Read today’s news from around the state and country. Each day in the Roundup we cover politics, always with a side of bold humor. We think politics should be fun, informative and encourage us all to take action.
Friday, June 8th
Carrie Underwood walked away from the CMT music video awards last night with the highest award of video of the year for “Good Girl,” and President Obama and Mitt Romney had to make a tough decision on who they thought should be the evening’s host. Here’s your Roundup:
What’s For Lunch?: This year the USDA is allowing states to opt out of receiving beef that contains controversial “pink slime,” a term coined in reference to fatty bits of beef “trimmings” that are heated to remove the fat and then treated with ammonia, through the National School Lunch Program. Most states opted to discontinue use of the product in their schools—but Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota put in orders for beef that still contains the “pink slime,” or as the industry calls it “lean finely textured beef,” arguing that it’s safe, lean, and less expensive. Read here and here
The Buck Has to Stop Here: Scientists around the world have published their work in a study that yields conclusions that cannot be taken lightly. The researchers warn that the world is heading toward a tipping point marked by changes that will drastically change Earth as we know it—within the next 50 to 100 years. The last “tipping point” Earth experienced was 12,000 years ago when the glaciers receded, but the study’s head researcher said “what’s going on today is much more dramatic and much more intense” than the changes the landscape underwent as the continental glaciers melted. According to the scientists, dramatic change occurs when approximately 50% of the Earth’s land is drastically altered—right now the proportion of land humans have farmed, paved, logged, and developed has reached a collective 43 percent of Earth’s land surface, and we will only consume more of that land as our global population keeps growing. The researchers do offer hope however, stating confidence in the intelligence of our species to enact saving solutions such as reducing reliance on fossil fuels, using existing farmland more efficiently, and distributing food more effectively, and increasing efforts to maintain “reservoirs of biodiversity.” Read here and here
Feeling Europe’s Troubles: The economic crisis in Europe is taking a greater toll on the U.S. economy that is twofold—not only is it creating uncertainty in the market but it is starting to cause sales and profits to lag for companies in sectors such as food, apparel, hotels and technology. In Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernacke’s testimony to Congress yesterday, he said “the crisis in Europe has affected the U.S. economy by acting as a drag on our exports, weighing on business and consumer confidence, and pressuring U.S. financial markets and institutions.” Read here
On the Hill: Democratic Congressmen have proposed a bill that would increase minimum wage to $10 an hour and require and annual increase tied to inflation. Meanwhile, the Senate’s new Farm Bill made it through its first vote on the Senate floor yesterday and won approval of the White House, but must still go through the House of Representatives. Currently the bill focuses on reducing direct payments to farmers while reducing the premiums that must be paid for farm insurance. It also includes spending cuts to nutrition programs and agricultural research. Also taking the attention of Congress this week is the doubling of interest rates on federally subsidized student loans that will happen July 1st. Allowing these rates to double will directly affect 7 million Americans. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress want to see a short term extension of the current rates, but can’t agree on how to pay for it. The student loan bill the House GOP passed got rid of a public health prevention fund included in the Democratic healthcare law. Senate Democrats’ original proposal, which Republicans blocked, would have forced some wealthy taxpayers to pay higher payroll taxes. Read here
Thursday, June 7th
Tune into Jane Kleeb discussing “how activism beat TransCanada’s Keystone XL” and what is still being done to keep the pipeline from risking our land and water. The talk begins at 9:30 am, so check it out here in about 30 minutes. Here’s your Roundup:
“Hiring Our Heroes”: We are pleased to see Governor Heineman supporting the “Hiring Our Heroes Initiative,” a cooperative effort of multiple government agencies and public groups to help current and former servicemen and women translate their military skills into the civilian job market. The initiative recently took off in Lincoln, where a job fair was held that resulted in serving over 350 current and former military members and their spouses. For all you vets and employers reading the Roundup today, the next hiring fair will take place in Omaha on June 12—sign up to attend or to be put on the employer exhibiting waitlist here. Check out the Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes page designed to connect veterans and their spouses with employers here.
Another Fed Fix?: The Federal Reserve is now contemplating a new round of actions to achieve its two overarching mandates—keeping employment high and prices stable. While the Fed has already dropped interest rates to an historical low and has stated its uncertainty as to whether additional measures would do much more to aid the economy, several key Fed officials now seem more open to additional measures such as buying up long term Treasury Securities, or mortgage-backed securities as well as government debt. Federal Reserve Chairman Bernacke testifies in front of Congress today on Fed’s opinion as to the current state of the economy. Read here and here
Desperation Diplomacy: In a rare move of diplomacy on the Hill, Senators Boxer and Inhofe hand delivered the Senate’s version of the troublesome transportation bill to the House yesterday. Carefully calling it a “proposal” to signal the Senate’s willingness to change it to meet the House’s demands, the gesture underscored the desperation some senators and industry leaders have when it comes to passing a transportation bill before the June 30 deadline. The bill has been debated and debated—and once had expedited approval of the KXL attached to it—but 2.9 million construction jobs depend on its passage, as does the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. Read here
Drying Up: Still no sign of rain as the state’s Climate Assessment Response Committee caught up on the statistics confirming what people across the state already knew–it’s been hotter, dryer and windier than usual. Starting with our warmer than usual winter, we are now at a record for high temperatures not seen since 1895. Nearly 20% of our state is classified as being in “moderate drought,” and farmers and ranchers may not be able to access assistance programs available in previous years—those expired along with the farm bill this year. Read here
TransCanada’s Problem (well, one of them): TransCanada continues to evade rigorous review of their KXL pipeline (the southern leg of which is now called the Gulf Coast Project)—anything too scrutinizing would make padding the company’s pockets too difficult. TransCanada applied to the Army Corps of Engineers for a blanket nationwide permit in May, the granting of which would mean the pipeline could essentially start being built the very next day. The problem with a nationwide permit is that it doesn’t allow for public comment on the project—meaning landowners along the southern route wouldn’t have a say in the pipeline crossing their land. Another problem lies in TransCanada’s application—their pipeline would cross many more waterways than is legal under the permit they are applying for. Read here
Wednesday, June 6th
The Girls and Boys Staters posed many thoughtful questions to pipeline proponent Brad Stevens and our own Jane Kleeb at yesterday’s pipeline debate, but the overriding feeling was that of skepticism towards the pipeline. Looks like these young leaders are less willing to risk their future in this state than some of the current leaders are. Here’s your RoundUp:
Bipartisan Bob: Also making an appearance at Boys and Girls State last night was Bob Kerrey, there to talk about his path to leadership and the value he places on bipartisanship and friendship. Along with discussing some of his policy priorities and his stances on a number of social issues, Kerrey stressed his bipartisan efforts and in reference to these efforts, made a point to say “You’ve got to be willing to make people of your own party angry with you.” Initially invited to the event to debate his opponent in the Senate race, Deb Fischer, he addressed the audience solo because she had a prior engagement. Read here
Labor Lost: Gov. Scott Walker came out victorious in Wisconsin, with nearly a 7% gap between himself and challenger Tom Barrett. He also had an 8-1 cash advantage in the race–a lot of the money coming from outside groups. In spite of the loss, Barrett’s supporters noted that a strong message has been sent–not only was Walker the first Wisconsin Governor to be brought to a recall election, but he won by a fairly narrow margin despite an over $50 million cash advantage. Both sides have called for differences to be set aside and focus to be placed on moving Wisconsin forward, but speculation continues on the symbolic value this race represents for Wisconsin and national politics in the future. Read here and here
So Did Equality: Also defeated in a vote yesterday was the Paycheck Fairness Act, which as noted yesterday would give women more protections in the workplace and work to resolve the inequality that currently exists between men and women’s pay. Voted down along party lines, Republicans offered little critique of the bill prior to the vote, other than the claim that it would increase litigation. Senate Democrats said they will be working to move this bill forward in the future. Read here
Voter Suppression: Election season is heating up, and in light of efforts in our own state to make voting harder by instating a voting ID law, it’s appropriate to highlight some of the voting issues that have been occurring around the nation. Yesterday in Wisconsin, robocalls told people not to vote, and a little known facet of Wisconsin law may have prohibited hundreds of students from voting in the recall election. In Florida, Governor Rick Scott’s efforts to “purge” the state of non-citizen voters brought on a letter from the Justice Department to the Florida Secretary of State demanding that the purging stop, as it was in violation of the National Voter Registration Act. Mistakes had already been made, however, and many eligible voters were on the list, some of whom are now off the voting rolls. Florida may be taking their strategy from Texas, which has throughout the years purged over 300,000 would-be voters from their rolls. These issues highlight the importance of citizens’ due diligence in protecting their constitutional right to vote.
Tuesday, June 5th
Tonight marks the crossing of Venus over the sun—an event that last occurred in 2004, but won’t happen again until 2117! Here in Lincoln it will begin at 5:04 p.m. CDT, and hit the center of its journey at 8:27 p.m. It’s your last chance (unless you have found the fountain of youth) to see this rare occurrence, and sounds to us like the perfect event to gather around with friends and family! Here’s your RoundUp:
Wisconsin Down to the Wire: Today, Wisconsin voters go to the polls in a recall election that has kept eyes across the country fixed on the Badger State. Incumbent Governor Scott Walker faces challenger Tom Barrett in a unique election brought on by Wisconsinites in retribution for Walker’s attacks on collective bargaining rights and benefits for public workers. Also up in the recall vote are the Lt. Governor and four Republican state senators. Because the state’s legislative session has already ended and most of the legislators will face elections again in November, this recall election may not have much influence on the actual laws of the state. But it is largely agreed that the election holds much symbolic importance because of its potential implications for the future of unions and efforts in other states to limit collective bargaining — as well as for the outcome of the presidential race in November. Read here
Voting for Fairness: An important vote takes place in the U.S. Senate today, where our Senators will be voting on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Introduced by Senator Mikulski of Maryland, the bill is designed to close the loopholes present in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and other anti-discrimination laws, which have not done enough to make the pay received by men and women equal. According to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, on average. Supporters of the bill recognize it as an important step not only toward equal pay and anti-discrimination, but also as an integral component of building stronger families that are better able to weather the economic challenges they will face, especially when raising their children. Read here and here
Assessing from All Angles: A new paper has come out assessing the implications of climate change on existing, traditional power sources such as coal, nuclear, and gas power plants. The important factor these three sources have in common is the requirement of large amounts of water to cool the plants. Because of important environmental regulations, power plants are restricted in the amount of water withdrawn and the temperatures of the water discharged. In warm periods with low river flows, these environmental standards restrict the amount of electricity that the plants can produce. In light of NPPD’s current review of its future generation resources, all factors that could affect future electricity generation should be taken into account, making reports such as this important in ensuring a secure energy and water future in Nebraska. Read here
Monday, June 4th
As Nebraskans prepare to decide in November who we want to run our state and country, Girls and Boys State has brought young Nebraskans flocking to Lincoln to experience “real-world” politics and government as they divide into their own cities and run for elected positions. They will hear from many elected officials, newsmakers, and motivational speakers (including our own Jane Kleeb) during the week designed to “raise a new crop of successful Nebraska leaders.” Here’s your RoundUp:
Asking for Destruction: Tar sands development has so far been technically under the auspices of some of the most progressive environmental laws in the world. But because the resource cannot be harvested without the vast exploitation of land, animals, and people, the Canadian Parliament (currently under the control of tar sands enthusiast Stephen Harper’s party) is in the process of rolling back policies that have limited the damage development of the tar sands can do. Hungry for the world oil market, parliament has added provisions to an omnibus budget bill that would lessen the time and standards required in reviewing the environmental impact of major projects and revamp regulations regarding threats to fisheries and water. It would also change the way the government scrutinizes the political activities of non-profit groups. Read here.
A Nebraska Victory: Finally, after nearly eight months of efforts largely led by our own board member Emily Schlichting, the NU Board of Regents is considering extending benefits to employees’ domestic partners. With support from faculty senates, student governments and chancellors at all four NU campuses, as well as many Nebraskans, this is a strong step in the direction of equality. Read here.
Homesteaders’ Legacy: Attendance figures released by the National Homestead Monument located near Beatrice show that more than 38,000 people viewed the original copy of the Homestead Act while it was on display from April 25 to May 30 in celebration of its 150th birthday. An Act that transformed the U.S. has a special meaning to us Nebraskans. Nearly half of the land in Nebraska was claimed by 104,000 homesteaders that staked their claim here and invested their sweat and blood into the land. We are reminded of the value Nebraskans have long placed on hard work, perseverance, and innovation—values to fight for as we face TransCanada’s threats to this legacy and as NPPD has the chance invest in a clean energy future. Read here and here.
Dealing Deceit: Bank of America has been thrown back into the spotlight today as court documents filed yesterday reveal that BoA witheld critical information from stockholders that ultimately cost taxpayers over $20 billion in bailouts. Prior to its acquisition of Merrill Lynch in December of 2008, sharholders voted to approve the purchase–with the false information that the aquisition would bring profits, not the record losses BoA knew would occur. This news reaffirms the necessity of strong regulation of the financial sector in order to protect not only shareholders, but all U.S. taxpayers. Read here.