Saturday, June 29, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 22 - "What a Week"

"What a Week" -- Major Supreme Court Rulings, Senate Passes Immigration Reform, Obama and family in Africa.

Supreme Rulings

The Voting Rights Act (from 1965) was gutted and southern states quickly reacted to suppress the minority vote. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Prop 8 were struck down and gay marriages immediately resumed in California.

Nan Aron, President of The Alliance for Justice, got it exactly right with her HuffPo piece: "The Supreme Court Takes With One Hand, Gives With the Other."

Says Ms. Aron:
"It's been a bittersweet week in the Supreme Court. On the one hand, the Court's decisions on same-sex marriage left many of us profoundly hopeful, while its voting rights opinion was deeply disappointing. By simultaneously moving in opposite directions on fundamental principles of civil rights, this Court has torn a hole in our political fabric, and once again left the nation part equal and part unequal."    Read More
Before the ink had settled on the Voting Rights ruling, Republicans in Texas got busy. From The CS Monitor:
"Shortly after the decision on Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the state’s new voter ID law would immediately take effect. He also said that the state’s challenged redistricting maps “may” also take effect without prior approval from Washington."  Read More

Supporters of voting rights, such as Democratic Strategist Donna Brazile, are calling on Congress to restore provisions of the act. However, even Ms. Brazile realizes this will be difficult given the current climate in Washington. From her CNN op-ed: "Congress Give us new Voting Rights Act,"
"Don't expect the conservative-controlled House of Representatives to jump at the chance though. Just last year, during the 2012 election cycle, Republican elected officials in states across the country pushed deeply hostile voter ID laws that disproportionately limit minority voters. Sometimes, the Republicans were even explicit that the purpose of these laws was to put victories in the "R" column. And all that took place with a full and complete Voting Rights Act still on the books."  Read More

In brighter news... with the decisions on DOMA and Prop 8, weddings are free to resume in those states which allow gay marriage. As a matter of fact, two of the plaintiffs in the historic ruling--Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, from Berkeley, were the first to be married with California Attorney General Kamala Harris officiating.

Btw.......Did Chris Christie just lose 2016 with this stance on gay marriage?
"New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) blasted the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, calling it "wrong."   Read More"
Maybe this is his stance going into the GOP primaries (which depend on the right-wing vote) however, should he become the Presidential candidate I predict he will "see the light" on this issue.

Will the Immigration Bill be Stalled?

The Senate passed a bi-partisan immigration bill this week, now it goes to the House. President Obama has called on Congress to pass the bill before their August recess. (We talked about this likely STALL in our post from week 20.)

Student Loan Rates set to Double

Rates on new student loans will DOUBLE on Monday.  Still, no action from Congress to prevent this.


President Obama's First Term
A Look Back at Week 22 - 2009:

(Excerpts from my blog National Scene -- Week 22)
National Scene 6/24-6/30/2009
By Linnie Frank Bailey

As the first half of the year ends, the Administration can look back on significant efforts to get America back on track, including -- an economic stimulus, a revamped energy policy, the beginnings of health care reform, and a new approach to international relations. Moreover, the following legislation has been passed and signed by President Barack Obama in 2009:

1. Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – (fair pay for women) Signed: January 29, 2009
2. Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act –(continue state program SCHIP) Signed: February 4, 2009
3. DTV Delay Act – (delayed implementation of digital TV until June 2009) Signed: February 11, 2009
4. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – (major economic stimulus bill) Signed: February 17, 2009
5. Small Business Act Temporary Extension – (temporarily extends SBA programs) Signed: March 20, 2009
6. Omnibus Public Lands Management Act – (public land conservation) Signed: March 30, 2009
7. Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act – (increases and manages community service programs and funding) Signed: April 21, 2009
8. Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act – (steps to end mortgage fraud and predatory lending) Signed: May 20, 2009
9. Helping Families Save Their Homes Act – (steps to prevent foreclosures and rewrite mortgage loans) Signed: May 20, 2009
10. Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act – (defense procurement reform) Signed: May 22, 2009
11. Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 – (consumer credit protection) Signed: May 22, 2009
12. Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act – (steps to prevent children and teens from smoking) Signed: June 22, 2009

...Read More on Week 22, 2009  -- Immigration Reform...Pell Grants Extended...FAFSA Simplified


And Finally.....back to 2013:

The Obamas in Africa:

View the video for a behind the scenes with the President & The First Lady at Gorée Island -- including a visit to the Masion des Esclaves (House of Slaves) Museum. Below Barack Obama stands at the "door of no return" where countless Africans were forced to board ships to the Americas where they were enslaved.
Watch and Listen -- an eloquent narrative by the First Lady.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 21 -- "Full Court Press"

Week 21 -- All eyes on the Supreme Court for landmark rulings; and progressive activists and bloggers gathered in San Jose for Netroots Nation. 

Full Court Press

Rulings were expected from the Supreme Court last week, however it looks as though the major decisions have been left to this week before their summer recess.

Much is at stake in the areas of civil rights, voting rights, worker rights, and gay rights.

We are reminded that ALL areas of our lives are touched by the judicial branch of our government. Not just at this top level. Equally important are the Circuit Courts, particularly the DC Court of Appeals that many times determines what gets passed to the Supreme. Perhaps this is why the President is having a hard time getting his nominations confirmed?

Today, the Supreme Court took action on the affirmative action case.  Well, maybe.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 20 - "The Stall"

"The Stall"
Will GOP delaying tactics torpedo Immigration Reform? Will student loan interest rates be allowed to double? Will the 'stall' last until the 2014 mid-terms..or the 2016 presidential election? Also this week -- MSNBC 'gets it' and will broadcast live from the annual festival hosted by Essence Magazine this July in New Orleans.

Immigration Reform Delay Game

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 19 - "Let's Play Ball"

"Let's Play Ball"  The Administration played offense this week....the President, the Attorney General, and even the First Lady. 

Rice for National Security

This past week the President nominated his embattled UN Ambassador Susan Rice for the post of National Security Adviser. The highly capable Rice was the victim of much vitriol from Senate Republicans when she was mentioned as a possible Secretary of State.

By nominating Rice, the President signifies that his Administration is moving forward with or without GOP support (of which there has been NONE!).

The New York Times summarized the President's action in an article entitled: In Personnel Appointments, Obama Takes Assertive Tack, which says:

"Mr. Obama made no secret of how upset he was when he passed over Ms. Rice for secretary of state last winter amid a furor about the handling of the deadly attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya. But ever since, he has been choosing appointees and nominees he knew would provoke fights with Republicans, almost as if trying to redeem the moment.
The unapologetic selections reflect a conclusion in the West Wing that when it comes to choosing personnel, the president can never satisfy Republicans who will find almost anyone objectionable."

Three Judicial Nominees

Still battling to get his judicial nominees confirmed, the President nominated Patricia Millett, Cornelia Pillard, and Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. This is expected to start a confirmation battle with Senate Republicans and just might lead to Senate leader Harry Reid taking the 'nuclear option' he threatened a few weeks ago.

The Economist reports:

"If Republicans filibuster Mr Obama’s nominees, a showdown over the filibuster itself will follow. Harry Reid, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, has threatened to use his majority to end the filibuster for presidential nominees. (A filibuster needs 60 out of 100 votes to defeat it; an ordinary vote just 51.) This would probably cause the Republicans, in retaliation, to wreak havoc in all other areas of Senate business."

The importance of these confirmations cannot be understated considering The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington is described as the nation's second most important court, following the Supreme Court. Cases on their way to the Supreme Court often go through the DC Circuit court.

Speaking of the Supreme Court....the next few weeks will be MAJOR as they rule on SIGNIFICANT civil rights cases (voting rights, affirmative action, gay marriage), as stated in NPR's Court Prepares To Write New Chapters In Civil Rights History:

"By June's end, Americans will know if and how public colleges and universities may administer programs designed to enroll more minority students.
Whether a key 1965 Voting Rights Act provision will survive, and with it federal monitoring of places with histories of discriminatory voting practices.
And if congressional action barring federal recognition of same-sex marriage is constitutional, and similar state restrictions enforceable."
Holder Not Ready to Step Down

Another embattled Administration figure...Eric Holder, made clear he is not ready to step down as Attorney General. The GOP has made Holder the 'face' of the many 'scandals' they are spending MUCH time on.

Holder told NBC's Pete Williams he has "no intention of stepping down." As reported:
"When it comes to his future tenure Holder said, "There's some things that I want to do, some things I want to get done” before relinquishing the post he has held since February of 2009. “I've discussed that with the president. And once I have finished that, I'll sit down with him and we'll determine when it's time to make a transition to a new attorney general."
Asked, directly, if he would step down, he responded, "No, I have no intention of doing so now."

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Americans of all political stripes are 'concerned' over allegations of domestic spying with the NSA collecting phone and internet communications.  The Administration says all of this is part of the fight to keep America safe (and yes most of it was started during the Bush years.) The President said, during a speech in San Jose this week, that the data sweep is not targeting Americans and "nobody is listening to your phone calls."

I think we can assume that every phone call, email, text message, web search, online purchase,etc. can be part of the public record.  Privacy restrictions and access rules haven't kept up with the technology...AND it seems the government can override restrictions ANYWAY!!!

This CNN op-ed by Bruce Schneier, from a few months ago, sums it all up:

"The Internet is a surveillance state"


President Obama's First Term
A Look Back at Week 19 - 2009:

(Excerpts from my blog National Scene -- Week 19)

6/2-6/9/2009:  During his 2008 campaign, candidate Obama described a speech he would one day present to the Muslim world if he became President. This week, in Cairo, Egypt, President Barack Obama delivered that speech. From Cairo University, the President used his outstanding communication skills—and his ability to bridge cultural divides—to speak of a ‘new beginning’ between Americans and Muslims. He addressed the world’s 1.5 billion followers of Islam and received positive responses from Muslims around the globe. Obama also got tough on the economy this week… instructing his Cabinet to move faster with Recovery Act funds, and signaling the urgency of health care reform legislation to Senate leaders.

  • Obama Rolls-Up-His-Sleeves for Health Care Reform. On the other hand, maybe we should say—the President is putting on his boxing gloves for what is sure to be a battle to get health care reform passed this year. In a meeting with lawmakers, Obama expressed the importance of health care reform stating, “We can't afford to put this off, and the dedicated public servants who are gathered here today understand that and they are ready to get going, and this window between now and the August recess I think is going to be the make-or-break period. This is the time where we've got to get this running.” In a letter addressed to Senators Ted Kennedy and Max Baucus, the Chairmen of the key committees in the Senate handling health care reform, the President made clear that, “in 2009, health care reform is not a luxury.”

  • Obama Visits Buchenwald Concentration Camp.The President visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Dresden Castle in Germany and toured the Church of Our Lady. This was followed by a trip to Buchenwald Concentration Camp, where Bertrand Herz, a survivor of the camp, and Nobel Laureate and fellow holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, joined them. During the emotional visit at the former camp, the President recounted his great uncle, who was part of the 89th Infantry Division, the first Americans to reach a concentration camp. They liberated Ohrdruf, one of Buchenwald's sub-camps.


And Finally.....back to 2013:

"Michelle Don't Play That"

Speaking at a fundraising event Mrs. Obama was heckled by a protester. The first lady left the podium, addressing the heckler directly and reportedly telling her audience,“One of the things I don’t do well is this.” She walked toward the heckler telling the woman she could, “listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.” The heckler was escorted out of the room.

Here she is with high school students who know how to RESPECT the First Lady of the United States:

First Lady Michelle Obama talks with students from William R. Harper High School in Chicago, Ill., in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, June 5, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)