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 1st

White House Weighs in to the Supremes on Gay Marriage: Today President Obama held a short press conference expanding on why the administration filed an amicus brief (written testimony or legal opinion) with the Supreme Court regarding the current case being brought against the State of California’s Proposition 8, which bans the marriage of gay couples. Obama said he knew from the moment it was brought to the Supreme Court that he “didn’t feel that this [case] was something the administration could avoid,” adding that “it was important for us to articulate what I believe and what this administration stands for.” It has been noted that while the President’s remarks don’t necessarily argue for all gay marriage bans across the U.S. to be lifted, “the brief’s reasoning still might ultimately lead the Supreme Court, if it agrees, to eventually establish gay marriage as a national right.” The administration’s brief basically argues that because California sees civil unions as legal, then the only real reason why that added step of marriage has been declared illegal is because of discrimination, which is unconstitutional under the “promise that all Americans be treated equally.” Read here

“Caving In”: Yesterday the House finally passed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act—after a whole year of blocking it. The final version of the bill that was passed included a change made to make Republicans happy—the provision “that would have made more visas available to undocumented victims of domestic violence who help law enforcement prosecute their abusers” was removed. Fortunately, other GOP demands were not met, and the final bill still included “protections for members of the LGBT community,” and didn’t include a caveat that would have “made it harder for tribal courts to prosecute non-Indian abusers” of women on reservations. The President of the National Organization for Women, Terry O’Neill, noted that this successful reauthorization is probably largely due to the actions of voters in November—candidates who demonstrated a serious misunderstanding and ignorance of “the issue of rape” were not elected. Read here

“Fight the KXL”: Today the SEIS of the KXL was released—and it did not come to the conclusion that the KXL would have a serious impact on climate change. It appears that with this SEIS, the State Department has accepted the argument made by many pipeline proponents, and even environmentalists who think that we pipeline fighters are picking the wrong fight. But all one has to do is read the Globe and Mail (a major Canadian news source) at any given time to see that the KXL is crucial to the development of the tar sands—meaning that the KXL will indeed directly impact climate change and this is a fight worth fighting. Michael Grunwald wrote for TIME that he is “with the tree-huggers” on this one. His article very clearly lays out why it is important that President Obama deny the KXL if he is serious about taking on climate change. Near the end of his article, Grunwald said it straight: “It’s a choice between Big Oil and a more sustainable planet. The right answer isn’t always somewhere in the middle.” It’s important for us to make it clear that the SEIS is wrong in not concluding that the KXL will have a major impact on climate change–we will be keeping you updated on actions to take. Read here


Thursday, February 28th

Today’s Roundup is a coordinated effort by Carolyn Nolte and Chelsea Johnson: 

Voter’s Rights in Question, Again!: The fight for voters’ rights is far from over. In fact, last November illustrated that there is still a lot of obstacles facing voters when they head to the polls—not least among the obstacles is Voter ID legislation. And while we Nebraskans are yet again fighting a bill by Charlie Janssen that will require voters to present a government issued ID in order to vote (or be given a provisional ballot), the Voting Rights Act, signed into law in 1965 and reauthorized in 2006, is currently under review by the Supreme Court.  The Voting Rights Act allows the Department of Justice to defend against discriminatory voting practices, and requires 9 Southern States and several other counties and municipalities around the country to clear changes in their voting laws with the U.S. government. At issue is what areas are to be subject to this requirement. Some believe that the 2006 renewal of the act by Congress was based on now irrelevant “historical practices,” Indeed, it appears that some of the Supreme Court justices would agree. In yesterday’s hearing on the Voting Rights Act, Justice Scalia said “the law, once a civil rights landmark, now amounted to a ‘perpetuation of racial entitlement.’ In response, Benard Simelton, President of the NAACP Alabama State Conference, issued a public statement imploring “people across America to rally for this piece of legislation that is at jeopardy […] Too many have died and suffered for the fundamental and basic right to vote. We must continue our efforts to ensure that everyone’s votes are counted, regardless of race, creed, or color”

Chances Are…: Signs read in tea leaves or palms may be lost arts and considered superstitious, but chances are that when drilling an oil well, indications that you could “lose the well” because “kicks” signal that pressure is unstable and could result in “a rupture or other problem” point in one direction: stop drilling. But BP didn’t. Wednesday was the second day of testimony in the civil trial over BP’s Gulf disaster, and powerful testimony by a chief technology officer for Fusion Petroleum Technologies Inc. demonstrated that BP knew it was taking chances in drilling its Macondo well long before the 2010 blowout. Testimony by the former senior vice president of Gulf drilling operations for BP, Kevin Lacy, was also heard yesterday. Lacy testified that “he was under heavy pressure from top BP management in 2008 and 2009 to shave hundreds of millions of dollars in costs and received bonuses for doing so. In 2009, his team cut up to $300 million in costs and had pressure to keep it up in 2010.” Unfortunately, this culture of cutting costs in exchange for more lucrative profit at the expense of safety isn’t really a surprise, and it should be seen as more evidence the entire industry isn’t really in business for the well-being of American citizens. Eleven people died in the BP blowout. The devastation done to the Gulf has still not been fully realized. BP – British Petroleum – was responsible for this. One can’t honestly say that the United States doesn’t consider Great Britain an ally; after all, they were among the few who were on our side when the U.S. invaded Iraq. Just because the United States considers a nation an ally doesn’t mean we should automatically assume the companies based in those nations have our best interests at heart. Read here


Wednesday, February 27th

Major Pipeline Spill: A pipeline leak was discovered last Saturday in a creek in Texas, but landowners said they had started smelling something wrong as early as last Tuesday. By the time the leak was contained, approximately 20,000 gallons (550 barrels) had spilled into Otter Creek and expanded into Russell Creek, which feeds into the Neches River. The pipeline owned by Sunoco was shut down, and crews are “working around the clock” to get it cleaned up. Read here  

Killing His Own Bill: Senator Mark Christensen killed his own bill today because of an amendment (brought by Sen. Ernie Chambers) that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Christensen’s bill would have allowed the Department of Correctional Services to enter into agreements with organizations to provide them with labor from incarcerated individuals. Chambers was against the bill because of the similarities he saw between the bill and “chain gangs of the south.” After a couple of days of successfully filibustering the bill and offering numerous failed amendments to it, one amendment passed 29-5—organizations participating in the free labor program would not be allowed to discriminate based off of sexual orientation. Read here and here  

This week and next there are some really great bills that would deserve your testimony if you are in town and can make the trip to the Unicam, or send in a letter of support:  

Thursday, February 28th (tomorrow) starting at 1:30 PM:
Wallman’s LB 635 “would set up a framework for the Oil and Gas Commission to establish regulations for fracking.” There are serious concerns with this one because it gives the Oil and Gas Commission control over their own industry, but regulating fracking needs to happen. Recommendation: make clear that fracking needs to be strongly regulated, but probably not by the Oil and Gas Commission.  Read here, text of bill here
Location: Room 1525

Ken Haar’s LB 454 would set up a producer-responsibility program for recycling electronics like computers and televisions. Read here, text of bill here
Location: Room 1525

Friday, March 1 – Starting at 1:30
Ken Haar’s LB 567 will “require the Power Review Board to consider the health impacts, economic impacts, water usage, risk analysis related to the life cycle of generation, and economic impact” before approving any new generation project. These costs, “such as the impact of pollutants and water usage,” are currently not considered. Recommendation: This is a really important bill that would account for the “true cost” of energy. We highly recommend either attending this hearing or sending in a written testimony to the Natural Resources Committee. Read here, text of bill here
Location: Room 1525

Ken Haar and Norman Wallman’s LB 428 would allow Certified Nursing Midwifes to be present for at-home births. This would expand the options women have for giving birth, and improve the safety of the practice as it would become legal for women wishing for an at-home birth to receive the assistance of a Certified Nursing Midwife. Read here, text of bill here
Location: Room 1510

Next Tuesday, March 5 – Starting at 9:15 AM

Two bills related to property rights. These are really important to get to or send your testimony in to the Judiciary Committee. Room 1113. Read Ben Gotschall’s summary and recommendations here

Also on Tuesday: 

Larson’s LB 598 would increase the cap on net metering from 25kw to 100kw. Increasing the cap would allow more people to take advantage of more renewable energy projects. It “would be most cost effective for farmers, ranchers, and small rural communities…and make net metering available to a new class of renewable energy producers.” Read here, text of bill here
Location: Room 1525

McGill’s LB 557 “would authorize community solar gardens.” It would allow people to build a community solar garden for the benefit of all who took part in the project. It “would enable people who live in apartments or who lack good solar access or who don’t have the capital to put their own solar panels up to benefit from solar energy.” Read here, text of bill here
Location: Room 1525


Monday, February 25th

Who Would’ve Thought?: The sequester is to take effect on Friday, and the White House (using numbers from federal agencies and its budget office) has released information on how the sequester will impact each state. For a little bit of background on why this word has suddenly been making star appearances in vocabularies across the U.S., the sequester is a set of across the board, automatic spending cuts in both domestic and defense budgets. Most people are in agreement that allowing the sequester to go into effect will be very, very bad (understatement). That is, everyone except for a few Republicans in Congress who think the “American people won’t feel it too much.” A little more context: the sequester was added to last year’s debt limit deal as more of a threat than an actual stab at policymaking, thought to be so draconian that even Congress wouldn’t be crazy enough to let it happen…or so we thought. Nebraskans will be affected by the sequester in many ways, including a reduction of $3 million in funding for schools, $1.3 million in environmental program funding, and the loss of child care for 200 disadvantaged children.  Read here for a larger list of how NE will be affected, and here for a national news update on the sequester

What’s Next for the Fight Against Climate Change?: David Roberts of Grist takes a critical look at the fight against the KXL, and “what the climate movement should do next.” One of the leading critiques of the KXL opposition campaign has been that it is not focused on the right issue—pipeline fighters are trying to tackle supply, when we should be more focused on demand. This critique exploits a commonly said falsehood that the tar sands will be developed regardless if the KXL is built or not. But while the critique is correct in emphasizing that we need to reduce demand for oil, our fight still matters. If we stop the KXL, it will hinder development of the tar sands. But Roberts notes that perhaps the most important aspect of our fight is that it has impassioned the masses and mobilized people in a way that most other environmental issues have not. Comparing the fight against the KXL to the Montgomery bus boycotts, Roberts notes the importance of a “defining moment in demonstrating what was at stake and the possibility of change.” The KXL is that moment in this fight for the future of our planet and generations to come. While it may not necessarily appeal to the vast majority of Americans, it has lit an inspiration in the fight against climate change, and hopefully will be an ultimate success when President Obama denies the KXL. Read here

Examining Fracking Emissions: The EPA has agreed to look more closely into emissions from fracking. The agency’s auditor concluded that “current data is not sufficient enough” to make sound policy decisions, and so the EPA has already “begun an inter-agency study on methane, air toxins and other pollutants released when oil and gas are tapped” in the fracking process. Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA’s air office and the rumored replacement for EPA head Lisa Jackson, said “We have identified emissions information for oil and natural gas production as a critical need,” promising news for those fighting the process that has already been linked to the contamination of groundwater. Read here

Check out this awesome poem by spoken word poet and activist Drew Dellinger. “Hieroglyphic Stairway” starts off: “It’s 3.23 in the morning, and I am awake because my great-great grandchildren won’t let me sleep. My great-great grandchildren ask me in dreams ‘what did you do while the planet was plundered, what did you do when the earth was unraveling…’”  Watch here