Off the Wire

Student Leadership Summit Applications due January 31 2015

Bank of America’s Student Leaders program connects high school juniors and seniors to jobs that not only prepare them for a brighter future, but recognizes students who make an effort to step outside their classrooms and help make a difference in their communities. Selected Student Leaders are awarded paid summer internships with local nonprofits and participate in a week-long Student Leadership Summit in Washington DC. Applications will be accepted through January 31 for the 2015 Student Leaders program.




Outdated No Child Left Behind needs fixing

Few issues are more important to Washington state families than making sure every student has access to a quality education so they can leave school prepared to work hard and succeed. I hear about this from parents, from business owners and even from students themselves. We have so many teachers and principals across our state doing amazing work to reach this goal but, unfortunately, the federal government’s education law, No Child Left Behind, is hindering these efforts and needs to be fixed.

Read the rest of Patty Murray's special to The Seattle Times.



Denying Science Should Disqualify Anyone From Holding Office

Last night, an event rapidly transpired in Washington that, while routine, was also so utterly lunatic it bears reconsideration. During a series of votes on the Keystone Pipeline, Senate Democrats proposed an amendment affirming that “human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” The amendment failed because only five Republican Senators supported it. Media coverage largely focused on the political machinations of both sides attempting to frame dueling votes in their preferred language. Yet the outcome of the vote reveals something profound and disturbing.

Read the full story.



People's State of the Union: Online Story Circle

What if the annual State of the Union was not a speech spoken by one, but a poem created by many?

From January 23-30, 2015, communities will gather in "story circles" across the country to reflect on the current state of our union. Stories will be shared back online, inspiring the creation of a poetic People's State of the Union Address!

This online story circle event is part of People's State of the Union, a project by the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (a Washington, D.C.-based action network of artists and cultural workers) and is intended to accommodate those who may not have an opportunity to attend any of the 150+ in-person events that are being hosted across the country.

It’s been a challenging year - what stories do you think need to be told?

How does the online story circle work?

  • Starting Sunday, January 26, participants will receive an invite via email to join an online project space on Zilino.
  • For the first couple of days, as participants start to stream in, they will have a chance to introduce themselves.
  • On Tuesday, January 27, we'll break out into small groups of approximately 4-8 people where participants will share their stories (the actual story circles)
  • On Thursday, January 29, we'll wrap up with a round of reflection and feedback.
Have questions about People's State of the Union: Online Story Circle Event? Contact Intellitics, Inc.

Congress' New Year Resolutions

There are at least five simple and realistic steps the 114th Congress could take to help Washington be more productive—and tamp down the “dys” while re-emphasizing “function.” These were among the core recommendations of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, which announced its report in June 2014:

· Institute more days in session with synchronized schedules between the House and Senate. In the last Congress, the House of Representatives averaged fewer than 147 days per year in which to legislate, and the Senate just 141—that averages to less than three days per week. Moreover, mismatched schedules for the House and Senate make the legislative process that much more difficult.

· Policies resulting in a more substantive debate in both chambers, including open amendment processes in the Senate and House. Regrettably, inhibiting the minority party’s ability to have amendments considered and voted on has become all too common in the name of “protecting” members of the majority from politically challenging votes.

· A genuine, concerted attempt at reviving regular order, including empowering the committees to move legislation. Regular order would mean returning to a system of rules, mechanisms and precedents to engender vigorous deliberation with the eventual aim of reaching agreement. Every highly functional organization, both public and private, has predictable governing principles to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and success—Congress should be no different.

· Complete budget and appropriations bills on time. Congress has largely abdicated one of its most fundamental obligations: passing budgets and appropriations bills—leaving us lurching from crisis to crisis and exacerbating policy uncertainty.

· Regular congressional leadership meetings with the president. Divided control and tensions between Congress and the White House have led to high risk showdowns over matters affecting the nation’s fiscal position and global reputation.


Debates Worthy of this Country

"So the question for those of us here tonight is how we, all of us, can better reflect America’s hopes. I’ve served in Congress with many of you. I know many of you well. There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle. And many of you have told me that this isn’t what you signed up for — arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision.

Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different.

Understand — a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.

A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.

A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.

A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.

If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments — but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.

That’s a better politics. That’s how we start rebuilding trust. That’s how we move this country forward. That’s what the American people want. That’s what they deserve."

From the 2015 SOTU Address


Return of the False Tax Claims

Every once in a while bogus emails get revised, recycled – and widely recirculated.

That is happening now with a viral email that purports to list income tax increases that take effect this year and that “were all passed under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare” without Republican votes.

Read the full story.



Quarterly Report on the Economy 

Jobs, paychecks, corporate profits and stock prices have all improved since FactCheck.org's last report on the Obama statistical record. Some highlights:

  • The economy has now gained nearly five times more jobs under President Barack Obama than it did during the presidency of George W. Bush, and the unemployment rate has dropped to just below the historical average.
  • Real weekly earnings are up 1.7 percent, thanks in part to a plunge in gasoline prices.
  • Corporate profits have nearly tripled, and stock prices have soared.
  • On the other hand, the number of Americans receiving food stamps remains 45 percent higher than when the president first took office, and the rate of home ownership has dropped by 3.2 percentage points, to the lowest point in nearly 20 years.
  • The average premium for a benchmark “silver” health plan in the Obamacare marketplaces rose only 2 percent this year, and consumers had more plans from which to choose. But the tax penalty for going without insurance will double.

Read the analysis.



Product of Mexico: Bounty for U.S. Tables

From LA Times

The tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers arrive year-round by the ton, with peel-off stickers proclaiming "Product of Mexico." Farm exports to the U.S. from Mexico have tripled to $7.6 billion in the last decade, enriching agribusinesses, distributors and American consumers get all the salsa, squash and melons they can eat at affordable prices. And top U.S. brands Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Subway and Safeway, among many others profit from produce they have come to depend on.

These corporations say their Mexican suppliers have committed to decent treatment and living conditions for workers. But a Los Angeles Times investigation found that for thousands of farm laborers south of the border, the export boom is a story of exploitation and extreme hardship.

The Times found:

  • Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply.

  • Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods.

  • Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It's common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest.

  • Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors.

  • Major U.S. companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.

  • Read full story


    The Battle to Protect the Vote

    From the Southern Elections Fund

    “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind—it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

    The right to vote is the cornerstone of American democracy. The free exercise of the franchise is essential to the preservation and protection of all other constitutional rights. It serves as a check on America’s political leaders and as a source of power for citizens. In this way, the vote is a tangible measure both of what we are as a nation and of what we aspire to be.

    The question that every American should ask is: How can we collectively encourage more people to participate in the political process?

    Instead of embracing this important principle of inclusion, however, too many states have recently sought to make it harder for Americans to vote in the 2014 elections through concerted legislative efforts or policy decisions. Today, the United States is experiencing an assault on voting rights that is historic in its scope and in its intensity.

    Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s devastating 2013 decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder—which invalidated core protections in the Voting Rights Act, or VRA—15 states launched attacks on voting rights in advance of the 2014 midterm elections. This report estimates the impact of this assault on the ability of communities of color to participate in the 2014 midterm elections in five of those states—Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia—each of which has seen a significant population increase in communities of color.

    Read more.