HRC: Corporate Support for LGBTQ+ Workplace Equality Continues to Rise

A record-number of corporations participated in the Human Rights Campaign’s 20th annual workplace equality survey.

House Coalition Launches Climate Task Forces On Agriculture, Security and Energy

The House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition launched three task forces addressing climate change’s intersection with agriculture, national security and energy Wednesday. These special panels will prioritize climate reform in upcoming legislative activity.

Cardona addresses inequities in education exacerbated by COVID

In a speech at the Department of Education headquarters, Education Secretary Cardona made the case for a “reset in education” strategies to address COVID-19-related stressors that have overwhelmed most students and teachers, but disproportionately impacted those already facing inequities. The former principal also touted a number of Biden policy proposals.

Stamp honoring Rensselaer County sculptor mails its first letters

Rensselaer County native Edmonia Lewis, the first Black and Native American sculptor to earn international recognition, became the newest face of a USPS stamp, the 45th edition to the Postal Service’s Black Heritage series.

S.D. Anti-Trans Bill Suggests Another Spike in Similar GOP-Driven Efforts Nationwide

Less than a month into the new year, the South Dakota Senate passed an anti-transgender measure, an early indication of a spike in similar legislation.

Latest in Politics

Progressives Seek Space for Alternative Voices at March for Life Event

WASHINGTON — As thousands of anti-abortion advocates descended on the National Mall Friday morning, two smaller groups gathered to offer an alternative message for what they called a more “diverse coalition of pro-life activists.”

“If we’re saving a child in the womb, but they’re dying at the border, they’re dying from police brutality, they’re dying from these issues that are affecting so many of us here in the States and beyond, then are we truly pro-life?” said Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, the founder and president of New Wave Feminists. “We’re not the anti-abortion movement, we’re the pro-life movement.”

The two smaller rallies, organized by Rehumanize International and Pro-Black Pro-Life respectively, coincided with the March for Life, an annual protest on the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. This year’s march comes as the Supreme Court deliberates on the legality of a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which anti-abortion advocates hope will be used to overturn Roe.

“Violence, like abortion, is not solely an individual experience, but a communal trauma that touches everyone,” said Aimee Murphy, the founder of Rehumanize International. “The trauma of abortion impacts all of us. Approximately one-quarter of my generation is missing – even more disabled people and folks from low-income households should be part of my generation.”

Organizers from Rehumanize International, the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising and Take Feminism Back as well as Mayra Rodriguez, the former director of three Planned Parenthood clinics in Arizona turned anti-abortion advocate, spoke to a crowd of around 50 progressive anti-abortion activists before the speeches on the main stage. 

“It is going to require a lot of work on our parts to affirm the diversion of funding away from the abortion industrial complex, the military-industrial complex, the prison and carceral industrial complex, away from those to life-affirming resources like housing, like food, like health care, and really allow parents to not only choose life but to parent confidently,” Murphy said.

Sisters Mary Garcia, Theresa Garcia and Melanie Garcia Lyon from South Bend, Ind. stand together before the Rehumanize March for Life Meet-Up. (Shannon Coan / Medill News Service)

As the speakers on the main stage expressed their hope that the next March for Life would celebrate the end of Roe, around 20 members of Democrats for Life and New Wave Feminists joined Pro-Black Pro-Life to listen to their own set of speakers who explained practical ways they can make a difference in their communities. This stands in contrast, they say, to the focus on donating and voting for certain candidates that are present during the main march.

“Our focus is not necessarily making abortion illegal, it’s making it unnecessary and unthinkable,” Herndon-De La Rosa said. “You do that through resourcing women incredibly well, building these structures and communities that support family and then humanizing the unborn child in the womb. That’s a very different rally than one that’s more politically oriented.”

Both groups hoped to provide a space for individuals that don’t fit the traditional mold of an anti-abortion advocate before joining the main march to the Supreme Court.

“Representation is really critical to mobilizing and that’s why we come together to help give each other that voice to say, ‘You aren’t alone. You don’t have to be afraid,’” said Terrisa Bukovinac, the founder and executive director of the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising. “It’s the left-leaning, secular voices and the movement that are ultimately going to be able to help usher in a victory for the unborn.”

This year’s March for Life theme was “Equality begins in the womb,” an idea the Pro-Black Pro-Life meet-up played off of with their own theme: “Equity for women leads to equality in the womb.”

“That is a great goal to have, but it’s also not true. Until you can make sure that I get what I need, there’s no talk of equality because we’re not starting at the same place,” said Marcia Lane-McGee, vice president of New Wave Feminists. “We have to recognize that as a movement — as a people — and we have to start asking this question. We have to start saying, ‘what do you need?’ and we have to be prepared to follow up with it.”

VIDEO: House Judiciary Committee holds hearing on Voter Suppression and Continuing Threats to Democracy

WASHINGTON — Members of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss voter suppression on Thursday, following the U.S. Senate’s failure to pass voting rights legislation.

Witnesses and lawmakers focused on voter suppression at the state level, citing that since 2020, 19 states have passed more restrictive voting laws. Additionally, congressional redistricting is occurring without the protection of the Voting Rights Act.

Redistricting in states like Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina were cited. Both Republicans and Democrats addressed the committee, disagreeing on whether recent gerrymandering was racially motivated.

“The biggest threat to democracy is having people think that their voice and their vote do not count,” said Rep. Deborah Ross (D-N.C.). “We have got to make it clear to everyone who is eligible to vote that their voice and their vote count.“

Watch the video report here:

Latest in Education

Cardona addresses inequities in education exacerbated by COVID

Cardona addresses inequities in education exacerbated by COVID

In a speech at the Department of Education headquarters, Education Secretary Cardona made the case for a “reset in education” strategies to address COVID-19-related stressors that have overwhelmed most students and teachers, but disproportionately impacted those already facing inequities. The former principal also touted a number of Biden policy proposals.

read more

Youngkin launches tip line for parents to report educators teaching ‘divisive’ subjects

WASHINGTON — Virginia parents can now report teachers who they believe are covering “divisive” subjects, via a tip line announced on Monday by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

“Part of what education is meant to do is to take on divisive topics and to take on issues that might make you uncomfortable, and help students understand them,” said Phyllis Jordan, associate director of Georgetown University’s FutureEd think tank. “It seems like this sort of approach is only going to limit what teachers can do.” 

In an interview with conservative radio host John Fredericks, Youngkin shared a government email address where parents can send a complaint about any public school teacher who is “behaving objectionably.” 

“We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations that they have that will help us…be aware of their child being denied their rights that parents have in Virginia,” Youngkin said. “And we’re going to make sure we catalog it all.”

Experts question the logistical challenges of a tip line.

“What’s the process? Is some guy in Richmond gonna get a complaint and then go out to the school district?” Jordan said. “I have a lot of unanswered questions on how this is going to work.” 

Instead, experts are worried the tip line will have a “chilling” effect on teachers.

“Teachers need to be able to have the discretion to deal with issues that come up and not feel like Big Brother is watching them,” Jordan said. 

Civil rights groups are worried about teachers being harassed for teaching about racism through the tip line, and a teacher’s union in Virginia blasted Youngkin for trying to “intimidate teachers.” 

“Dangerous policies start with bad ideas, and it can quickly balloon out of control,” said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director of CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights advocacy organization.

Teachers don’t have First Amendment rights in a classroom, said University of Richmond law professor Jack Preis, but the new tip line may pressure them to “stick very, very close to the script.” 

“I’d be worried that students would be recording me in class,” said Preis, who noted Virginia law allows people to surreptitiously record as long as one party consents. “It would not be beyond me that certain teachers and certain parents would say, ‘hey, make sure you record Mrs. Simpson’s discussion today because she’ll be talking about the consequences of this or that.’” 

Youngkin banned critical race theory and all “inherently divisive concepts” several hours after taking office earlier this month. 

Critical race theory, a graduate-level academic framework centered on systemic racism, was never part of Virginia’s public-school curriculum, according to The Washington Post

Yet Republicans have increasingly used the term to push back against teaching about race in schools and to advocate for what they’re calling more parental control in schools. 

Youngkin penned an op-ed in The Washington Post on Wednesday in which he argued parents should “decide what’s best” for their children in schools.

“I think conservatives are opening a Pandora’s box with this,” Jordan said. “Yes, they want to have input into education and curriculum. But if you grant wide latitude to parents to engage in what teachers are teaching, you’re also granting that latitude to liberal parents.” 

The Virginia rule has also garnered widespread attention from those in opposition. Even singer-songwriter John Legend weighed in on Monday, urging Black parents to report “complaints about our history being silenced.” 

Pranksters have already flooded the tip line with false complaints, mirroring the reaction to a tip line meant to help carry out a Texas law deputizing private citizens to sue anyone who aids or obtains an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. 

The tip line is also part of a larger GOP strategy ahead of the 2022 midterms. “Parents Bill of Rights” legislation has been promised by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, released by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

An EdWeek analysis found 36 states have taken steps to restrict teaching critical race theory or to limit discussing racism or sexism in classrooms since January 2021. Fourteen states have gone through with bans or restrictions. 

Teachers and parents have filed lawsuits against New Hampshire’s ban on “divisive subjects,” and experts expect lawsuits to be filed in Virginia as well as a result of the tip line. However, legal experts are skeptical that challenges to a curriculum change preventing race-based issues from being taught in schools would hold up in court. 

“If the Board of Education really went bonkers and came up with ‘don’t ever use the word slavery, try to pretend Black people don’t exist,’ yeah, there’d be some legitimate challenges to that,” Preis said.

But if teachers are told to teach their students that the sins of slavery no longer exist in our society – or that systemic racism doesn’t exist – Preis said teachers will have to “fall in line” and teach what they’re given, and they may find that loss of discretion frustrating. 

“It makes their job feel less alive and that they’re just a factory worker,” he said. “You stand up in front of the room, you repeat a bunch of phrases that have been given to you. You ask those students to repeat those phrases back to you in a test and then you move on to the next set of students.”

 

Community College Enrollment Drops, May Have Long-Term Impact On Skilled-Labor Force

WASHINGTON — Community colleges have taken the biggest hit to enrollment over the course of the pandemic with more than 700,000 fewer students registering, according to new data released on Thursday from the National Student Clearinghouse.

“How do you build a community college for the future when you’re feeling pinched and stretched?” said Susan Bickerstaff, senior research associate and program lead at the Community College Research Center.

Two-year colleges experienced a 3.4% drop in enrollment this fall, a less severe decline than the 10.1% drop in enrollment last fall. However, Bickerstaff called the drop in enrollment “concerning and disheartening” for both students and community colleges.

“Community colleges are already being asked to do the most with the least,” Bickerstaff said.

The decrease in enrollment represents the largest two-year decline in 50 years for both community colleges and higher education institutions overall, according to Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the Student Clearinghouse.

Experts believe the fall in community college enrollment this year is primarily driven by an open job market, whereas health and safety concerns drove last year’s drop.

“If you’re thinking, ‘Well, I need to feed my family, so I can either enroll in community college or take a job for 18 dollars an hour,’ that’s a tough tradeoff for someone who is food insecure or housing insecure,” Bickerstaff said.

The short-term gain for prospective students who decide to enter the job market likely means a long-term loss for their economic prospects, as individuals with only high school diplomas make an average of $7000 less than associate’s degree holders.

“You’re giving up the potential for a higher-skilled job and higher earnings further down the road,” Shapiro said.

The longer workers stay out of classrooms, the harder it is for them to return, he said.

“You start forgetting what you learned in high school, particularly in some of the technical courses,” Shapiro said, adding: “It’s harder to think about getting into the swing of those classrooms.”

David Baime, senior vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, said low enrollment will exacerbate the labor shortage and could make it difficult for the Biden administration to implement its trillion-dollar infrastructure bill.

“The infrastructure bill that was passed late last year is going to demand that thousands of Americans receive skills training in order to help fill the jobs that are going to be required to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, and community colleges have an essential, essential role in doing that,” Baime said.

According to Baime, free community college could dramatically increase enrollment and help reduce equity in higher education. A disproportionate share of community college students are people of color or come from working-class families.

Biden’s plan to offer free tuition to every community college fell through in October and there has been no policy movement on the issue since. Biden maintains it continues to be a top agenda item for his administration.

“My sense is free community college is not going to solve all of these problems. I think there are other things at play here,” Bickerstaff said. “But there’s no question that reducing barriers to affordability is definitely going to help some students.”

States have increasingly begun adopting or considering their own tuition-free community college programs.

Health & Science

“Take pride in your flavor”: Menthol cigarette use highest among marginalized groups targeted by tobacco industry, report finds

WASHINGTON — About one in five lesbian-, gay- and bisexual-identifying adults smoke cigarettes, compared to about one in seven adults who identify as straight — placing LGB Americans among the top 10 populations disproportionately affected by tobacco use, according to a new report by the American Lung Association.

Along with Black American smokers — about 81% of whom use menthol cigarettes — women and youth, LGBTQ+ people also disproportionately consume menthol. Menthol smoking rates are particularly high among lesbian and female LGBTQ+ smokers, according to Ollie Ganz, who researches public health at Rutgers University.

“Menthol cigarette smoking is associated with nicotine dependence and poor cessation outcomes,” Ganz told Medill News Service. “And so if there’s certain populations that are using mental cigarettes in disproportionately high rates, it could ultimately be exacerbating tobacco-related disparities.” 

Overall cigarette use declined between 2009 and 2019, but non-menthol cigarettes account for 91% of that decline, according to the report. 

The Food and Drug Administration last April announced it would propose rules for the removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace. However, the ALA report notes that it may take several years to enact these rules — a significant delay after the FDA first issued reports in 2013 finding that limiting menthol sales would benefit public health.

The tobacco industry’s targeted menthol marketing plays a significant role in driving these disparities, according to the report. Nearly 30 years ago, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company launched “Project SCUM” — or “Sub Culture Urban Marketing” — a marketing plan targeting LGBTQ+ populations in San Francisco, the report’s chief author Thomas Carr said.

More recently, tobacco ads have included phrases like “take pride in your flavor,” said Catherine Saucedo, deputy director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California, San Francisco.

“They still sponsor pride events as well,” she said, “so they’re very insidious, and they are definitely keeping this rate high.” 

These marketing campaigns compound the existing circumstances that place LGBTQ+ people at higher risk of addiction, Saucedo said.

“You have maybe violence and stress that’s impacted these communities because of how they’ve been targeted, you have a higher risk of mental health and depression and anxiety,” she said. “A lot of that can be due to coming out — there’s rejection, it can be traumatic, there’s discrimination even by healthcare systems.”

Next steps in state regulations & combating youth vaping

Along with banning menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from the marketplace, the report said increasing tobacco taxes at a state level would be a key step in reducing tobacco use.

North Carolina, which ranks among the bottom four states for tobacco regulation in the report, also has one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the country, according to Morgan Wittman Gramann, executive director of the North Carolina Alliance for Health.

The NCAH has advocated for the FDA to use its authority to ban menthol products, Wittman Gramann said. On a state level, the organization has focused on reducing youth tobacco use by securing funding for e-cigarette cessation programs.

“This is especially important as use of e-cigarettes by high school students has increased 1129% in North Carolina between 2011 and 2019,” Wittman Gramann said. 

Along with reducing smoking rates in Black and LGBTQ+ communities, ending the sale of flavored tobacco products, like menthol, will help curb the youth vaping epidemic, according to the report. Despite the overall decline in adult smoking rates, two million high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2021.

Tobacco use was also significantly higher among youth who identify as LGBTQ+, Carr said. 

While the FDA is due to propose rules for flavored tobacco regulation in April, Carr said local and state governments can still take action.

“We expect an instant tobacco industry lawsuit the moment final rules are proposed, which is going to drag it out even further,” Carr said. “States and local communities need to pass laws to prevent the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, and that would also solve the problem, at least at the state and local level.”

Though enacting a nationwide ban on the sale of flavored tobacco could take several more years, Ganz said the FDA’s April deadline is still a significant step.

“It’s exciting from a tobacco control perspective,” Ganz said. “There’s a lot of evidence that a menthol ban has enormous potential to save lives.”


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Health Action Conference Tackles Intersection Between Health Access and Racial Justice

WASHINGTON – A father slept by his sister’s side as she cried in the hospital after losing four of her limbs to unchecked diabetes.

The family didn’t have insurance, so they couldn’t have treated her condition earlier. 

Laura Guerra-Cardus witnessed their struggle first-hand as a med student in Texas. The experience pushed her to fight against the reasons why many Americans lack medical coverage and access to health care. 

“I was constantly struck by times when medicine could only provide bandaid solutions for problems with much deeper roots, like poverty and racial injustice,” said Guerra-Cardus.

Health advocates like Guerra Cardus, policy makers and activists from across the country gathered virtually on Tuesday to listen to panel conversations on the multifaceted issues that surround health and racial inequity, and to engage in workshops about social media activism, new technologies for campaign strategizing and lessons from the COVID-19 vaccine.

“COVID-19 has made it impossible to ignore everything that is wrong with this balkanized and still badly broken healthcare system, where people of color are the first to get sick, yet last to get access to care, and in the frontlines when it comes to discrimination,” said Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA, which hosts the conference.

Panelists noted how racial injustice, a large factor in health care inequity, encompasses many issues including reproductive rights, disability rights and housing security.

“You can see [it during the] pandemic, in which people with disabilities are seen as expendable and disposable, and that has everything to do with racism, eugenics and who is deemed worthy of survival and who is not,” said Ola Ojewumi, founder and director of Project ASCEND.

The problem of systemic racism becomes even more complicated with housing. The history behind the housing market and current practices of gentrification have been rooted in race-based discrimination, according to Sidney Betancourt, a housing advocacy organizer for the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“We know there’s been studies shown that depending on your zip code, that will be a determinant of your health outcomes later on in life,” Betancourt said.

The activists who should be leading the solutions to these problems, explained reproductive rights organizer Monica Simpson, are those who are people of color, who are disabled or who are themselves impacted because these populations have lived experience that can inform their work.

“People are understanding that we do not live single issue lives,” said Simpson, executive director at SisterSong. “Audre Lorde told us that. And now we’re seeing what that looks like in practice.”

As an example of how intersectionality can be applied to advocacy, Ojewumi pointed to the rallying of disability activists through social media. 

By connecting large groups online voicing similar concerns over the ableism of Center for Disease Control and Prevention policies, disability rights activists were able to sit down with the CDC director and discuss potential harms towards their high risk community.

With a growing need for affordable medical care and lowered prescription drug pricing, the benefits of Biden’s proposed Build Back Better bill were emphasized by several speakers including the president himself, in a pre-recorded keynote address.

“I’m sure what ultimately comes out of this Congress will not fulfill our hopes nor our needs, but we must secure all of the progress we can achieve when we can achieve it,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).

During Tuesday’s closing remarks, Laura Guerra-Cardus received the award of Health Justice Advocate of the Year for her work as deputy director of the Children’s Defense Fund in Texas. She spoke on the health coverage gap and urged health advocates and activists at the conference to continue their fight to close it.

“What I know is that the pendulum doesn’t just swing back our way,” Guerra-Cardus said. “It’s not something we ride on passively when we are down. We don’t just sit, we organize. We build power and we pull the pendulum back towards justice.”

Latest in Environment

Offshore Drilling Harms Communities in Gulf of Mexico, Warn Climate Scientists

WASHINGTON — Climate experts urged skeptical lawmakers Thursday to consider the environmental impact of new oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I want you all to remember that economic gain does not outweigh the devastation we are feeling right now,” climate scientist Kristina Dahl told the House Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee Thursday.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pressed the experts who appeared before them about whether reducing oil and gas drilling on the Gulf Coast could reduce overall global emissions.

Subcommittee Chairman Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., began by asking Max Sarinsky, an attorney from the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University, what he thinks of the argument that not drilling in the U.S. would simply increase drilling in other countries and therefore increase emissions.

“That is simply not how economics works,” Sarinsky said. “It violates basic supply and demand principles, and in reality while there would be some substitution effect, what we see is that extraction on federal land leads to a very large increase overall in total combustion and production. So as a result you have a very large increase in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Dahl pointed out that the United States has disproportionately contributed to emissions since the Industrial Revolution by producing 25% of emissions in history but only containing 4% of the world’s population.

“For every ton of emissions we’ve reduced in the United States, China’s gone up by four. This doesn’t make sense,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., who argued that stopping domestic production in the U.S. only increases dependence on foreign energy sources with greater emissions.

“Are any of the witnesses aware of any evidence that shows restricting oil and gas production in federal waters will actually result in decreasing total consumption of oil in the U.S.?” asked fellow GOP Rep. Jerry Carl of Alabama.

In response, Sarinsky said reducing fossil fuel extraction domestically is substituted in part by renewable energy consumed in the U.S.

Beverly Wright, executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, said it is hard to understand how the economic impact of reducing drilling outweighs the health of people in states like Louisiana, which has one of the highest cancer rates in the nation.

“The fact that we are thinking about leasing more land is something that boggles my mind because we already don’t know how to deal with the pollution right now,” she said. “It’s hard for us to understand how more of something that’s bad for you is better for all of us.”

Davos: private sector cooperation propels global climate efforts

Rallying ambition within the private sector to fund zero-emission technologies is key to climate change mitigation, leaders said at a World Economic Forum meeting held virtually on Wednesday.

“I think most of us feel very strongly that no government in the world has the amount of money we need to effect this transition,” said John Kerry, the chief U.S. climate envoy, during the online panel, normally held every January in Davos. “This has to happen by virtue of the private sector being engaged.” 

COP26, the United Nations’ climate conference held last November in Glasgow, provided such an opportunity. 

“Glasgow was exciting, not because we actually solved the problems, but because the breadth of private sector companies showed up with the willingness to get involved in solving those problems,” said Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. 

Gates’ climate investment fund Breakthrough Energy — which raised $1.5 billion over the past six months for green technology — is part of the First Movers Coalition. Launched at COP26, the coalition is a public-private partnership between the U.S. State Department and the WEF. 

“We need all the leading companies to come into First Movers,” Gates said. “It really does come down to economics. The dirty way of making things is very mature, whether it’s steel or cement or aviation fuel.”

WEF president and panel moderator Børge Brende cited the fund’s Global Risks Report 2022 to contextualize the importance of private sector involvement. The report outlines that climate action failure is the most severe global risk over the next 10 years. 

“Emissions have gone up actually in 2021,” Kerry said. “The world used 9% more coal than we did in 2020…and coal is the dirtiest fuel.” 

Arguably the most notable COP26 advance — the Glasgow Climate Pact requiring countries to report environmental progress — culminated in a controversial compromise about coal specifically. In a last-minute change, China and India softened language, opting for a “phase down” instead of a “phase out” of coal. 

This move was one of several reasons climate activists like Greta Thunberg criticized COP26 for being “business as usual.”

“We have to help countries be able to wean themselves from coal,” Kerry said. “It’s not enough just to sit here today and say ‘hey, you got to get off coal.’ How are they going to do that?”

According to Egypt’s Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad, it’s essential to bridge the gap between governmental policy and private sector innovation. 

“There are some success stories that could be further replicated,” Fouad said. “One story is [of] Egypt and its transition to renewable energy.”

The host country of COP27 this November, Egypt has made recent strides in clean energy. In December, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi inaugurated the Benban Solar Park, the largest solar power plant in the world. 

Anna Borg, president and CEO of the Swedish-based electrical giant Vattenfall, said it’s in companies’ best interests to adapt to clean energy’s rising prominence. 

“As business leaders, we are used to managing and taking risks,” Borg said. “Every time I talk to my colleagues in the First Movers Coalition, for example, we, in addition to discussing how to solve this from a global perspective, also end up talking about the business opportunities.”

Vattenfall and Fred. Olsen Seawind were awarded the rights this week to develop a floating offshore wind farm off Scotland’s east coast. The project could produce enough electricity to power more than 700,000 UK homes.

Kerry ended the panel by emphasizing that the price of world inaction exceeds the cost of carbon. He linked black carbon — formed from fossil fuel combustion — to the high rates of environmentally-induced asthma among children that cost the U.S. billions each year.

“We’re paying a price for carbon,” Kerry said. “Solar and wind are, in every form of accounting, net cheaper than coal and cheaper than gas.”

Latest in National Security

Communication, Economic Collaboration Key to U.S.-Latin American Relations

WASHINGTON — Opening communication with the leaders of the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Panama, confirming ambassadors to the Dominican Republic and Panama and reimagining the Caribbean Basin Initiative, can strengthen U.S. relations with the hemisphere and promote democracy and prosperity in the Americas, experts told lawmakers on Thursday. 

“On several occasions, the leaders of Costa Rica, the D.R. and Panama have expressed interest in high-level dialogue with the United States,” said Daniel Runde, senior vice president and director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Since his inauguration, President Biden has not had a formal call or one-on-one meetings with any of his counterparts in the three countries. That is simple to fix. Let’s just fix it.” 

One step in the right direction would be confirming the president’s nominees to be chief envoys to the Dominican Republic and Panama. In September, Biden nominated state Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Ga.) The following month, the president picked Mari Carmen Aponte from Puerto Rico to be Panama’s ambassador.

“These are qualified candidates,” Runde told lawmakers on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “The Senate should confirm them.” 

“A reimagined CBI could further many of the goals that we have in the past but also promote a sustainable post-pandemic recovery and act as a credible counter offer to China,” he added. 

This alliance could also help alleviate some of the U.S.’ most pressing issues, including, for instance, supply chain concerns, threats against climate change, disaster resilience and security challenges brought about by migration, among others. 

“As the United States looks to move supply chains from adjust in time to adjust in case model, these three countries are willing and able partners,” Runde said. “In the context of climate and disaster resilience, the three countries have a lot to offer.” 

At the forefront, however, was economic collaboration via the trade and tourism industries, which will also benefit each nation, according to Alfaro. 

“The United States is Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic’s main trading partner and a primary source of tourism,” said Alfaro, who was also the former minister of national planning and economic policy of Costa Rica, said. “The trade relationships have been built over decades through a series of initiatives and treaties, from “La Cuenca del Caribe,” under President Reagan, to the signing of CAFCA-DR under President Bush.” 

The consequences of opting not to engage in this alliance could lead to a power vacuum, potentially to be filled by rivals like China or Russia, according to Runde. 

“These countries have other options, and so do the rest of the countries in Central America and the Caribbean,” Runde said. “Over the past two decades, China’s share of trade in Latin American equipment has multiplied eight times over. When the U.S. leaves a vacuum, China and Russia will seek to fill it.” 

Defense Contractor Accused of ‘Ripping Off’ American Taxpayers, Taking Excess Profits

WASHINGTON – A defense contractor providing the U.S. military with spare parts has overcharged the Department of Defense by at least $20.8 million, Pentagon officials told lawmakers on Wednesday. 

“Billions and billions of dollars have been ripped off from American taxpayers” as a result, said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).

The Department of Defense Office of Inspector General in December released a report that showed Cleveland-based TransDigm Inc. received excess profits on 105 contracts with the Pentagon. The OIG recommended the Defense Logistics Agency, which oversees the U.S. military’s supply chain, should seek to recover the $20.8 million from TransDigm.

TransDigm has repeatedly acquired smaller companies producing specialized parts with sole-source contracts, meaning they do not have to go through the usual bidding process. The firm then exponentially raises the price of those parts, selling them to the U.S. government at dollar amounts well above TransDigm’s production costs, according to the audit.

Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) pointed out TransDigm’s profit margins, noting: “Your team analyzed TransDigm’s costs to manufacture 106 spare parts and compared that to prices charged to the DOD for those same items.”

Addressing DOD Deputy Inspector General Theresa Hull, the Democrat emphasized the company’s “excess profits on all but one of those parts.”

“One part has a profit margin of nearly four-thousand percent,” she said, adding: “It’s simply wrong to do that — to have a four-thousand-percent profit for spare parts that our military needs.” 

Hull said TransDigm complied with only two of 26 documentation requests from the U.S. government.

Raskin asked TransDigm founder Nicholas Howley the following: “Do you agree with the IG’s finding that TransDigm did refuse to provide the cost data in 24 cases when it was requested by the contract officers?”

“I don’t know the specific answer on those 24 parts,” Howley said. “What I will say is that almost every one of these parts is a commercial part. The preferred way of doing price analysis here … is to compare it to price data — comparable commercial price data. We submitted the commercial price data and the commercial justification for every product.”

“That is the preferred method for doing this as defined in the regulation,” Howley continued.

TransDigm Chief Executive Officer Kevin Stein, who disputed the report’s findings, told lawmakers that, on average, the DOD receives a 25% discount on TransDigm parts when compared to commercial prices.

“The question is supposed to be not how much it costs to produce a part,” Stein said,” but whether the government is getting a fair and reasonable price.”

This is not the first time TransDigm has found itself under fire for alleged price gouging.

In 2019, the firm paid the U.S. government $16.1 million after a committee hearing examining a similar DOD IG report detailing TransDigm’s overcharging of the U.S. government. Because of TransDigm’s status as the only contractor capable of fulfilling the U.S. military’s need for specific parts, the DOD has had to continue conducting business with the firm.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) questioned the timing of the hearing, saying it appeared clear in 2019 that TransDigm had cost the American taxpayer excess money, but that the Democratic majority held today’s hearing for the sole purpose of appearing “tough on things like waste, fraud and abuse.”

The Democratic majority has treated TransDigm like “some sort of trophy to be exhibited on a wall,” Hice said, “when literally trillions — trillions — of dollars have gone out the door from the Biden administration, much of it for dubious so-called ‘COVID relief’ measures. For example, unemployment insurance fraud by itself could run into hundreds of billions of dollars. What is this committee doing about it?”

“If there is a problem here today,” Hice continued, “the problem is with the DOD’s failure to do a better job forecasting its needs and administering its contracts.”

Ranking member James Comer (R-Ky.) struck a similar tone, saying the Oversight Committee “steadfastly refuses to conduct meaningful oversight of the Biden administration.” 

“Instead of focusing” on the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the origins of the pandemic, “the devastating inflation felt nationwide because of Democrats’ out-of-control spending” and other issues, “we are here today to conduct a hearing that already happened,” Comer said. 

Though TransDigm has not been accused of committing any crimes, the report found the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act contained no safeguards against price gouging by contractors — provisions the DOD explicitly requested.

John Tenaglia, an acquisitions official at DOD, said legislation is necessary to prevent the U.S. government from being overcharged on military contracts, with national security concerns in play. “The more we pay,” Tenaglia said, “the less combat capability we can acquire for a ready force.”

Latest in Living

Video: Local businesses concerned about Sunday’s anti-vaccine-mandate rally

WASHINGTON – Sunday’s anti-vaccine-mandate rally at the National Mall has local business owners concerned, especially after posts on social media suggested some attendees plan to enter stores to challenge the District’s mandate. 

“It’s hard enough with regular folks sometimes just coming in not wanting to show their cards,” said Tony Tomelden, owner of The Pug, a local bar on H Street NE.  

Called “Defeat The Mandates: An American Homecoming,” the march is about protesting the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, not the vaccine itself, according to Trevor FitzGibbon, communications consultant for the march. 

“This is about unifying people of all stripes to come together and oppose the idea that forced vaccinations on people isn’t okay,” said FitzGibbon. 

While most businesses aren’t planning to board up or close doors for the day, fear lingers in the air, especially after the January sixth Capitol insurrection. 

“We’re all just vaguely more on edge after one six,” said Tomelden.

Watch the video report here:

 

Census report on child support payments doesn’t account for income disparity

WASHINGTON — A semi-annual U.S. Census Bureau report on child support payments for the year 2017 fails to take into account the circumstances of parents with different levels of income, a practitioner said this week. 

“We want to help people to have an appreciation for the difference between somebody who was deadbeat, meaning they had funds, they have the obligation to pay financially for their children, they had the means to do it. And for whatever reason they choose not to do and not to pay,” said Joe Jones of the Center for Urban Families, “versus another group of dads who are low income, who are simply dead broke, and they have an obligation to pay, they want to pay, they don’t have the means to do so.”

While there is mention of higher income individuals in the report, there is no explicit discussion of how child support orders can impact people with lower income — particularly when the orders exceed their means. 

This data —  which is often used by other federal agencies and officials to determine funding and resource allocation — serves as a good starting point for learning about the receipt of child support payments but needs additional work to have true impact, according to Jones, the founder and CEO of the Maryland-based community center. 

For starters, the report could have practical influence if used by state officials, for example the National Conference of State Legislatures, to reform some child support policies. 

“The one thing you don’t want to do is to have a child support order so outlandish that it makes a person destitute because it strips that person of all their income,” Jones said. “We were able to get signed into law, the self sufficiency reserve, which basically says you can only create a child support order based on documented income. So that practice is no longer allowable, because it’s a law.”

“But you think about the amount of debt that has accrued over time, and whether or not it’s in a community’s best interest, to allow a population of people to have that level of debt that can never be collected,” he said.

Latest Business

Lawmakers Weigh Blockchain Promise Against Energy Use

WASHINGTON — Although the largest blockchain products have drawn investment toward renewable power sources, their energy footprint is massive — and growing — according to new data that lawmakers grappled with at a Thursday hearing.

“According to one estimate, 2021 carbon emissions from Bitcoin and Ethereum crypto mining were 78.8 million tons of carbon,” said House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). “Roughly equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of more than 15.5 million gasoline cars on the road.”

At issue is a type of algorithm called “proof-of-work,” which many blockchain networks use to verify and log transactions. The algorithm is designed to process transactions at a set speed no matter how much computing power is spent, and does so by gradually making the underlying calculations more difficult and energy-intensive. 

Since rewards for “miners” who contribute computing power are so plentiful (equivalent to more than $250,000 every 10 minutes globally, just on the Bitcoin network) the amount of computing power devoted to mining has been racing steadily upwards, with no real value being added for people who use the currency.

Pallone added that as of 2022, the estimated energy required to process each Bitcoin transaction could power a typical American home for more than 70 days.

 

In Defense of Consumption

 

“The requirement of energy expenditure is one of the features that allow Bitcoin in particular to maintain a credible monetary policy,” Bitfury CEO Brian Brooks told members of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. 

Brooks rejected the idea that a more versatile “proof-of-stake” algorithm, which has been implemented successfully among other cryptocurrencies, would be worth the energy savings, on the grounds it may be less secure. Based in the Netherlands, Bitfury is one of the world’s largest crypto mining hardware manufacturers.

Ranking member of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) pointed out that there may be benefits to having energy-hungry electricity buyers like crypto miners to consume electricity during hours when surplus electricity is available, and switch off during peak demand times.

“For example, cryptocurrency mining companies in Texas are enrolling in programs with ERCOT to become a controllable-load resource,” Griffith said, referring to the Lone Star State’s non-government electric grid manager. “This can provide stability to a grid, as well as lower prices for other customers.”

 

Clogging the Grid

 

Steve Wright, former CEO of the Chelan County Public Utility District in Washington state, in 2014 noticed an influx of cryptocurrency miners coming to take advantage of his county’s high-speed internet and cheap electricity. 

In the years that followed, the practice put tremendous stress on Chelan’s power grid.

“In one instance overloaded distribution infrastructure led to a fire in a vacant lot bordered by residential dwellings,” Wright told the committee in an opening statement. 

He described a hazardous instance, one of several in the county, where someone had packed an apartment unit full of computers for Bitcoin mining and walked away, operating the machines remotely.

“Whether cryptocurrency’s value to society is sufficient for a community to want mining operations based in their area was debated in Chelan County and at best left many of our customer-owners perplexed,” Wright said.

Blockchain networks have come under increased scrutiny internationally. This Wednesday, a top EU regulatory official urged the bloc, now mired in an unfolding energy crisis, to ban proof-of-work mining, telling the Financial Times the practice may imperil goals set forth in the Paris Climate Accords. China banned cryptocurrency altogether in 2021, citing concerns of money laundering and energy inefficiency.

 

The U.S. Perspective

 

The scrutiny comes at an inopportune moment for decentralized finance (“DeFi”) enthusiasts, with cryptocurrencies valued at just shy of $2 trillion worldwide and Wall Street firms beginning to embrace cryptocurrencies as legitimate financial assets. Several large securities firms have begun marketing cryptocurrency index funds. The surge in popularity won crypto market Coinbase an $86 billion IPO last April, and the company is now exploring the idea of selling “crypto derivatives.”

Lawmakers on Thursday showed no appetite for crackdowns. 

“Blockchain and cryptocurrency technology bring enormous promise, and this hearing is not meant to stifle that promise or discourage innovation,” Pallone assured the room. “But we do want to examine the potential cost of the crypto mining industry, and what can be done to address those impacts.”

Facebook whistleblower urges Congress to hold Big Tech accountable

WASHINGTON — Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress for the second time on Wednesday, warning lawmakers that getting caught up in partisan battles over legislation to hold digital platforms accountable for causing harm to users is just what Big Tech is hoping for. 

The hearing is the first of two this month aimed at holding Big Tech accountable for its content, for which there appears to be bipartisan support. But there is little consensus on how to do it. 

Haugen warned members of a House technology subcommittee that Facebook, which recently changed its corporate name to Meta, wants them to “get caught up in a long, drawn-out debate over the minutiae of different legislative approaches.” 

“Please don’t fall into that trap. Time is of the essence,” she said. Haugen disclosed thousands of pages of internal documents to the government revealing Facebook’s negative effects on users. 

But during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, lawmakers spent about six hours debating a variety of ideas on how to legislatively address issues ranging from misinformation, discrimination, hate speech, censorship and the harmful effects of social media on youth mental health. 

The bills discussed at the hearing — all introduced by Democratic House members — would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1934, which allows digital platforms to host and moderate their users’ content without the threat of lawsuits. 

The broad goal of reforming the courts’ interpretation of Section 230 to hold platforms accountable for the content they distribute has bipartisan support. But lawmakers differ on the how to achieve that goal. 

Committee Chair Frank Pallone, D-N.J., expressed disappointment that his Republican colleagues did not include drafts of their legislation for consideration at Wednesday’s hearing. 

“In order to actually pass legislation that will begin to hold these platforms accountable, we must work together, and I urge my colleagues not to close the door on bipartisanship for an issue that is so critical,” Pallone said.  

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Washington, said tech companies are censoring political speech, especially conservative voices, on their platforms that should be constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. 

Rodgers said she is working on legislation that would remove protections for companies when they take down constitutionally protected speech. 

But Rashad Robinson, president of the racial justice organization Color of Change, said freedom of speech does not mean freedom from the consequences of speech, especially if the information is untrue or harmful.  

Facebook redesigned its algorithm in 2018 to prioritize content that is most likely to be shared by others, Haugen said. While Facebook said the purpose was to prioritize “meaningful social interactions,” she said the platform’s algorithm ends up prioritizing the most provocative content that will get the most clicks and shares — often including hate speech and misinformation. 

Robinson said that Facebook’s algorithm disproportionately harms people of color by using personal information in targeting ads that limit information about voting, housing and job opportunities. He also said the algorithm subjects people of color to larger amounts of misinformation than white users. 

Two bills discussed during the hearing, the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act and the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act of 2021, would allow companies to be held liable when they use personalized algorithms to recommend harmful content. A third, the Civil Rights Modernization Act of 2021, would clarify that platforms are not shielded from lawsuits for civil rights violations from targeted advertising.  

Robinson called on Congress in his written testimony to take antitrust action against Big Tech companies and work toward ending their concentration of power and suppression of competition in the industry.  

He applauded the committee’s efforts to include funding in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act to create a Privacy Bureau at the Federal Trade Commission and to fund the FTC’s antitrust fights. 

Scott Wallsten, president and senior fellow of the Technology Policy Institute, said in an interview that people view Facebook as having such a large share of the market that there are overlapping motivations between Section 230 reform and antitrust reform. Still, he said the two issues should be addressed separately.  

At a panel event hosted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday, Wallsten joined several other economists and lawyers in discussing how Congress can act more constructively on antitrust — including several pieces of legislation in both the House and Senate. 

Though the panelists had varying levels of support for the bills, they agreed that more funding for government agencies would create more effective antitrust efforts. In addition to funds allocated in the Build Back Better Act, the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act would authorize $252 million for the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and $418 million for the FTC. 

Wallston said that agreeing on reforms to Section 230 is difficult because platforms can never make all of their users happy when they moderate content on a website. 

“There will always be people who want things down (on a site) that stay up and other people who want things that come down,” he said. “And because we have so many different preferences, there’s just not going to be stable equilibrium.” 

Washingtonians alternately protest, celebrate the State of the Union

WASHINGTON – DC-area residents had very different reactions to President Donald Trump’s second State of the Union address Tuesday night. But whether they celebrated or denounced the event, emotions were strong.

Around 40-50 people gathered at each of two intersections near the Capitol ahead of the address  — far fewer than the 400 people who protested last year, according to Resist DC, the community action group that organized both years’ protests.

People lined the sidewalks along the streets that President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump cabinet members’ motorcades were expected pass by. They held homemade signs lit with string lights so they would be visible to government officials in their cars and chanted anti-Trump messages to music and drums.

Eileen Minarick, 70, said she was protesting simply “because the state of our union is terrible.”

Members of Herndon-Reston Indivisible, a group created to resist President Trump's policies and elect Democrats to office, held lit-up letters spelling “Fraud” and “Yuge Liar.” (Ester Wells/MNS)40-50 protestors were stationed at each of two points along 3rd Street NW in Washington, D.C. (Ester Wells/MNS)Protestors waved Russian flags as they waited along the sidewalk. (Ester Wells/MNS)A protestor held a lit-up sign as he shouted the words. (Ester Wells/MNS)Eileen Minarick, 70, said, “I don’t feel I’m protesting Trump. I’m protesting the policies of his administration, which are inhuman.” (Ester Wells/MNS)The Capitol dome Tuesday night. (Ester Wells/MNS)Police cars and officers patrolled the streets surrounding the Capitol, many of which were blocked off to both vehicles and pedestrians. (Ester Wells/MNS)Patrons don pink stickers and resistance apparel as they listen to activist speakers and wait for President Trump's State of the Union address to begin  (Brooke Fowler/MNS)Sitting in front of the projector, a stray star is caught on actor Danny Glover's face as he prepares to educate attendees about the conflict in Latin America. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)Co-founder of CODEPINK, Madea Benjamin addresses the crowd as other speakers converse with audience members. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)The classic pairing of wine and board games is at every table, except with a twist. In order to ‘survive the night’ patrons mark a square every time President Trump utters a common saying. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)Violence against women must end, said Chad Smith, a trainer with nonprofit organization Men Can Stop Rape. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)All eyes are trained on the screen as Trump enters the House Chamber for the State of the Union address. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)Grinning, a man in a Make America Great Again hat listens as President Donald Trump announced “I will get it built” in reference to a southern border wall at a local Young Republicans watch party. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)A sign welcomes members of the DC Young Republicans and Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)Members of Republican organizations gather around as President Trump continues past expected time in his State of the Union speech. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)The scene is more mellow downstairs, where a few recluse bar patrons chat with each other as the television screens broadcast in synchrony. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)

Elsewhere in the city, local bar patrons gathered to drink beer, compete in presidential bingo and watch the State of the Union.

Grassroots activist group CODEPINK hosted a number of guest speakers, including actor Danny Glover, for a lively discussion before the main event. Topics ranged from the Bolivarian revolution to ending domestic violence.

Anita Jenkins, spokeswoman for Stand Up for Democracy, riled the crowd with a call to establish the District of Columbia the 51st state in the United States.

“The people of D.C. have no representation… We have nobody to speak for us,” she said. Modifying the words of America’s early founders, she said, “Taxation without representation is a rip-off.”

As President Trump appeared on the projector, shouts of disapproval rose from the bar patrons. The State of the Union 2019 had begun and the energy was energetic in its moroseness.

Across town, the atmosphere was also charged. Members of DC Young Republicans and Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans filled a restaurant for a celebratory viewing party.

“In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall… but the proper wall never got built,” said Donald Trump. He paused and then said, “I’ll get it built.” Hoots and hollers erupted in the bar and two girls were seen smiling and hugging each other.

Though Trump stressed unity in his national address, DC-area residents remained divided in their reactions.

2020 Candidates Alternate Cheers, Hisses to Trump Wall, Immigration Proposals during State of Union

WASHINGTON – Several Democratic 2020 presidential candidates expressed their displeasure with many of President Donald Trump’s policies during the State of the Union address Tuesday.

Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., could be seen shaking their heads when Trump mentioned controversial topics such as his commitment to building a border wall and the dangers of migrant caravans heading to the U.S. southern border.

Harris, who announced her candidacy on Jan. 21, shook her head and visibly mouthed, “They’re not,” as Trump said, “Large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States.”

In a Facebook Live address before the State of the Union, Harris told viewers, “It’s a moment for a president to rise above politics and unite the country with a vision that includes all Americans, not just the ones who may have voted for them. It’s a moment to bring us together.”

Early in the address, Harris was often reluctant to give Trump a standing ovation, asking her colleagues, “Really?” as they cheered the president’s comments about space exploration.

The candidates and their Democratic colleagues booed and hissed as Trump labeled the numerous investigations into his campaign finance and relationship with Russia “ridiculous partisan investigations.”

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he said. “It just doesn’t work that way!”

Democrats cheered later as Trump mentioned that women have filled 58 percent of new jobs in the past year. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has formed a presidential exploratory committee, pointed at the newly elected House Democrats, who stood up and chanted, “USA, USA.”

“I think he didn’t realize that all the female jobs he created were for [congresswomen],” Gillibrand said after the speech.

The Democratic candidates stood and applauded with everyone in the chamber when Trump recognized World War II veterans, a SWAT team member and a childhood cancer survivor.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., sat stoically as Trump denounced socialism. Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist, is widely considered likely e to enter the presidential race. Unlike Sanders, Gillibrand and Harris stood and applauded as Trump said, “America will never be a socialist country.”

TRUMP STRIKES CHORD WITH WOMEN, FALLS FLAT ON BIPARTISAN BORDER WALL PITCH

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump got one of his biggest rounds of applause during his State of the Union address Tuesday night when he noted that Congress now has a record-high number of elected women, but it wasn’t lost on the crowd that when the women rose to cheer they were mostly on the Democratic side of the aisle.

“Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before,” Trump said as the women lawmakers rose to clap and celebrate. He then advised them “Don’t sit. You’re going to like this.”

“Exactly one century after the Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than at any time before,” he said. There were 117 women elected to Congress in 2018.

Bipartisan chants of “USA! USA!” filled the chamber as both the Democrats and Republicans broke into uproarious applause. Many of the Democratic women wore white and donned pins that read “ERA YES,” in a nod to the women of the suffragette movement.

Trump called his list of priorities “the agenda of the American people” in his second State of the Union address Tuesday, which was delayed a week because of the 35-day government shutdown, which didn’t end until the previous Friday. The address was the first the president has delivered before the new Democratic majority in the House.

The president remained on-script for the duration of the 84-minute speech and touted his administration’s achievements from the past two years. He also laid out several legislative priorities going forward, including a “smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier,” an infrastructure bill and the eradication of HIV and AIDS.

Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., was glad that health care was a topic in the speech, while Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., described the speech as “terrific.”

“We haven’t gotten that right when it comes to protection our citizens with pre-existing conditions, correcting all the problems and costs associated with the ACA,” French said. “I like that he kept an emphasis on that while also tackling the prescription drug process.”

For Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., laying out these broad initiatives wasn’t enough.

“I wrote down a number of initiatives — defense spending, cancer research, transportation, infrastructure — and never heard anything of how we’re going to pay for them,” he said.

The president also pushed his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and to reduce drastically the number of troops in Afghanistan.

Among Democrats, reactions were mixed as Trump highlighted his achievements. When Trump lauded the U.S. increase in gas and oil production, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who has championed a Green New Deal to address accelerating climate change, remained seated.

Many Democrats applauded Trump’s push for a new infrastructure bill and decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who sat behind Trump with Vice President Mike Pence, was clearly following a printed version of the speech. She applauded when Trump mentioned criminal justice reform and bipartisan efforts on lowering drug costs and furthering women’s rights.

After praising a recent bipartisan effort to secure criminal justice reform, Trump shifted to a project he said would require the same bipartisan effort: a southern border wall.

“Simply put, walls work and walls save lives,” he said. “So let’s work together, compromise and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.”

However, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was not encouraged by the president’s attempt to strike a bipartisan tone.

“I just don’t think he is to be trusted,” she said. “This is not a president who is working for the middle class of this country.”

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said that while parts of Trump’s speech were good, he was too combative at times.

“There should have been more emphasis on the fact that the government was shut down and we all need to work together to bring it back,” he said. “Blaming the Democrats is not going to keep the government open.”

Freshmen members of Congress excited, disappointed at their first State of the Union address

WASHINGTON — Before attending his first State of the Union address, Rep. Jefferson Van Drew, D-N.J., felt a sense of excitement and joy, but also feared the president might once again fan partisan flames by rehashing controversial issues.

“I hope that right now, he doesn’t talk about closing the government again. I hope he doesn’t talk right now about declaring a national emergency. I would so much rather see that we try to work together and get something done. That requires flexibility on Democrats side as well. Both sides have to do this,” said Van Drew.

Partisanship is the reason the approval rating for Congress is so low, but issues like border security, and infrastructure deserve cooperation between the two parties, said Van Drew.

“Rather than just argue and disagree and investigative and be hurtful on both sides, maybe we can actually get something get done.”

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Chris Pappas, D-N.H.

Although having been full-fledged members of Congress for a little over a month, the freshmen class of senators and representatives still retains a “sense of awe” about the State of the Union address, said Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H. Pappas said he hoped Trump would strike a conciliatory tone with Democrats, allowing lawmakers to avoid a second government shutdown.

Pappas brought a transgender military veteran from his home state to hear the president as a symbol of his hope that Trump’s transgender military service ban will be lifted.

“That doesn’t make us any safer and in fact plays politics with the military,” he said.

In addition to passing social justice reform, Pappas said he would like Trump to speak about the opioid crisis, prescription drug costs and infrastructure — and Trump did.

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Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill.

In Illinois Rep. Sean Casten’s dreams, Trump’s State of the Union address would make climate change a priority, but said his expectations were low. Trump did not in fact mention the environment.

“Truth is what I hope he doesn’t say is what I fear he will say,” Casten said, “which is that he’s going to threaten to shut down the government again if he doesn’t get a wall.”

Casten’s guest was Julie Caribeaux, the executive director of Family Shelter Service, which receives federal aid and provides support for victims of domestic abuse. He said domestic violence victims are some of the “primary victims” of Trump’s rhetoric.

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Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y.

Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-NY, was hoping for a message of bipartisanship and unity, things that “the American people are calling for.” Trump did call on Congress to act together on many issues.

Brindisi’s top priorities this year are trying to find common ground with the Republicans on immigration reform, infrastructure and lowering prescription drug costs. On infrastructure, he said he specifically wanted to hear Trump’s ideas on investing in job training programs. Trump mentioned all the issues, but with little specificity except that he wants a border wall and enforcement to stop what he called “caravans of migrants” heading to the southern border.

“Those are things that I talked about during the campaign that many people back in upstate New York are calling for and those are things I hope he does say,” Brindisi said.

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Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev.

Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., said she gets excited every time she walks onto the House floor, and Tuesday was no exception. Although there were parts of the speech she did not agree with, namely Trump’s insistence on a border wall, Lee said she appreciated the call for bipartisanship.

Lowering prescription drug prices, investing in infrastructure and a comprehensive border control strategy — these are all components of his speech Lee said she could agree with.

“These are all ideas I can get behind and they work together to produce some results for American families,” she said.

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Rep. Deb Halaand, D-N.M.

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., said she was dismayed about Trump’s urgency regarding funding for a border wall.

“I wasn’t surprised. Let’s put it that way about the president’s speech. I mean, of course, we don’t want a wall,” said Halland. “He instilled fear and everybody about the danger, you know, the danger that’s coming across the border.”

Haaland hopes to focus on promoting awareness about climate change and wished the President would be more receptive to the diverse issues and people around the country.

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Rep. Chuy Garcia, D-Ill., said he enjoyed his first State of the Union in a historical sense, but wanted President Trump to address issues he feels are important, including raising the minimum wage and healthcare.

Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill.

He said while the president did mention lowering prescription drug costs, there was another area of healthcare that was not noted, such as the millions who do not have healthcare at all.

“He wrapped himself around a lot of patriotism and recognition of your courageous battles and victories and but in the end, I think he failed to address important things more,” Garcia said.

 

 

Post-SOTU Interviews with Illinois Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowski and Cheri Bustos

Our Alex Lederman sat down with Illinois Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowski and Cheri Bustos after the State of the Union to hear their thoughts on President Obama’s address.

Schakowski — Evanston’s congresswoman since 1999 — said “(Obama)’s vision of what makes our country strong was so human and so true.”

Bustos said Obama is focused on the future — our children and grandchildren — and working together to solve the nation’s problems.

Medill on the Hill produces live State of the Union broadcast

WASHINGTON — It was the third day of reporting for the 21 students in Medill on the Hill. It also happened to be the day the president would deliver his final State of the Union address.

Months ago, buoyed by the excitement of the possibilities and the folly of youth, some of us came up with the idea of taking Medill on the Hill to a new level — producing live TV while also finding new ways of storytelling for the website and social media.

On State of the Union night, Jan. 12, the Washington web team led by Alex Duner and Celena Chong managed the flow of copy and constant web updates streaming in from reporters around Capitol Hill and elsewhere in D.C. There also was a constant stream of @medillonthehill tweets and snapchats as well as several Periscopes.

Tyler Kendall, Allyson Chiu and Shane McKeon were responsible for the main story, and Chiu said the experience was, “the highlight” of her journalism career.

“It was hectic, crazy and we were definitely all running on adrenaline by the end of the night,” she said.

Other reporters were assigned to stories on specific issues the president mentioned, or how local college students reacted to the speech. One even tweeted the speech in Spanish.

My task was to produce the Washington end of a live television broadcast.

Nine months ago Jesse Kirsch came back from 2015 Medill on the Hill with an idea for Carlin McCarthy, another producer with the Northwestern News Network, and me.

He said, with the optimism of a television anchor, that for the 2016 State of the Union we should produce a live broadcast with analysts at our home studio in Evanston and reporters in our D.C. bureau and on Capitol Hill. I said, with the skepticism of a television producer, that I thought he was crazy.

It took long nights, patience and a lot of support from the Medill faculty and staff, but we pulled it off.

Jesse opened the show in Evanston and before we knew it Isabella Gutierrez was doing a live hit from the Washington bureau. Then we were live in Statuary Hall with Noah Fromson, followed by a live report from graduate student Ryan Holmes on what to watch for just minutes before we streamed the live feed of President Barack Obama addressing a joint session of Congress for his final State of the Union.

We did a live interviews with Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, wrote scripts while we counted down the seconds until they were read and gathered quotes from senators and members of Congress. Alex Lederman also provided quick-turn video interviews with two congresswomen.

Associate Producer Geordan Tilley, who interviewed Durbin, was nervous before the show, but she said she is proud of the Medill effort.

“I thought the show was some of our best work, Tilley said. “Especially considering how many firsts were involved, not the least of which was our first time going live.”

 

 

What do senators do after the State of the Union? Not much

As police with bomb-sniffing dogs swept the halls of Congress in preparation for the State of the Union early Tuesday night, senators began trundling into the Capitol on the small subway tram that runs between their offices and the Senate basement. Medill intercepted them on their way to the elevators to ask about what happens after the cameras shut off.

What do senators do when they leave the Capitol after the State of the Union?

“Sleep.”

– Sen. Charles Schumer,D-N.Y.

“He goes back home with his wife.”

– Iris Weinshall (Schumer’s wife)

 

“Normally I do press with my press in Michigan … I’m usually on the phone talking to folks or doing interviews.”

– Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

 

“You go through Statuary Hall, you do press, and then I’m going to try to find my guest who is a laid off skill worker and make sure he gets back to the Holiday Inn … One time [Sen.] Jeff Sessions and I did joint press afterwards because we were dates for the State of the Union. That was quite romantic.”

– Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

 

“I’m going to watch the Republican response and collect my wife and reflect on the day. Get ready for tomorrow. Tomorrow’s another day.”

(Medill: That sounds rather unglamorous.)

“Yes it’s boring, very boring. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

– Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho

 

“I go home and go to bed.”

(Medill: There are no cocktails with colleagues or anything like that?)

“No. That may be a perception somewhere out in America, but I can assure you that a vast majority of senators are going home and going to bed and getting up to go to work early in the morning.”

– Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Mary Landrieu, D-N.D.Louisiana

 

State of the Union 2016: Preview and Excerpts

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama delivers his seventh and final State of the Union address Tuesday night. Excerpts released by the White House indicate that the speech will express optimism for the country’s future in “a time of extraordinary change.”

“It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families. It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away. It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality. And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate,” according to excerpts released by the White House.

The speech will likely be light on specific policy proposals with the president  talking instead about how the country has improved since the crises he inherited when he took office in 2009.

“We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more and more people. And because we did — because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril — we emerged stronger and better than before.”

The president is also expected to discuss the political climate leading up to the 2016 presidential election, saying that change will come “only happen if we fix our politics.”

“A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and imperatives of security.”

 

 


 

Medill Today | January 27, 2022