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 15th

The first Mother’s Day was celebrated in 1914, but a holiday honoring fathers did not become official until 1966, when President Lyndon Johnson declared the third Sunday in June would be Father’s Day. That day has arrived, folks, so go out and celebrate with your dads! Happy Father’s Day to all you BOLD Nebraskan fathers. Here’s your Roundup:

Protecting the Public: Two weeks ago, the EPA was ordered to sign a proposed rule on national air quality standards that will significantly reduce levels of fine-particle soot—a deadly instigator behind thousands of annual premature deaths. The pollutant settles deep inside lungs, causing heart and lung complications. Public health advocates, conservationists, and the eleven states that brought the EPA to court over the delay of these important standards will be celebrating this step towards protection of the American people today—but signing these standards into law will wait until after the November election and will likely face opposition from industry leaders and Congressional Republicans, whom apparently can’t see anything the EPA does as a matter of public safety. Read here

Innovation in Lincoln: Lincoln is home to a one-of-a-kind green stoplight that is powered partially by a wind turbine and partially by solar power. While the installation of this special stoplight cost $8,000, the city of Lincoln pays $72,000 on supplying power to traffic lights. Expanding the model of the “green stoplight” throughout Lincoln could cut down on the annual cost of traffic lights and reduce the installation cost as well. Innovative solutions such as this are important in leading Nebraska along the path of sustainability that will allow future generations to thrive and experience “the good life.” Read here

Pride at the Pentagon: This month, the Pentagon will recognize gay and lesbian troops by marking June as gay pride month. The Pentagon has long recognized diversity in the armed forces, and in light of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the welcome reception the repeal has received, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wants to honor the contributions of gay service members. Although gay servicemembers no longer face discharge for serving openly gay, they do not yet share equal rights with their heterosexual counterparts. Examples of benefits denied to gay servicemembers include spousal health care, assignments to the same location when they transfer to another job, and other benefits. Read here

A Bold Move: The Obama Administration is taking a bold move toward improving the nation’s immigration policies and plans to initiate a change in policy that has many similarities to the much fought for DREAM Act. The administration’s plan will apply to illegal immigrants under the age of 30 who were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16. Under the administration’s policy, illegal immigrants will not be granted a path toward citizenship but will be granted the ability to work in this country legally, allowing eligible immigrants to remain in the U.S. for extended periods. The policy applies to young people who have already contributed to the U.S. in meaningful ways, and marks an important change in the administration’s policy toward deportations. Read here


Thursday, June 14th

We finally got our letter from Hogwarts! Well, not really, but J.K. Rowling has announced that she will be publishing a new book, targeted for adult audiences. Neither the title nor details of the book have been released, but the anticipation of opening a new book by one of the world’s most beloved authors has us almost as excited as if we were on our way to Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Here’s your Roundup:

How Much Does Democracy Cost?: Lack of pipeline infrastructure has oil companies in Canada complaining that they are losing out on profits—prompting Prime Minister Harper’s administration to push through as many export pipeline projects as possible while Canada’s #1 export pipeline, KXL, remains in limbo. But for the tar sands to reach either coast, pipelines must pass through the most environmentally conscious provinces in Canada as well as gain the approval of indigenous groups. In turn, Canada’s desperation to get their tar sands to the global market has led to a decline of democracy in the country. Getting the oil companies what they want has meant the Conservative government has labeled environmentalists as potential terrorists and is expediting permit processes by accelerating scheduled hearings and limiting public comment. We stood in solidarity with Canadian environmental groups last week because their charitable status may be revoked by the Conservative Canadian government, limiting their ability to organize public opposition to the risky pipelines. Read here

Motivations: Sen. Johanns introduced an amendment Tuesday to the Farm Bill that would prohibit the EPA from performing aerial surveillance of agricultural operations, a cost-efficient practice used by the EPA to comply with the Clean Water Act. His amendment came after having asked the EPA over 20 questions as to the reasons behind the aerial surveillance, the answers to which have been received. Sen. Johanns argues that it is an issue of trust, saying: “farmers and ranchers don’t trust EPA doing low-level surveillance flights over their operations.” While it is important that Sen. Johanns is hearing the concerns of his constituents, we have to ask why it is that the Senator is suddenly concerned with the issues involved. Why didn’t Sen. Johanns ask TransCanada why it was performing low-level aerial surveillance of its proposed route, often causing cattle to run through fences and landowners to clean up the mess? Why didn’t Sen. Johanns stand up for farmers and ranchers when TransCanada threatened them with eminent domain? Why is Senator Johanns demonizing the EPA, an agency that has direct interest in promoting public health and safety, while embracing TransCanada, a foreign corporation intent on risking the health and livelihoods of Nebraskans?

 Considering Citizens United: The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has been repeatedly criticized for allowing the wealthiest in the United States buy elections and limiting the influence average Americans have in elections. One state has refused to abide by the Supreme Court’s decision, however. Montana never struck down its own state constitutional law that forbids election spending by corporations, an action that has prompted the Indiana attorney who started the Citizens United case to return the issue to the Supreme Court in an appeal that will be heard by the justices today. As the LA Times explains, “Although the high court turns down 99% of appeals, no one expects the Montana appeal to be denied.” The high court could either write a summary opinion explaining why their decision was right, or it could hear the case this fall and reconsider the decision that was a mistake in the eyes of most Americans. Read here

Join the twitterstorm next Monday, June 18th, when people all over the world will demand that world leaders end the fossil fuel subsidies that are worth over $1 trillion dollars worldwide. From June 20-22, thousands of world leaders will attend the Rio +20 Sustainable Development Summit, marking the 20th anniversary of a similar summit that took place in Rio two decades ago. The reality is that the world hasn’t made much progress on the track toward sustainability in the last two decades, and the need for action is more vital than ever.  Read here and here

Wednesday, June 13th

A new Gallop Poll shows Congress’s approval rating has increased to 17%…still not a very good rating especially when considering all of the things from our recent history that have a higher popularity rating, like caning. Here’s your Roundup:  

Our Loss: Consumers have likely drawn the short straw in Verizon’s new billing program. The Washington Post reports that this new billing program will increase what families pay for what is now seen as an essential service, as traditional uses of cell phones (like calling people) has taken back seat to the demand for internet access everywhere. Yesterday, Verizon publicly announced that it will provide texting and voice services for free, but will end unlimited data packages to instead charge customers based on how much data they use—and the company has increased the price of that data. Read here

Who Needs Financial Regulation?: JPMorgan’s CEO is currently testifying in front of the Senate Banking Committee, trying to explain how the bank lost over $2 billion in risky trades last month. He plans to tell the committee that the bank has taken measures to prevent such losses from happening again, but the incident heightens concern that the biggest banks still pose great risks to the U.S. financial system. More than this, the actions of JPMorgan should demonstrate that the financial sector still operates recklessly, risking the majority of American’s already deteriorated wealth and confidence in the midst of some of the toughest years experienced in this country, and illustrate the need for tougher controls on these agencies. Read here

Vote for Positive Change: Nonprofits, local businesses, and artists have joined together in an effort to “motivate community development and positive change” along the Leavenworth Street Corridor in Omaha. Trug: Leavenworth’s method is installing beautiful, green planters and seating in designated parking spaces throughout the corridor which will also serve as gathering places for weekly activities like art displays, sidewalk sales, free lead testing, kid friendly activities, and more. Trug: Leavenworth is in the running to receive a $5,000 grant for their great idea that will get the community engaged and create a livelier environment for the underserved area—all they need is your vote.  Read and VOTE here

Visit the Old Market: The College World Series is due to begin this weekend, and the Old Market beckons. The CWS usually hearkens images of crowded sidewalks and traffic jams, as well as the idea that the historic Old Market must be packed to the brim with visitors and Omahans alike. But restaurateurs in the Old Market say the CWS is actually a slower time for them, and traffic in the area isn’t bad either, even with the games having been moved from Rosenblatt to Ameritrade Park. So if you’re heading to Omaha for the opening games this weekend, the Old Market could be the perfect place to go for a break from all the fans and sweaty stadium. Read here

Cap-and-Trade’s Big Bucks: Though a nationwide carbon cap-and-trade system has been off the radar since the campaign for such a program died two years ago, cap-and-trade has found itself the subject of more debate—this time it is solely about the revenue it generates. Several states picked up the system in the face of failure to establish a nationwide program, and one of those states, California, is torn over how to spend the billions of dollars in revenues it will bring to the state. Proponents of the cap-and-trade system have long prophesized the massive benefits that would arise from such a system, recognizing it as a system that accounts for the true cost of carbon that also generates billions of dollars in revenues. The state’s economy wide cap-and-trade system will hold its first carbon auction in five months, and is struggling to decide where all the money generated should go. Meanwhile, New Jersey is being sued for Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to pull the state out of the Northeast’s multistate carbon trading system last year. The state’s legislature has voted twice to bring the state back into the program, but Christie has already vetoed one of those bills. Environmental groups suing the NJ government have faulted the governor for withdrawing NJ from a program that produces revenue that can be used to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.

More Pollution Problems: A recent study published by Columbia University reports that obesity in humans isn’t only affected by what we eat—it’s affected by what we breathe. Researchers at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health recently published findings that pregnant women exposed to higher levels of PAHs (chemicals released into the air from the burning of coal, diesel, oil, gas and tobacco) more than doubled their risk of bearing children who would be obese by the age of 7. It’s no wonder why recommendations for reducing obesity (such as eating less meat and increased walking) are echoed when discussing recommendations for reducing our carbon footprints. Read here


Tuesday, June 12th

A new survey has shown that 75% of young people are willing to give to various causes and nonprofits—and they aren’t only willing to volunteer their time, they are willing to give their money. The survey also showed that these young people are more than willing to get their friends in on the giving tree—70% said they have solicited their friends for a donation to a cause they felt really passionate about. Now that’s some heartening news to start the day. Here’s your Roundup:

Legal Issues: Two weeks ago Florida was asked to stop purging its voter rolls of U.S. citizens and legal voters—the consequences of the state’s attempt to rid the voting rolls of non-citizens. Not only did the state refuse to stop purging its rolls, but now the state has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Government. It’s case? That the Department of Homeland Security should have granted access to its immigration database, even though Florida likely doesn’t have the means to use it and it doesn’t contain information on U.S. born citizens. This isn’t the only lawsuit that the purge has brought on, however. The Department of Justice is also planning to sue Florida for violating two federal laws that prevent states from suppressing voters—the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the National Voter Registration Act. Read here

Scorched Earth: While we are suffering early drought conditions in Nebraska, Colorado is facing one of the worst wildfires in years. Typically, wildfires in the west occur much later in the summer, but the unusually dry winter and spring have created conditions in the Colorado forests that are 30% drier than usual. By late last night, the fire had already grown to almost 60 square miles, and has claimed the life of one man and at least 100 buildings. When extreme events such as this occur, many question if climate change is playing a role. But there is no longer any question. An international team of scientists has come out with a report that has found climate change will disrupt fire patterns across over 80% of the globe by the end of the century, and mid to high latitude areas like North America could experience 60% more fires in the long term. Furthermore, more regions will experience fires such as this one, especially the world’s grasslands, desert shrublands, and temperate conifer forests (like the Colorado forest facing destruction). Read here

Plummeting Wealth: New government data released yesterday shows that the wealth Americans have built up over the past two decades has essentially disappeared. The Federal Reserve has shown that from 2007 to 2010, the average net worth of families fell by almost 40%, down to levels last seen in 1992. Middle class Americans have borne the brunt of the decline, with only half of those previously identified as being part of the middle class able to hold on to that position during the economic downturn. While the middle class fell, the Fed’s data showed that the wealthiest American’s net worth increased. Responding to the news that most American families have been set back 20 years, economists say it’s no wonder the road to recovery has been so slow and tedious. In fact, the road forward will likely be a long one. Read here

Quitting Carbon: The International Energy Agency reported yesterday that the technology to prevent a global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celcius (it is commonly agreed that rising above that limit will initiate self reinforcing climate change) is there, but widespread political will is not. For example while onshore wind and photovoltaic solar technology is now more efficient and effective than ever, coal consumption is rising worldwide, and nuclear energy is lagging behind. Nebraska is in the position to reduce its carbon emissions, but NPPD must first decide to cut dependence on Wyoming’s coal in favor of our home-grown wind energy. Read here


Monday, June 11th

We are still battling TransCanada and the news is riddled with stories of the devastating impacts of oil spills. Words quoted this weekend by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in reference to the impending commencement of Rio +20 open the Roundup and remind us why our battle with TransCanada started and why it must go on: “The world was not given to you by your parents; it was lent to you by your children.” Here’s your Roundup:

What Prosperity?: Oil has brought a business and employment boon to North Dakota at a time when the rest of the nation has been facing the trials of recession. But ProPublica reports that this prosperity comes with costs that will continue to be fully realized by future generations. In the past three years, oil companies in the state reported more than 2,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids—but regulators have been unable or unwilling to hold the oil companies accountable for damages, and have only issued 50 disciplinary actions during this same time frame. The spills are sterilizing acres of farmland and contaminating underground water sources. Only one study is being done on the effects on an aquifer just under North Dakota’s border with Montana, but it has shown that contamination has so far spread through 12 square miles of the area’s only drinking source, and that the plumes of contamination that have stuck around for decades only show signs of making the aquifer undrinkable. Read here

A New Kind of Drug War: A new strategy appears to be on Mexico’s horizon for dealing with the continued violence surrounding drug cartels in the country. Presidential hopefuls in Mexico have been campaigning on promises to abandon the antidrug approach to the drug cartels in Mexico in favor of an approach that targets violence. Rather than focusing energies of the Mexican army on drug trafficking in order to prevent the drugs from entering the U.S., the Mexican police forces will focus on curbing the violence that has come to define the border area. The candidates also describe a future in which social inequalities that push young people into gangs will be addressed in order to curb violence. Read here

A Block to Transparency: The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United has already flooded American politics with unprecedented campaign spending coming from wealthy and often ambiguous sources—and in President Obama’s words has “undermined the influence of average Americans” in politics. In an effort to reclaim some of transparency of campaign dollars, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed requiring TV stations affiliated with the four top networks in the 50 largest markets to post political ad sales records online. Stations are already required to make the records available upon public request, but the files are difficult to acquire as citizens would have to go to the news station and search amongst paper files to get the desired information. The FCC’s proposal would have been a step forward in helping citizens ensure accountability in the election process, but House Republicans Thursday successfully approved a funding bill that included a rider blocking the FCC from implementing its proposal. Read here

Another Leak: In the home of the tar sands, Alberta, a pipeline leak sent 475,000 liters of crude oil flowing into a rain-swollen Red Deer River system. It was a local resident who sounded the alarm on the leak, not any leak detection system controlled by the oil company responsible for the pipeline, Plains Midstream Canada. Neither the cause of the leak nor full extent of damages stemming from it have been concluded as of yet, but officials claim it is contained. However, recent heavy rains have swelled the rivers, raising concerns that the leaked oil could be moving downstream very quickly. Though we don’t need any more examples backing up the #1 rule of oil pipelines—they leak—this incident also highlights that without local citizens’ watchfulness, the leak would have gone undetected. Read here

Still No End In Sight: On many levels we do not need anything else to affirm our opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline than to point to the tar sands spill that continues to devastate families and water in Michigan. Evidence has surfaced that Enbridge, the company whose pipeline burst, misled the feds on how much tar sands went flowing into the river—reporting at least 200,000 gallons less than what the EPA has found. The fact that this pipeline was carrying diluted bitumen, the same substance that will be used in KXL, is a major reason why it has taken so long to clean up this spill and why the cleanup is still happening. It has been nearly two years since this spill destroyed land, water, and livelihoods in Michigan and families still do not have answers about the long-term health impacts of the diluted bitumen that is now forever part of their lives. Read here