The United States, consistent with the president?s foreign policy principles, has worked with countries in the region to build pressure on Assad to end the violence. The Administration has also condemned the regime?s actions and urged the United Nations to impose harsh sanctions. To date, however, Russia and China, which have close economic ties to Syria, have blocked the full weight of the United Nations and the international diplomatic community from bearing down on Assad. And efforts to broker a ceasefire have failed as well.
Within the United States, the crisis has engendered disparate reactions by elected officials, signaling clear fault lines between Republicans and Democrats over the issue. House and Senate Democrats have focused on supporting the Obama administration?s efforts to squeeze the Assad regime using the weapons in our diplomatic arsenal.
But beyond what America does abroad, Democrats have called on the administration to protect Syrian nationals in the U.S. from being forced back into Assad?s reign of terror. Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (IL), Patrick Leahy (VT), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Robert Menendez (NJ), Ben Cardin (MD), and Bob Casey (PA) wrote to the President requesting that the administration ?take all necessary steps to ensure that Syrian nationals present in the United States are not forced to return to Syria, including the designation of Syria for temporary protected status (TPS).? TPS allows the government to designate that people from certain countries facing conflict or disaster can apply for, as its name implies, a temporary legal status within the United States. This status allows residents who otherwise cannot return to their home country the freedom to know that they will not have to violate U.S. immigration laws to stay out of harm?s way.
What is inexplicable, however, is that not one Republican in Congress has agreed to sign onto the letter, or has come out in favor of granting TPS to Syrians in the U.S. So while they push for armed intervention abroad, they refuse to stand up for preventing unnecessary and unacceptable ?collateral damage? at home. Joining their Democratic counterparts and the numerous other groups who have called for the protection of Syrian nationals presently in the United States should be a no-brainer.
We can debate whether or not military intervention is an appropriate strategy for our nation?s leaders. But whether to send foreign nationals directly back in to a violent conflict should not be up for debate at all. Requiring Syrian nationals to return to Assad?s murderous ambit from the United States is to throw their fates to the wind. It is not only unwise but immoral.
Granting those Syrian nationals TPS is the only sensible option. TPS would ensure that they are not forced into a Hobson?s choice between a return to terror or a violation of U.S. immigration laws. Republicans should halt their call to arms for long enough to embrace a policy that keeps innocent civilians out of harm?s way.
BP lobbied Congress on the Deepwater Horizon disaster to torpedo bills that would hurt the company?s self interest, even as it faced penalties for causing the spill itself. The Huffington Post writes the story “underscores how even the most embattled company often sees Congress as a worthy investment. BP spent $8.43 million in 2011 on efforts to influence legislation. While that total fell far short of the nearly $16 million it spent on lobbying in 2009 — much of it on working to defeat cap and trade legislation — it represented a $1 million uptick from 2010 levels. It was also about .0324 percent of the company’s $26 billion in profits from last year: a small price to pay to ensure the preferred legislative outcomes for the firestorm it ignited.” Now, the company?s lobbying appears to have paid off as BP is now one of the most active drillers in the Gulf.
As the improving economy has robbed conservatives of the chief talking points against President Obama, some have resorted to creative explanations for the upswing that avoids giving any credit to the current occupant of the Oval Office. Tea Party darling Rep. Allen West (R-FL) employed this tactic recently, wondering if “someone [is] playing around” with positive unemployment data, and he did so again today, this time to explain away the bullish stock market.
The Nasdaq topped 3,000 today for the first time since 2000 and the Dow finished strong, up 217 points at 13,177 — its highest level since the end of 2007.
But on Fox News this afternoon, West said the markets were only up because traders think Republicans will win big in November. Host Neil Cavuto seemed taken aback by the suggestion and pressed West for clarification, but the Congressman stood by his claim:
CAVUTO: What do you think about that? That the markets say you’re wrong, that the pick up is alive and well.
WEST: Well, I would think maybe the markets are maybe looking five to six months down the road, when we have a change in leadership in this country –
CAVUTO: Wait a minute, you think that this is built on a Republican either capturing the White House or Republicans capturing the Senate? … That might or might not be a stretch, but it is out there as a factor. You think that’s a genuine factor? You think that the markets are getting bubbly in anticipation of a Republican taking the White House?
WEST: Oh, absolutely. Well, I think that there is a hope that may be out there, is that we can get a person that has practical viable solutions for job creation here in the Unite States of America [in the presidency].
Democratic lawmakers are trying to find alternative ways to keep Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas afloat just one day before the state officially bans the organization from receiving funding through the joint state-federal Women’s Health Program. Tomorrow, a new rule goes into effect stopping any clinic affiliated with an abortion provider from receiving WHP funds, and federal officials have said they will cut off funding to the state program if Texas bans Planned Parenthood from WHP. If the program stops, 130,000 women will lose their access to affordable health care.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Rep. Garnet Coleman have been meeting with the Department of Health and Human Services about creating a women’s health “look-alike program” that would keep money flowing to Planned Parenthood, which treats nearly 44 percent of the program’s patients:
The Medicaid Women’s Health Program is due to end in Texas on March 31, the result of the state’s decision to exclude clinics affiliated with abortion providers, even those that do not provide abortions. Federal regulations say a state can’t exclude qualified providers from the program.
Coleman and Lee said the alternative might involve the federal government allocating money to local entities, such as counties, hospital districts or federally qualified health clinics. They noted that school districts have been allowed to apply for federal grants independently rather than through the state.
Ninety percent of the Women’s Health Program’s total operating costs are covered by federal funds, but last week, Republican Gov. Rick Perry announced the state would continue funding the Women’s Health Program without including Planned Parenthood and without federal funds. His administration has not explained how he plans to carve $30 million out of the state’s budget to do so. Although HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius maintains that federal funding for the Women’s Health Program will be phased out gradually over the course of several months, she also inferred that the option of providing direct federal funding for Planned Parenthood was on the table.
While the rule goes into effect Wednesday, Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas will accept WHP patients to the end of March. Last week, Texans protested against the Republicans’ decision to take away health care for hundreds of thousands of women just so they can take funding away from Planned Parenthood.
In an exchange that seems designed to prove why fewer Americans approve of Congress than approve of communism or the BP oil spill, Senate Leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) engaged in a long debate this morning over why Reid is currently trying to break seventeen filibusters of President Obama’s judicial nominees. The exchange culminated with McConnell admitting that, even though all these judges will be confirmed eventually, he is blocking them now because he is upset that Reid’s making him look bad:
REID: I’ve got a great idea. My friend the Republican Leader said these judges are all going to get approved anyway, so I’ve got an idea. Let’s go to this IPO bill immediately after finishing the highway bill, with the agreement that we’ll dispose of these judges immediately after that. . . .
McCONNELL: It is highly unlikely any of these district judges are not going to be confirmed. We’ve done a number of them this year. We’ve done seven this year. District judges are almost never defeated. This is just a very transparent attempt to try to slam dunk the minority and make them look like they are obstructing things they aren’t obstructing. We object to that. We don’t think that meets the standard of civility that should be expected in the Senate. And, so, any effort to make the minority look bad or attempt to slam dunk them that is sort of manufactured as this is is gonna, of course, be greeted with resistance.
Let’s explain what’s going on here. Both Reid and McConnell agree that there is nothing objectionable about these judges — in McConnell’s words, “it is highly unlikely any of these district judges are not going to be confirmed.” Additionally, both men agree that the Senate should vote on the “IPO bill” that Reid refers to, a bill dealing with investments in small businesses that recently passed the House. Initially, Reid wanted to vote on the seventeen judges awaiting confirmation before moving on to the IPO bill, but he even concedes this point — saying that he is willing to “go to this IPO bill” first as McConnell prefers.
And then McConnell says this deal is unacceptable because Reid “ma[de] the minority look bad.”
If this is truly McConnell’s reason for blocking these judges, then he just made an absolutely shocking admission. Thanks to excessive judicial vacancies, America’s courts are increasingly unable to function. In some courts, judges are so overburdened they have to rush major felony cases through as if they involved minor traffic violations. In one court, felony caseloads nearly doubled in just two years. Every court that is unable to handle its caseload means wrongly fired workers waiting months or years for justice and businesses that must delay making new hires until they are sure they won’t be hit with an unwarranted legal judgment. And yet McConnell says he is willing to punish all of these workers and businesses because he is upset that Reid has made him look bad. America can ill afford this kind of tantrum.
Last year saw record levels of investment in solar, biofuels, and wind energy. Those 3 markets rose 31% to $246 billion, according to the Clean Energy Trends 2012 report (here) issued today by the research and advisory firm Clean Edge, Inc.
The report is filled with some great charts. For instance, if you thought clean tech VC investment in this country was petering out, it turns out reports of that death appeared to be exaggerated:
U.S.-based venture capital investments in clean tech increased 30 percent from $5.1 billion in 2010 to $6.6 billion in 2011, according to data provided by Cleantech Group. Clean Edge analysis found that clean-tech?s percentage of total U.S. venture capital investments accounted for a record 23.2 percent of total U.S. venture activity last year.
As you can see, clean tech venture investments in US companies are near an all time high — and almost a quarter of all venture investment. I can tell you that back in the mid-1990s, when I was helping to oversee the DOE’s billion-dollar Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, we could only dream of VC investments some day matching our spending. Now it exceeds what we spend on R&D by a factor of 10.
The point is that increases in global and U.S. clean energy investment by the private sector — driven by government policy at the state and national level — drive private sector clean-tech VC investment.
And investment in key clean energy technologies is soaring:
These investments have led to remarkable drops in the cost of wind and solar power:
Solar cells, which are mostly made from silicon (the same basic material used in manufacturing computer chips), are now exhibiting economies of scale seen in earlier high-tech revolutions such as personal computers and cell phones. Between 2007 and 2011, solar PV total system costs (including PV modules, balance of system components, and installation) dropped by more than half, with complete systems being installed globally in 2011 at an average $3.47 a peak watt or 14 to 23 cents per kWh. Contrary to Solyndra?s critics who say the industry isn?t ready for prime time, solar is, in fact, becoming increasingly cost-competitive (making it difficult for high-cost providers like Solyndra to survive)….
In less than a decade, Clean Edge projects that in 13 states (Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) solar PV will be cost-competitive at the residential level without any subsidy requirements. And solar will become increasingly attractive with a likely explosion in a new breed of power providers (such as solar installers/financiers SolarCity, SunEdison, and SunRun) providing residential, commercial, and industrial customers with a hedge against fluctuating retail electricity rates tied to volatile prices of fossil fuels.
The study makes many important points about the value of government investment:
The whole report is worth reading. It focuses on ”five major trends for 2012″:
Hey, remember when JPMorgan Chase abruptly suspended all their debt collection court cases a couple months ago? Now we're learning more about the problems in their debt collection arena. And surprise, we have more robo-signing! The abuses are so bad[...]
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When last night's newswrap was queued up for posting, I changed the date to the 13th, but I didn't stop there -- apparently I was flying on autopilot, because I changed the "12:00 am" (default) to "12:00 pm" as well, and it posted at noon instead of midnight. Anyone who came looking for it and left disappointed can scroll down, or click here.
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The Obama administration may have found a way around the outlandish policy that denies health insurance coverage for contraceptives because employers have a religious or moral objection, but similar and even more draconian bills are flying through Republican-dominated state legislatures. The GOP is all for small government?one that's small enough to drown in a bathtub, but big enough to fill up a uterus.
Here in Arizona, the nation's petrie dish of crazy, our 16th-century legislature passed a forced ultrasound bill last year; and of course the mother must see the image and hear the heartbeat (images from Clockwork Orange come to mind). The pea-brain peckerheads also mandated that abortions, including those induced by the RU-486 pill, could only be administered by a doctor?no nurse practitioners or physicians assistants. The bill even banned telemedicine, which previously allowed doctors in Phoenix and Tucson to assist nurses in Arizona's many outlying areas. The result last year was that every one of Planned Parenthood's rural clinics was forced to shut down.
This year the scumlords are back at it?focused like a laser on education and the economy. Not! Hoping that doctors will withhold information from parents about a deformed fetus or other prenatal irregularity, the Senate has already passed a bill that would shield doctors from "wrongful birth" lawsuits:
Those are lawsuits that can arise if physicians don't inform pregnant women of prenatal problems that could lead to the decision to have an abortion. Arizona Capitol TimesAnd naturally, the theocratic numbskulls at the legislature have their slimy little hands all over the contraceptive thing?and then some! A bill that has already passed the House and a Senate Committee provides an "out" for employers who do not want to cover birth control of any kind:
AN EVIDENCE OF COVERAGE DOES NOT FAIL TO MEET THE REQUIREMENTS OF SUBSECTION A OF THIS SECTION IF THE EVIDENCE OF COVERAGE'S FAILURE TO PROVIDE COVERAGE OF SPECIFIC ITEMS OR SERVICES REQUIRED UNDER SUBSECTION A OF THIS SECTION IS BECAUSE PROVIDING OR PAYING FOR COVERAGE OF THE SPECIFIC ITEMS OR SERVICES IS CONTRARY TO THE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OF THE EMPLOYER, SPONSOR, ISSUER, HEALTH CARE SERVICES ORGANIZATION OR OTHER ENTITY OFFERING THE PLAN OR IS BECAUSE THE COVERAGE IS CONTRARY TO THE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OF THE PURCHASER OR BENEFICIARY OF THE COVERAGE. HB2626But it's more than that. In his Arizona Republic column today, Ed Montini points out that the revised legislation omits a short but important section that was part of the original bill's language. Twice in the current bill, the one that's already passed the House, you'll see this sentence deleted near the end. Here's the way it appears in the bill now:
If you have trouble reading that, it used to say:
A religious employer shall not discriminate against an employee who independently chooses to obtain insurance coverage or prescriptions for contraceptives from another source.
A religious employer shall not discriminate against an employee who independently chooses to obtain insurance coverage or prescriptions for contraceptives from another source.Got that? They removed language that said employers cannot discriminate against workers who use contraception, unless the employees can show proof they're only using birth control for medical reasons. As it stands, the current bill not only exempts employers from having to provide contraceptive coverage in their healthcare plan, it also removes protections for employees who seek their own birth control remedies elsewhere. What kind of protections? You name it: your job, promotions, raises, benefits, working conditions.
According to ACLU of Arizona Public Policy Director Anjali Abraham, it means that an employer will be able to fire an employee if he finds out that she (or he?) is using contraception.How many times do we have to say this? Arizona's economy is in the shitter, education was cut a half-billion dollars last year, and 100,000 people were just kicked off the state's Medicaid program. And this is what they spend their time on: restrict, restrict, restrict access to birth control, and if we can't restrict it anymore, then let's threaten workers with losing their job.
"I think this just goes to what we've been saying about the bill," she said. "It isn't really about guaranteeing an individual's religious liberty but ultimately is about eliminating access as much as possible to basic health services for women." Arizona Republic
Dickheads, and that's being kind.