congratulates same-sex couples
State Rep. Stephen Webber congratulates same-sex couples who could begin marrying legally in Boone County during at a news conference Friday at the Roger B. Wilson Government Center.


Gov. Jay Nixon: “Today’s decision … is a major victory for equality and an important step toward a fairer and more just society for all Americans. No one should be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love. In the coming days, I will be taking all necessary and appropriate actions to ensure this decision is implemented throughout the state of Missouri.”

4th District Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville:“I am disappointed in the Court’s decision to stifle the voices of Missouri’s voters. Decisions on marriage policy should be left in the hands of the 50 states, allowing those who wish to define marriage as being between one man and one woman, as we did in Missouri, to do so. Today’s ruling tramples on the voice of the people. I will continue to champion marriage as the union between one man and one woman so every child has the opportunity to have both a mom and a dad.”

State Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis: “I am overjoyed the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the Constitution prohibits government from treating me like a second-class citizen and guarantees my right to marry my partner of 23 years. The court’s action marks yet another example this week of the politics of hate being put to rest. Although many Missourians share my joy, I know others will disagree. However, this ruling does nothing to change the definition of marriage when it comes to one’s church or religious beliefs. No clergyman will be forced to perform a same-sex marriage; no religion will be compelled to recognize them. The decision simply means government may no longer arbitrarily exclude certain citizens from enjoying the benefits of civil marriage. I am hopeful that intolerant and homophobic messages will not rule this day. Love is love, and our state and nation will be stronger now that more families have access to the institution of marriage.”

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster: He announced that he has dismissed appeals on same-sex marriage laws filed by the state in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and with the Missouri Supreme Court.

State Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia (speaking at a news conference held by the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday at the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center): “It’s something that we’re all very excited about … First, congratulations to all the couples in the state of Missouri whose love has been recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States and is being recognized by the state of Missouri and the county of Boone right now. This decision is going to go down as one of the great civil rights decisions by the United States Supreme Court, and today we are a step closer to the American ideal of justice for all than we were yesterday, and that’s something that our country can be very proud of. I want to point out that this is a tremendous step forward, but it’s not the end of the journey. People can still be fired for their sexual orientation, newly married couples, gay couples, can be denied housing. And, as the sponsor of the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act for the last seven years, we are incredibly happy with today’s victory, but we are not satisfied until complete legal equality has been achieved in the state of Missouri.”

State Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia: “Wow. It’s a great day. It’s truly a wonderful decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. This decision rights a wrong. It corrects an injustice that has existed for far too long in the United States — for far too long. I am elated, truly elated for so many of my closest friends and for everyone in the LGBT community. But I also understand this day is not about me. It’s about everybody in the community who had been treated as a second-class citizen for way too long. It is my hope, and I truly do hope, that everybody in the LGBT community can take a moment, take a day, take a whole weekend to celebrate this accomplishment, to be proud of what the movement has been able to accomplish here in the United States. But at the same time, let’s get back to work on pushing for further equal protection under the law. This is not the end. This is just the beginning.”

Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (also speaking at the news conference): “It’s rare that we get to have these wonderful days of celebration, and I hope amidst all of our reading of decisions and congratulating folks and sharing the news and arranging marriages that we take a moment and let ourselves take in the day of history that today represents. We are justifiably proud as Americans that we live in a constitutional democracy, that we live in a country where we have documents that protect the idea of equality … Our Supreme Court has said quite simply that all Americans have a fundamental right to be with the person they love, to have the legal protections for that loving relationship. The decision is stunning.”

Missouri Family Policy Council: “The Supreme Court’s decision today to mandate so-called same-sex ‘marriage’ on all 50 states is a reckless ruling that will have a devastating impact on the future of our nation. This abusive ruling conveys sneering contempt for Missouri voters, as well as citizens in countless other states who voted overwhelmingly to preserve the institution of marriage in their state constitutions.” “The Supreme Court just struck down same-sex marriage bans in 13 states, affirming marriage equality in all 50 states including Missouri. This decision means that all Missourians, regardless of their place of residence within the state, have the freedom to marry. That’s the good news. The bad news is that LGBT people in Missouri can still be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, and denied access to public accommodations and services. The Missouri General Assembly can fix this by passing the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act next session.”

PROMO Executive Director A.J. Bockelman: “To say that today is historic is an understatement. Many people have labored to see this day become a reality. It is a reminder that our movement for justice and equality is built over time, vote by vote, case by case and through heart to heart conversations. Coming on the eve of St. Louis’ Pridefest this weekend, commemorating the Stonewall Riots four decades ago, this decision marches us into a new era of equal rights.”

Missouri Senate Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles: “This decision has strong bearing on the ability of the citizens of our state to establish by public vote the social constructs under which they will live. In 2004, the citizens of our state voted overwhelmingly to put into the Missouri Constitution a definition of marriage that reflected the history and traditions of Western civilization for centuries. Now, a handful of lawyers in Washington, D.C., have decided that they know better and that citizens are incapable of determining such important questions under their own state laws and constitutions.”

Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin: “We are deeply concerned about the ripple effects of this decision. Will certain religious organizations and people of many different faiths now have to choose between violating their deeply held beliefs or risk being dragged into court? The Constitution of the United States, which every member of the Supreme Court is sworn to uphold, specifically reserves powers not explicitly given to the federal government to the individual states. Elections have consequences. We can have majorities in both chambers, but until we get a president who will appoint Supreme Court justices who will fight for states’ rights, we will be left with insufficient authority.”


(Excerpted from Missourian 6/26/15)

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They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.

In Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, 12 (1967), which invalidated bans on interracial unions, a unanimous Court held marriage is “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” The Court reaffirmed that holding in Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U. S. 374, 384 (1978), which held the right to marry was burdened by a law prohibiting fathers who were behind on child support from marrying. The Court again applied this principle in Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78, 95 (1987), which held the right to marry was abridged by regulations limiting the privilege of prison inmates to marry. Over time and in other contexts, the Court has reiterated that the right to marry is fundamental under the Due Process Clause.

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.

As all parties agree, many same-sex couples provide loving and nurturing homes to their children, whether biological or adopted. And hundreds of thousands of children are presently being raised by such couples. See Brief for Gary J. Gates as Amicus Curiae 4. Most States have allowed gays and lesbians to adopt, either as individuals or as couples, and many adopted and foster children have same-sex parents, see id., at 5. This provides powerful confirmation from the law itself that gays and lesbians can create loving, supportive families.

Excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples.

Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society. Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.

Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.

[T]he right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them.

There may be an initial inclination in these cases to proceed with caution—to await further legislation, litigation, and debate. The respondents warn there has been insufficient democratic discourse before deciding an issue so basic as the definition of marriage. In its ruling on the cases now before this Court, the majority opinion for the Court of Appeals made a cogent argument that it would be appropriate for the respondents’ States to await further public discussion and political measures before licensing same-sex marriages. See DeBoer, 772 F. 3d, at 409.

Yet there has been far more deliberation than this argument acknowledges. There have been referenda, legislative debates, and grassroots campaigns, as well as countless studies, papers, books, and other popular and scholarly writings.

The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The Nation’s courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter. An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act.

The respondents also argue allowing same-sex couples to wed will harm marriage as an institution by leading to fewer opposite-sex marriages. This may occur, the respondents contend, because licensing same-sex marriage severs the connection between natural procreation and marriage. That argument, however, rests on a counterintuitive view of opposite-sex couple’s decisionmaking processes regarding marriage and parenthood. Decisions about whether to marry and raise children are based on many personal, romantic, and practical considerations; and it is unrealistic to conclude that an opposite-sex couple would choose not to marry simply because same-sex couples may do so.

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Excerpted from Justice Kennedy’s Majority Opinion)

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House Republicans quietly tucked language into an appropriations bill to protect dark mone

The House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill last week that included little-noticed provisions to hobble executive branch efforts to mandate campaign finance disclosure by federal contractors and other corporations.

The bill would also prohibit the IRS from moving ahead with a rule defining political activity for nonprofits.

The restrictions were tucked into a 157-page financial services funding bill. The vote occurred June 17, as the White House was considering renewed requests from public interest groups and congressional Democrats to issue an executive order mandating contractor disclosure.

“We believe Republicans should be taking steps to fix the campaign finance system, not trying to protect their ability to accept dark money,” [White House] spokesman Eric Schultz said in response to the language approved by the Appropriations committee. Dark money refers to funds spent on elections by nonprofit organizations that do not disclose their donors.

“If this legislation passed as is we would be foreclosed on any means of dealing with post Citizens united spending,” said Lisa Gilbert director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch organization. “It would mean that the Internal Revenue Service, the SEC and the president would be incapable of acting.”

Increasingly the spending debate has broken down along party lines. Democrats – adopting the mantle of “reform” — call for more disclosure while Republicans and allied business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say that anonymous donations are a protected right.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 6/25/15)

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The Reality About Terrorists and Radical Islamists

Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 9.04.23 AM

“The slaying of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week, with an avowed white supremacist charged with their murders, was a particularly savage case. But it is only the latest in a string of lethal attacks by people espousing racial hatred, hostility to government and theories such as those of the ‘sovereign citizen’ movement, which denies the legitimacy of most statutory law. The assaults have taken the lives of police officers, members of racial or religious minorities and random civilians.”

“Non-Muslim extremists have carried out 19 such attacks since Sept. 11, according to the latest count, compiled by David Sterman, a New America program associate, and overseen by Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert. By comparison, seven lethal attacks by Islamic militants have taken place in the same period.”

(Excerpted from Wonk Wire 6/24/15)

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House votes to governors the power to sabotage EPA’s proposed clean power plan

The House voted Wednesday to delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate rule for power plants and let state governors opt out of complying.

The bill, passed 247-180, is a major blow to the main pillar of President Obama’s effort to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, although the White House has promised a veto to protect his legacy. Democrats warned it would ultimately gut the regulation intended to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

“This ‘just say no’ bill would effectively give governors the power to sabotage EPA’s proposed clean power plan by allowing them to opt out of the federal requirements of the plan based on arbitrary and ambiguous determinations,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.).

“The bill would give governors unprecedented and broad discretion to avoid compliance with the [CAA, Clean Air Act], thereby delaying the delivery of important public health benefits,” the White House wrote to lawmakers Tuesday.

“The bill’s effects would be felt hardest by those most at risk from the impacts of air pollution and climate change, such as the elderly, the infirm, children, native and tribal groups, and low-income populations,” it said, calling the bill “premature and unnecessary” and saying that Obama’s advisors would urge a veto if it gets to his desk.

(Excerpted from The Hill 6/24/15)

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Ceremony involving Confederate flag salute leads to criticism for Missouri House member Chuck Basye

State Rep. Chuck Basye’s participation in a ceremony that involved saluting the Confederate flag this past weekend is now being called “hurtful and wrong.”

The criticism came from Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Kansas City Democrat and chairman of the Missouri Black Caucus, who released a statement Sunday.

“It’s incredibly disheartening to read that a fellow member of the General Assembly … took part in a misguided ceremony to lift up treasonous Confederate guerrillas and even saluted the Confederate flag,” Ellington said.

Basye, first elected in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment.

Ellington said he encourages Basye “to think about what his celebration of the Confederacy and salute to the Confederate flag says to his constituents, and invite him to join with us in confronting the racism and mistreatment of our fellow Americans.”

(Excerpted from St. Louis Today 6/22/15)

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Republicans Take Aim at Poor Women

One would imagine that congressional Republicans, almost all of whom are on record as adamantly opposing abortion, would be eager to fund programs that help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

That would be the common sense approach, anyway.

And yet since they took over the House in 2011, Republicans have been trying to obliterate the highly effective federal family-planning program known as Title X, which gives millions of lower-income and rural women access to contraception, counseling, lifesaving cancer screenings, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Last Tuesday, a House subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services proposed to eliminate all Title X funding — about $300 million — from a 2016 spending bill.

The bill would also slash funding by up to 90 percent for sex education, specifically President Obama’s teen-pregnancy prevention initiative. The only winner was abstinence-only education, whose funding the subcommittee voted to double, despite the fact that it has basically no effect on abstinence and has been associated with higher rates of teen pregnancy.

What Title X grants actually do is help prevent unwanted pregnancies — more than one million in 2012, which translates to about 363,000 abortions avoided. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization, every dollar spent on contraception saved about $3.74 in costs related to pregnancy, birth and infant care. When the reduction in other health problems, like premature births, sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer is factored in, the savings nearly double. So the proposal to slash the program’s funding is not just inhumane, it’s also fiscally dumb.

Sadly, that’s no surprise coming from the House Republicans, whose zeal to stop the government from providing an essential service like health care to lower-income Americans has also resulted in dozens of votes to cripple or repeal the Affordable Care Act. (The new spending bill would also roll back much of the health care law.)

This latest bill aims squarely at one of the nation’s most vulnerable groups — poorer women, many of whom live in rural areas with little access to health care of any kind. So much for compassionate conservatism.

(Excerpted from New York Times 6/22/15)

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No matter how CBO scores it, Obamacare reduces the deficit

Repealing Obamacare would increase the deficit by at least $137 billion or as much as $353 billion, a new Congressional Budget Office report published Friday finds.

The report, requested by Senate Republicans, uses two methods to measure the economic effects of Obamacare — one that looks at the provisions of the law itself, and one that looks at how the act’s effects will ripple through the economy.

The latter approach is called dynamic scoring, and, beginning this year, Congress has mandated that CBO use this methodology to more widely estimate the effect of laws like Obamacare. Traditionally, the nonpartisan agency has only used microeconomic modeling to measure the effect of something like a health insurance expansion.

Dynamic scoring sounds like a reasonable idea on its surface, but it’s important to understand that people aren’t really arguing about the general principle. The crux of the argument is something more specific: that conservatives believe these dynamically scored budget estimates say that large tax cuts will have a relatively small impact on the deficit — or even that they make the deficit smaller.

You see this play out in the Obamacare report, albeit not necessarily in the way Republicans might have hoped. The new CBO report shows that Obamacare reduces the deficit no matter how it’s measured, although it reduces the deficit less when macroeconomic factors are taken into account.

You see this play out in the Obamacare report, albeit not necessarily in the way Republicans might have hoped. The new CBO report shows that Obamacare reduces the deficit no matter how it’s measured, although it reduces the deficit less when macroeconomic factors are taken into account.

The CBO has repeatedly projected that the Affordable Care Act will, overall, reduce the deficit in the United States. It did this last in thesummer of 2013, and does it again in this report. You can see in this chart what that looks like over time, when macroeconomic factors are and aren’t taken into account:

 (Congressional Budget Office)

The big reason the deficit would go up in either scenario is that the Affordable Care Act makes significant cuts to what Medicare pays doctors. And if those cuts were reversed, the federal government would end up buying health care at higher prices.

As for the difference between the score, that has to do with how CBO thinks Obamacare will affect labor markets. The agency expects that the health-care law will encourage low-wage workers to work fewer hours, as they can get bigger insurance subsidies if they earn less. This means less employment and less taxable income for the government — all a net negative for the budget deficit.

The request for this CBO report came from Senate Budget Chair Mike Enzi (R-WY), who opposes Obamacare and presumably hoped that the new, dynamic score of the law would help make the case for repeal as a way to reduce the federal deficit.

That didn’t exactly happen: while the report looks less good for Obamacare than traditional scoring, it doesn’t look bad either. Republicans cannot send out press releases saying that Obamacare increases the deficit; they can just say it reduces the deficit less than they’d previously thought (not an especially compelling sound bite).

(Excerpted from Vox 6/17/15)

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Political courage, equal-pay and a corrosive capital culture

The Columbia Democrat [Rep. Stephen Webber] first burst on the political scene in 2008 when he won a race for an open state House seat. At 24, Webber was one of the youngest people elected to the Missouri General Assembly in recent memory. He carried on a Boone County tradition of sorts by getting his law degree while serving in the Missouri House.

Among other things, Webber spent the past few legislative sessions sponsoring a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s non-discrimination laws. He’s also handled legislation that would prompt the state’s labor department to develop policies aimed at closing the gender pay gap.

Webber announced earlier this year he would seek a state Senate seat currently held by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. (Schaefer isn’t seeking re-election because of term limits; he’s also running for state attorney general.)

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The latest American mass killing

The regularity of mass killings breeds familiarity. The rhythms of grief and outrage that accompany them become—for those not directly affected by tragedy—ritualised and then blend into the background noise. That normalisation makes it ever less likely that America’s political system will groan into action to take steps to reduce their frequency or deadliness. Those who live in America, or visit it, might do best to regard them the way one regards air pollution in China: an endemic local health hazard which, for deep-rooted cultural, social, economic and political reasons, the country is incapable of addressing. This may, however, be a bit unfair. China seems to be making progress on pollution.

(Excerpted from Economist 6/18/15)

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Senate King v. Burwell ‘Fix’ Includes Same Failed Proposals to Repeal Health Reform

Later this month, the Supreme Court will issue a ruling on King v. Burwell, the latest Republican attack on the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, through the courts. If the Court rules for the plaintiffs, 6.4 million people will lose tax credits in states using the federal marketplace, making health insurance unaffordable for millions. Fearing a political backlash, Senate Republicans have recently touted a bill sponsored by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) that would extend the tax credits for current enrollees through 2017. While marketed as a compromise, the Johnson bill includes many of the same proposals to dismantle the core of the ACA that the House has been voting on nonstop for the past five years.

What would the Johnson bill do?

  • Extend tax credits in states using the federal marketplace through 2017 but prevent new enrollees in every state from accessing tax credits
  • Repeal the individual mandate
  • Repeal the employer mandate
  • Repeal the federal essential health benefits that plans are required to cover under the ACA
  • Expand the grandfather provision, undermining the ACA’s consumer protections

Read more about how the Johnson bill would result in fewer insured people, higher costs in the individual market, and dramatically weakened consumer protections.

(Excerpted from Center for American Progress 6/18/15)


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Economists Predict Shockwaves If Supreme Court Rules Against Obamacare

“As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on whether people in 34 states can continue to receive Obamacare health insurance subsidies, economists are projecting billions of dollars in lost healthcare spending for hospitals, drugstores and drugmakers if the justices say the payments are illegal,” Reuters reports.

“The immediate consequences of such a ruling would fall on the 6.4 million people who receive the subsidies and live in states that did not establish their own insurance exchanges under President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, instead relying on the federal website.”

“Health economists calculate the economic impact of a ruling against the subsidies in different ways, but one thing many agree on is that about two-thirds of people who receive subsidies through would drop their insurance altogether rather than foot the entire bill. Businesses that have benefited from spending by the newly insured would take a hit, though estimates of the lost revenues vary significantly based on which assumptions are built into the calculation. For instance, a Kaiser Family Foundation economist put the 2015 figure at about $15 billion, based on the proportion of insurance premiums that are earmarked solely for medical costs under the healthcare law.”

(Excerpted from Wonk Wire 6/17/15)

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The ugly truth about hate crimes

FBI hate crime data show that more than 50 out of every 1 million black citizens was the victim of a racially motivated hate crime in 2012, the highest among any racial group.

2. Hate crime rates have remained stable over the past decade

3. The number of active hate groups has fallen in recent years.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of active hate groups, which it defines as groups having “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” more than doubled from 457 in 1999 to 1018 in 2011.

Since then, the number of active groups has declined to 784. The SPLC attributes this to various causes — including an improving economy and recent law enforcement crackdowns, as well as widespread internecine squabbling and splintering within the groups themselves.

4. Hate groups are most concentrated in the Deep South, Northern Plains

Hate groups aren’t distributed evenly by geography. Controlling for the population in each state, hate groups are concentrated most in the Deep South and in the Montana/Idaho region.

Vermont and New Hampshire also stand out on this map. Partially, this is a function of low population — Vermont has fewer than 700,000 residents, which combined with its four active hate groups gives it a high per-capita value. But this may not just be an artifact of low population. Researchers at Humboldt State University recently mapped geocoded tweets containing hate speech, and their map does appear to show a high incidence of hate-tweets originating in Vermont.

(Excerpted from Wonk Blog Washington Post 6/18/15)

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Wiser but not wealthier

Drew Altman: “Income inequality has been rising on the political agenda, yet one group has been left out of the discussion: seniors.”

Older adults are somewhat less likely than working-age adults to be poor by the government’s traditional poverty measure, developed in the 1960s. But this official measure may understate the extent to which seniors live in poverty. Under a newer, alternative scale developed by the government in 2011, known as Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), the rate of poverty among seniors is considerably higher.

“The SPM generally paints a fuller and more accurate picture, taking into account benefits that are ignored by the traditional measure, such as food stamps, as well as expenses such as tax liabilities or out-of-pocket health-care spending, in addition to geographic differences in the cost of living.

(Excerpted from Wonk Wire 6/11/15)

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Obamacare Is Now Woven into the Nation’s Social Fabric

N.Y. Times Editorial Board: “The Affordable Care Act, which has helped millions of people get health care, is now fully woven into the nation’s social fabric. As President Obama said Tuesday, there is something ‘deeply cynical about the ceaseless, endless, partisan attempts” to roll back the progress already made.’”

“There is an easy solution for the problem [if the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare subsidies in King v. Burwell.] Congress could pass a one-sentence law clarifying that subsidies will be available on all the exchanges. That’s what polls show Americans want. But congressional Republicans are not about to do anything realistic to help millions of people keep their health coverage, and are bent on destroying the law that made coverage possible.”

“Experts who have looked closely at the options say converting would not be easy. While the administration would presumably try to make the transition as smooth as possible, the states that established their own exchanges in the past did so with hundreds of millions in federal grants that are no longer available and lots of technical help from the federal government. They also had time to get the job done.

(Excerpted from Wonk Wire 6/11/15)

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Obstructing Wall Street’s cop, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, from doing its job

Following the House of Representatives’ passage of a bill to renew the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Financial Services Committee, criticized the measure as an effort to hamstring regulators’ ability to regulate the complex and important derivatives marketplace.
Waters blasted the legislation as a multifaceted Republican attempt to roll back Wall Street Reform by opening up overseas loopholes for big banks, imposing heavy administrative burdens on our financial regulators, and exposing our financial regulators to endless litigation.

Waters released the following statement:

“In short, this bill would obstruct Wall Street’s cop, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, from doing its job. Under the guise of reauthorizing the CFTC, Republicans have passed a bill that undermines its regulatory authority, imposes new procedural requirements on an overburdened and underfunded agency, and ultimately hamstrings the Commission’s ability to protect the American people.

This legislation is part of an ongoing, multifaceted Republican effort to undercut financial reform laws and regulations that protect consumers, investors and the economy. That’s why it should come as no surprise that Koch Industries, for instance, spent $2.8 million lobbying to ensure the passage of this bill.

The playbook is well-known: create huge loopholes and carve-outs for special interests, while simultaneously underfunding the agency with the authority to ensure compliance with the law.

I’m disappointed that Republicans have undermined the agency charged with protecting farmers, manufacturers, municipalities, pension funds and retirees in favor of helping Wall Street banks.”

Provisions in the legislation would impede the CFTC’s enforcement powers by allowing bank operations to substitute Dodd-Frank protections in favor of lenient, foreign rules in foreign markets, even though that risk may be imported into the U.S. Additionally, the bill imposes burdensome cost-benefit analysis requirements, despite the CFTC’s current policy of considering stakeholders, markets, and many other factors in its decisions.

(Excerpted from Democrats House Financial Committee 6/9/15)

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