16 Legislative Calendar Days left and …

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The 2015 fiscal year ends on September 30, 2015 and we do not yet have a 2016 budget, a transportation bill, nor a resolution to Veterans Administration shortfalls which may shutter a number of VA hospitals.  And if that isn’t enough on their plates to handle when they only plan to actually work 16 days between now and then, they also need to resolve their issues with the Iran Nuclear Deal.  AND … there are no plans to cancel their August recess.


Iran Nuclear Deal

Last week, the United States along with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China signed a deal with Iran to substantially limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the removal of international sanctions.

Under the framework for an Iran nuclear deal Iran's uranium enrichment pathway to a weapon will be shut down

Under the new nuclear deal, “Iran has committed to extraordinary and robust monitoring, verification, and inspection,” according to the White House. “International inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will not only be continuously monitoring every element of Iran’s declared nuclear program, but they will also be verifying that no fissile material is covertly carted off to a secret location to build a bomb. And if IAEA inspectors become aware of a suspicious location, Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol to their IAEA Safeguards Agreement, which will allow inspectors to access and inspect any site they deem suspicious. Such suspicions can be triggered by holes in the ground that could be uranium mines, intelligence reports, unexplained purchases, or isotope alarms.” (Please take the time to read more here.)

Under the framework for an Iran nuclear deal Iran's uranium enrichment pathway to a weapon will be shut down

Congress must now review the deal—and decide whether to pass a resolution to disapprove the agreement. The entire process could take up to 82 days, and during that time, the President cannot lift sanctions on Iran until the review and voting period is over. The law also requires the Administration to provide detailed reports to Congress every 90 days to ensure that Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement.

Here’s how that review process should work, according to legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President in May: The White House delivered the agreement to Congress on Monday—five days after the signing of the Iran deal. Now, Congress has 60 days to review it, or until mid-September. (Keep in mind that Congress will be in recess from August 10 – Sept. 7.)  Congress then has 12 days (by the end of September) to vote on a joint resolution approving or disapproving the deal. Or Congress could opt to do nothing.

If Congress passes a resolution disapproving the deal, the President will most likely veto their disapproval. Congress would then have 10 days to override the veto, which would require a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and House. (If Congress were to override a veto, the President would lose his ability to waive sanctions on Iran, which would cause the current agreement to fall through and destroy our nation’s credibility with our negotiating partners.)

Resolution Disapproving the Deal

Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL), Chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus introduced legislation expressing the sense of the House of Representatives in disapproval of the agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. The resolution is “intended to build support for an expected vote on a formal joint resolution of disapproval in September.”

RESOLUTION DISAPPROVING THE IRAN NUCLEAR AGREEMENT (HRes 367)
  • Sponsor: Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL)  Per Rep. Roskam, this resolution “sets the stage for the 60-day lead up to a vote on this agreement by allowing Members to express their disapproval of the accord. The unprecedented outpouring of support for this resolution proves that Congress will not rubber-stamp a deal that severely threatens the United States and our allies by paving Iran’s path to a bomb.” He went on further to state, “This agreement fails on every level to ensure Iran never acquires a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran is allowed to keep much of its nuclear infrastructure intact and rewarded an $150 billion cash infusion from sanctions relief. The so-called ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspections regime in reality provides Iran nearly a month’s notice on inspections. And, in an unprecedented last-minute concession, the U.N. arms embargo and ban on ballistic missiles will be lifted in just a few short years. This is a bad deal, and it must be stopped,” according to the sponsor. (Read resolution text)

Worth Noting:  Two Representatives from Nevada Mark Amodei and Joe Heck have signed on a co-sponsors of this resolution of disapproval.

Federal Budget and Appropriations

The House has been working on appropriations bills for FY 2016. Thus far, they’ve passed Commerce, Justice and Science (HR 2578); Defense (HR 2685); Energy and Water (HR 2028); Legislative (HR 2250); Military and Veterans (HR 2029); and Transportation and HUD (HR 2577) appropriations bills.  But when they got to the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill (HR 2822) last week, they had to pull it from the floor after a series of amendments were introduced regarding whether the Confederate battle flag should be displayed on public lands. Three amendments, introduced by Democrats, had been passed on July 7th that would block the National Park Service from allowing private groups to decorate graves with Confederate flags specifically in cemeteries in Georgia and Mississippi and would bar the Park Service doing business with gift shops that sell Confederate flag merchandise. Unhappy with those passed amendments, a Republican sponsored amendment was introduced essentially nullifying the passed amendments. To keep from seeing everything degenerate into a total brouhaha over the Confederate Flag, Speaker Boehner pulled the bill from the floor.

Senate Democrats have blocked consideration of appropriations bills until a new budget agreement is negotiated that will mitigate the sequestration budget cuts since 2013. Congress aims to complete the appropriations process by the end of the fiscal year, September 30. If they don’t, then they’ll need to pass a short-term Continuing Resolution to prevent yet another government shutdown.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration has put Congress on notice that they have a $2.5B shortfall that if not resolved will force them to start closing some VA hospitals beginning in as early as August.

Highway Trust Fund Extension

Both the Highway Account and the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund are nearing insolvency, according to the Department of Transportation.

As Congressional committees met to discuss ways to keep our country’s Highway Trust Fund (HTF) solvent, Secretary Foxx urged them to adopt a long-term transportation bill with increased funding:

“The state of our nation’s infrastructure is not a partisan talking point; it is a problem facing all Americans. So I am encouraged that Members of Congress are asking the tough questions about how we will find solutions together. As I have said many times, we cannot build tomorrow’s transportation system with yesterday’s policy and yesterday’s funding; I look forward to working with both parties to pass a long-term bill that aggressively boosts investment and changes outdated policies so we can build for the future.”

With a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund approaching, cash management steps are not far away.  Because the HTF supports critical roadwork by State DOTs, these cash management procedures will slow improvements and basic repairs on roads across the U.S.   With the Highway Trust Fund authorization set to expire on July 31, the House did pass an extension through December 18. You’re going to love this.  The claim is that the extension would provide $8 billion in new money – $5 billion from tax compliance measures, and $3 billion in reduced spending.  But true to form, it includes no new revenues, and is partly funded by a two-year extension of fees that would have sunsetted (passenger airport security fees collected by the TSA).

HIGHWAY AND TRANSPORTATION FUNDING ACT, PART II (HR 3038)
  • Sponsor: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)  Extends the authorizations of the federal surface transportation programs as well as the hazardous materials transportation program and the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act through Dec. 18, 2015. Funds the surface transportation programs at the level authorized for fiscal year 2014. Would transfer $6.068 billion from the General Fund to the HTF’s Highway Account, and would transfer $2 billion from the General Fund to the HTF’s Mass Transit Account. (Read bill summary.) – Passed by the House; now goes to the Senate —

This is the 34th short-term extension in the last six-years—and many in Congress are urging that they work on a comprehensive long-term bill. In past decades, Congress routinely passed six-year surface transportation bills.  To that end,  other bills have been proposed:

  • GROW America Act (Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America Act) [HR2410] sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR).  This is the Administration’s long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill. Provides a total of $478 billion over six years, a 45 percent increase for highways, bridges, public transportation, highway safety, and rail programs.
  • The DRIVE Act (Developing a Reliable and innovative Vision for the Economy Act) [S1647]  sponsored by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).  It’s a 6-yr surface transportation  reauthorization bill sporting a “new” freight program to prioritize federal spending.

Food Labeling and GMOs

Currently, the US Department of Agriculture has no authority over labeling food for the presence or absence of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). This week, House will be voting on a bill mandates a national standard for labeling laws related to GMOs and that would nullify any state standards that might exceed the national minimum standard established by this bill:

Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (HR 1599)
  • Sponsor: Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) In his introduction of the bill, Rep. Pompeo indicated this bill “would establish a federal labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients, giving sole authority to the Food and Drug Administration to require mandatory labeling on such foods if they are ever found to be unsafe or materially different from foods produced without GM ingredients.” He went on to say that “under SAFLA, the FDA will conduct a safety review of all new plant varieties used for genetically engineered food before those foods are introduced into commerce. This will ensure that consumers get scientifically accurate, and relevant information by allowing the FDA to specify special labeling, if it believes it is necessary to protect health and safety. In order to provide even greater transparency, my legislation includes a provision to allow those who wish to label their products as GMO-free to do so through a USDA-accredited certification process.”

NOTE: The bill, purported by some to have been written by Monsanto, prohibits States from enforcing any bills addressing GMOs that exceed the requirements of HR1599 effectively nullifying existing legislation in a number of states (Maine, Connecticut and Vermont, where foods containing GMOs are required to be labeled).  If passed, the FDA would be the sole authority to require GMO labeling.

Coal Ash Regulations

According to the EPA, “coal combustion residuals are byproducts of the combustion of coal at power plants, and includes fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization (FGD) materials. CCR contain contaminants such as mercury, cadmium, and arsenic which are associated with cancer and other serious health effects. When improperly managed, CCR can leak into the groundwater, blow into the air as dust, and be released to surface water and to the land in the event of a catastrophic failure.”

The House has scheduled a vote on HR1734, a bill that would set rules governing the management and disposal of coal ash.

IMPROVING COAL COMBUSTION RESIDUALS REGULATION ACT (HR 1734)
  • Sponsor: Rep. David McKinley (R-WV)   According to the House Majority Leader, this bill will “provide job-creators, and over 300,000 workers, with certainty by putting states in charge of the enforcement to implement the standards set by EPA regarding the safe disposal of coal ash,”  It would authorize States to set up permit programs for coal ash, as well as allow the EPA to offer permits in States that don’t establish their own permit programs.

Really?  (1) Not all States have the funding/expertise/organization to provide for enforcement, and (2) we all know how well that worked in North Carolina when they had a massive coal as spill.  In addition, some Democrats in Congress believe that the bill would undermine tougher coal ash rules the EPA finalized in December 2014, which “establishes the first ever nationally applicable minimum criteria providing for the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals in landfills and surface impoundments.”


That is a seriously overloaded plate and with only 16 legislative days left in this fiscal year, that doesn’t appear to be near enough time for this unproductive Congress to resolve those issues.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately— Monday, 3/25/2013

Lean in, Women; Corporations and Government, Brush Off Your Hands

Veena Trehan, Op-Ed: Fifty years ago, Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” explained how wives were not fulfilled by homemaking and childbearing. Woman couldn’t get credit, were fired when their pregnancy showed and held mostly assistant or teaching positions in the 1960s. We’ve come a long way. Today, women comprise 58 percent of college students, 33 percent more college graduates than men, and a strong presence in most industries. Yet, they make up only 20 percent of Congress, 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs, and 15 percent of senior executives.

Senate Passes Monsanto Protection Act Granting Monsanto Power Over U.S. Govt.

Anthony Gucciardi, News Report: In case you’re not familiar, the Monsanto Protection Act is the name given to what’s known as a legislative rider that was inserted into the Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill. Using the deceptive title of Farmer Assurance Provision, Sec. 735 of this bill actually grants Monsanto the immunity from federal courts pending the review of any GM crop that is thought to be dangerous. Under the section, courts would be helpless to stop Monsanto from continuing to plant GM crops that are thought even by the US government to be a danger to health or the environment.

Drone Warfare is Neither Cheap, Nor Surgical, Nor Decisive

William Astore, Op-Ed: Today’s unmanned aerial vehicles, most famously Predator and Reaper drones, have been celebrated as the culmination of the longtime dreams of airpower enthusiasts, offering the possibility of victory through quick, clean and selective destruction. Those drones, so the (very old) story goes, assure the U.S. military of command of the high ground and so provide the royal road to a speedy and decisive triumph over helpless enemies below. Fantasies about the certain success of air power in transforming, even ending, war as we know it arose with the plane itself.

Don’t Like Your Health Insurance? Make Your Own

Nina Rogozen, News Report: Millions of Americans lack adequate health care, using emergency rooms as a costly alternative or getting no care at all. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), often called “Obamacare,” opened the door for an affordable option. The December 31, 2012 deal between Congress and the administration that avoided the so-called “fiscal cliff” has, at least for the moment, closed that door for 26 states. The ACA funds private, nonprofit health insurers called Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans—CO-OPs. It originally set aside $3.4 billion for low-interest loans—seed money for at least one health cooperative in each state, plus Washington, D.C.

Capitalism in Crisis: Richard Wolff Urges End to Austerity, New Jobs Program, Democratizing Work

Amy Goodman, Video Interview: As Washington lawmakers pushes new austerity measures, economist Richard Wolff calls for a radical restructuring of the U.S. economic and financial systems. We talk about the $85 billion budget cuts as part of the sequester, banks too big to fail, Congress’ failure to learn the lessons of the 2008 economic collapse and his new book, “Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism.” Wolff also gives FOX news host Bill O’Reilly a lesson in economics 101.

America Split in Two: Five Ugly Extremes of Inequality

Paul Buchheit, Op-Ed: The first step is to learn the facts, and then to get angry and to ask ourselves as progressives and caring human beings, what we can do about the relentless transfer of wealth to a small group of well-positioned Americans. End the capital gains giveaway, which benefits the wealthy almost exclusively. Institute a Financial Speculation Tax; both to raise needed funds from a currently untaxed subsidy on stock purchases and to reduce the risk of the irresponsible trading that nearly brought down the economy.

Thirteen Offensive Things Justice Scalia’s Compared to Homosexuality

Ian Millhiser, News Report: Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear the first of two cases which could end discrimination against same-sex couples and ensure that all Americans can marry the person they love. Whatever happens in those two cases, one thing is all but certain: Justice Antonin Scalia will vote to maintain marriage discrimination and he will spend much of this week’s oral arguments making insulting comments about LGBT Americans. After the offensive things Scalia compared homosexuality to in his past opinions, Scalia concludes his Lawrence dissent with a plea that he is not in the least bit anti-gay. “Let me be clear,” Scalia writes, “that I have nothing against homosexuals.”

Asia and a Post-American Middle East

Yuriko Koike, Op-Ed: When the consequences of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq ten years ago are fully assessed, the importance of the subsequent rise of political Islam there—and throughout the wider Middle East—may well pale in comparison to that of a geostrategic shift that no one foresaw at the time. That shift, however, has now come into view. With America approaching energy self-sufficiency, a U.S. strategic disengagement from the region may become a reality. China’s dependence on Middle East energy imports means that it is almost certain to seek to fill any regional security vacuum.

How to Avoid Fake Organic Products

Anthony Gucciardi, News Report: Thanks to corporate loopholes and profit-driven manufacturers, it’s harder than ever to really know what you are putting into your body — or perhaps even more importantly the mouths of your children. That said, it is possible to make sure you’re getting what is not just labeled organic and shipped from a contaminated facility in China, but actually high quality. The fact of the matter is that the decision to switch to organic food is one that signifies a serious change in lifestyle across the board, leading to a wealth of information and serious optimizations for your health.

Dozens Arrested as Keystone XL Protests Erupt Across the U.S.

News Report: One month after the largest climate rally in U.S. history urging President Obama to deny the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline’s northern segment, protesters in dozens of cities throughout the U.S. are confronting Keystone XL’s corporate backers directly. Thirty-seven have been arrested over the last 10 days for disrupting business as usual at TransCanada and their investors’ offices, with more actions planned over the next couple of days.

Debt Friendly Stimulus

Robert J. Shiller, Op-Ed: With much of the global economy apparently trapped in a long and painful austerity-induced slump, it is time to admit that the trap is entirely of our own making. We have constructed it from unfortunate habits of thought about how to handle spiraling public debt. People developed these habits on the basis of the experiences of their families and friends: when in debt trouble, one must cut spending and pass through a period of austerity until the burden (debt relative to income) is reduced.

Fox: Americans Need Assault Weapons to Protect Themselves from an Iranian Invasion, Al Qaeda

Igor Volsky, News Report: During a roundtable discussion on Friday, Fox News’ Lou Dobbs agreed with a network contributor who argued that Americans need to access military-style assault weapons to protect themselves from an Iranian invasion. “What scares the hell out of me we have a president, as we were discussing during break, that wants to take away our guns, but yet he wants to attack Iran and Syria. So if they come and attack us here, we don’t have the right to bear arms under this Obama administration,” Angela McGlowan, a former lobbyist for News Corp., said in the midst of a conversation about violence in Syria.

Climate Change Now Seen as Security Threat Worldwide

Jim Lobe, News Report: Defense establishments around the world increasingly see climate change as posing potentially serious threats to national and international security, according to a review of high-level statements by the world’s governments released here Thursday. The review, “The Global Security Defense Index on Climate Change: Preliminary Results,” found that nearly three out of four governments for which relevant information is available view the possible effects of climate change as a serious national security issue.

Tea Party Aligned S. Carolina Candidate Bankrolled by Kentucky Natural Gas Exec

Michael Beckel, News Analysis: Natural gas executive James Willard Kinzer of Kentucky is one of more than 100 small business owners listed online as supporting Curtis Bostic, the former Charleston County council member who appears to have advanced to a runoff against former Gov. Mark Sanford following Tuesday’s 16-way GOP primary in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. But he’s much more than that. Not only did Kinzer donate the legal maximum to Bostic’s underdog campaign, he pumped $30,000 into a pro-Bostic super PAC called the “Coastal Conservative Fund.”

BBC-Guardian Exposé Uses WikiLeaks to Link Iraq Torture Centers to U.S. Col. Steele and Gen. Petraeus

Amy Goodman, Video Feature: A shocking new report has been released by The Guardian newspaper and BBC Arabic detailing how the United States armed and trained Iraqi police commando units that ran torture centers and death squads. It’s a story that stretches from the U.S.-backed involvement in Latin America to the imprisoned Army whistleblower Bradley Manning. Amy Goodman is joined by Chief Reporter Maggie O’Kane

Beware the New Corporate Tax-Cut Scam: LIFT is a Big LIE

Dave Johnson, Op-Ed: The executives who run the giant multinationals want to be let off the hook for paying taxes on profits they make outside our borders. As an Apple executive said to The New York Times, giant multinationals “don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.” And to prove it, American corporations are holding $1.7 trillion in profits outside the country—just sitting there—rather than bringing that money home, paying the taxes due and then paying it out to shareholders or using it to “create jobs” with new factories, research facilities and equipment.

Full Show: What Has Capitalism Done for Us Lately?

Bill Moyers, Video Interview: Sheila Bair, the longtime Republican who served as chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) during the fiscal meltdown five years ago, joins to talk about American banks’ continuing risky and manipulative practices, their seeming immunity from prosecution and growing anger from Congress and the public. Also, Richard Wolff, whose smart, blunt talk about the crisis of capitalism the first time around now answers questions sent in by viewers, diving further into economic inequality, the limitations of industry regulation and the widening gap between a booming stock market and a population that increasingly lives in poverty.

An Open Letter to Mitch McConnell, From a Kentuckian

Carl Gibson, Op-Ed: Kentuckians live by the phrase, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” It’s emblazoned on our flag, and shows two men, a frontiersman (Daniel Boone) and a statesman (Henry Clay) standing together. They may be standing on opposite sides of the seal, but their embrace symbolizes a spirit of cooperation and caring for your fellow man even though you may sometimes disagree with him. Yet, as Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell proudly announced that his chief goal as the top Republican member was not to create jobs or help schools or look out for struggling middle class, but to deny President Obama a second term.

GMO Boycott: Major Supermarkets Say NO to GM Salmon

Anthony Gucciardi, News Report: Whether or not the FDA chooses to approve genetically modified salmon for sale in the marketplace, supermarkets themselves have decided to take a stand in the form of a mass boycott. One that would serve to crush the profits of the unlabeled seafood abomination. In a move that signifies the growing opposition to genetically modified creations from a grassroots level all the way to corporate understanding of consumer demand, chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and others are now all reporting that they will refuse the sale of AquaBounty Technology’s modified salmon.

Faced with F-35 Failures, Costs; Congress Says to Push On

William Boardman, News Report: The F-35 is a case study of government failure at all levels—civilian and military, federal, state, local, even airport authority. Not one critical government agency is meeting its obligation to protect the people it presumably represents. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who wrote the F-35 critique above, is hardly unique as an illustration of how government fails, but he sees no alternative to failure. The F-35 is a nuclear-capable weapon of mass destruction that was supposed to be the “fighter of the future” when it was undertaken in 2001.

In the News—What I’ve Been Reading

Dean Baker | Economists and Future Living Standards

Dean Baker, Op-Ed: At this point everyone has heard the story of how Social Security and Medicare are going to bankrupt our children. There is a whole industry dedicated to promoting the idea that our kids risk having much lower standards of living than their parents or grandparents because of these programs. This story is routinely repeated in various forms by politicians and columnists who decry the fact that we don’t care enough for our children and that the elderly have too much political power. The remarkable part of this story is that there is no conceivable way that it is true and every economist knows it.

Monsanto Protection Act Proves Corporations More Powerful than US Government

Anthony Gucciardi, News Analysis: It’s called the Monsanto Protection Act among activists and concerned citizens who have been following the developments on the issue, and it consists of a legislative ‘rider’ inside (Farmer Assurance Provision, Sec. 735) a majority-wise unrelated Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill. You may already be aware of what this rider consists of, but in case not you will likely be blown away by the tenacity of Monsanto lobbyist goons.

Monsanto’s Death Grip on Your Food

Fritz Kreiss, News Report: Monsanto has yet another case pending in the court system, this time before the U.S. Supreme Court on the exclusivity of its genetically modified seed patents. Narrowly at issue is whether Monsanto retains patent rights on soybeans that have been replanted after showing up in generic stocks rather than being sold specifically as seeds, or whether those patent rights are “exhausted” after the initial planting. But more broadly the case also raises implications regarding control of the food supply and the patenting of life—questions that current patent laws are ill-equipped to meaningfully address.

My Food Fight: IBD vs. Monsanto

Dhruv Shah and Fritz Kreiss, News Report: “1 in every 250 persons in the UK are affected by inflammatory bowel diseases. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with a type of inflammatory bowel disease called Ulcerative Colitis. It affects up to 120,000 people in the UK, that’s about 1 in 500 and between 6,000 and 12,000 new cases are diagnosed every year.(i) For me it meant that I had to keep running to the bathroom up to 25 times a day. My large bowel at the worst of times would produce bloody mucus and I would have severe cramps. Due to the toxins created by the inflammation it also meant that I would be severely nauseous and could not hold down liquids, let alone food.”

Ten Years Later, U.S. has Left Iraq with Mass Displacement and Epidemic of Birth Defects, Cancers

Amy Goodman, Video Interview: In part two of our interview, Al Jazeera reporter Dahr Jamail discusses how the U.S. invasion of Iraq has left behind a legacy of cancer and birth defects suspected of being caused by the U.S. military’s extensive use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus. Jamail has also reported on the refugee crisis of more than one million displaced Iraqis still inside the country, who are struggling to survive without government aid, a majority of them living in Baghdad.

Right To Heal: Iraqi Civilians Join U.S. Veterans in New Effort to Recover from War’s Devastation

Amy Goodman, Video Interview: On the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, we look at how U.S. military veterans and Iraqi civilians have come together to launch “The Right to Heal” campaign for those who continue to struggle with the war’s aftermath. The video interview features U.S. Army Sgt. Maggie Martin, who was part of the invading force in March 2003 and is now director of organizing for Iraq Veterans Against the War. Also Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, joins the conversation and describes how the condition of women has deteriorated in Iraq.

Back to Work Budget is Defeated, But the Struggle Will Continue

Isaiah J. Poole, Op-Ed: The Congressional Progressive Caucus Back to Work Budget, as expected, did not prevail on the floor of the House of Representatives today. It went down to defeat, 84-327. In fact, it did not even win support from a majority of Democrats. But it did win a dramatic outpouring of support from ordinary Americans, which was demonstrated when one of the sponsors of the Back to Work Budget, Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., held a stack of papers representing the more than 102,000 people who signed our petition calling for a “yes” vote for the budget and a “no” vote on the Republican budget of Rep. Paul Ryan, D-Wis.

The Plague of Wall Street Banking

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, Op-Ed: The economic news this week highlights what happens when governments are unable to confront the root cause of the financial collapse—the risky speculation and securities fraud of the big banks. What happens? They blame the people, cut their benefits, tax their savings and demand they work harder for less money. In the U.S. there have been no criminal prosecutions for securities fraud in the big banks. Just as the Justice Department has made it clear that the big banks are too big to jail because doing so jeopardizes the stability of the banking system; financial fraud investigator Bill Black points out that the SEC cannot institute fines that are too big for the same reason.

Dumb Wars, Now and Forever

Robert Scheer, Op-Ed: Yes, a majority of Americans, 53 percent according to this week’s Gallup poll, think it was “a mistake sending troops to fight in Iraq” 10 years ago. But the lessons of our folly will likely not stick for long. The memories fade as we now see in that same Gallup poll with perceptions of the Vietnam War. A majority of Americans ages 18-29 believe sending U.S. troops to Vietnam was “not a mistake.” By contrast, 70 percent of those 50 and older, the generation with contemporary knowledge of the war, think it was.

SOPAC Expedites New Seabed Mining Legislation for Lockheed Martin

Arnie Saiki, News Report: Currently, U.S. military contractor Lockheed Martin is negotiating with Fiji’s Bainimarama administration to fast-track and sponsor new legislation that would allow the private U.S.-based transnational titan to delve into experimental deep seabed mining. Because the U.S. has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), U.S. industries cannot engage in deep seabed mining in international waters, outside of a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Briefs Filed to Stop Monsanto’s Patent Infringement War against Family Farmers

Reposted with permission from EcoWatch.org.

Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association

Eleven prominent law professors and 14 renowned organic, Biodynamic, food safety and consumer nonprofit organizations have filed separate briefs with the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit arguing farmers have the right to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement by agricultural giant Monsanto.

The brief by the law professors and the brief by the nonprofit organizations were filed in support of the 75 family farmers, seed businesses and agricultural organizations representing more than 300,000 individuals and 4,500 farms that last year brought a protective legal action seeking a ruling that Monsanto could never sue them for patent infringement if they became contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed. The case was dismissed by the district court in February and that dismissal is now pending review by the Court of Appeals. The plaintiffs recently filed their opening appeal brief with the appeals court.

“Monsanto continues to claim that plaintiffs’ concerns about being accused of patent infringement after being contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed are unsubstantiated and unjustified,” said Attorney Dan Ravicher of the not-for-profit legal services organization Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), which represents the plaintiffs in the suit against Monsanto known as Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et al. v Monsanto. “But now two impeccable groups have joined with plaintiffs in explaining to the Court of Appeals how real and legitimate their concerns really are, especially since Monsanto continues to refuse to simply promise never to sue contaminated farmers for patent infringement.”

The first group filing a brief in support of the OSGATA plaintiffs includes eleven prominent law professors from throughout the U.S., including Professor Margo Bagley of the University of Virginia School of Law, Professor Michael Burstein of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Professor Rochelle C. Dreyfuss of the New York University School of Law, Professor Brett Frischmann of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Professor Erika George of University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, Professor Shubha Ghosh of the University of Wisconsin Law School, Professor Megan M. La Belle of the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, Professor Kali Murray of Marquette University Law School, Professor Ted Sichelman of the University of San Diego School of Law, Katherine J. Strandburg of the New York University School of Law andMelissa Wasserman of the University of Illinois College of Law.

In their amicus brief, the law professors point out that “broad standing to challenge the validity of patents ensures that the courts can effectively play their critical role in screening out invalid patents.” They add, “In actions challenging the validity of a patent, the alleged injury is not only the risk of an infringement suit, but a present restraint on economic activity due to the presence of a potentially invalid exclusive right.”

The law professors went on to note, “But the validity of issued patents is uncertain until they are tested in court. This uncertainty creates real and present risks for persons wishing to engage in economic activity that might be the subject of an issued patent … When a person is deterred from undertaking valuable activity by the risk that the activity may encroach on another’s exclusive rights, that person has incurred an actual, concrete and particularized injury.”

“We are grateful for the brilliant and powerful amici briefs submitted to the appeals court by these two stellar groups, supporting our family farmers’ quest for justice,” said Maine organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, president and lead plaintiff, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association. “An erroneous interpretation of law by a single judge is not going to cause our farmers to abandon our rights to farm the way we choose, to grow good food and good seed for our families and for our customers, free from Monsanto’s trespass and contamination. Denial of the property rights of American farmers is an attack on the property rights of every American. We will fight until family farmers receive justice.”

The second group filing a brief in support of the OSGATA plaintiffs, made up of fourteen nonprofit agricultural and consumer organizations, includes the Farm and Ranch Freedom AllianceBiodynamic Farming and Gardening AssociationCarolina Farm Stewardship AssociationFood and Water WatchInternational Organic Inspectors AssociationMaine Alternative Agriculture AssociationMichigan Land TrusteesNatural Environmental Ecological ManagementNebraska Sustainable Agriculture SocietyOrganic Consumers AssociationSlow Food USAVirginia Association for Biological FarmingVirginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association and Wisconsin Natural Food Associates.

In their amicus brief, the nonprofit agricultural and consumer organizations point out, “The plaintiff and amici organizations, farmers and seed businesses have suffered significant harm due to the threat of patent infringement suits by Monsanto.” They also noted, “Defendants have chosen to patent products that, by their very nature, will inevitably end up on the private property of people who have no desire to use them. Plaintiffs’ uncontroverted allegations show that, for the first time in history, they can be sued for something as natural as pollen drift, while simultaneously being forced to take expensive and burdensome steps in order to continue their normal businesses. The quandary of this type of liability is precisely the sort of situation that the Declaratory Judgment Act was intended to address.”

The amicus brief further explained, “The Supreme court has stated that the plaintiff ‘need not ‘bet the farm,’ yet in this case, that is precisely what the district court effectively required plaintiffs to do in order to get their day in court—continue farming the disputed crops until they are unquestionably liable to defendants for potentially crippling levels of damage before being able to seek a declaratory judgment as to their rights … The district court noted that ‘unlicensed—and unintended—use of transgenic seeds is inevitable…’ but then failed to address the fact that such unlicensed use is actionable and places plaintiffs at risk of enforcement actions by defendants.”

“It’s time to end Monsanto’s scorched-earth campaign of frivolous lawsuits against America’s family farmers,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots community of more than 300,000 farmers and citizens dedicated to reforming food and agriculture. “Monsanto’s claims against farmers for patent infringement are exceedingly weak, violating Americans’ most basic sense of fairness and decency. Our founding fathers would be outraged,” said Murphy.

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