Category Archives: Law and Justice

Hedge Fund Tied to RI Pension Investments Comes Under Scrutiny

The plot thickens… Anybody want to hedge their bets about whether the SEC will have any teeth in this situation?  By the way, Standard and Poor’s is at an all-time high today.

GoLocalProv | News | NY Lawyer Charges RI Pension Investments Tied to New SEC Complaint.

Petition the RI Legislature: Pass Senate Bills 2368 and 2369 and House Bills 7841 and 7842 to fund the RI Center for Law and Public Policy | Change.org

I have been on the Board of the Rhode Island Center for Law and Public Policy since its inception in 2008 and have watched as this organization has grown to have an amazing impact on the lives of Rhode Islanders in need of legal services, particularly the elderly, poor families, and small businesses.  I ask you to sign this petition to ask the legislature to put these bills to a vote, so that if there is sufficient public support, RICLAPP can be sustained.  Thank you, Kiersten Marek

Petition | Pass Senate Bills 2368 and 2369 and House Bills 7841 and 7842 to fund the RI Center for Law and Public Policy. | Change.org.

America’s deportation machine: The great expulsion | The Economist

This is a complex issue.

America’s deportation machine: The great expulsion | The Economist.

Perception is Something People Care About — Chafee Caves to Angus Davis

Angus Davis feels better, so I guess everything is right and good in the fiefdom of downtown Providence.  Lame duck Governor Chafee is not feeling like having a big fight, so Angus will get his way.  As the new corporate zoning Czar for the city, I wonder if Mr. Davis would consider helping to rehabilitate the poor and downtrodden, rather than just exiling them from his high tech encampment.

Read more from Natasha Lennard at Salon.  

Adjunct professors joining labor unions to voice concerns about low pay, job security – The Washington Post

Say it with me now, “The people…united….will never be defeated….”

Adjunct professors joining labor unions to voice concerns about low pay, job security – The Washington Post.

Whitehouse Tries to Get DISCLOSE Passed in Worst Congress ever

While being a member of Congress definitely has its benefits, it seems to be a pretty frustrating job these days. Take, for instance, this article by Ezra Klein outlining why this is the worst Congress ever:

14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever.

Nevertheless, some people are trying to get work done, or at least make it look that way. In fact, some are willing to stay up all night if that’s what it takes to get some attention:

Senate Democrats to Hold “Midnight Vigil” on DISCLOSE Act

If GOP Blocks Effort to End Secret Election Spending, Democrats Will Continue Debating Past Midnight and Ask for Second Vote Tomorrow

Washington, DC – With Senate Republicans threatening to block debate this evening on the DISCLOSE Act, Senate Democrats are sending a clear message that they won’t back down easily. If Republicans succeed in blocking a key procedural vote on the measure today, a group of Democrats have pledged to hold onto the Senate floor late into the night tonight in an effort to bring greater attention to the issue and force a second vote on the bill tomorrow.

The late night “midnight vigil” effort will be led by the members of the Citizens United Task Force, which includes U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Al Franken (D-MN). The group was organized by U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, who will also take part in tonight’s effort.

“We recognize that you don’t win every fight in round one, and this is a fight worth continuing,” said Whitehouse, the lead sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act. “Putting an end to secret election spending by special interests is an essential step in protecting middle class priorities. For that reason, we are committed to continuing the debate on the DISCLOSE Act late into the night and asking for a second vote tomorrow if need be. We can’t let the special interests off the hook after just one round.”

The DISCLOSE Act requires any organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report within 24 hours, identifying any donors who gave $10,000 or more. It will require political groups posing as social welfare organizations to disclose their donors and will prevent corporations and other wealthy interests from using shell corporations to funnel secret money to super PACs.

“We are determined to prove that transparency is not a radical concept,” said Udall. “Our bill is as simple and straightforward as it gets – if you are making large donations to influence an election, the voters in that election should know who you are. The American people are blessed with common sense. They know that when someone will not admit to something, it is usually because there is something to hide.”

“This is too important an issue to let it lie quietly,” Shaheen said. “New Hampshire voters were subjected to a flood of negative ads this primary season, many of them fueled by unregulated, secret money. It isn’t right. We need to stand up for accountability and fairness in our politics.”

“Tonight we will debate whether we truly believe in the first three words of our Constitution: ‘We the People.’ The flood of secret money unleashed by Citizens United is drowning out the voice of the people,” said Merkley. “Indeed, those who oppose disclosure are seeking to replace ‘We the People’ with ‘We the Powerful.’ This is wrong in so many ways. It’s way past time to shine a light on the darkness and discover who or what this money really stands for.”

“Coloradans have been inundated with attack ads funded by a small number of people through anonymous groups,” Bennet said. “Disclosure would at least provide information about who is behind these ads and bring accountability that bolsters democracy in our elections. Unfortunately, a minority of senators are poised to block progress on the DISCLOSE Act and prevent necessary transparency in our election system.”

“The DISCLOSE Act will not fix all of the evil effects of Citizens United, but it is certainly a step forward,” said Sen. Franken. “And it will bring much needed sunshine to our political system, which will go a long way toward reducing the number and dishonesty of negative attack ads that further corrode our public dialogue and ultimately threaten our democratic system.”

“We believe that all of the unlimited cash allowed by the Citizens United decision must at least be disclosed,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer. “This legislation seeks to limit the damage of the Supreme Court decision that has given corporations and the very wealthy unprecedented sway over our elections, and represents one of the most serious threats to the future of our democracy.”

Individuals are encouraged to follow the floor debate throughout the night on Twitter, using the hashtag #DISCLOSEVote.

Kiersten Marek:

Chief Justice Roberts RULES!!!

Originally posted on Closing Argument:

With a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court of the United States has upheld the Health Care Reform legislation with the exception that the federal government’s power to terminate states’ Medicaid funds is narrowly read.  Read the opinion here.

While Justice Anthony Kennedy was thought to be the swing vote, he ultimately dissented and Chief Justice John Roberts’ vote ultimately saved the historic legislation.

Here is a summary:

  • Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Alito and Thomas voted that the entire Act was unconstitutional.
  • Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor and Breyer voted to uphold the Act as constitutional.
  • Chief Justice Roberts forged a middle ground stating that the Act was constitutional under Congress’ power to tax, but unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause.  However, the Act is ultimately constitutional because of the former.

Regarding the Medicaid issue, CJ Roberts notes that “[n]othing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to…

View original 219 more words

Interview with Sheldon Whitehouse at Netroots Nation 2012

Short interview with Sen. Whitehouse in which he extolls the virtues of Netroots Nation, appreciates the value of the Occupy Movement, and talks about his efforts to keep funding for wellness and health. He also talks about his phone conversation with President Obama following the Buffet Rule vote in the Senate, and how the fight is not over to change our tax policies to support the middle class.

Another Doctor Gag Rule

Before I was a nurse, I was an Emergency Medical Technician, and later, the OSHA nurse in one of my jobs.

One day I was working in the community, and asked to deal with a situation. A man who lived in a building thought he was exposed to some floor-stripping chemicals used in a renovation. The man was a veteran who suffered from terrible migraines and he had to avoid noise and fumes. He wanted to know what chemicals he was smelling in the hallway, so he could talk to his doctor. Everyone was hesitating, possibly worried about liability.

It seemed simple enough to me. I said there had to be a Material Safety Data Sheet as OSHA required. So–give it to him.

I remember the look of gratitude on the man’s face, and I was sorry he even had to ask more than once for what was a simple, reasonable and just request. I had assumed that it was a settled legal precedent that public safety is more important than institutional or corporate immunity from consequences.

Of course, I was wrong about that. Corporations can get away with wiping out entire towns. But Pennsylvania takes it to a whole new level. Never mind no MSDS or OSHA, they have passed a doctor gag rule that can financially ruin any doctor who discloses the names of the chemicals that are poisoning their patients. Fracking– mining for natural gas, is a dirty process.

The law grants physicians access to information about trade-secret chemicals used in natural gas drilling. Doctors say they need to know what’s in those formulas in order to treat patients who may have been exposed to the chemicals.

But the new law also says that doctors can’t tell anyone else — not even other doctors — what’s in those formulas. It’s being called the “doctor gag rule.”

Talk about an industry-friendly law. A mining company has the right to release chemicals into the air and water, but a doctor can lose everything if she tells her patients what they were exposed to…

Plastic surgeon Amy Pare practices in suburban Pittsburgh where she does reconstructive surgeries and deals with a lot of skin issues. She tells me about one case, a family who brought in a boy with strange skin lesions.

“Their son is quite ill — has had lethargy, nosebleeds,” Pare says. “He’s had liver damage. I don’t know if it’s due to exposure.”

The family lived near natural gas drilling activity, and there was some concern that the boy may have been exposed to some of the chemicals being used. Producing natural gas is a pretty industrial process and gives off a lot of fumes. It uses a lot of chemicals to open wells to get the gas flowing.

Pare’s first step was to figure out what chemicals the drillers were using. But that information isn’t easy to get. In this case, Pare says, the patient’s family had a good lawyer who helped them find out what kind of chemicals the gas company was using.

“If I don’t know what [patients] have been exposed to, how do I find the antidote? We’re definitely not clairvoyant,” she says.

Someone has to stand up for public health, even when corporations claim that ‘proprietary trade secrets’ are at risk. We’re not talking about the Colonel’s secret recipe here, we’re talking about chemicals that go into the air and water.

A gag-rule so severe is a disincentive for doctors to care for their patients.

It’s better if the law creates a disincentive for mining corporations that use dangerous chemicals.

Or maybe the chemicals are harmless, like they claim?

I remember that the man who asked for the MSDS sheet was grateful to get it and we heard no more about it. Take the gag off the doctors and shine some light on industry. Sunlight is healthy.

How Government Preys on the Poor

Barbara Ehrenreich has a new blog called Economichardship.org, which talks about how the Great Recession is impacting regular folk. This article has some information on how government and law enforcement are getting into the business of making money off the poor.

At the local level though, government is increasingly opting to join in the looting. In 2009, a year into the Great Recession, I first started hearing complaints from community organizers about ever more aggressive levels of law enforcement in low-income areas. Flick a cigarette butt and get arrested for littering; empty your pockets for an officer conducting a stop-and-frisk operation and get cuffed for a few flakes of marijuana. Each of these offenses can result, at a minimum, in a three-figure fine.

And the number of possible criminal offenses leading to jail and/or fines has been multiplying recklessly. All across the country — from California and Texas to Pennsylvania — counties and municipalities have been toughening laws against truancy and ratcheting up enforcement, sometimes going so far as to handcuff children found on the streets during school hours. In New York City, it’s now a crime to put your feet up on a subway seat, even if the rest of the car is empty, and a South Carolina woman spent six days in jail when she was unable to pay a $480 fine for the crime of having a “messy yard.” Some cities — most recently, Houston and Philadelphia — have made it a crime to share food with indigent people in public places.

Being poor itself is not yet a crime, but in at least a third of the states, being in debt can now land you in jail. If a creditor like a landlord or credit card company has a court summons issued for you and you fail to show up on your appointed court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. And it is easy enough to miss a court summons, which may have been delivered to the wrong address or, in the case of some bottom-feeding bill collectors, simply tossed in the garbage — a practice so common that the industry even has a term for it: “sewer service.” In a sequence that National Public Radio reports is “increasingly common,” a person is stopped for some minor traffic offense — having a noisy muffler, say, or broken brake light — at which point the officer discovers the warrant and the unwitting offender is whisked off to jail.

Read on:

Preying on the Poor – EHRP.

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