Saturday, February 28, 2015

Drinking Water: A Human Right at Risk in America

By John Conyers, Jr.
Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Take a moment to imagine life without running water. Imagine the ordeal of having to find water not only to stay hydrated but also to bathe, clean, and cook. Imagine the challenge of caring for infants, the sick, or the elderly when the tap runs dry.
Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of Americans -- including residents of my hometown, Detroit, and residents of cities and municipalities around the country -- have had to live out this nightmare. While the causes and consequences of the nation's water crises vary, the core message for policy makers around the country is the same: We need strong and sustained investments to ensure all Americans' access to safe and affordable drinking water.
One year ago, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department announced it would begin an unprecedented policy of water shutoffs. Over the course of the year, more than 33,000 households, or 90,000 residents, were cut off from service for late payment or delinquency.
These shutoffs did not happen in a vacuum.
With its location on the world's largest freshwater system, Detroit should have access to plenty of high-quality drinking water. Yet insufficient investment and shifting population resulted in household water rate increases of more than 119 percent over the course of a decade. Some residents on public assistance have been hit with monthly utility bills totaling more than 50 percent of their monthly household income. By denying residents the ability to maintain proper sanitation, these actions create costly long-term challenges of dysfunction and disease. Water shutoffs force residents to leave a city, further weakening the tax base and worsening the fiscal position of local government.
I fought alongside activists, concerned citizens, and nonprofit organizations to stop these coldhearted and counterproductive shutoffs and propose new long-term investments in affordable water. We won important concessions, including a temporary moratorium and financial assistance programs. But, as of the start of the year, nearly 14,000 customers were still without service, and there's risk of another 12.8-percent rate increase starting in July.
This year, I will be advocating to ensure that Detroit's Water and Sewerage Plan fully implements the water affordability plan passed by Detroit's City Council in 2006 to account for residents' financial need in water billing and to prevent discrimination in access. But we also need strong local, state, and federal investment in infrastructure around the country.
There are dire threats to safe drinking water beyond Detroit. Just an hour's drive south in Toledo, more than 400,000 people were left without water for two days in August after supplies were found to be unsafe for household use due to the presence of microcystin, a toxin from algae blooms in nearby Lake Erie. Earlier in the year, a toxic chemical used to process coal spilled out of a ruptured storage tank into the Elk River, leaving 300,000 West Virginia residents unable to drink or to cook, clean, or bathe with their tap water.
These ecological and industrial water crises -- like Detroit's crisis of affordability and access -- underscore the need for immediate investment. The EPA estimates that the capital needs of water utilities over 20 years amount to $384 billion and another $298 billion for wastewater and runoff.
On Thursday, Feb. 26, at 2:00 p.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., I will be joining the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, a national human rights organization, for an important hearing on how federal, state and local agencies can come together to craft solutions to ensure universal access to quality drinking water. The panel will be moderated by the noted writer and scholar Michael Shank and will feature several of my distinguished colleagues in Congress, including Rep. Charlie Rangel, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Rep. Debbie Dingell, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
If you're in Washington, please join us for Thursday's discussion.
In the world's most prosperous nation, it's unthinkable that anyone should go without safe, affordable water.
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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Trouble on Tap: A Briefing on the Water Crisis in Detroit, Toledo, and West Virginia.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Thursday, February 26, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) held a briefing organized by faith-based human rights group Unitarian Universalist Service Committee focusing on the affordability of water to the nation's poorest and most vulnerable.  The briefing, held in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, was organized in the context of soaring costs of water to consumers nationally, the continuation of the widely-criticized water shut off policy in Detroit, and the implications of these trends for America's urban and rural water and wastewater services.  In addition to Rep. Conyers, Reps. Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18), Charles Rangel (D-New York), and Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), were also honorary hosts of the event.

Panelists included: Detroit attorney Alice Jennings, a lead attorney in a federal class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of community organizations and Detroit residents affected by the city's mass water shutoffs; Economist Roger Colton, the developer of the original Detroit Water and Sewer Affordability Plan who testified as an expert witness in the city’s 2014 bankruptcy case;  David Gatton, the director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Council on Metro Economies; and Patricia Jones, the Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, who is an international expert on the human right to water and coordinated the 2011 and 2014 United Nations missions of the Special Rapporteur to Detroit. Noted writer and scholar Michael Shank, Director of Media Strategy of Climate Nexus, moderated the briefing.

In his remarks, Rep. Conyers emphasized that ensuring the human right to water is “an economic, social, and health issue that we can all get behind.  It doesn’t have any partisan aspect to it.”  In an op-ed published earlier this week, Rep. Conyers advocates for the full implementation of the “water affordability plan passed by Detroit's City Council in 2006 to account for residents' financial need in water billing and to prevent discrimination in access.”  He also stressed the need for “need strong local, state, and federal investment in infrastructure around the country.”

During the briefing, Jennings stated that “just last year, there were 33,000 homes shut off, and only 18,000 restored.  That means that 15,000 potential homes are without water.”  Patricia Jones called on federal agencies “to provide immediate assistance to the thousands in Detroit in harm’s way today.”

Michael Shank highlighted that Detroit’s water system is not alone in facing challenges in covering its costs.  “A survey last month of 368 water utility companies in America suggested that two-thirds of the utilities have insufficient funds to cover their costs and will likely increase fees to make up for the shortfall,” he said.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Which Side Will Take Lead In Criminal Justice Reform?

The current consensus from both sides of the aisle is that juvenile justice, or rather known in its more blanketed term, child welfare, does not work.

The goal is to reform the criminal justice system, but how.

On the Republican side the push is for privatization through charities.  These charities are Christian-based who will then operate to maximize revenue, as not-for-profits may not profit.

The programs will be designed to tap into Medicaid Expansion and other federal social welfare billing streams for social investment initiatives on Wall Street and to use human capital as cheap labor, subsidized through social welfare programs.

On the Democratic side the push is to change social policies of what Christians consider as 'moral turpitude' as a civil rights initiative.

So far, the Republican playbook for implementation of criminal justice reform is extremely sophisticated with networks in place.

The Democratic message is convoluted with disjointed planning in under assuaged messaging.
The bipartisan group of 16 lawmakers included Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), two rising Republican stars who have backed reforms meant to reduce the number of adults in prison. They were joined by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who have proposed moderate changes to the mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug crimes.
Getty Images
President Obama met with some leading congressional proponents of criminal justice reform on Tuesday.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the Democrat sponsoring a significant update to the nation's primary law dictating how to treat minors in custody, was also in attendance.

Notably absent from the meeting was Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who along with Whitehouse is the sponsor of a major prison reform bill, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and who is backing the juvenile justice bill.

Grassley was the only top member of either the House or Senate judiciary committees not to attend. House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and ranking member Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) attended the meeting, as did Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

At a time when congressional Republicans and the White House are at loggerheads over several issues, the meeting was another sign that there is some level of bipartisan agreement that changes must be made to federal criminal justice policies.

But what form those reforms might takes remains in question. Some in Congress want reforms made to the mandatory minimums, while others — like Cornyn and Grassley — have expressed a preference for other prison reforms that do not change the drug sentences.

The administration has indicated that it would be open to a range of possibilities.

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WASHINGTON – Today, during a full House Judiciary Committee hearing titled, “The Unconstitutionality of Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration,” Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. issued the following opening statement:

“In three days, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will run out of funds.  While tens of thousands of federal government workers could be furloughed, around 200,000 workers will be forced to come to work without receiving a pay check.  They will be told to patrol the border, conduct investigations, and secure our ports but they will not be paid.

“DHS has notoriously low morale.  That has been a problem since the Department’s creation a decade ago.  This won’t help.  But I am sure those workers will do their jobs, which is more than I can say for Congress.

“Why do I say that?  Because Congress has certain responsibilities—some are complicated and some are less complicated—and we have failed to live up to our responsibilities for years.

“First, consider the most basic obligation we have.  It is our responsibility to pass bills to fund the government.  If we don’t do our job the government shuts down.  Congressional Republicans got their wish in October 2013 and shut down the government for more than 2 weeks. 

“Now the Majority is again set on a collision course - this time they will shut down the Department of Homeland Security because they refuse to pass a clean spending bill because they want to block the administration’s executive actions on immigration.

“Keep in mind that the spending bill we are talking about was negotiated between Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate.  Truth be told, there are aspects of that bill that I disagree with.  I strongly oppose the detention bed mandate and believe that it is wasteful and unjust to include that language in the appropriations bill.  But I also understand the importance of funding DHS and the need to keep our nation safe.

“Second, Congress is also failing to do its job because it is ultimately our responsibility to fix our broken immigration system.  Instead of doing that work, we are holding hearing after hearing to vilify the President for taking important and common-sense steps to prioritize the deportation of felons before families. 

“The limited legislation that this committee has considered would make our immigration system even less efficient, less humane, and less able to meet the needs of American families and businesses.
 “Earlier this month we held two Immigration Subcommittee hearings on draft language of four deportation-only bills that would separate families, strip protection from DREAMers, destroy the agricultural industry and the millions of jobs that depend upon it, and return vulnerable children to face persecution and violence with no meaningful due process.
“Finally, I want to note that the title of today’s hearing demonstrates a glaring disrespect for the office of the presidency and for this institution’s responsibility to conduct oversight that is rooted in fact rather than political presumption.

“The title of today’s hearing is ‘The Unconstitutionality of Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration.’  Not ‘President Obama’s Executive Actions,’ but ‘Obama’s Executive Actions.’ Since when are we on such familiar terms with our Commander in Chief?  In cannot recall a previous Administration during which Members of Congress - from either side of the aisle - showed such a persistent disrespect for the office of the presidency.

“The title of this hearing is also interesting because it is a statement, not a question.  It just presumes that the Administration’s actions are unconstitutional, even though no court has found the actions unconstitutional and there is strong legal authority and historical precedent supporting these policy decisions.
“In closing, our current immigration system is not working for American families, businesses, or the economy.  These problems require real legislative solutions.  I urge my colleagues to start doing the job we were sent here to do.”

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NCLEO Law Enforcement D.C. Conference To Discuss Civil Rights In Law Enforcement, February 25 & 26, 2015

Former and current law enforcement officers (LEO) nationwide have conferred and agree that law enforcement in America is inherently flawed as a two tier, segregated system — one for black & brown and, one for white citizens and, even if unintentional, it has made most LEO’s complicit in supporting bias enforcement operations with severe consequences involving racial disparities on black and brown citizens and communities.  

It’s the first time that LEO’s of various race’s from across America and various departments, albeit Federal, State and municipal are willing to speak out in unity before Congress, the media and in a public Town Hall meeting. They identify their actual observations as no such thing as "blue bloods” for a police brotherhood indicating, that best practices have proven to be separate, but unequal and very similar to Jim Crow of the old south and, comparing it to different water fountains for black & white LEO’s and citizens.

Although the group has named itself 'The National Coalition of Law Enforcement Officers for Justice, Reform & Accountability' (NCLEO) for identification purposes, it will not be the traditional organizational concept seem in most LEO unions and/or ethnic based organizations. The coalition is made up of individuals of varied races who have long established personal brands and histories advocating for fair justice in America. They have gathered to express a commonality in their rank & file experiences, indicating that law enforcement administrative policies and procedures treat black and brown officers and members of the public different from similarly situated white officers and the public.  
From young to oldest, their LEO stories coincide, indicating the U.S. Criminal Justice Institution has caused them and their colleagues of all races to carry out bias enforcement that has created massive disproportionate criminal records and a black and brown prison population that has outpaced the number of American’s who were Slaves at the time of the great civil war. 

They say that Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Gardner’s recently ruled justifiable homicides by police officials have galvanized the public and, LEO’s of all ethnicity must also identify with the same public to expose bias internal policies that often hide behind the nations blue walls of silence. Their goal is to make all law enforcement departments fair and accountable to the citizens they serve, regardless of race and that, no one wants to see a loved one unjustly hurt by police in any fashion or form.  

Please come out in force and support this WednesdayClick on information attached below for Press Release, and the LEO organizer BIO’s and time and location of Press Conference and Town Hall meeting.  Please SHARE this information with everyone, groups, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. We can’t do it alone. Its the institutional change you have been waiting for…..

All the best,
Matthew Fogg
Chief Deputy US Marshal, RET. 
NCLEO Member 

'The National Coalition of Law Enforcement Officers for Justice, Reform & Accountability' (NCLEO) 
NCLEO Law Enforcement D.C. Conference, February 25 & 26, 2015

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Monday, February 23, 2015

CPS In Disguise - Baby LK Report For February 22nd 2015

Baby LK recaps teh week in news for the child protection industry. Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Thursday, February 19, 2015


WASHINGTON– Last week, Representative John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), with support from 31 Democratic Members of Congress, reintroduced H.R. 1000, the “Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act.”  The bill establishes a comprehensive job creation and training program that would create millions of new jobs and raise wages throughout the country. The bill, which is funded by a small tax on Wall Street speculation, would employ Americans in projects such as the renovation of housing and schools, infrastructure repair, expanding access to broadband and wireless Internet, neighborhood beautification projects, among many other community initiatives in the health and education sectors.  This direct job creation effort would be coupled with a significant increase in funding for job training programs funded under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. 

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“While President Obama has made great strides in job creation, there are still millions of Americans seeking full-time employment and a livable wage,” Conyers said. 

“While the official unemployment rate has dropped, there are still more than 20 million Americans who want full time work. In my hometown of Detroit—as in many urban and rural communities throughout the country—the local unemployment rate remains above 25 percent. The direct job creation strategy in H.R.1000 is the only proven way to ensure that millions of American workers are not stuck on the sidelines of this economic recovery.”

Polls indicate that many Americans remain concerned about the state of the job market, even as the official unemployment rate has declined to 5.7 percent. A poll released last week by Associated Press-GfK found that only 35 percent of Americans say their own family has “mostly recovered” from the recession, while even fewer—27 percent—see the their local job market as being “most of the way to recovery.”

Conyers added that “the persistent lack of full time jobs is the greatest single cause of America’s wage stagnation. When more jobs are available, workers gain the power to bargain for higher wages.”

Conyers’ bill would address these lingering job shortages by providing resources for employment and training programs administered by non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and state and local governments.  H.R. 1000 prioritizes projects in those regions that have higher level of unemployment, underemployment, and non-labor force participation.

H.R. 1000 received the endorsement of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators at their December 2014 legislative conference.

Original Congressional co-sponsors of the measure included Karen Bass (D-CA), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Michael E. Capuano (D-MA), André Carson (D-IN), Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), Judy Chu (D-CA),  Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Sam Farr (D-CA), Al Green (D-TX), Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX),  Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr. (D-GA),  Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Mark Takano (D-CA), John Yarmuth (D-KY), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Richard M. Nolan (D-MN), José E. Serrano (D-NY), Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL), John Yarmuth (D-KY).
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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Behind the Scenes of the 2015 Michigan Democratic Party Cenvention

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Democratic Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, Jr.
WASHINGTON – Today, during a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law hearing consumer protection and mortgage lending settlements, Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. issued the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

“The stated purpose of today’s hearing is to determine whether there has been a misuse of mortgage settlement funds by the Administration for its so-called “pet projects.” 

“In truth, however, this hearing is really a misguided witch hunt that has absolutely nothing to do with helping the millions of hardworking Americans who were swindled by unscrupulous and predatory mortgage lenders and mortgage servicers.

“Nor does it have anything to do with addressing the massive fraud committed by the securities industry that nearly led to the financial collapse of our Nation’s economy. 

“Rather than focus on these critical issues, the Majority has cited so-called “activist” organizations and the Justice Department as the perpetrators worthy of this hearing. 

“And, who exactly are these entities?  They are housing counseling programs administered at the national, state and local level by service providers subject to a rigorous certification process by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  They include such organizations as: 

•           the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities;
•           the Michigan State University Extension Service;
•           the New York City Commission on Human Rights; and
•           NeighborWorks America.

“So let us just take an in-depth look at one of these organizations.  NeighborWorks is chartered by Congress.  Its board of directors, whose membership is determined by statute, consists of the heads of the financial regulatory agencies, who are presidential appointees subject to Senate confirmation.

“In fact, Congress in 2007 designated  NeighborWorks America to administer the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling program pursuant to which this organization has helped more than 1.725 million homeowners.

“If the Majority really cared about the victims of the foreclosure crisis, it would hold a hearing on either the mortgage crisis that still grips many parts of our Nation or on how Congress could better assist those millions of Americans who still are at risk of losing their homes. 

“In stark contrast, when I was Chairman of this Committee, we held 9 hearings and 2 field briefings examining the causes and impact of the foreclosure crisis, as well as potential solutions. 

“Over the course of those hearings, the Committee heard from a U.S. Senator, various Members of the House, representatives from the Treasury Department, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, bankruptcy judges, nationally-recognized economists, leading academics, victims of predatory mortgage lending, and many, many more voices.

“Finally, I am particularly concerned that the Majority has unfairly singled out the National Council of La Raza, which is the Nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. 

“The Chairman of this Committee and the Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, in a letter to the Justice Department last November, characterized La Raza as an “activist” group that stands to benefit from the mortgage settlement agreements with Citigroup and the Bank of America.

“As detailed in a response from La Raza –  which I ask unanimous consent to include in today’s hearing record – there is absolutely no truth to this allegation.

“In fact, La Raza has not received a single penny from these settlements and it did not proactively seek to be designated as a recipient of these funds.

“La Raza is not even named specifically in either of these settlement agreements as a designated recipient. And, if it was to receive any monies under these agreements, La Raza has a fire-wall  between its housing counseling activities and its advocacy activities as well as accounting standards in place to ensure such separation.

“This information was readily available had the Majority simply reached out to La Raza to confirm its allegations before putting them in writing to the Justice Department.

“I thank the witnesses for joining us here today and I yield back the balance of my time.”

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After suffering many months of illness, Hamtramck chiropractor Dr. Abdul Algazali, died of cancer at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan on February 13, 2014. The Yemeni-American doctor served for many years as City Councilman and previously as Human Relations Commissioner. He ran for the mayoral office twice and lost by a small margin of votes.

Hamtramck Councilman
Abdul Algazali
A longtime resident of Hamtramck, Algazali was the only Arab in the history of the city to be elected to public office. He explained why he ran for office, “it’s not the money for sure, rather, there’s a large segment of the community whose voice is not being heard, and I want to indicate to those people that this is America and everyone’s voice should count.” His campaign slogan was always “One Goal – One City – One Future”.

Most statistics indicate that the Yemeni community is the largest ethnic group in a city that used to be primarily Polish. With three large ethnic groups representing the Islamic faith, Yemeni, Bangladeshi and Bosnian, Hamtramck has possibly the largest percentage of Muslims of any American city, estimated near 65%. Although Dearborn hosts the largest number of Arabs outside the Middle East, many are Christian, and most are from other countries besides Yemen.

Hamtramck Councilman Algazali in front of City Hall
Bill Meyer, Director of OneHamtramck, LLC was a close friend of Algazali and helped him in his campaigns for the office of mayor. "As a councilman, Algazali ran into fierce opposition from the entrenched political machine, often being isolated not only for his views but his ethnicity and background. His style was one of calm and reason, a rare quality in the council chambers.” Meyer adds, “he was not the typical politician, spending very little time and money to be elected, rather focusing on human relations in the community." His interests were always concerned with the economic plight of his constituents. Hamtramck has the lowest income per capita of any city in Michigan and has faced serious hardships with the closing of major factories and stores resulting in the massive loss of city revenue, forcing the presence of outside financial managers.

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Algazali worked towards bringing the disparate ethnic groups that flourish in Hamtramck together with better understanding and respect. His favorite quote was from former President John Kennedy, “I believe in America where the separation between Church and state is absolute…Where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced soon.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Maura Corrigan Continues Push To Privatize Child Welfare

The Madame Maura Corrigan has announced her next reign of reign of terror on poverty and battle to advocate privatization of child welfare.

Revenue maximization schemes for tax exempt organizations will not be her only battle cry for religious non-profits.  She will continue to push for the social investment schemes of these religious-based groups to access and use federal funds for Wall Street profiteering.

While no child welfare organization is forensicly scrutinized on its fiscal operations, there is neither any accountability for the safety and well-being of children under care of the States.

This lack of ensuring the well-being of children extends to the rise in child poverty with cuts in social assistance programming as poverty, the failure to provide for the necessary needs of the child, is considered abuse and neglect.

As long as privatized contractual entities of the States are allowed to impose economic moral standards on social policy, not-for-profit, religious corporations will financially thrive, devoid of any public scrutiny.

Ask her about #RickyHolland.

Corrigan Will Work On Child Welfare Issues On National Level

Maura Corrigan

LANSING, Mich. (AP) – After a long career in government, Maura Corrigan says she’ll be working for a conservative Washington think tank.

Corrigan lately was director of the Department of Human Services after a dozen years on the Michigan Supreme Court. She says she’ll be writing about child welfare and poverty for the American Enterprise Institute.

The 66-year-old Corrigan says she won’t be moving to Washington, although she may get opportunities to testify to Congress. She says she hopes to take what’s she learned in Michigan and apply it to national policies.

Corrigan worked for the Wayne County prosecutor and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit before eventually becoming a judge on the state appeals court.

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Senate, House Committee Leaders Push to Preserve IP Standards, Market Access for Products Around the Globe

In Letter, Bipartisan Leaders on Senate Finance, House Ways & Means, and Senate & House Judiciary Committees Call for Full Participation of WIPO Members In Negotiations to Amend Lisbon Agreement
WASHINGTON – Today, leaders on the international trade and judicial committees in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives called on the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Francis Gurry, to ensure all WIPO members have an equal voice in amending the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin. The lawmakers want to ensure that any potential changes to the treaty preserve protections for users of common or generic names and for holders of established trademarks around the globe.
The Lisbon Agreement is a WIPO-administered treaty that allows parties to the agreement to simultaneously register Appellations of Origin with all parties to the agreement.  The proposed changes would substantially expand the scope of the Lisbon Agreement to allow for registration of Geographical Indications (GI’s) and could threaten market access for many common products, such as feta cheese, around the world.
Given that only 28 of the 188 WIPO members are parties to the Lisbon Agreement, lawmakers in Congress are concerned that departing from WIPO’s longstanding practice to allow this limited group of WIPO Members to amend the Agreement could result in unwanted changes that would ultimately harm workers and businesses in the United States and around the world.
“WIPO’s legitimacy as a global forum for the protection of intellectual property throughout the world could be called into question by departing from standard practice and allowing a limited group of WIPO Members to substantially amend the Lisbon Agreement in a way that harms market access and the intellectual property rights of stakeholders from other WIPO Members, including the United States,” wrote the lawmakers. “Such a step would be contrary to longstanding WIPO practice, which is to encourage broad participation because of the far-reaching effect of its decisions.  Therefore, we strongly urge you to do everything possible to ensure all WIPO Members have an equal voice in determining any revisions to the Lisbon Agreement.”

Signing the letter today were: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-Mich.), and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.)
The Senate Finance and House Ways & Means Committees have jurisdiction over international trade policy and the Senate and House Judiciary Committees have jurisdiction over intellectual property law and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 
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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Reps. Sensenbrenner and Conyers Lead Bipartisan Reintroduction of Legislation to Restore the Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON – Today, House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) reintroduced the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015.  The legislation aims to uphold the most vital principles of the historic law, which was first enacted 50 years ago.

Reps. Conyers and Sensenbrenner reintroduced the legislation in response to the Supreme Court’sShelby County v. Holder decision which struck down Section 4b, the core provision in the Voting Rights Act that determines how states are covered under Section 5 of the Act (which requires federal preclearance of voting changes by covered jurisdictions to protect against discriminatory voting measures).  The bill updates the coverage formula by making all states and jurisdictions eligible for coverage formula based on voting violations in the last 15 years. 

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“The Voting Rights Act was designed to eliminate evolving legal barriers to the voting booth and to give minority voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.  The Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate the Section 4b formula for coverage under Section 5 is a critical blow to its future relevancy and will make it more difficult to challenge existing barriers” said Rep. Conyers, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus who cosponsored the original Voting Rights Act in 1965.  “I have witnessed firsthand the stain that discrimination has placed on our democracy.  Though the Shelby County v. Holder decision struck at the heart of the Act, today, it is with much pride that my colleagues and I are reintroducing a renewed Voting Rights Amendment Act to reaffirm our constitutional commitment to protecting the right to vote.”

“The VRA is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed.  Combating both discrimination and fraud is essential to ensuring Americans’ right to vote is protected.  Our legitimacy as elected officials relies on the integrity of the ballot box.  I urge my colleagues to support the VRAA because it is vital to our commitment to never again allow racial prejudices in the electoral process,” said Rep. Sensenbrenner.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in August of 1965, and it has been reauthorized four times since.  President George W. Bush signed the most recent reauthorization into law in 2006, after the House voted 390-33 and the Senate 98-0 in favor of the legislation.

An outline of the legislation can be found here, and text of legislation can be found here.

Key provisions in the bill include:

·         Through a coverage provision based on current conditions, the bill establishes a rolling nationwide trigger that covers states or jurisdictions that have a persistent record of recent voting rights violations over the last 15 years.

·         Allows our federal courts to bail-in the worst actors for preclearance.  The current law permits states or jurisdictions to be bailed in for intentional violations, but the new legislation amends the Act to allow states or jurisdictions to be bailed in for results-based violations.

·         Greater transparency in elections so that voters are made aware of changes.  The additional sunlight will deter discrimination from occurring and protect voters from discrimination.

·         Allows for preliminary relief to be obtained more readily, given that voting rights cannot often be vindicated after an election is already over.

Additional original co-sponsors of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015 include: Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Charles Dent (R-PA), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), John Lewis (D-GA), Christopher Gibson (R-NY), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY),  Bobby Scott (D-VA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee ( D-TX), Steve Cohen (D-TN),  Hank Johnson (D -GA), Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR),  Judy Chu (D-CA), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Karen Bass (D-CA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and Scott Peters (D-CA).

Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Friday, February 6, 2015

Privatization of Child Welfare Will Always Fail Without Oversight

Privatization does not work because there is no oversight.

When these private contractors are religious-based not-for-profits, always remember:

"You can not audit God".

Michigan is experimenting with the same policies and is still under federal monitoring.

Medicaid fraud in child welfare will always prevail in the wake of privatization with oversight.

Nebraska privatization of child welfare hasn't produced 'any measurable benefit,' new study finds

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s five-year experiment with privatizing child welfare has not produced “any measurable benefit” for the state, according to a study released Thursday.
The study compared results achieved by state child welfare workers and by the Nebraska Families Collaborative, the private agency that manages child welfare cases in the Omaha area.
It found no significant difference — either positive or negative — in outcomes for children and families and no cost savings.
“Privatization promised better outcomes at a lower cost, and that has not happened,” the authors wrote. “It was, perhaps, a worthy experiment, but it has failed.”
But Helaine Hornby and Dennis Zeller, the study’s authors, said it is not clear what direction Nebraska should go from here.
They offered three options — staying the course with the private contractor, returning all case management responsibilities to the state or revamping the roles of the state and the collaborative to achieve real reform.
Each option could result in better services and improved results, the study said. However, each choice would require some changes in order to be successful.
State lawmakers commissioned the study last year, as part of a bill authorizing the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to extend its contract with the collaborative into 2015.
State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, who sponsored last year’s legislation, expressed confidence in the results of the study. He said he expects policymakers will take several months to discuss it and weigh the options.
“It’s up to the Legislature and new director of HHS to work jointly and make sure that the changes we make are evidence-based and that we go in the right direction,” he said.
Krist said he doesn’t know what direction the state may end up taking. He said it may be an option that draws from several of the study’s recommendations.
However, he said he would argue against anything that would create more disruption for children, families and workers.
“The political ramifications of flushing what we have are unpalatable,” Krist said.
The child welfare system has endured several disruptions since Nebraska launched the privatization effort in November 2009.
Since then, four of the five original private contractors lost or ended their contracts, citing inadequate reimbursement from the state. By early 2012, the collaborative was the only contractor.
David Newell, the collaborative’s president and CEO, said the best choice would be for the private agency to continue managing cases in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.
He defended what the collaborative has achieved, saying the agency has produced the best outcomes ever for children and families in the area.
“Our region has been transformed from being the historically lowest-performing child welfare system in Nebraska to being on par with or better than the other service areas for the very first time,” he said.
The study compared current outcomes for the Omaha area with the rest of the state. It did not compare current outcomes for the Omaha area with outcomes in previous years.
Newell could find himself on the other side of the table with the collaborative, however. Gov. Pete Ricketts named him this week as a finalist for the top HHS position.
According to the study’s authors, the only argument for maintaining the current privatized system is to avoid disruption.
They said the argument for returning case management to the state is that privatization has not fulfilled its promises, which takes away the rationale for having a private agency force services on families.
The authors said the third option could produce better results for children and families.
Under that option, the collaborative would take on a new role as the lead agency in creating and managing new and expanded in-home services, while the state would resume managing cases.
Among other highlights of the study:
— The state spends an average of $74.17 per day per client on services, while the collaborative spends $48.10. But the collaborative charges parents for services, using a sliding fee scale if they are not eligible for Medicaid, a practice that the study said means clients and Medicaid are paying the difference in costs.
— The state has to pay back more than $20 million of federal foster care funds because it could not document how the money was spent by the private contractors. Nebraska continues to lose out on available federal funds because of problems created by how the collaborative is paid.

— While a key goal of privatization was to serve more children in their own homes, the proportion of state wards in out-of-home care has remained steady at around 70 percent over the five years.
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