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, March 23
Next Friday, March 30th, Bill McKibben will join Nebraskans in a rally to tell our Unicameral it’s time to get out of TransCanada’s pocket. Save the date; more details will be posted on Bold’s Facebook page. Here’s today’s Roundup:
Pipeline Approval, GOP Upset: President Obama yesterday spoke in Cushing, Oklahoma, the location where the recently-approved southern leg of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline will be constructed. Obama cited the concerns of Nebraskans, including Governor Dave Heineman, as a reason for the delay in the complete project approval. He reiterated the need for sufficient time in reviewing the impact of the pipeline, especially over the Nebraska Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer. Congressional Republicans took the opportunity to scold President Obama on spreading misinformation and using his address as a publicity stunt. Of course, Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry was one of the leading lawmakers criticizing the president. Haven’t Congressional Republicans been pushing for this pipeline the whole time? Why are they scolding someone who is advancing their wishes? The most unfortunate part of this whole ordeal is Obama’s willingness to bow down to TransCanada on this dangerous and unsafe project. Read here
Rural Development: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced a new loan and grant program to spur economic development and job creation in rural areas. The funding is being provided by the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program. Funds are made available to create jobs and upgrade public infrastructure, as seen in Lynch, Nebraska, where a $740,000 Rural Economic Development Loan was made to the Brown County Hospital. USDA plans to loan up to $79 million and award $10 million in grants. Read here
JOBS Act: Yesterday, the U.S. Senate approved the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, a measure that will make it easier for small businesses to raise investment cash by easing federal regulations. The measure passed with bipartisan support of a vote of 73 to 26. The bill shoots to assist small businesses attract investment capital and make it easier for businesses to launch initial public stock offerings. Opponents have warned the measure will allow for a new era of fraud since one provision allows for a bypass of SEC disclosure requirements. The bill heads to the House where it will likely be approved and signed into law by President Obama. Read here
Pain at the Pump: While gas prices continue to rise, a pair of federal economists have found that Wall Street speculation is responsible for 15 percent of increases in oil prices. Believe it or not, politicians have very little control over price swings in oil, but regulators do. Speculation in oil markets was the second-largest factor in the price increase behind increased demand for oil. Fuel prices are currently at the highest level on record for the month of March and it looks as if they will only keep rising. Many Nebraskans have noticed the increase in prices at the filling station. Read here
Insurance Increase: Several thousand Nebraskans would be hit with unreasonable health insurance rate increases under proposals by two providers according to federal regulators. Time Insurance Company and John Alden Life Insurance Company, both part of Assurant Health, plan on increasing rates 23 percent, affecting 878 Nebraskans, and 18 percent, affecting 1,485 Nebraskans, respectively. Under the new federal health care law, health insurance companies are required to provide justification for rate increases greater than 10 percent. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the rate increases would result in little amounts of premiums being spent on health care and their justifications included unreasonable assumptions. The companies have 10 days to respond to the Nebraska Insurance Director. Read here
For all the latest Nebraska Legislature news, head on over to the Unicameral Update!
Thursday, March 22
Forty years ago today, Congress approved the Equal Rights Amendment that would grant legal equality of the sexes and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. The measure was sent to the states to be ratified, but it failed to achieve ratification with only 31 of the necessary 38 states on board. However, since then, the federal government and all state governments have passed considerable legislation protecting the rights of women. Here’s today’s Roundup:
Here to Stay: A legal challenge by the Nebraska GOP to remove Bob Kerrey from the U.S. Senate ballot was thrown out yesterday by a Lancaster County judge. The GOP argued Kerrey falsified his residency when he registered to vote last month. The judge emphasized the U.S. Constitution requirement that Senate candidates must inhabit their state only when elected and the fact that Nebraska cannot require Senate candidates to be residents or registered voters when they file for office. Of course, the Nebraska GOP filed an appeal almost immediately after the judge’s ruling was released. In the terribly party-affiliated move, the GOP is tarnishing the political process. They should focus on issues that matter to Nebraskans instead of attempting to chase down one of their biggest threats. Read here
Etch-a-Sketch: A senior adviser to GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney made just one more gaffe in the already gaffe-notorious campaign. On a national television campaign, Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s adviser, argued the presidential race would restart after the Republican primaries, comparing it to an Etch-a-Sketch toy. However, Fehrnstrom’s language was not clear on whether he was likening the political landscape to an Etch-a-Sketch or Mittens, himself. (We like to think it is Mittens, himself.) Lo and behold, a new website has been created to show just how the robot candidate will be an Etch-a-Sketch after the primaries. Read here
No Reduction: While Republicans demand our nation drill for more oil to reduce gas prices, a recent analysis of 36 years of Energy Information Administration data displays “no statistical correlation” between domestic oil production and gas prices. Oil is a global product, and the United States has a miniscule influence on the supply. If drilling dictated oil prices, we would all be enjoying $2/gallon like the Republicans are promising. Domestic oil production at its highest in eight years under the Obama Administration, just proving the fact that the price determination of gasoline extends far beyond the control of one individual, let alone a nation. For our nation, even world, to gain energy security and sustainability, we must focus on the production of alternative methods of energy. At Bold, we remain committed to alternative energy investments for our future. Read here
Horse Race: A bill introduced by State Senator Scott Lautenbaugh was advanced by the Nebraska Legislature would allow betting on historical horse racing machines at racetracks. The measure was debated on for nearly three hours, and it barely advanced with a 26-18 vote. Opponents argue historical horse racing machine betting expand gambling, something to which Nebraska voters have said no, whereas supporters argue that the measure is a jobs bill that will revive the industry and save some 3,000 jobs. Read here
Read our bold response to the White House fast tracking the southern leg of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline here.
Head on over to the Unicameral Update for all the latest Nebraska Legislature news!
Wednesday, March 21
The GOP Presidential circus continued as Mitt Romney won the Illinois primaries yesterday. Romney’s win may be the decisive factor for the other GOP candidates on whether or not to stay in the race. We can’t wait for this republican fiasco to end. Here’s your Roundup:
Shrinking Proposal: The Nebraska Legislature gave first round approval to Governor Heineman’s tax-cut proposal yesterday, but at about one-third of cost. Heineman’s original plan would have cost the state $327 million over three years but since then, the plan has been whittled down to $97 million. The compromise between several state senators and the governor eliminated a proposed decrease in corporate income taxes and the proposed elimination of the inheritance tax paid to counties. While the slimmed down version of the tax cuts will give money back to Nebraska citizens, several lawmakers are still concerned with how the state will afford the measure. Read here
Keystone Revival: A new proposal to restart a Nebraska state government review of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline was introduced yesterday by State Senator Chris Langemeier. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality would conduct the study at a cost of over $2 million from Nebraska taxpayers. Langemeier claims his proposal is part of the compromise with TransCanada reached last fall when they agreed to re-route the pipeline around the Sandhills. However, the route has yet to be determined. The measure is expected to be debated by the entire legislature within the next two weeks. Our state senators should be standing up for Nebraska citizens and landowners, not be doing special favors for TransCanada. Read here
Dangerous Rhetoric: In a recent Letter to the Editor at the Lincoln Journal Star, an individual applauds Governor Dave Heineman’s public attack on the Human Society of the United States with great sarcasm. Heineman has threatened his opponent, the Humane Society of the United States, with physical violence and expulsion from the state just because they disagree with him on a policy matter. His open denouncements have become a pattern, like when he demanded Bold’s Jane Kleeb to “stop shooting her mouth off.” Heineman is a bully that believes he has the power to call out individuals and organizations he thinks are unfit to call Nebraska home. Rather than focusing on being the head of the GOP, he should focus on being a fair elected official. Read the letter here
Bruning’s Lawsuit: Nebraska Attorney Jon Bruning is headed to Washington, D.C., to the U.S. Supreme Court for oral arguments in determining the constitutionality of the recent Obama Administration health care reform act. Wrong-Way Jon represents a six-state executive board that has handled day-to-day aspects of the lawsuit, editing legal briefs and strategy planning. Nebraska joins 25 other states in this lawsuit against the federal government. The health care reform act has already begun to benefit our citizens, and the benefits will only increase as the measure is gradually implemented over the next few years. Bruning ought to be standing up for Nebraskans and affordable health care, not chasing after the federal government. Read here
For the Nebraska Legislature’s latest news, check out the Unicameral Update!
Tuesday, March 20
GOP Budget Proposal: The GOP is expected to release a budget proposal today that Rep. Paul Ryan says would cut taxes and provide for two individual income brackets, 10% and 25%. The budget proposal will “cut” the national deficit by slashing Medicaid, food stamps, and Pell grants among other cuts. Republicans are trying to cut Medicare spending by switching from a system where the government pays directly to the doctor for services, to a system that would pay health insurance companies in a voucher-like program. There is no doubt that insurance companies are now having to use money customers pay them for actual care and not big CEO bonuses because of the Affordable Care Act. Beginning in the 1970s, health insurance companies began to raise premiums at a rate four times as much as the rising cost of health care. So, what will happen when the middleman suddenly feels like he should maximize his profits and minimize the risks? This is a situation that will not lower the cost of health care; it will only empower insurance companies to develop another mechanism to stick our families with the bill. Read here
Kerrey’s Harsh Criticism of Gale: GOP claims that Bob Kerrey did not adequately established residency in Nebraska prior to filing to run for Senator led to a decision by Secretary of State John Gale. Kerrey is now responding to Gale’s language. Gale stated that Kerrey acted in a way that was troubling and claiming that Kerrey rushed back to the state to claim residency. The first, and most important point, is that none of this language had anything to do with Gale’s actual ruling. His ruling on whether to put Kerrey on the ballot was quite simple, there was little to no doubt that Kerrey was entitled to be on the ballot. Secondly, this excess language seems to only be used for political purposes by the Republican Secretary of State. Read here
Union Group Endorses Obama and Calls for Reforms: At the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industry Organizations (AFL-CIO) Executive Council meeting, the council decided to endorse President Obama in the up coming presidential election. The group also noted that they are adamant about their stance on reform of immigration policy, women’s reproductive health care policy, and over turning Citizens United. The group also has a plan for how to fix the economic situation in the US. AFL reinforced that U.S. economic policy should focus less on the competitiveness of large corporations based in the country and more on the competitiveness and prosperity of U.S. citizens and residents. Many political leaders have been ranting about how the economic focus in the U.S. needs to change if we are going to continue to be competitive and this seems like a good shift. Problems stemming both from large government and the current economic model leading to the ‘1%’, would benefit greatly by transforming our focus away from large scale multinational framework and into a more localized one that enables more political power for each individual. Read here
Ole’ Coal: Congress is looking at new EPA standards on coal and oil power plants. The new standards require these plants to take measures in order to reduce emissions of mercury, arsenic and heavy metals. The new standards have been anticipated for more than a decade and they afford power companies up to four years to meet them. The EPA notes that the new standards will greatly increase the health of citizens in the areas of premature death, heart attacks, asthma attacks and emergency room visits. Even with the ample amount of time that power companies have been aware of the possibility of new standards, they note that they will need more time if they are to keep people’s lights on. It’s time to put words into action and start getting our country on a clean energy economy path. Read here
You can also find the latest news coming from Nebraska’s Legislative branch here with the Unicameral Update.
The Bold Roundup is assembled every morning by our smart and savvy interns.
Monday, March 19th
This Monday marks the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s debut album. Recently, a new 4-disc tribute album of Dylan songs sung by a variety of other artists was released. Part of the proceeds of the album goes to Amnesty International. Here is a video of Bob Seeger singingForever Young. Here’s your Roundup:
Keystone Information Request: The Institute for Energy Research has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Environmental Protection agency regarding the President’s decision to reject the federal permit necessary for TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The Institute for Energy Research is now scouring for documents that indicate that the President’s rejection of the permit was a political decision. The implicit claim they have is that this decision should not have been a political one. There are certainly enough arguments against the pipeline to warrant the President’s decision; however, given the lack of benefits the pipeline would give the US, a political decision to side with environmental concerns over foreign oil interests doesn’t seem like a terrible stance to take. The President cited both the lack of environmental information regarding the pipeline and its route across the Ogallala Aquifer and the Sand Hills as his reasons for rejecting the project. Late last December, the President was reviewing documents regarding the pipeline when Senate Republicans attempted to force his hand and passed legislation that required the President to decide on the permit within 60 days. In response, the President noted that he did not have enough information regarding the project but since he was required to act he rejected the permit. Read here
Republicans in Puerto Rico?: Tomorrow is the GOP Illinois primary and both Santorum and Romney have had their attention directed a little more south. Both recently traveled to Puerto Rico to get campaign for support. The island of Puerto Rico has 20 GOP delegates that can be split between candidates. Romney showed a large lead with about 83% of the vote, while Santorum was looking more at 8%. In the end, because Romney got more than 50% of the votes he received all 20 delegates. Read here
Lies about Oil Shale: A lot has been said about new oil and natural gas drilling techniques and how they will be our saving light. The reality of the situation is certainly a little less optimistic. Shale oil comes out of the ground in solid form and cannot be transformed into a usable form unless it is heated to 700 degrees Fahrenheit. Along with this extremely energy intensive process, shale oil is also one of the dirtiest carbon polluters of them all. Despite concluding that national revenue from development of oil shale in the next decade would be $0, the federal government is continuing to give away federal public lands in the west to companies eager to drill for the oil shale. Read here
Big Banks Making Housing Problems Worse (Surprise): The housing foreclosure problem has gotten worse as state officials attempt to rectify the situation. As banks foreclose on homes, the value of the home needs to assessed to see whether the home owner will be able to adjust their loan or if foreclosure proceedings should go forward. The problem that residents are running into now is that big banks are over valuing the houses when they assess them. This makes it less likely for the home owner to modify their loan and keep their home. This comes as no surprise because whether it’s the current owner or a possible future one after foreclose, the bank wants their investment to look at lucrative as possible. This becomes a problem when they begin to stretch the truth and over value homes. This also seems to be right in line with the policy of robo-signers, which was denounced by the industry as a bad practice that did not indicate institutional fraud. Once again, it’s about time people quit listening to the banks tell us whether their practices are legal or not. Read here
You can also find the latest news coming from Nebraska’s Legislative branch here with the Unicameral Update.
The Bold Roundup is assembled every morning by our smart and savvy interns.