Wednesday, February 22, 2017

VA Gov. Blocks Bill to Defund Planned Parenthood

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday Vetoed a Bill that would have blocked Funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides Abortions and other Health services.

The Bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature would have barred the State from providing Funds to Clinics that perform Abortions not covered by Medicaid, the Federal Healthcare program for the poor.

McAuliffe, a Democrat, said the measure would harm thousands of Virginians who relied on Planned Parenthood Healthcare services and programs. He vetoed a similar measure last year.

“Attempts to restrict women’s access to health care will impede the goal of making Virginia the best place to live, work, and run a business,” he said in a statement.

Advocates for the Law had said it would underpin organizations that provide the widest range of services.

Planned Parenthood draws the ire of many Republicans because it provides Abortions.

Republican President Trump has pledged to defund the organization.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Federal Judge Blocks Texas from Cutting Off Medicaid Funding for Planned Parenthood

A Federal Judge has issued a Preliminary Injunction blocking Texas from cutting off Medicaid Funding for Planned Parenthood, a move that the Reproductive Health Services organization estimated would have affected 11,000 low-income Texans.

Sam Sparks, a Judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, ruled Tuesday to block the State’s termination of funds until the Court could hear arguments and deliver a ruling in the Case. Sparks previously delayed ruling on the Case in January.

Texas officials announced late last year that the State would block Planned Parenthood from Medicaid Funding in response to a series of doctored “sting” videos released in 2015 that were manipulated to make it look like Planned Parenthood officials had sold fetal parts for profit. Last year, a Grand Jury found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood or its employees, but State officials decided to move forward with their defunding threat.

“Texans expect that when taxpayer dollars are granted to health care providers, it is only to those who demonstrate that the health and safety of their patients come before a profit motive that puts women at greater risk,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in December.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday called the decision “disappointing” and said it “flies in the face of human decency.”

About $4 million in Federal Funding for Planned Parenthood is on the line, which the group says supports Health Services like cancer screenings and HIV tests. The group maintains that, as per the 1977 Hyde Amendment, the Funding is not used for Abortions.

Similar efforts to block Planned Parenthood’s Federal Funding have failed in five other States: Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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National Security Council Spokesman Resigns

The Spokesman for the National Security Council says President Trump’s “disturbing” and repeated attempts to undermine the U.S. Intelligence Community prompted him to resign last week.

In a scorching Washington Post column published Monday, Edward Price, who joined the CIA in 2006 and has been serving as the NSC Spokesman, revealed the reasons he “cannot in good faith serve this administration as an intelligence professional.”

Price pointed to several instances in which he said Trump had questioned the integrity of U.S. Intelligence Agencies, including the President’s tepid response to reports that Russia hacked U.S. officials in an attempt to influence the 2016 Presidential Election.

But the “final straw,” he said, was Trump’s decision last month to make Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, whom Price calls “a media champion of white nationalism”, a Member of the National Security Council.

“[The White House] has little need for intelligence professionals who, in speaking truth to power, might challenge the so-called ‘America First’ orthodoxy that sees Russia as an ally and Australia as a punching bag,” Price wrote, echoing speculation over the Administration’s ties to Russia and referencing a phone call last month in which Trump reportedly accused Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of sending terrorists to the U.S.

“That’s why the president’s trusted White House advisers, not career professionals, reportedly have final say over what intelligence reaches his desk,” the Veteran CIA Analyst added.

Trump has been increasingly at odds with the U.S. Intelligence Community. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Intelligence officials have withheld information from the President because they are concerned it could be leaked.

Chaos surrounding the National Security Council has come to a head following retired Gen. Michael Flynn’s Resignation as National Security Adviser earlier this month. Flynn announced his split from the White House after he admitted to having misled Vice President Pence about conversations Flynn had with the Russian Ambassador in December regarding U.S. Sanctions against Russia.

Trump’s first choice to succeed Flynn, Vice Adm. Robert Harward, reportedly rejected the offer last week after deciding Family and Financial issues prevented him from excepting. Some say the President’s latest bizarre, unwieldy Press Conference, didn't help.

Trump announced Monday that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster will serve as his new National Security Adviser.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Trump Hiring Freeze Forces Suspension of Military Child Care Programs

Announcing his pick for Secretary of Defense last December, Trump promised that, when he became President, “all men and women in uniform will have the supplies, support, equipment, training, services, medical care, and resources they need to get the job done incredibly well and perfectly.”

It’s not turning out that way.

On January 23rd, Trump announced a hiring freeze for Federal workers. While the freeze included exemptions for those “working in the military” and other National Security positions, Members of the Armed Forces are feeling the effects.

At least two Army bases are suspending childcare programs, citing Staff shortages related to the Hiring freeze.

In Fort Knox, Kentucky, Garrison Commander Col. Stephen Aiton sent a memo on February 17th immediately suspending new enrollment in the Childcare program. He also announced that hourly and part-day services would be eliminated at the end of the month “until further notice.” Those part-day services includes Preschool.

Aiton explained that “due to the federal hiring freeze” the facility was “prevented from bringing on new caregivers” to replace those that are leaving. The Freeze is making it a challenge to provide “quality childcare,” Alton wrote.

Similarly, the Army Garrison in Wiesbaden, Germany announced that it was suspending all part-day programs. Col. Todd Fish said the Suspension was “a result of staff shortage due to the federal hiring freeze.”

A Department of Defense memo implementing the Hiring Freeze exempted certain classes of Civilian workers, including “child care to the children of military personnel.” But another memo from the Army required Special Permission from the Service Secretary before filing the positions. This has created an additional layer of Bureaucracy in an already cumbersome hiring system, apparently creating the shortages.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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NY State Lawmakers Looking at City Council Elections to Increase their Income

When State Senator Bill Perkins won a Special Election last week for an empty seat on the New York City Council, he became the first in a wave of State Legislators who are expected to ask voters this year to help them make a similar jump, and in the process gain a hefty Pay Raise.

“Sounds like I’m in the vanguard,” Perkins said the day after winning the Feb. 14th Special Election.

State Lawmakers, both Senators and Assembly members, have not received a raise since 1999. Legislators, who receive a base salary of $79,500, had their hopes for a raise dashed in November when a Commission formed to evaluate Lawmaker salaries failed to agree on a recommendation.

By contrast, the New York City Council last year voted itself a handsome salary increase to $148,500, from $112,500. The increase caused some consternation, in part because the raise was $10,185 greater than the one recommended by an Advisory Panel, an upward departure the Council justified because it also approved a series of Ethics Rules, including a ban on many forms of outside income.

Now close to a half-dozen State Lawmakers, all Democrats, appear to be contemplating a run for the Council this year.

Perkins, however, said the salary increase was not why he ran for the Council. “I’m not running for a higher pay per se,” Perkins, a Democrat, said before adding a caveat: “I’m not ignorant of it, and my wife isn’t ignorant of it either.”

Perkins had previously held the same Council seat, in a District that includes Harlem and part of the Upper West Side, but Term Limits forced him out in 2006. He was Elected to the Senate the same year.

The woman who succeeded him on the Council, Inez Dickens, was Elected last year to the State Assembly, creating a vacancy in Perkins’s old seat. She would have been prevented by Term Limits from running for Re-Election to the Council. State elected officials do not face Term Limits.

Perkins said that he felt he could be more effective on the Council than in the Senate, where he was in the Democratic minority. “It’s not an easy place to be in the minority,” he said. “In a legislative body where majority rules, you’re basically being ruled.”

There are other financial factors as well that may influence Legislators looking to make the jump. Moving to the Council with its higher salary could mean a boost in future Pension payments. The 51 Council Members also receive generous Discretionary funds that they can spend in their Districts.

On the other hand, State Legislative jobs are considered Part-Time and Lawmakers are allowed to hold outside employment. The City Council bans many types of outside income, however, so some State Legislators could potentially see a reduction in income if they were required to give up other jobs. Such outside income, however, has been a frequent cause of Ethical Scandals, helping to bring down Legislative Leaders like House Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Senator Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx said that he was considering a run for the City Council Seat held by Annabel Palma, who is in her Second Term, the maximum currently allowed. “I’m going to give you a few reasons, and one of them is not money,” he said, bringing up the issue of pay without prompting. Diaz, 73, who also previously served on the Council, said that the Discretionary Funds given to Council Members would position him to better help the people of his District. “I’d rather be in a place that I could help my community better, where I could help senior citizens, where I could help Little League, where I could help community groups,” he said. He also said that he recently had back surgery and that at his age, the frequent drives to Albany had become difficult for him. He says that he will make a decision after a State Budget is passed.

Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez has raised $21,860 for a City Campaign, according to a January filing with the City Campaign Finance Board, and he said that he was considering a run for the Seat of the City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, in East Harlem and the Bronx. Mark-Viverito cannot run again because of Term Limits. Rodriguez also works as a Financial Adviser and might not gain financially by moving to the Council, where he would have to give up his outside job.

Susan Lerner, the Executive Director of Common Cause New York, a Good Government Advocacy group, said that, pay aside, the City Council functions much better than the State Senate or Assembly, thanks to years of Ethical and Legislative Reforms. “What we see is that when you have an appropriate pay level with correct restrictions on outside income and a more robust, functioning legislative process, combined with a well-thought-out and well-executed public campaign finance system, you attract talented candidates and some of them may be people who are sitting in other bodies,” Lerner said. “When you put all these factors together it’s attractive to be a City Council member.”

In Albany, she said, most of the activity happens behind closed doors. “If you are a public spirited community member or a legislator, it is not irrational to think that you can get more done in the City Council,” Lerner said. “You can have a more direct impact.”

In the Bronx, Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj has raised $103,000 to run for the Council Seat that will be vacated by James Vacca, who faces a Term Limit. “This particular move for me is not focused on the salary,” Gjonaj said. He said that he was interested in Local issues like “potholes, streetlights, policing, litter,” and that his Albany experience was also a plus because the City depended so much on decisions made in the State Legislature.

But John Doyle, a City Island resident who is raising money to run against Gjonaj in the Democratic Primary, described the State Capital as an ethical cesspool and said that he intended to make an issue of Gjonaj’s tenure there. “I imagine that Albany will be very much a factor in our race,” Doyle said.

Doyle says that if he is Elected he will refuse to take the new, higher salary that the Council voted itself last year, which he called “obscene.” He said that he would donate the difference between the old and new salaries to charity, or use it to pay his staff. “Leadership is about shared sacrifice,” he said. “If you’re running for office, it’s not about the money so people should agree to personally not take the pay increase.”

Gjonaj said he would use some money from the raise to augment the Discretionary funds he would spend in his District.

The wide salary differential has become the source of running jokes in Albany and New York City, according to Senator Kevin S. Parker of Brooklyn. Mr. Parker, who is not considering a run for the Council, says that his Brooklyn councilman, Jumaane D. Williams, is a friend and that they sometimes laugh over the difference in pay.

“I joke with Jumaane that I’m going to run against him — I need the pay raise,” Mr. Parker said, adding, “It’s not the money, we do it for the service. But like everybody else, you’ve got to pay your bills.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Impeachment Proceedings in AL Could Take Down Governor and Senator

Alabama Republican Gov. Robert Bentley is termed out of office in two years, but it’s anyone’s guess if his career will survive that long, or if his long-running sex scandal will take down the man he just appointed to the Senate, former State Attorney General Luther Strange. Bentley has been accused of using State Resources to cover up an affair with a top Staffer, Rebekah Mason, and Republican Legislators have been talking about Impeachment for some time.

Alabama’s 300,000-word-long Constitution is not clear on how Impeachment should proceed. Indeed, the Legislature hasn't even considered Impeaching anyone in over 100 years. If the State House does vote to Impeach Bentley, he’d be immediately suspended from office unless and until the State Senate, which is like the lower Chamber, is dominated by the GOP, acquits him.

That means Bentley’s Governorship could effectively be over by around Memorial Day. House Judiciary Committee Chair Mike Jones recently said that he expects Impeachment proceedings, which had been paused at Strange’s request, to restart in time for the Legislature to complete its investigation before it adjourns in mid-to-late May. A panel of Lawmakers will then issue a recommendation on whether or not to Impeach Bentley.

Things can get very complicated after that. A 60% Super-Majority of the 105-member House would then have to vote in favor of permitting a vote on the underlying recommendation. If that were to pass, only a simply majority would then have to actually approve an Impeachment recommendation. It gets even trickier, though, if the Impeachment panel issues a dissenting Minority report, or if the investigation drags on past the end of the planned Legislative session, though Lawmakers can call themselves back to the Capitol if they so desire.

The State Attorney General is also investigating Bentley, which could also slow things: Jones said last week he's waiting for the Attorney General's office to give Lawmakers permission before they restart their own Investigation. Adding a further layer to all this, the new attorney General, Steve Marshall, has appointed a Special Prosecutor on account of the fact that Marshall owes his new job to none other than Bentley.

Here’s another wrinkle: If Bentley were to get stripped of his powers, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey would presumably inherit them, and if he’s removed from office, Ivey would become Governor. But Ivey is one of many potential Republican Candidates for Governor, and some Legislators may balk at giving her a leg up over potential rivals. They might therefore be inclined to oppose Impeachment and just wait Bentley out.

However, this whole mess is unlikely to be forgotten by the June 2018 Senate Primary, and that’s not good news for Strange, the man Bentley just tapped for the Senate. In a New York Times piece discussing how unhappy some Republicans are with Strange’s sketchy-looking appoint, there’s news of an unreleased internal poll conducted for GOP officeholders has Bentley’s approval rating “at an abysmally low level.” That taint could rub off on Strange, who did much more than simply accept a job from the scandal-tarred Governor.

Strange asked the GOP-dominated Legislature to halt its Impeachment proceedings against Bentley last year while Strange’s office did “necessary related work.” But after Trump picked Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as U.S. Attorney General, it was up to Bentley to appoint Sessions’ successor, and Strange coveted the job. In a transparent effort to try to make it seem as though there was no Conflict of Interest, Strange belatedly argued that he never said he was investigating the Governor. But after Bentley sent Strange to the Senate, Marshall confirmed that his office was in fact investigating Bentley.

That’s cast a dark cloud over Strange, and has encouraged several Republicans to make noises about challenging him in next year’s Special Election for the final two years of Sessions’ term. State Senate President Pro Temp Del Marsh, a spurned finalist for the Senate appointment, has expressed interest in facing Strange, though he’s also talked about running for Governor that year. Twice-disgraced Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore also has talked about running for Senate, as well as for Governor and attorney General.

And ex-State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., who was also a finalist for the Senate gig, says he’s considering running against Strange. Hooper doesn’t look like an especially strong candidate, though. He lost renomination for his State House seat in 2002, and he lost the General Election for the State Public Service Commission four years later. However, he was the Co-Chair of Trump’s State Campaign, so maybe he can pick up some support from Trump fanatics.

However, it’s possible that Bentley’s problems will make Strange toxic enough that even a fairly unimpressive candidate could beat him in a Primary. It also doesn’t help the incumbent that under Alabama law, there will be a Primary Runoff if no one takes a Majority of the Vote in the first round, so Strange can’t just coast to victory with a plurality.

There are a lot of twists and turns left in this long, sordid saga, and it’s very possible that both Bentley and Strange will survive it. Strange’s position in the Senate gives him access to plenty of money, and his geographic distance from Bentley, as well as the benefits of incumbency, could help insulate him from the Governor’s problems. But if Bentley does end up collapsing, he very well could take his appointed Senator down with him.

Why does "Conflict of Interest" seem always to be part of a current Republican story?

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Trump Administration Halts CA's High-Speed Rail Project

In the first big hit to the Bay Area from the Trump Administration, newly minted Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has put the brakes on $647 million for Caltrain to go electric, and in the process pretty much killed hopes for high-speed rail coming to San Francisco anytime soon.

“It puts the (electrification) project in serious jeopardy,” Caltrain spokesman Seamus Murphy said Friday.

The hope in California was to begin creating jobs through much needed infrastructure work and upgrades. Our Country’s infrastructure, as many already know, is not only an issue of needing basic maintenance, we need to modernize virtually everything.

Caltrain has already spent $150 million on planning to go Electric, but without the Federal and Matching funds, the overall $1.98 billion project will go into limbo.

As for high-speed rail, a $64 billion, and counting, endeavor that is still not fully funded, its viability would take a big hit if bullet trains went no farther North than the South Bay.

As a Community member pointed out over the weekend, the issues concerning infrastructure programs and this new Government are endemic to how fast this Administration has been at turning our Government into an even slower-moving entity. At best, Chao is impeding progress and at worst, she is Politicizing our Country’s Transportation system.

Some Comment from California Residents:

- California is being punished for voting for Hillary.

- It’s being punished for trying to build infrastructure that has the potential to take money out of the hands of the fossil fuel industry, who is bankrolling most of these republicans (and more than a few CA Dems).

- They’re taking jobs from their own voters. The CHSR project has created a couple of thousand high-paying jobs around Phase I (with more to come for Phases II and III), all in deep red country in CA. It will do a lot to revitalize rural California. The people who live in that area vote GOP, and the GOP is screwing them over.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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