November 28, 2013
LAWT News Service
SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement that it will hear Kathleen Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.:
“Under the Affordable Care Act, all Americans have the right to access affordable, quality healthcare, including contraception,” Attorney General Harris said. “For profit companies should not be able to deny women access to healthcare based on the religious beliefs of the company’s owners. The 10th circuit ruling should be reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
In October, Attorney General Harris filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court asking the court to take up this case and was joined by ten states including Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
November 21, 2013
As the Dec. 3 special election nears for the 54th Assembly District, leading candidate Sebastain Ridley-Thomas has increased his support base by adding community faith based leaders this week.
Pastor Xavier L. Thompson, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California hailed Ridley-Thomas as, “The new face of leadership for residents of the 54th Assembly District. He has energy, intelligence and brings a wealth of new ideas to politics that he gained at important places such as working for Marian Wright Edelman at the Children Defense Fund and serving as policy director in the State Capitol for former state Senator and current L.A. City Councilmember Curren Price.”
The Rev. Thompson continued, “We know the Ridley-Thomas name. It’s a name we trust and respect for good reason. Avis and Mark Ridley Thomas have done their work well in raising both of their twin sons – Sebastian and Sinclair – but it is Sebastian who has answered the Ridley-Thomas call to public service and performed the foundational work needed to prepare himself for a position of leadership.”
“My experience working on policy issues at the state level and working on affordable healthcare issues in Washington, D.C. have helped form my commitment to help people striving to get through tough times and simply do better than they did yesterday,” said Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.
“But my parents imbued in me, and my brother, the dedication to our community, an inner strength borne from faith and a willingness to work hard to serve the public good.
“People want someone who will fight for them, be they unskilled workers seeking job training for a career as a tradesperson in construction or a small business owner toiling day-in and day-out to meet the needs of their customers. People want to be successful. They want to see positive results from their efforts. They want the opportunity to succeed. That is why it is so important for our state representatives to create new jobs and contracting opportunities for small businesses in our community.”
Rev. Norman Johnson, pastor of First New Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, also said he will also support the young Ridley-Thomas.
“With high unemployment still staggering residents of our community and foreclosures still threatening our homeowners, this is a time for new leadership that will be in our corner to fight for jobs and economic development that will lift our community and put our residents to work,” he said.
“I believe strongly that the new leader we need is Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.”
Thompson and Johnson join other prominent faith based leaders such as Bishop Charles E. Blake of West Angeles Church of God in Christ; Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, Ph.D., Faithful Central Bible Church; Rev. LeSean Tarkington, St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church; Rev. J. Benjamin Hardwick, president, Western Baptist Church; Rev. Robert Habersham, Hamilton United Methodist Church; and Rev. J. Edgar Boyd, senior pastor at First AME Church in their approval of the candidacy of Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.
City New Service
Thousands of University of California health care workers alleging unfair labor practices took part in a one-day strike today at hospitals in Westwood, Santa Monica, Irvine and across the state — a job action UC officials said reduces patients to “bargaining chips” in a work dispute.
Patient care technical workers and service workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 planned to picket throughout the day at hospitals, including Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, UC Irvine Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica. The union represents more than 22,000 UC hospital workers across the state.
Labor rallies were held on the UC Irvine campus and at UCI Medical Center in Orange.
“They went really well,” said Ebony Meeks of AFSCME, who participated in the Orange County rallies. “And they were well-attended.”
About 250 union members participated in the rally at UCI and another 250 rallied at the hospital in Orange, Meeks said.
“We’ve been marching since 6 a.m. and we’ll be marching until 6 p.m. We’re energized and ready to go,” Meeks said.
Union officials accuse hospital administrators of harassing and intimidating workers who advocated for “safe staffing standards” by taking part in a two-day walkout in May.
AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger said union members have “both the legal right and more responsibility” to stand up for the safety of students and other patients.
“By attempting to silence workers, UC hasn’t just repeatedly broken the law — it has willfully endangered all who come to UC to learn, to heal and to build a better life for their families,” she said.
Dr. John Stobo, senior vice president for UC Health Sciences and Services, countered that money is at the heart of the dispute, not concern for patients.
“By calling for a strike for a second time in seven months, AFSCME leaders again are putting patients at UC medical centers and student health centers in the middle of a labor dispute,” Stobo said. “This is completely inappropriate and unfair to the people we are here to serve. Our patients and students are not bargaining chips. They deserve better.”
Stobo said the university made updated offers to the union earlier this month “and showed significant movement on wages pensions, health care benefits and other issues. AFSCME rejected all of our offers.”
“We have the highest standards of excellence and we will continue delivering care that meets those standards during this strike,” he said. “Still, this strike by AFSCME will hurt the very patients the union claims to be protecting, which makes us believe it can only be about one thing — money.”
Stobo noted that more than 100 patients have had elective surgeries canceled due to the strike, and one patient will have a planned kidney transplant delayed.
Union officials said they were committed to patient protection, saying they have formed a task force to handle emergency needs at the hospitals during the strike and have exempted dozens of critical care workers from taking part in the walkout.
Members of the California Nurses Association had been scheduled to join the walkout in a show of solidarity, but it announced over the weekend it had reached a tentative contract deal with the UC system and would not be taking part in the strike.
Patient care technical workers include technicians for ultrasounds, X-rays, MRIs, mammograms and other tests, radiation therapists for cancer patients, pharmacy technicians and respiratory therapists, according to UC.
On Tuesday, a judge in Sacramento issued an injunction limiting the number of workers who can take part in the strike to ensure employees who perform essential functions remain on the job.
UCLA Health officials said the hospitals in Westwood and Santa Monica were open, although 20 percent of elective surgeries scheduled for the day have been postponed. About 325 replacement workers and “redeployed” administrative staff filled in for striking workers, according to UCLA.
The striking union represents about 3,800 employees in the UCLA Health System.
By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
President Obama’s Nov. 14 nomination of an African-American man to become the government’s top civil rights lawyer has been applauded by many in the Black and civil rights communities.
Debo P. Adegbile, who has served as senior counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee since July, is the nominee for the Department of Justice’s assistant attorney general for civil rights.
Adegbile is one of the premier civil rights attorneys and would serve admirably in the role if his nomination is approved by the U.S. Senate, said his former colleagues at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he worked since 2001.
“Debo has precisely the type of broad civil rights experience that is required at this pivotal moment in our country,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the Legal Defense Fund, a separate entity from the NAACP, in a statement.
“Our country needs someone like Debo with significant experience in voting rights to protect the deeply held American value that each person has the right to a voice in our democracy. Debo has worked tirelessly to ensure that our nation lives up to its promise of equality for all Americans,” Ifill continued.
In his years-long tenure at the Legal Defense Fund, Adegbile served in various roles including as special counsel, acting president and director-counsel, associate director-counsel and director of litigation, associate director of litigation, and assistant counsel.
While there, he also made two appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder and Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder. He also represented evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in the first post-Katrina federal voting rights lawsuit.
Prior to joining the NAACP, he was an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison from 1994 to 2001. This is the same law firm that Jeh Johnson, recently appointed secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, was a partner.
“As we navigate the new Civil Rights-era, Debo offers precisely the type of leadership necessary,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said in a statement Nov. 15. “From reforming America’s criminal justice system to expanding equality for all Americans, Debo has the civil rights experience and expertise needed to head the Division. Debo’s integrity, professionalism and respectable reputation as a legal practitioner and litigator are evidence that he is the right person for this incredibly important role.”
“Members of the Congressional Black Caucus strongly support President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile and encourage our colleagues in the Senate to confirm him for this position without delay,” Fudge said.
The son of immigrants from Ireland and Nigeria, Adegbile’s success came after growing up in abject poverty, including periods of homelessness, in New York City. Through scholarships, loans, and the sweat of his brow, Adegbile worked his way through college and law school, eventually obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College and a law degree from New York University School of Law.
Peers say his upbringing has informed his commitment to defending and upholding the rights of the most vulnerable in our society.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said Adegbile is in “a class of his own when it comes to understanding the application and enforcement of complex civil rights issues.”
“Millions of Americans rely on the Civil Rights Division to enforce housing, education, and employment discrimination laws, hate crime laws, the Violence Against Women Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the core civil rights statutes that allow all of us to take part in the fullness of American life,” Henderson said in a statement.
“Adegbile’s skill set, talents, and experience make him the perfect choice to head the Civil Rights Division,” he added. “We call on the Senate to swiftly confirm him.”
November 14, 2013
By Charles D. Ellison
Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune
Deep beneath the surface of endless partisan wrangling between the White House and Congress is the Social Security debate. And while it’s considered one of the most complex and intricate policy issues in Washington, it’s also one of the more consequential discourses in modern American politics.
It’s simple: the U.S. population is rapidly aging. The more it ages, the more concerns over issues such as Medicare and Social Security nudge themselves into the forefront of election cycle talking points. According to the Census Bureau, there are now 41 million Americans aged 65 and older. That growing bloc skyrocketed more than 15 percent between 2000 and 2010 — compared to an overall less than 10 percent increase for the entire U.S. population. Senior citizens now constitute 13 percent of the total population, outpacing their 12 percent in 2000 and 4 percent at the beginning of the 20th century.
These population trends provide the background noise for an endless debate on the viability and future of Social Security. Stakes are high, considering more than 56 million people, or one in every six Americans, collect some type of Social Security benefit. More than three-quarters of recipients are retirees or elderly widows or widowers, in addition to nearly 20 percent who receive disability insurance and another four percent who are the younger survivors of deceased workers, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
It amounts to nearly 20 percent of the population that’s on Social Security. Critics of Social Security view it as a gigantic welfare program or entitlement that’s sapping the country’s economic future. Such rampant opposition to Social Security has prompted the Obama White House to meet conservatives in the middle on the issue, with a proposal from the president to change how annual benefits are calculated.
Politically, Obama’s Chained CPI proposal seeks to placate budget hawk Republicans who wouldn’t mind doing away with Social Security altogether. Fiscally, it could become another legacy feather in the cap for the president if it saves $230 billion over 10 years as planned — and further shaves a disastrous deficit created by his predecessor George W. Bush.
But, hidden in the rhetoric and a string of meetings between Congressional negotiators attempting to hammer out a grand post-shutdown budget deal — in an effort to avoid yet another shutdown in 2014 — is the question of how the nation arrived here in the first place. Social Security, created in the mid-1930s as a poverty-busting program under President Roosevelt, was supposed to act as a virtual savings account. The expectation from most American workers is that Social Security should be sitting there waiting for them after dumping countless dollars into it from years of payroll taxes.
So, how did it suddenly become a parasitic entitlement program munching off the federal budget? How does a savings account turn into a checking account in the red?
Policy guru Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, CEO of Global Policy Solutions, compares it to a bank that essentially watches over the funds account holders deposit into it. “Social Security does not contribute a penny to the national deficit because the dedicated funds that workers contribute to it are credited to the Old Age and Survivor Disability Trust Funds,” Rockeymoore contends. “Overall, the trust funds are expected to be in a surplus position until the year 2033. After this time, there will be a shortfall of 25 cents on every dollar of promised benefits if Congress fails to come up with a plan to enhance Social Security’s revenues.”
In many ways, Social Security was intended to function as a stand-alone and self-financed program: it simply collects payroll taxes from workers and employers and pays benefits to eligible retirees, disabled workers, spouses and surviving spouses and children. That’s how Dan Adcock, Director of Government Relations and Policy, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, sees it. “Rather than a drain on the economy, Social Security has been shown to have a multiplier effect, so that local areas see an impact from the program on their economies that can be as much as double what is paid in benefits,” saidAdcock.
But, the Heritage Foundation’s Romina Boccia contends that the view of Social Security as a sort of retirement account is misguided and somewhat false. Boccia points out that, in reality, Social Security is operating on a pay-as-you-go system — whereby worker payroll taxes go toward paying the benefits of current retirees. In other words, a 35 year old worker who believes a portion of their payroll taxes is going into their own individual retirement account is being duped — that money is really going towards paying the benefits of their 85-year-old grandmother.
“The Social Security trust fund is therefore a debt obligation for taxpayers, not an asset,” Boccia said. “This is the biggest federal spending program in the budget today and its now permanent; and growing cash-flow deficits are putting an increasing burden on the overall budget.”
“Congress spent all the excess revenues when Social Security was running surpluses, and now repaying those revenues is adding to deficits.”
Therein lays a mysterious question rarely raised in heated debates on the topic. So, basically, it was acting as its own self-sufficient, stand-alone until Congress went dipping into it?
Jim Zelenski, a professor at Regis University in Denver, Colo., tries to explain while arguing that Social Security should be “completely off the table in any budgetary negotiations.” According to Zelenski, the Social Security Trust Fund has acted as a lender — its accumulated a $2.6 trillion surplus balance since 1984, largely from payments by anyone who has worked a day to 29 years since that time. Unknown to most, they’ve also been investing in U.S. Treasury Bonds. Hence, the government’s General Fund is the borrower — the U.S. Treasury has issued those bonds.
“Enemies of Social Security are trying to trick citizens into thinking that the $2.6 trillion is an obligation of Social Security, but it’s the other way around,” said Zelenski. “In fact the $2.6 trillion is an asset of the Trust Fund.
Social Security, incidentally, is prohibited from borrowing, at least that’s the view of Monique Morrisey of the Economic Policy Institute. Hence, Morrisey argues, it doesn’t really contribute to the public debt because it has dedicated revenues and must operate in a long-term balance.
Morrisey calls Social Security “off budget.”
“Social Security only contributes to the public debt to the extent there’s a substantial transfer of general funds into the system, as happened during the recent temporary payroll tax cut,” Morrisey notes, referring to the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011, which extended the then 4.2 percent Social Security Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) tax rate for employees to wages paid after Dec. 31, 2011 and before March 1, 2012. That cut was extended again in 2012.
In the meantime, aging population trends will send ripples across the electoral landscape. “If reforming Medicare and Social Security persist as policy issues, the votes of older persons may increasingly be affected to a much greater degree than in past elections,” said Dr. Robert Binstock of Case Western Reserve University. Fascinated by the rise of senior voters in Congressional midterms, Binstock dove into an intense examination of highly active and habitual swing voters that could determine electoral outcomes.
“One can say with reasonable confidence that in their respective upcoming election campaigns, both parties will target older voters with Medicare and Social Security issues,” Binstock said.
Polls are seeing it too. According to the most recent weekly YouGov/Economist survey, Medicare and Social Security tied for second to the economy when respondents aged 65 plus were asked to rank the importance of major issues today. But, when asked which issue is the most important to them, old-age respondents put Social Security at the top and the economy in second place.
Political strategists, watching the polls closely, are sure to make note of that.
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