Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

What ever happened to 1% for the imagination?

August 25, 2009


Pets are non-partisans, but should the arts be, too?

Back on February 2 my friends DC poets Ethelbert Miller and Melissa Tuckey, along with the executive director of the Institute for Policy Studies, had a piece in The Nation call for 1% of the stimulus package to go to the arts. After all, the Works Progress Administration.

Another friend–Amanda Michel–now has a job now tracking stimulus funds for ProPublica. I had collaborated with her on election coverage when I was community developer for NewsTrust and she ran Off the Bus for the HuffPo. So, I thought, why now take a look at what’s going on with stimulus funds and the arts here in Virginia.

Over a year ago, on August 2, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Chris Cadelago(email) had observed that the Obama campaign

has an official arts policy committee, which is co-chaired by Margo Lion, the Broadway producer, and George Stevens Jr., founder of the American Film Institute. It calls for a national reinvestment in the arts as well as a national arts corps, made up of young artists who could work in inner cities.

Bailing in Detroit

December 1, 2008

Cartoon from November 20, 2008 by David Horsey, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (site, email)

December 4, Chris Dodd’s Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing The State of the Domestic Automobile Industry Part 2. This is a followup on the November 19 hearing Examining the State of the Domestic Automobile Industry.

Y’all remember the thrashing the execs got for their traveling to the bailout request in private corporate jets. Now they’re reportedly thinking about carpooling. But that aside a lot of flack was anti-labor. The Washington Post‘s D. J. Dionne (email) has his column up for tomorrow, “Crunch Time for the Big 3,” in which he writes

There is a paradox at the heart of the proposed bailout of the auto industry. The rescue would have no chance of passing without the muscle of the Big Three’s unionized workforce. Yet you can’t turn around without hearing someone trash autoworkers for the terrible crime of trying to earn a decent living.

That’s clear from reviewing a multitude of editorial cartoons over at Cagle. In fact, the only cartoon I could find to illustrate Dionne’s point was the one above by David Horsey, who is a treasure trove on labor issues in genral and more. Here’s his his take on Prop 8 from 11/22. I admire his work because he goes a bit farther for an original image.

Dionne writes,

The failure of the Big Three is regularly attributed to the high wages and benefits earned by members of the United Auto Workers union, and it’s true that the Detroit-based auto companies operate under heavy “legacy costs” for retirees’ pensions and health coverage negotiated during the industry’s fat times.

But the blame-the-workers-first cant ignores the fact that if the Big Three had designed better cars, they would not have lost as much market share to Toyota, Nissan and other competitors. The unions did not prevent management from producing a better product — and I say that as someone who has enjoyed driving Saturns for the past 15 years.

It’s also nonsense to say that the UAW has been indifferent to cost issues. The last auto contract included so many givebacks, on top of revisions in an earlier pact, that Ron Gettelfinger, the UAW president, was threatened with a rank-and-file rebellion. He told a House committee last month that because of “these painful concessions,” the gap in labor costs between the Detroit-based auto companies and the “foreign transplant operations,” as he called Toyota and the others, “will be largely or completely eliminated by the end of the contracts.”

Phthalate Ban in Consumer Product Safety Overhaul signed by Bush

August 27, 2008


Photo from Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine’s body of evidence report: Phthalates– Beauty Products and Beastly Vinyl.

The president signed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (H. R. 4040) on August 14, 2008. Section 108 will prohibit sale of some products containing six specified phthalates starting in 2009.

Now it will be interesting to see how the chemical industry lobbies against the Kids’ Safe Chemical Act (H.R. 6100 and S. 3040) to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act. Both bills designed to reduce exposure of children, workers, and consumers to toxic chemical substances were introduced May2o. The Senate bill will receive a hearing September 16 before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, but won’t come to a vote until the next session of Congress. The bill would require that chemicals used in tens of thousands of products be proved safe before they are allowed to be sold, rather that requiring regulators to show that a product is dangerous before they can force its removal. According to the bills sponsors, of the 80,000 chemcals used in household products, the EPA has required toxicity testing of only 200.

The European Union banned the use of phthalates in some products, including baby toys, in 1999, but here there had been only a voluntarily removal of phthalates from objects intended to go into an infant’s mouth such as infant bottle nipples and teethers.

If the plastic softeners, phthalates, which can be endoctrine disruptors, the Environmental Working Group writes that

Studies of suggest exposure to phthalates increases the risk of reproductive system birth defects and hormonal alteration in baby boys, and reproductive problems and hormonal changes in men. Though phthalates are considered hazardous waste and are regulated as air and water pollutants, they are unregulated in food, cosmetics, and consumer and medical products.

Opponents had tried to derail any further measures. For instance, the American Chemistry Council would have you believe that those who worry about the health effects of phthalate have “cherry picked” negative results and that the chemicals

have established a very strong safety profile over the 50 years in which they have been in general use. There is no reliable evidence that any phthalate has ever caused a health problem for a human from its intended use.

And the Center for Individual Freedom ( a pro-conservative project of Townhall.com) complained in February 2008 that one of the doctors authoring a journal article that month on infant exposure to pthalates, Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana (bio), should have disclosed that she was a member of Physicians for Social Responsibiity, charging that her findings were more political than scientific.

The article had been prompted by a June 2003 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Environmental Health which found that

no studies have been performed to evaluate human toxicity from exposure to these compounds.

The Committee was in turn reacting to the January 2003 Exposure Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found that some people have very high levels of phthalates in their blood.

For more information, you can watch clips or read the transcript of an interview with Dr. Michael Shannon (email), a pharmacologist/toxicologist and chair of Children’s Division of Emergency Medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston, who serves on the Committee.

Filibuster Threats Stops Energy Votes…Again

June 12, 2008

Cartoon by Chicago Tribune‘s Dick Locher (email, bio), the 1983 Pulitzer Prize winner.

What’s causing the pain at the pumps? Like me, you may have read the oil companies, the Bush Administration and the Heritage Foundation‘s arguments that demand from China and India is responsible. You may have read Thomas Friedman, who suggest on April 30 that tax abatement on carbon fuel v.s renewables has stymied the latter’s competitiveness. On June 6, the Washington Post’s David Cho brought up another possibility in “Investors’ Growing Appetite for Oil Evades Market Limits: Trading Loophole for Wall Street Speculators Is Driving Up Prices, Critics Say.”

Over the past five years, investors have become such a force on commodity markets that their appetite for oil contracts has been equal to China’s increase in demand over the same period, said Michael Masters, a hedge fund manager who testified before Congress on the subject last month. The commodity markets, he added, were never intended for such large financial players.

“I’ve never said that financial speculation is behind all of the recent price increase here, but even if it’s some of the reason, it’s something society needs to look very hard at,” he said.

Whatever the case, oil companies are making historic profits: the five largest U.S. oil companies–ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips–together made $36 billion during the first three months of the year according to the AP’s H. Josef Hebert. On June 10, Democrats pushed for two bills to address U.S. energy policy, the first of which, at least, Bush has threatened to veto. Most Senate Republicans saved him the trouble, when their threatened filibusters scuttled both bills. (I’ve noted the exceptions and linked to the votes below. Although I have not yet had time to abstract comments regarding their rationale for their votes in support of a filibuster, I have provided a link at the bill’s number to the “All Congressional Actions” page of the Library of Congress’s Thomas legislative data base. There, “consideration: CR” links to the discussion of the bill at each phase.)

The Consumer-First Energy Act of 2008 (S. 3044 ) would have imposed a 25 percent tax on any “unreasonable” profits. I’m not sure how you could determine what “unreasonable” is, nor whether such a tax is a good idea. Ronald Bailey, science editor for the libertarian magazine Reason certainly argued against it June 11 (hat tip to Jim Hodapp) and liberal economist Paul Krugman called it pointless April 29, at least in the context of his critique of the gas tax “vacation.” The bill would have made oil and gas price gouging a federal crime, with penalties of up to $5 million during a presidentially declared energy emergency. It also would have tried to dampen oil market speculation alluded to in the Washington Post piece I opened with–by requiring traders to put up more collateral in the energy futures markets and by authorizing the regulation of U.S.-based trading in foreign markets. So, this seems to be coupling two very different matters.

The Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008 (H.R. 6049) which would have extended tax breaks that have either expired or are scheduled to end this year for wind, solar and other alternative energy development, and for the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation.

This is the second time a filibuster threat sufficed to stop energy legislation designed to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. On June 6, a 48 – 36 vote had similarly stopped a carbon “tax and trade” proposal, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008 (introduced May 20 by Barbara Boxer as S. 3036. Lieberman had introduced the bill as America’s Climate Security Act of 2007 or S. 2191 on 10/18/2007. Iits transformation and the amendments are so complex that I’ll need to cover them in another post.)

Democratic leaders needed 60 votes to stop debate and bring S. 3044 to a vote (invoke cloture) and they got only 51 senators’ support. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) whose state is tied closely to the oil industry, voted no, as did Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who may have done so as a parliamentary move to preserve his right to bring up the proposal again. Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Teddy Kennedy (D-MA), who have been ill, did not vote, nor did Obama, McCain or Clinton. Republicans bucking their party included Norm Coleman (MN), Charles Grassley (IA), John Warner (VA) Gordon Smith (OR), Susan Collins (ME) and Olympia Snowe (ME). On the second measure, the only Republicans voting for cloture were Smith, Snowe and Bob Corker (TN).

Republicans argued that the companies do not set world oil prices and raising their taxes would discourage domestic oil production. Amy Myers Jaffe (bio, email), a fellow in energy studies at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, however, just finished a two-year study looking at oil companies and how they spend their money. She told CNN May 6:

These companies are spending a very small amount of their operating cash flow on exploration. They are spending the majority of their funds buying back stock.

The study (for which I’ll provide a link, if Jaffee rsponds to my request) looked at the five big international oil companies – ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips. Spending on share buybacks increased from les than $10 billion a year in 2003 to nearly $60 billion a year by 2006. Meanwhile, spending on developing existing oil fields,went from about $35 to $50 billion and spending on finding new oil fields went from about $6 billion to $10 billion.

So what’s causing the high price of gasoline? If Jaffee’s research is any indication, much of the information we have been getting so far is more spin than substance. And there’s no filibuster or veto-proof consensus in Congress about how to address the question or the larger question of long-term energy policy. Tomorrow, though, I’ll share more information on commodities trading and how it may be affecting energy prices and how the current situation came to be.

The Senate’s FISA Shenanigans

February 4, 2008

Okay, friends, midst all the election noise, the estimable Russ Feingold had the chance today on Newsweek’s site (Who’s Listening In On Your Phone Call) to explain his opposition to the Protect America Act (which I last wrote about on November 2 and will soon be transferring here along with all sorts of good links–but the library is getting ready to close.

The measure was to have expired February 1, but has been extended for another two weeks. Newsweek’s online exclusive made it sound like we had two weeks to avoid telecom immunity, but actually, the Senate was jumping through all kinds of hoops today and it’s anybody’s guess what exactly was going on. EmptyWheel over at Firedoglake AKA attorney Marcy Wheeler, posted her guess. And my buddy Carnacki had a good background piece over at West Virginia Blue.

So, I guess it’s wait until tomorrow to find out where things stand in this latest installment.

On the coal front, Wall Street Shows Skepticism Over Coal, sent to me by my Blue Ridge Earth First! friend in Harrisonburg, features the big news from the Wall Street Journal that some big banks (Bank of America is missing in action, as usual) are making it tougher to borrow money for new coal projects.

And on the work front, I “attended” my first Newstrust editorial team meeting–the quotes because with half of team in SF (David, Kaizar and Fabrice) and three of scattered in the East ( Rory in NY, Tish in MA and me in VA) it’s done by phone. Anyway, you can check out my spiffy new profile announcing my change in status from volunteer reviewer and host to Community Developer.

Th-th-th-th-that’s all folks.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Worker Safety and S-MINER

January 21, 2008


Richard L. Copley’s photograph from Wayne State University’s exhibit on the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, at its the Reuther library, “I am a Man,” curated by Daniel Golodner and Curtis Hansen.

During a heavy rainstorm in Memphis on February 1, forty years ago, a trash truck compactor accidentally triggered, crushing to death two sanitation workers. The resulting strike, which drew Martin Luther King, Jr., to that city sought not only civil rights, but union membership and worker safety.

The Sago mine disaster on January 2, 2006, captured national attention and resulted in passage of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER), but critics such as George Miller (D-CA), wanted a stronger law. The deaths of additional miners in Utah in may have spurred House passage of his “Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act” or S-MINER (H.R. 2768) January 16 by a vote of 214 to 199.

As introduced, the bill proposed to require:

  • establishment of emergency response plans to incorporate new technology
  • installation of rescue chambers in underground coal mines
  • the formulation of accident response plans to provide for the maintenance of refuges
  • regulation of seals for abandoned areas in mines
  • regulation of the survivability of mine ventilation controls
  • a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on whether changes in rock dust requirements are needed and priority given to research on technologies that could help miners in an emergency.
  • regulations on flame resistance requirements for conveyor belts in use in mines
  • prohibition of belt haulage entries from being used to ventilate active working places
  • implementation by mine operators of communication programs at their facilities
  • installation of atmospheric monitoring systems
  • equipping of miners who may be working along with multi-gas detectors
  • use of administrative action to protect miners from lightning
  • establishment by the Secretary of a self-contained self-rescuers inspection program; advisory committees on regulations applicable to underground metal and nonmetal mines on whether the Mine Act should provide for federal licensing of mines and mine personnel; and a central communications emergency call center within the Mine Safety and Health Administration
  • establishment of a Master Inspector program to provide incentives for employees to serve as mine safety and health inspectors
  • establishment, within the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Labor, of the position of Miner Ombudsman, whose duties shall include ensuring that the rights of miners are upheld
  • fines for a pattern of violations of health or safety standards
  • notification by mine operators of specified types of accidents and measures to prevent the destruction of evidence
  • uniform credentials and coordination with local emergency response personnel by mine safety teams
  • determination of the Secretary of rules mine operators to have an ambulance within a specified area, revision of the training and availability requirements for medical emergency technicians contracting with the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board to conduct an independent investigation of an accident upon the request of miners’ representatives or families
  • concentration and exposure limits and sampling and respiratory equipment regarding respirable dust and silica dust in the mine atmosphere.

Bush’s January 15 threatened veto of S-MINER on the eve of its consideration, again raises the question of whether Congress will be able to pass any legislation which he opposes. As SCHIP revealed, mustering enough Senate votes to stop a filibuster is insufficient. There must be enough votes to override a veto, something which has happened only once during his administration, in the case of the water projects bill, where widely spread spending meant there was something for everyone to bring the folks back home.

On January 16, Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), Senior Republican Member on the Education and Labor Committee, sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter saying that S-MINER would “dismantle” the MINER Act.

Before the vote, the bill’s sponsor, George Miller offered an amendment to provide

the mining industry with more time to install a new generation of fire-resistant conveyor belts,

as well as funds for the the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to purchase

a new generation of dust monitoring devices to limit black lung disease, and ensure that breathable air requirements of the MINER Act of 2006 are properly implemented.

In addition, the amendment requires that the Secretary of Labor to

conduct a study on substance abuse by miners with recommendations for policy changes, in consultation with all interested parties. The Secretary shall report the findings within six months of the bill’s enactment and, if she deems it feasible and effective, shall be authorized to establish a miner substance abuse testing, rehabilitation, and treatment program within MSHA in consultation with the interested parties.

Rick Boucher (D-VA) offered an amendment to provide ten million dollars for

grants to provide rehabilitation services to current and former miners suffering from mental health impairments, including drug addiction and substance abuse issues, which may have been caused or exacerbated by their work as miners.


Brad Elsworth (D-IN) offered an amendment to relieve mine operators

that have been assessed penalties and pay them in a timely fashion. It also establishes a trust fund within Treasury, composed of mine safety civil penalties. Funds from the trust fund can be used for mine safety inspections and investigations only.

All these amendments passed.

Meanwhile although there are exactly zero underground mines in SC (see the Census Bureau’s 1997 Economic Census on Mining for South Carolina page 13), and the pit mining there seems to be gravel and sand and clay (page 12), Joe Wilson (R-SC) who represents the second district which comprises the midlands of Columbia down to Hilton Head Island submitted an amendment in the nature of a substitute to scuttle the bill and instead:

promote the continued robust implementation of the 2006 MINER Act.

Then, after that amendment failed and the bill passed Mark Souder (R-IN) tried to get the matter returned to committee, but failed. A look at the vote reveals that that Shelley Moore Capito of WV was one of only 7 Republicans to vote for the bill. The others were: Spencer Bachus (AL), Wayne Gilchrest (MD), Sam Graves (MO), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Chris Shays (CT) and Chris Smith (NJ). In addition, 16 Democrats joined the minority in voting against the bill:

  • Barrow (GA)
  • Berry (AZ)
  • Boren (OK)
  • Boyd (FL)
  • Boyda (KS)
  • Cramer (AL)
  • Cuellar and Lampson (TX)
  • Melancon
  • Davis (TN)
  • Herseth Sandlin (SD)
  • Perlmutter, Salazar and Udall (CO).
  • Peterson (MN)

The National Mining Association’s (NMA) astroturf group, ACT for Mining had taken the position that Mr. Miller was

pushing a new “mine safety” bill even before the mining community has had a chance to fully implement the bipartisan Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act. The House is set to vote on Jan. 16 on the Supplemental-MINER Act (H.R. 2768), a bill that would impose new, unnecessary regulations on both hardrock and coal mining operations that will do nothing to improve mine safety. Passage of this new legislation could possibly idle or close mines and have unintended, adverse effects on mine safety.

NMA sent out multiple alerts urging supporters to call or e-mail their House members and ask them to vote against the bill. After passage, which it termed “narrow,” it sent a new alert promoting thank-you letters the 199 who voted against the bill, saying that

The 199 votes cast in opposition are substantially more than the 145 votes needed to sustain a threatened presidential veto, should one ultimately be necessary. This action also will likely diminish interest in Senate consideration of H.R. 2768, in essence, stopping the progress of this bad bill.

Like others, I associate the month of January with two holidays of hope: New Year’s Day on which we can resolve to do better and Martin Luther King Day, on which we can reflect on King’s dream for all of us. As someone in Appalachia, I always remember that King devoted what were to be his last days to planning the Poor People’s Campaign, a multi-ethnic march on Washington to demand action against poverty. March 14, three weeks before his assassination in Memphis, he met with 78 “nonblack” minority leaders in an Atlanta summit. In the third volume of his King biography, At Caanan’s Edge, Taylor Branch recounts that

King aide Bernard Lafayette …had checked repeatedly to make sure King wanted the hardscrabble white groups to be included, and the answer was always simple: “Are they poor?” The motor lodge’s meeting room was dotted with coal miners, some of whom braved fierce criticism from Appalachian rivals.

Attending the summit was Peggy Terry, from Kentucky, raised in a Klan family, who upon seeing Martin Luther King, Jr., arrested during the Montgomery Alabama bus boycott, got arrested herself, and went on to say,

I’m so thankful I went down there that day because I might have gone all my life just the way it was.

And so, as we start 2008, I’m wondering if there is reason for hope for a strengthened Mine Safety Act or whether the National Mining Association will prevail, and things will continue just the way it was.

*

For an interesting article, see “Radical vein coursed through civil rights leader’s messages,” by Zack McMillin (Contact) in the January 20, 2008 (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Worker Safety and S-MINER

January 21, 2008


Richard L. Copley’s photograph from Wayne State University’s exhibit on the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, at its the Reuther library, “I am a Man,” curated by Daniel Golodner and Curtis Hansen.

During a heavy rainstorm in Memphis on February 1, forty years ago, a trash truck compactor accidentally triggered, crushing to death two sanitation workers. The resulting strike, which drew Martin Luther King, Jr., to that city sought not only civil rights, but union membership and worker safety.

The Sago mine disaster on January 2, 2006, captured national attention and resulted in passage of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER), but critics such as George Miller (D-CA), wanted a stronger law. The deaths of additional miners in Utah in may have spurred House passage of his “Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act” or S-MINER (H.R. 2768) January 16 by a vote of 214 to 199.

As introduced, the bill proposed to require:

  • establishment of emergency response plans to incorporate new technology
  • installation of rescue chambers in underground coal mines
  • the formulation of accident response plans to provide for the maintenance of refuges
  • regulation of seals for abandoned areas in mines
  • regulation of the survivability of mine ventilation controls
  • a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on whether changes in rock dust requirements are needed and priority given to research on technologies that could help miners in an emergency.
  • regulations on flame resistance requirements for conveyor belts in use in mines
  • prohibition of belt haulage entries from being used to ventilate active working places
  • implementation by mine operators of communication programs at their facilities
  • installation of atmospheric monitoring systems
  • equipping of miners who may be working along with multi-gas detectors
  • use of administrative action to protect miners from lightning
  • establishment by the Secretary of a self-contained self-rescuers inspection program; advisory committees on regulations applicable to underground metal and nonmetal mines on whether the Mine Act should provide for federal licensing of mines and mine personnel; and a central communications emergency call center within the Mine Safety and Health Administration
  • establishment of a Master Inspector program to provide incentives for employees to serve as mine safety and health inspectors
  • establishment, within the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Labor, of the position of Miner Ombudsman, whose duties shall include ensuring that the rights of miners are upheld
  • fines for a pattern of violations of health or safety standards
  • notification by mine operators of specified types of accidents and measures to prevent the destruction of evidence
  • uniform credentials and coordination with local emergency response personnel by mine safety teams
  • determination of the Secretary of rules mine operators to have an ambulance within a specified area, revision of the training and availability requirements for medical emergency technicians contracting with the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board to conduct an independent investigation of an accident upon the request of miners’ representatives or families
  • concentration and exposure limits and sampling and respiratory equipment regarding respirable dust and silica dust in the mine atmosphere.

Bush’s January 15 threatened veto of S-MINER on the eve of its consideration, again raises the question of whether Congress will be able to pass any legislation which he opposes. As SCHIP revealed, mustering enough Senate votes to stop a filibuster is insufficient. There must be enough votes to override a veto, something which has happened only once during his administration, in the case of the water projects bill, where widely spread spending meant there was something for everyone to bring the folks back home.

On January 16, Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), Senior Republican Member on the Education and Labor Committee, sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter saying that S-MINER would “dismantle” the MINER Act.

Before the vote, the bill’s sponsor, George Miller offered an amendment to provide

the mining industry with more time to install a new generation of fire-resistant conveyor belts,

as well as funds for the the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to purchase

a new generation of dust monitoring devices to limit black lung disease, and ensure that breathable air requirements of the MINER Act of 2006 are properly implemented.

In addition, the amendment requires that the Secretary of Labor to

conduct a study on substance abuse by miners with recommendations for policy changes, in consultation with all interested parties. The Secretary shall report the findings within six months of the bill’s enactment and, if she deems it feasible and effective, shall be authorized to establish a miner substance abuse testing, rehabilitation, and treatment program within MSHA in consultation with the interested parties.

Rick Boucher (D-VA) offered an amendment to provide ten million dollars for

grants to provide rehabilitation services to current and former miners suffering from mental health impairments, including drug addiction and substance abuse issues, which may have been caused or exacerbated by their work as miners.


Brad Elsworth (D-IN) offered an amendment to relieve mine operators

that have been assessed penalties and pay them in a timely fashion. It also establishes a trust fund within Treasury, composed of mine safety civil penalties. Funds from the trust fund can be used for mine safety inspections and investigations only.

All these amendments passed.

Meanwhile although there are exactly zero underground mines in SC (see the Census Bureau’s 1997 Economic Census on Mining for South Carolina page 13), and the pit mining there seems to be gravel and sand and clay (page 12), Joe Wilson (R-SC) who represents the second district which comprises the midlands of Columbia down to Hilton Head Island submitted an amendment in the nature of a substitute to scuttle the bill and instead:

promote the continued robust implementation of the 2006 MINER Act.

Then, after that amendment failed and the bill passed Mark Souder (R-IN) tried to get the matter returned to committee, but failed. A look at the vote reveals that that Shelley Moore Capito of WV was one of only 7 Republicans to vote for the bill. The others were: Spencer Bachus (AL), Wayne Gilchrest (MD), Sam Graves (MO), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Chris Shays (CT) and Chris Smith (NJ). In addition, 16 Democrats joined the minority in voting against the bill:

  • Barrow (GA)
  • Berry (AZ)
  • Boren (OK)
  • Boyd (FL)
  • Boyda (KS)
  • Cramer (AL)
  • Cuellar and Lampson (TX)
  • Melancon
  • Davis (TN)
  • Herseth Sandlin (SD)
  • Perlmutter, Salazar and Udall (CO).
  • Peterson (MN)

The National Mining Association’s (NMA) astroturf group, ACT for Mining had taken the position that Mr. Miller was

pushing a new “mine safety” bill even before the mining community has had a chance to fully implement the bipartisan Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act. The House is set to vote on Jan. 16 on the Supplemental-MINER Act (H.R. 2768), a bill that would impose new, unnecessary regulations on both hardrock and coal mining operations that will do nothing to improve mine safety. Passage of this new legislation could possibly idle or close mines and have unintended, adverse effects on mine safety.

NMA sent out multiple alerts urging supporters to call or e-mail their House members and ask them to vote against the bill. After passage, which it termed “narrow,” it sent a new alert promoting thank-you letters the 199 who voted against the bill, saying that

The 199 votes cast in opposition are substantially more than the 145 votes needed to sustain a threatened presidential veto, should one ultimately be necessary. This action also will likely diminish interest in Senate consideration of H.R. 2768, in essence, stopping the progress of this bad bill.

Like others, I associate the month of January with two holidays of hope: New Year’s Day on which we can resolve to do better and Martin Luther King Day, on which we can reflect on King’s dream for all of us. As someone in Appalachia, I always remember that King devoted what were to be his last days to planning the Poor People’s Campaign, a multi-ethnic march on Washington to demand action against poverty. March 14, three weeks before his assassination in Memphis, he met with 78 “nonblack” minority leaders in an Atlanta summit. In the third volume of his King biography, At Caanan’s Edge, Taylor Branch recounts that

King aide Bernard Lafayette …had checked repeatedly to make sure King wanted the hardscrabble white groups to be included, and the answer was always simple: “Are they poor?” The motor lodge’s meeting room was dotted with coal miners, some of whom braved fierce criticism from Appalachian rivals.

Attending the summit was Peggy Terry, from Kentucky, raised in a Klan family, who upon seeing Martin Luther King, Jr., arrested during the Montgomery Alabama bus boycott, got arrested herself, and went on to say,

I’m so thankful I went down there that day because I might have gone all my life just the way it was.

And so, as we start 2008, I’m wondering if there is reason for hope for a strengthened Mine Safety Act or whether the National Mining Association will prevail, and things will continue just the way it was.

*

For an interesting article, see “Radical vein coursed through civil rights leader’s messages,” by Zack McMillin (Contact) in the January 20, 2008 (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.

Security, Privacy & Government Accountability

November 1, 2007

To review this post on Newstrust, go here.

Chart tallying calls to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding their position on telecom immunity.

*
Changes to that law must be considered carefully and openly – not eviscerated in secret Administration interpretations or compromised through fear or intimidation

Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman

*

As the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up its consideration of the currently proposed changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) laws, advocates for the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution have advocated that the Committee strip of provisions for telecom immunity and blanket warrants from S.2248, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s proposed replacement for the Protect America Act. Chris Dodd’s presidential campaign sites is maintaining a “citizen-generated whip count” which encourages calls to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asking them to oppose telecom immunity. It also asks callers to report back and post the reactions they receive. The American Civil Liberties Union’s current letter writing campaign asks that the Senate require individual warrants.

Back on October 2, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to examine the implications of the PAA.“Preserving the Rule of Law in the Fight Against Terrorism” featured testimony from Committee Chairman Leahy and from Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Office of Special Council , who had, along with his boss John Ashcroft, resisted the Administration’s warrantless surveillance program. Goldman, now at Harvard Law School, based his testimony on his book, The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration (W.W. Norton, 2007).

Yesterday’s hearing, “How to Protect Americans’ Security and Privacy and Preserve the Rule of Law and Government Accountability” looked at the S. 2248. (FDL’s Marcy Wheeler live blogged a transcript is here.) Representing the Administration’s position was Kenneth L. Wainstein (complete testimony), Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s National Security Division. He decried FISA’s outdated provision that

substantially impeded the Intelligence Community’s ability to collect effectively the foreign intelligence information necessary to protect the Nation

and outlined a defense of telecom immunity and criticism for the increased reporting requirements and sunset clause of the current bill. Supporting his testimony was that of Patrick F. Philbin (complete testimony) , a partner in the DC law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, who had served as Deputy Attorney General in the Office of Special Counsel from 2001 to 2005.

Leahy (complete testimony) opened his statement by criticizing the PAA’s granting of “sweeping powers” for warrentless surveillance without meaningful privacy or civil liberty protection. After having received some of the documents requested from the administration, Leahy still expressed reservations about telecom immunity included in S.2248 :

The Congress should be careful not to provide an incentive for future unlawful corporate activity by giving the impression that if corporations violate the law and disregard the rights of Americans, they will be given an after-the-fact free pass. If Americans’ privacy is to mean anything, and if the rule of law is to be respected, that would be the wrong result.

A retroactive grant of immunity or preemption of state regulators does more than let the carriers off the hook. Immunity is designed to shield this Administration from any accountability for conducting surveillance outside the law. It could make it impossible for Americans whose privacy has been violated illegally to seek meaningful redress.

The lawsuits that would be dismissed as a result of such a grant of immunity are perhaps the only avenue that exists for an outside review of the government’s program and honest assessment of its legal arguments. That kind of assessment is critical if our government is to be held accountable. One of my chief inquiries before deciding to support any legislation on this subject is whether it will foster government accountability. Anyone who proposes letting the telecommunications carriers off the hook or preempting state authorities has a responsibility to propose a manner to test the legality of the government’s program and to determine whether it did harm to the rights of Americans.

… The FISA was enacted in the wake of earlier scandals, when the rights and privacy of Americans were trampled while no one was watching. We in the Senate, and on this Committee, have a solemn responsibility to hundreds of millions of our fellow citizens. Because the American people’s rights, freedom and privacy are easily lost; but once lost, they are difficult to win back.

Ranking member Arlen Spector (R-PA) said in his opening statement,

With respect to the request for retroactive release of liability, I have great reluctance. Part of that stems from the secrecy that the government has interposed. When we were seeking subpoenas last year for the telephone companies, we were thwarted by action of the vice president in contacting Republican members without notifying the chairman.

And as I see the situation, I think the telephone companies do have a strong, equitable case, but my inclination is that they ought to get indemnification; that the courts ought not to be closed.

I doubt very much the cases will be proved, but if plaintiffs can prove them, I think they ought to have their day in court. And it is costly, but that’s part of the cost of the war on terrorism.

Russ Feingold, (D-WI) (complete testimony) ,expressed his belief that the Intelligence Committee, on which he also sits, would have benefited from a public hearing such as the current one, with input

not just of the Administration, but also of outside experts who may have brought a different point of view to consideration of the legislation.

One “outside expert” testifying , Morton H. Halperin (complete testimony), Director of U.S. Advocacy, Open Society Institute and a member of the Board of Directors of the Constitution Project and its Liberty and Security Committee, posed two interesting questions. Regarding the first,

  • What electronic communications should the government be able to acquire using procedures different from those mandated for criminal investigations;

Halperin noted that there was an ongoing debate about whether the change was “necessary and constitutional” and proposed to “leave that discussion to others.” Instead, he chose to focus on his second question of

  • what procedures should be put in place so that all concerned groups can know clearly what the rules are and have confidence that the rules are being followed?

He outlined four major failures he found in the Intelligence Committee bill:

  • Section 701’s statement that “Nothing in the definition of electronic surveillance under section 101 (f) shall be construed to encompass surveillance that is targeted in accordance with this title at a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.”
  • the lack of required, advance court orders for surveillance ;
  • the lack of effective procedures and oversight to insure the law was not used to acquire the communications of a “U.S. person or a person in the United States”
  • lack of proclaiming that FISA procedures were the sole means to conduct electronic surveillance for intelligence purposes and that private companies must cooperate only if they receive a court order or a certification specifically authorized by this statute .
The other “outside expert, “Edward Black (complete testimony) , President and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, had this to say,

We should all want protection both from terrorists and from illegal spying, search and seizure by our own government. In crafting our efforts to combat terrorism, we should not forfeit our privacy or weaken our First or Fourth Amendment rights. As a nation, we should not countenance the sort of autocratic surveillance of ordinary citizens which we find so abhorrent in repressive foreign regimes.

According to the Dodd site, to date only Jon Kyl supports telecom immunity, but it appears john Cornyn (TX) is learning that way. The three in addition to Feingold on record as opposing immunity are Joe Biden (DE), Ted Kennedy MA), and Ben Cardin (MD). The ACLU reported on October 31,

American Civil Liberties Union, Move On.org, People For the American Way and bloggers from Open Left, Salon, Fire Dog Lake and others delivered petitions to Senate and House offices signed by over 250,000 Americans who oppose granting amnesty to the telecom companies that violated the Fourth Amendment and their privacy.

So, it remains to be seen whether, once again, Congress will give the Administration what it desires when the issue is fighting terrorism or whether it will stand up for the Constitution. Things look more hopeful than they did last week, I have to remember that in December 2005, that Republican Senators’ dismay with NSA revelations made me wonder whether we had reached a tipping point with regard to renewal of the Patriot Act.