Saturday, June 27, 2015

John Conyers Discusses His Healthcare Vote

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Conyers Statement on Supreme Court Ruling on Marriage Equality

Washington – Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) released the following statement after the United States Supreme Court announced that same-sex marriage is legal in a 5-4 decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges:

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“In this landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has yet again confirmed that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right to equal protections of the laws.  I applaud this decision recognizing marriage equality as a constitutional right.  It affirms the essential role of the Constitution in protecting the right to make our most intimate decisions and upholds our human dignity.”

In March, Congressman Conyers signed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of marriage equality in theObergefell case. 

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Conyers: Compassion and Common Sense Prevail in the Case of King v. Burwell

Veteran Congressman Applauds Supreme Court Ruling Upholding Key Component of Obamacare

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) released the following statement after theSupreme Court announced its 6 - 3 decision to uphold a core tenet of the Affordable Care Act in King v. Burwell:

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“Fifty years ago, I was proud to cast my vote for the creation of Medicare.  The Affordable Care Act (ACA) represents the most important expansion of Americans’ access to lifesaving healthcare since that time.  For the second time, the United States Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the ACA is the law of the land and ensures that millions of Americans can continue to access affordable health care.   

“Today’s decision—that all Americans, regardless of their home state, have the access to tax credits to afford essential healthcare—is a victory for compassion and common sense.   

“Since the Affordable Care Act was enacted five years ago, more than 16 million Americans have gained coverage and the nation’s uninsured rate now stands at its lowest level ever –11.9 percent.  More than 5.7 million young people now have health insurance through their parents’ plans and as many as 17 million children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage.  The ACA has also allowed 9.4 million seniors to save $15 billion on prescription drugs.

“After years of debate in Congress leading to passage of the law and two Supreme Court rulings upholding the law, it is time for Republicans to stop attempting to deny Americans’ access to healthcare by attempting to repeal the law.  Recent polling demonstrates that more than half of Americans – including 80 percent of Democrats and a quarter of Republicans – support expanding healthcare further to a ‘Medicare for All’ model. 

“Earlier this year, I was proud to reintroduce H.R. 676 ‘The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act’ to build on the proud legacy of Medicare and the Affordable Care Act to allow Americans to access the same high-quality, cost-effective, and equitable care that’s the standard throughout the industrialized world.  

“Half a century ago, addressing the convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, Martin Luther King Jr. declared, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.’  Today’s ruling reinforces our crucial work to combat this cruel inequality.”  
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Statement of House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. Criminal Justice Reform Listening Session

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“I commend Chairman Goodlatte for convening today’s listening session on criminal justice reform.  For decades, we in Congress reacted to the justifiable concern of our citizens about crime.  We developed and enacted legislation intended to make us safer and to achieve justice.  Over time, it has become increasingly apparent to citizens and public officials from across the political spectrum that some of our laws are not achieving these goals.  In fact, some of them are actually counterproductive from the standpoint of public safety, fairness, and fiscal responsibility. 

“There are a number of areas that urgently require reform, as the Chairman has acknowledged in the materials we jointly issued inviting Members to testify.  I want to highlight several areas that I hope will be priorities for action:
“We need to take steps to ensure that sentences are appropriately long, but are not set beyond levels that no longer serve legitimate criminal justice purposes.  Our prisons are overcrowded because of one-size-fits-all sentencing policies. Mandatory minimum sentencing leads not only to unjust outcomes for individuals, but also has serious systemic consequences by contributing to the problem of overincarceration. 

“We must take additional steps to address the collateral consequences of incarceration and other involvement with the criminal justice system.  We are not adequately preparing those in prison for successful reintegration into the community, and consequences such as the loss of voting rights and diminished employment prospects are needlessly hindering the ability of too many of our citizens to productively participate in society.

“We must also take action to improve the relationship between our police and the public they serve.  That is why the Ranking Member on the Crime Subcommittee, Ms. Jackson Lee, joined me and others yesterday in introducing the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act. 

“This bill provides incentives for local police organizations to voluntarily adopt performance-based standards to ensure that incidents of misconduct will be minimized through appropriate management, training and oversight protocols and that if such incidents do occur, that they will be properly investigated.  Our nation’s police officers face danger on a daily basis to protect us from harm and to bring criminals to justice. 

“They deserve our respect and support – and I believe this bill will serve to strengthen the critical bond between communities and those who enforce our laws. 

“We need to address these issues, as well as all of those Chairman Goodlatte and I have outlined as we announced the process for considering reform proposals.  We will hear a wide range of proposals from our colleagues today to address these and other critical issues, and I look forward to working with the Chairman and other Members of the Committee to expeditiously consider legislation to improve our criminal justice system.” 

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House Judiciary Committee to Hold Criminal Justice Reform Listening Session

Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, June 25, 2015 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., the House Judiciary Committee will hold a criminal justice reform listening session. At the listening session, any Member of the House of Representatives who has an idea or proposal for criminal justice reform is invited to present his or her proposal for five minutes, or submit a proposal in writing. Following the listening session, the Judiciary Committee will give due consideration to all proposals offered by interested Members on this topic.

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Earlier this month, the House Judiciary Committee announced the formation of a criminal justice reform initiative.  Over the coming months, the Judiciary Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over the U.S. Criminal Code, will take a step-by-step approach to address a variety of criminal justice issues, including over-criminalization, sentencing reform, prison and reentry reform, protecting citizens through improved criminal procedures and policing strategies, and civil asset forfeiture reform.

Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers issued the following joint statement on the Committee’s listening session:

“This week marks the first of many steps in the House Judiciary Committee’s criminal justice reform initiative.  On Thursday, the Committee will hear from any Member of the House of Representatives who has an idea to improve our nation’s criminal justice system. The goal of the Committee’s criminal justice reform initiative is to produce strong legislation to ensure that our criminal justice system better reflects core American values and works for America.”
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Wednesday, June 24, 2015


WASHINGTON – Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) issued a letter to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenburg requesting details concerning the use of “cold consent” searches, particularly at transportation facilities.

The letter cites a report released by the Justice Department Inspector General earlier this year in January which examined the DEA’s use of “cold consent” searches – which typically entail an officer asking for consent to speak with an individual and, if the agent thinks it’s warranted, to seek consent to search their belongings.  In some of these encounters, cash is seized. 

As the Inspector General states, such “cold consent” encounters can raise civil rights concerns, and the Department of Justice itself recognizes that “cold consent” encounters are more often associated with racial profiling than contacts based on previously acquired information. 

While not solely attributed to “cold consent” searches, as stated in the letter, “…from 2009-2013, DEA interdiction Task Force Groups seized $163 million in 4,138 individual cash seizures.  21 percent of these seizures were contested and in 41 percent of those contested cases all (or a portion) of the seized cash was returned – a total of $8.3 million.” 

According to press reports, DEA agents seized $16,000 in cash from Joseph Rivers, a young African-American man who was traveling from Michigan to Los Angeles to film a music video.  Mr. Rivers’ attorney states that agents boarded the train and began asking various passengers where they were heading and why.  When Rivers replied that he was travelling to Los Angeles to film a music video, the agent asked to search his bag and Rivers complied.  Despite the cash being in a bank envelop and the agents’ phone call to Rivers’ mother, who corroborated his story, the agents seized all of the cash.  Rivers stated he was the only African-American passenger in his portion of the train and believes he was racially profiled.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

IRAQ WAR PROTEST: Interview w/Rep. John Conyers 2007

IRAQ WAR PROTEST: Interview w/Rep. John Conyers by CarlosGarey Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Conyers Statement on Charleston, SC Church Shootings

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) released the following statement in response to the tragic killing of nine innocent African-Americans at the historical Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina:

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“The brutal killing of nine innocent African-Americans at the historically black Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina, including pastor and State Senator Clementa Pinckney, is an unspeakable and horrific tragedy by any measure.  These individuals simply gathered to worship and study the Bible in a sanctuary and place of refuge as they did every week, but were senselessly killed.  My most heartfelt condolences go out to all of the families and friends of the victims as well as the entire community. 

“It is my hope that all levels of state, local and federal law enforcement work together to capture this brutal killer before any more senseless violence occurs.  I commend the Department of Justice for their swift determination to open a federal hate crimes investigation.”

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lawmakers introduce Bipartisan Remote Sales Tax Legislation

WASHINGTON – One June 16, 2015, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and a group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced H.R. 2775, the Remote Transactions Parity Act (RTPA), a bill that will modernize our nation’s outdated sales tax collection process.  The legislation, which will be referred to the House Judiciary Committee because of its jurisdiction over state taxes affecting interstate commercewill strengthen states’ authorities and bring sales tax parity to e-retailers and brick-and-mortar stores.

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Each year, more and more Americans are turning to the Internet to purchase goods and services. While this development has been a boon for certain industries, state and local governments have been increasingly deprived of critical revenue as a result of lost taxes that consumers are not required to pay under the current system,” said Rep. John Conyers.  “Lost tax revenues mean that state and local governments will likely provide their citizens with fewer services, like education, law enforcement, and social services. The Remote Transactions Parity Act represents a bipartisan effort that incorporates the best aspects of these prior measures in a fair and equitable manner and has broad support from the business community, and state and local governments.  I look forward to working with my colleagues across the aisle to turn this bill into law.”

The current tax loophole skews the free market.  It allows businesses to avoid collecting sales taxes.  This not only forces more brick-and-mortar stores to close their doors and lay off their employees, but also requires consumers to shoulder the burden and liability of the sales tax themselves - taxes that the consumer is by current law required to compute and pay as a part of their yearly taxes.  The RTPA would close this loophole in a way that is generous to small remote sellers and puts our neighborhood retailers on a level playing field - without completely changing our current state sales and use tax structure.

RTPA includes significant audit protections for small businesses – and, except in the case of intentional misrepresentation or fraud, exempts businesses under $5 million in gross receipts from remote state audits entirely.

Additionally, this legislation also exempts from collection requirements in the first year small businesses under $10 million, phasing to $5 million in the second year and $1 million in the third.

Finally, the RTPA calls for states to give remote sellers the software needed to collect and remit the taxes due.  It also requires states to pay for set-up, installation, and maintenance costs on the software.

Additional cosponsors include Reps. Steve Womack (R-AR), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Kristi Noem (R-SD), Peter Welch (D-VT), Steve Stivers (R-OH), Suzan Delbene (D-WA), Lou Barletta (R-PA), Ted Deutch (D-PA), Scott Rigell (R-VA), John Larson (D-CT),  Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Hank Johnson (D-GA), and Robert Dold (R-IL).
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Monday, June 15, 2015

House Judiciary approves Innovation Act despite clear lack of consensus

House Judiciary approves Innovation Act despite clear lack of consensus

At the end of a day-long hearing of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, during which multiple recesses were taken, a marked-up version of proposed bill H.R. 9, the Innovation Act, was approved for debate on the floor of the House of Representatives by a 24-8 vote. A number of motions to amend the bill, many of which were withdrawn, indicated that members of Congress are not yet satisfied with the language of the bill.
Dissent among members of Congress on the nature of the Innovation Act was evident from the opening remarks of the committee’s two ranking members. Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the House Judiciary Committee Chairman and the Innovation Act’s major sponsor, stated that the Innovation Act would “ensure that the patent system lives up to its constitutional underpinnings” while targeting the abusive patent litigation which has been central to the debate on patent trolls. The ranking Democratic member of the committee, Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), said the bill was overly broad and yet it didn’t adequately address issues significant to this debate, including abusive demand letters and the ending of fee diversions from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s budget.
Congressman Conyers (D-MI).
Congressman Conyers (D-MI) spent the day arguing for pro-innovator improvements to the bill.
A manager’s amendment was proposed by Goodlatte which included language on stays of action against covered customers as well as venue restrictions. Other provisions of the manager’s amendment focused on joinder to ensure fee recovery, stay of discovery and prohibitions on double patenting. In a few areas of the bill, especially sections on stay of customer suits and attorney’s fees, the manager’s amendment changes the language of the Innovation Act to bring it closer into line with the Senate’s PATENT Act. The amendment found support among committee members including Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). Nadler in particular mentioned that the manager’s amendment addresses alleged abuses of the inter partes review system. Conyers, however, continued his opposition, citing among other concerns the fact that the IPR language in the amendment did not go far enough to address the parts of the process that are harming the biopharmaceutical industry.
A total of 19 amendments were read into the hearing’s proceedings, five of which were approved by a voice vote. One, offered by Congressman Thomas Marino (R-PA), wouldmandate a year-long joint study of discovery proceedings in patent litigation in order to find ways of curtailing abusive litigation. Discovery proceedings were also at the center of an approved amendment brought forward by Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA), which inserts language into the bill regarding a stay of discovery pending preliminary motions.
Various amendments that were either withdrawn or voted down indicated that many committee members feel that the Innovation Act still has a long way to go before it can be passed in the House. An Issa amendment would have extended covered business method review procedures six years past the program’s current 2020 sunset date. Multiple committee members were unsure why debate on extending a pilot program at the Patent Trial and Appeals Board was being debated five years before that program ends. Conyers was in favor of ending the CBM program, arguing that its scope has extended beyond what was intended by the America Invents Act, which established CBM.
A few of the proposed amendments were opposed based on the assertion that they represent legislative carve-outs which only benefit certain sectors of the economy; most of these assertions were made by Goodlatte. The topic of carveouts came up in response to an amendment offered by Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) regarding a shift in the burden of determining whether a suit was objectively reasonable to the prevailing party in cases of undue economic hardship to a non-prevailing party. A couple of withdrawn amendments, including one by Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) to amend the customer stay provision of H.R. 9 and another from Congresswoman Mimi Walters (R-CA) which would have restricted drug and biological product patents from IPR proceedings, were both contested by committee members on the same grounds. At a June 4th hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, a number of amendments to the PATENT Act were also decried as “carveouts” targeting specific industry groups, most vocally by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).
Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).
Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).
An amendment brought forth by Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) showed that there are still big interests at the table that are trying to shoehorn their views on patent reform into the Innovation Act. Chaffetz argued that his amendment would make retain the nature of both IPR and post-grant proceedings for patent review, both of which he felt were threatened by the recently introduced manager’s amendment. The amendment, however, would have struck the entirety of Section 9 of the bill, which includes a host of technical corrections to the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. Both Conyers and Goodlatte opposed the amendment, Goodlatte specifically noting that the Chaffetz amendment would strike provisions that have been the result of years of discussions. Chaffetz cited support for his amendment from corporate stalwarts in the semiconductor and tech world, including Apple, Micron, Applied Materials and Dell. This statement seemed reminiscent of comment by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), again at the June 4th PATENT Act hearing, where he noted that whenever Congress attempts to handle an issue like abusive demand letters, larger industry players are very interested in having an outsized say in the patent reform debate.
Other amendments were withdrawn by committee members with assurances by committee chairman Goodlatte that more work would be done to refine the Innovation Act as it heads to the floor of the House. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) withdrew an amendment on pleading requirements after Goodlatte said that he was “willing to entertain improvements to this provision of the bill.” Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) withdrew an amendment on reasonable specificity in claims, which she portrayed as a measure reducing costs for small businesses, but Goodlatte noted how this amendment stood in direct opposition to what other committee members are seeking in regards to claim structure. It seems fairly clear that consensus on what the Innovation Act is supposed to accomplish has not yet been reached among the members of the committee who approved it for debate on the House floor.
Many industry organizations representing a wide swath of stakeholders in the American patent system have also voiced their concerns about the potential effects of the Innovation Act if passed into law. A joint statement released June 10th by the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities, the Innovation Alliance, theMedical Device Manufacturers Association, the National Venture Capital Association and theAlliance of U.S. Startups and Inventors for Jobs expressed their opposition to the bill,representing a broad coalition of dissent from universities, inventors and business investors. In a separate statement published after judiciary committee approval of H.R. 9, the Innovation Alliance said that the day’s hearing “reinforced that the Innovation Act needs significant work before it should be allowed to move forward in the legislative process.” The group cited worries that overly broad provisions of the bill could increase the time and costs of litigation and make it more difficult to assert patent rights overseas.
Groups representing the software industry, however, continued their support of the Innovation Act. A press release distributed by the Software and Information Industry Association called the Innovation Act’s approval “an important step forward for patent reform and a positive sign that Congress can get patent litigation abuse legislation passed this year.” Software companies also supported the Innovation Act at a March 19th hearing on patent reform held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, despite some vituperative remarks made about the proposed law by other members of that witness panel.
For more detailed analysis of certain aspects of the House Judiciary Committee hearing please see:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Conyers: No More NAFTA-Style Trade Deals

Veteran Michigan Congressman Stands with American Workers to Oppose Trade Promotion Authority

WASHINGTON—Today, Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) released the following statement after voting against Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation to “fast-track” consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP):

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“Today’s House vote will help stop the rush toward another massive job-destroying trade deal.  This development is a win for workers, the environment, and human rights.

“In the two decades since Congress passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the United States has lost nearly five million manufacturing jobs nationwide and my home state of Michigan has lost one-out-of-three manufacturing jobs.

“I voted against NAFTA then, and I am steadfast in my opposition to the latest corporate trade deal, the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and its procedural precursor of Trade Promotion Authority, today. 

“The TPP has rightfully been called ‘NAFTA on steroids.’  The deal would force Americans to compete against workers from developing nations like Vietnam, where the minimum wage is less than 60 cents per hour.  Much like NAFTA, the TPP has more to do with big-business protectionism than with genuine free trade.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership means risking wages, health, and environmental standards in exchange for the promise of some potential gain for global investors.  This is a terrible deal for the vast majority of Americans. 

“Throughout my career in Congress, I have been a steadfast supporter of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for workers displaced by trade agreements, and I remain a champion for this funding.  The TAA bill put forward as part of the ‘Fast Track’ legislative package today is not only underfunded and poorly designed, but also inextricably linked to a legislative measure that will eliminate American jobs.  Which is why the House overwhelmingly opposed it.  

“If we are to succeed in restoring our manufacturing base, rebuilding our great industrial cities, defeating climate change, and protecting our citizens’ health, Washington policymakers need to prioritize real human thriving over the profits of global investors.  We can start by defeating these flawed trade deals.” 

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Rep. John Conyers:Why the TPP Is a Terrible Deal for Most Americans

Trade agreements boost economic growth, while destroying lives and livelihoods.
By John Conyers, Jr.
Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Earlier this year, former Florida governor Jeb Bush travelled to my hometown of Detroit to explain his political philosophy. In a speech before local business leaders, Bush argued that the aim of government should be to promote “economic growth above all.”
“If a law or a rule doesn’t contribute to growth,” he asked, “why do it?” If a law subtracts from growth, why are we discussing it?”
The younger Bush brother is in good company. For the better part of a century, economic growth—as measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—has been the single most important guidepost for government decision-making. Nowhere is this clearer than in the current debate raging in Washington over the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, wherein the deal’s proponents from the Chamber of Commerce to the Treasury Department routinely reach for their trump card: “Trade is good for economic growth.”
There’s just one problem with this line of thinking. Economic growth—our raw output of goods and services—is a questionable measure of our success or well-being as a nation. Growth, in some cases, runs counter to priorities that matter deeply to our people. As a short-term measure of national production, GDP often tends to increase as rates of crime, pollution, and household debt rise. Both Hurricane Sandy and the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster arguably boosted economic growth because of the activity associated with cleanup and rebuilding.
As the House considers whether to “fast track” the TPP and other coming trade deals, I hope my colleagues will consider a broader set of questions than the one that Jeb Bush presented during his visit to Detroit. Instead of asking about implications for economic growth, I hope my colleagues ask: “Is this policy good for living standards? For the health of the planet? For creating jobs with dignity, promoting peace, and ensuring an educated populace?”
It’s hard to imagine the TPP passing muster when we consider values other than economic growth.
Start with jobs and living standards. What Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson wrote in 1955 rings true today: under a system of free trade, “national product would go up, but the relative and absolute share of labor might go down.” It’s a polite way of saying that free trade means more opportunity for big industry and investors, but that workers will face new threats to their jobs and wages. This is particularly true when we open up to direct competitions with countries like Vietnam—a TPP participant country where the minimum wage runs below 60 cents per hour. As economists David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson have shown, increasing direct competition with a larger low-wage country, China, has increased unemployment and lowered wages in the United States. While workers disadvantaged by trade are supposed to be compensated with Trade Adjustment Assistance funding for retraining assistance and income support, the funding, at least since the NAFTA era, has never added up to the amount of the losses. Nowhere is this more evident than in my Detroit-based Congressional District, where outsourcing decisions in the wake of NAFTA have meant much more than lost jobs and wages: The trade deals have meant a vicious cycle of abandoned production facilities, lost population, a diminished municipal tax base, lower funding for key city services like drinking water, and, in turn, more population loss. “Adjustment assistance” can hardly begin to compensate for this. No marginal increase to GDP can justify the suffering and lost opportunity.
As for health and the environment, both the TPP and the forthcoming Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership present a series of unforeseen risks that cannot be easily quantified in economic terms. Consider how a key element of the trade deals known as the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism would allow foreign corporations to challenge US health, safety, and environmental protections. If US regulators ban production of a toxic chemical manufactured by a foreign firm for fears that it may end up in our food system or in our air, the manufacturer of that chemical could, under the terms of a trade agreement, challenge our government before a special international ISDS tribunal for frustrating its expectations and ultimately demand compensation for anticipated future profits. The special tribunal—often comprised of highly compensated corporate lawyers rather than professional judges—could require US taxpayers to pay the firm millions in damages, and the ruling could not be challenged in our domestic courts. This shadowy system is already the reality under NAFTA and other trade agreements, and it would be expanded dramatically under the TPP. Under the existing deals with this parallel legal system for foreign corporations, a Swedish company has sued Germany because the German government decided to phase out nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, a US firm has sued Canada for a fracking moratorium along the lines of the one in New York, and the tobacco giant Philip Morris has sued Australia and Uruguay for implementing anti-smoking laws. It’s easy to imagine a carbon tax or other future action to stop climate change coming under attack from corporate polluters in an ISDS court. Just the possibility of such lawsuits could dissuade local, state, and national governments from taking needed steps to protect citizens from environmental or health risks.
The tradeoff inherent in the Trans-Pacific Partnership—risking wages, health, and environmental standards in exchange for the promise of some additional economic growth—is a terrible deal for most Americans. It’s an even worse deal when you consider that, according to recent estimates by the US Department of Agriculture, the quantifiable economic growth will be negligible and accrue mostly to multinational corporations seeking to expand their reach.
So why are prominent politicians across the political spectrum pursuing the deal? While some argue that it’s a matter of exercising foreign-policy leadership in Asia and containing China, these rationales collapse under closer scrutiny. As numerous US officials have reiterated, China is itself free to join the trade pact. A 2013 report by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board made the case that the offshoring of the US manufacturing base—a process accelerated by TPP-style trade agreements, including NAFTA—presents a critical risk to US military readiness. As Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch has documented, erroneous foreign policy and national security arguments are frequently used as “the sales pitch of last resort” for controversial trade agreements.
Here’s the real reason the TPP remains on the Washington agenda: The political philosophy that Jeb Bush extolled during his visit to Detroit—economic growth above all—remains the order of the day among the nation’s top policymakers.
If we are to succeed in restoring our battered manufacturing base, rebuilding our great cities, defeating climate change, and protecting the health and safety of our citizens, we need a new worldview in Washington—one that enshrines real human thriving rather than raw output.
Senator Robert F. Kennedy understood this when, nearly half a century ago, he decried policymakers’ overreliance on economic growth as a guide for decision-making. In a famous address at the University of Kansas in 1968, he criticized GDP as a measure of national progress, pointing out that the measure “counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them” but not “the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.”
The looming battle over trade policy pits Jeb Bush’s worldview squarely against Robert F. Kennedy’s. It’s an open question which side many of my Democratic colleagues in Congress will choose.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

U.S. House passes Conyers Amendment to Increase Funding for USO Programs by 50% for Deployed Servicemembers

WASHINGTON— Late yesterday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives considered H.R. 2685, the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2015.”  During consideration of the legislation, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) offered an amendment to increase federal funding for the United Service Organizations (USO) by 50 percent, which received unanimous support.

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“On a daily basis, the United Service Organizations (USO) reaches U.S. military members in numerous ways,” said Rep. John Conyers.  “Connecting troops to their families through calling cards and the internet is just part of the USO’s 40-plus program repertoire, but it is incredibly important to our deployed men and women, and to their spouses, parents, siblings, and children.”

Added Conyers, “In an era where our servicemembers are fighting prolonged wars, connecting them to their families and friends back home is a service to our military that we cannot afford to underfund.  In fact, 93% of troops surveyed in 2012 agreed that USO services boost morale, ease separation from friends and family, and convey a feeling of support for the servicemember. […] This amendment will reduce the Operations and Maintenance Defense-wide account by less than one two-thousandth (1/2000), while having an immeasurable impact on the quality of life of our servicemen and women.  It is past time that we direct sufficient funds to the quality of life of the men and women that sacrifice everything to defend our nation.”

In a strong bipartisan show of support, Republican Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), Chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, praised the amendment: “We would like to salute the Dean of the house for his strong support of the USO,” said Rep. Frelinghuysen. “All of us want to thank you for your significant leadership over many years, and for choosing this incredibly wonderful organization to plus up.” 

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U.S. House Passes 3 Amendments By Rep. Conyers To Defense Spending Bill To Protect Civilians From Dangers Of Arming And Training Foreign Forces

WASHINGTON— Late yesterday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives considered H.R. 2685, the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2015.”  During consideration of the legislation, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Congressman Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) offered bipartisan amendments to block the training of the Ukrainian neo-Naziparamilitary militia “Azov Battalion,” and to prevent the transfer of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles—otherwise known as Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS)—to Iraq or Ukraine.

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“If there’s one simple lesson we can take away from US involvement in conflicts overseas, it’s this: Beware of unintended consequences.  As was made vividly clear with U.S. involvement in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion decades ago, overzealous military assistance or the hyper-weaponization of conflicts can have destabilizing consequences and ultimately undercut our own national interests,” said Rep. John Conyers.  “I am grateful that the House of Representatives unanimously passed my amendments last night to ensure that our military does not train members of the repulsive neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, along with my measures to keep the dangerous and easily trafficked MANPADs out of these unstable regions.”

Ukraine’s Azov Battalion is a 1,000-man volunteer militia of the Ukrainian National Guard that Foreign Policy Magazinehas characterized as “openly neo-Nazi,” and “fascist.”  Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who oversees Ukraine’s armed militias, announced that Azov troops would be among the first units to be trained by the Pentagon in Operation Fearless Guardian, prompting significant international concern.

Since their initial use on a battlefield in 1978, MANPAD attacks have resulted in nearly 1,000 civilian deaths.

Added Conyers, “Both U.S. and Israeli officials have feared that these weapons could be used by terrorists to bring down commercial jets.  As the boundaries are increasingly blurred between insurgents fighting the Syrian government and those fighting the Iraqi government, providing additional arms could further destabilize the Middle East.  The same can be said for Ukraine, where an anti-aircraft missile allegedly downed Flight MH17 last September, killing 298 civilians. The possibility that MANPADS—or any weapon—could fall into the hands of radical groups in Iraq, Syria, or Ukraine, would unquestionably increase the already-devastating human toll in both of these volatile regions.”

According to ReutersThe Azov battalion originated from a paramilitary national socialist group called "Patriot of Ukraine", which propagated slogans of white supremacy, racial purity, the need for authoritarian power and a centralized national economy. Azov’s controversial founder, Andriy Biletsky, organized the neo-Nazi group the Social-National Assembly (SNA) in 2008.

“The Azov men use the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel (Wolf’s Hook) symbol on their banner and members of the battalion are openly white supremacists, or anti-Semites,” wrote The Telegraph.  Since Azov was enrolled as a regiment of Ukraine's National Guard in September and started receiving increased supplies of heavy arms, however, Biletsky has toned down his rhetoric, Reuters reportedAccording to the Washington Postbattalion members “could potentially strike pro-Russian targets on their own — or even turn on the [Ukrainian] government” if it pursues a diplomatic resolution to the conflict.

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