uni fee increases are a universally-applied process with very racialised implications for new zealand.

māori, pacific islands and other minority students overwhelmingly come from backgrounds of immense poverty. we can’t afford to take on huge debt. especially not when the amount of this debt increases 4% year after year. this process literally needs to stop or we’re going to see the deplorable figures of māori and other ethnic minority students in tertiary education drop even lower. 

at the moment there are less than 10 Māori professors at the University of Auckland. some of them are retiring this year. how can the university ever function as the critic and conscience of society if it increasingly becomes a segregated institution? 

if my younger brother chooses to attend university, he’s going to shoulder student debt ~48% higher than mine. this is assuming that the private lobbyist employed by the vice chancellor of my university to campaign for the removal on statutory limits on university fee increases is unsuccessful. 

what about my children? at the current rates of increase, they’ll be taking on around three times as much debt as I do. that may just not be possible. 

i don’t know how to fix this problem but i do know that looking at the future for māori in this country, for everyone in this country but especially those who are the most marginalised, feels like looking into a loaded gun. maybe what we did on monday didn’t fix things, but i’m not sorry for agitating.

if you think there’s no point in resisting if you’re going to be defeated, you’ve already sided with institutional power. if a two hour interruption to your study plans in the name of preserving the ability for future generations to have access to education isn’t worth it to you, you’re playing the politics of I Got Mine and i can’t find any sympathy in myself for you. we have obligations beyond ourselves and beyond our time and i’m holding myself to them. 

Democratic Senators Propose Lifetime Ban on Lobbying

Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Jon Tester (D-MT) “introduced legislation to prevent members of Congress from becoming lobbyists after they retire,” The Hill reports.

"Current law allows senators to become lobbyists two years after leaving office, while House members only have to wait for a year. But Bennet and Tester’s bill would institute a lifetime ban on lobbying for lawmakers."

Excellent idea.

2

Consumers, farmers, & activists prepare to fight “Monsanto Protection Act” passed by the U.S. Senate
April 1, 2013

You most likely haven’t seen this story on your nightly news or on the front pages of most mainstream newspapers, but there is a huge battle underway that’s pitting angry consumers, organic farmers, small farmers and the natural food industry and others against bio-tech giant Monsanto and its large agriculture supporters.

The fight is centered around growing outrage over passage in the U.S. Senate of what critics are calling the “Monsanto Protection Act,” which President Obama signed into law on Tuesday. Anthony Gucciardi in piece on naturalsociety.com describes what’s happening this way:

"There truly is no rest for the wicked, and Monsanto is at war once again against health conscious consumers with the latest ‘Monsanto Protection Act‘, managing to sneak wording into the latest Senate legislation that would give them blanket immunity from any USDA action regarding the potential dangers of their genetically modified creations while under review.

The USDA would be unable to act against any and all new GMO crops that were suspected to be wreaking havoc on either human health or the environment….it all started in the late hours of Monday night (March 11), when lobbyists working for the Monsanto-fronted biotechnology industry managed to slide a ‘rider’ (through the deceptively worded Farmer Assurance Provision, Sec. 735) into the Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill.”

The left-of-center NationOfChange reports that Monanto’s lawyers and lobbyists pulled off a major coups with this rider and right under the eyes of even the most knowledgeable players along The Beltway:

"In the typical slippery nature of Monsanto’s legislation-based actions, the biotech giant is now virtually guaranteed the ability to recklessly plant experimental GM crops without having to worry about the United States government and its subsequent courts. The Monsanto Protection Act buried deep within the budget resolution has passed the Senate, and now nothing short of a presidential veto will put an end to the ruling.

In case you’re not familiar, the Monsanto Protection Act is the name given to what’s known as a legislative rider that was inserted into the Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill. Using the deceptive title of Farmer Assurance Provision, Sec. 735, this bill actually grants Monsanto the immunity from federal courts pending the review of any GM crop that is thought to be dangerous. Under the section, courts would be helpless to stop Monsanto from continuing to plant GM crops that are thought even by the US government to be a danger to health or the environment.”

In essence, say the critics, rider gives “backdoor approval” for any new genetically engineered crops that could be potentially harmful to human health or the environment.

A lobbyist monstrosity

The legislation has been described as a, “Lobbyist-created recurring nuisance that has been squashed in previous legislation thanks to outcry from not only grassroots but major organizations. Last time we saw The Center for Food Safety, the National Family Farm Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists all come out against the Monsanto Protection Act from the 2012 Farm Bill,” says a report in NationOfChange before Mr. Obama signed the bill into law.

"This time, there was a swift resistance…however sadly the Senate acted so quickly on this and almost entirely ignored the issue that it has now passed despite thousands of fans signing the old petition…the reality is that the bill is actually seen as a positive one by most politicians, which is where Monsanto lobbyists were so deceptive and slippery as to throw in their rider (the actual Monsanto Protection Act into the bill). This makes it very unappealing to veto the bill, but also we must remember that Obama actually promised to immediately label G Mos back in 2007 when running for President," concludes the NationOfChange story.

The rider in the bill allows farmers to plant, harvest and sell “genetically engineered plants” even if the crops have been ruled upon unfavorably in court.

A Center for Food Safety statement called the rider “an unprecedented attack on U.S. judicial review of agency actions” and “ a major violation of the separation of powers.”

Yahoo News goes a step further saying this legislation rider, “Threatens the health and well-being of the public by undermining the federal courts’ ability to protect farmers and the environment from potentially hazardous genetically engineered (GE) crops. The rider was slipped into the bill while it sat in the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski. According to the Center for Food Safety, the committee held no hearings on this controversial biotech rider and many Democrats were unaware of its presence in the larger bill.”

Hidden backroom deals

Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety said in a statement, “In this hidden backroom deal, Senator Mikulski turned her back on consumer, environmental, and farmer protection in favor of corporate welfare for biotech companies such as Monsanto…this abuse of power is not the kind of leadership the public has come to expect from Senator Mikulski or the Democrat Majority in the Senate.”

Food Democracy Now is calling on concerned citizens to call Congress and petition President Obama to remove Section 735 from the Continuing Resolution bill. There is an online petition sponsored by Food Democracy Now located here .

The International Business Times (IBT) says of the Monsanto rider in the bill, “The provision’s language was apparently written in collusion with Monsanto. Lawmakers and companies working together to craft legislation is by no means a rare occurrence in this day and age. But the fact that Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, actually worked with Monsanto on a provision that in effect allows them to keep selling seeds, which can then go on to be planted, even if it is found to be harmful to consumers, is stunning. It’s just another example of corporations bending Congress to their will, and it’s one that could have dire risks for public health in America.”

The IBT says there are “five terrifying facts about the Farmer Assurance Provision — Section 735 of the spending bill — to get you acquainted with the reasons behind the ongoing uproar.” Those five things can be found here .

More than 100 organizations and businesses have come out against this section of the bill, including the National Farmers Union, American Civil Liberties Union, Sierra Club, Environmental Working Group, Stonyfield Farm, Nature’s Path, Consumers Union, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and Public Citizen.

Source

Breaking: Pebble Mine project shut down. Mining lobbyists lose millions. Local efforts prevailed. Huge environmental win in Alaska today!

NRDC: “(I)n a historic result against enormous odds, the Save Our Salmon initiative has prevailed.

In the Lake and Peninsula Borough of southwest Alaska, where the massive Pebble Mine is proposed to be sited by a consortium of foreign mining companies, the residents have approved a prohibition against large-scale resource extraction – like the Pebble Mine — that would destroy or degrade salmon habitat in their region. 

And, most remarkably, they did so despite an intense campaign of fear funded by the Pebble Partnership falsely charging that the initiative “will drive Lake and Pen families away to find work, force schools to close and drive up the cost of food and fuel as the local economy shrinks even more.”

Source: NRDC

For background, read/listen to NPR’s report yesterday: Pebble Mine Development Polarizes Alaska.”

See also the Pebble Mine wiki and read about the legal battles, lobby efforts, and salmon habitat issues.

Watch on pantslessprogressive.tumblr.com

Report: Obama Has Weakened More Lobbyist-Opposed Health, Public Safety Regulations Than Bush

A new report shows that despite a campaign pledge to get lobbyists out of Washington, the Obama White House has weakened regulation in favor of corporate interests more than the Bush administration. The study, “Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment,” examines more than a thousand meetings that took place over a decade between lobbyists and a little known regulatory office, then checks to see how proposed rules were weakened to accommodate industry requests. It found the Obama White House changed rules 76 percent of the time, while Bush changed them just 64 percent of the time. EPA rules were changed at a significantly higher rate — 84 percent. [Democracy Now!] spoke to the report’s lead author, Rena Steinzor, professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and President of the Center for Progressive Reform.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R)’s family and business partner have been receiving payments from a secret Political Action Committee called Real PAC. Half a million dollars of the money donated to the PAC has come from corporate health care interests which — like the governor and Georgia state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens — oppose the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare.”

According to investigative reporter Jim Walls of Atlanta Unfiltered, the PAC hasn’t filed taxes or the required financial disclosures in two years, and the information it did file for 2011 was incorrect.

Contributors to Real PAC include Aetna, Humana, Blue Cross, United Healthcare and other interests that want to keep health insurance premiums and other costs as high as possible. Bryan Long of activist group Better Georgia told Raw Story that the list of donors shows who Gov. Deal really works for.

“He goes out and he does their bidding,” Long said, “He’s working for them instead of working for the 650,000 Georgians who don’t have insurance at all or access to the Medicaid expansion.”

“What’s remarkable about this isn’t that there’s money in politics,” he continued. “We all know there’s money in politics. He knew that this was so wrong that he didn’t want to tell anyone. He tried to keep it a secret for two years.”

Deal’s office made financial records publicly available on the Friday before Labor Day weekend, hoping, Long said, that no one would pay attention. The AP reported Friday that among its outgoing costs, the PAC “paid $30,000 to Southern Magnolia Capital, a fundraising firm founded by Deal’s daughter-in-law, Denise Deal. It also paid Ken Cronan, who co-owned a Gainesville salvage yard with Deal, more than $10,000 in December for pilot and plane expenses.”

All of the companies that pay into the PAC are doing business with the state of Georgia on some level. The PAC’s treasurer, former state ethics chairman Rick Thompson, protested that the PAC money is not just for Deal’s re-election, but for “Republican causes.”

Last week, state insurance commissioner Ralph Hudgens was caught on tape boasting to a crowd of supporters that his office is deliberately obstructing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. As Floyd County Republicans called out “Amen!” and applauded, Hudgens said that his office is interfering with the certification of the ACA’s insurance policy “navigators,” individuals hired to help consumers choose policies on the open market.

“Let me tell you what we’re doing (about Obamacare),” he said. “Everything in our power to be an obstructionist.”

Pew poll finds voters’ assessments of the two US political parties surprisingly accurate.

Washington Post: Democrats hold a sizable advantage on Republicans on several key perceptions of the United States’s two major political parties, according to a new poll.

The Pew Research Center poll show Americans perceive Democrats as more willing to work with the other party than Republicans, by a margin of 52 percent to 27 percent.

Democrats also hold a 20-point advantage when it comes to which party “is more concerned with the needs of people like me” and a 10-point edge when it comes to governing in a more ethical and honest way.

The GOP, meanwhile, is viewed as much more “extreme” in its issue positions (54-35) and more influenced by lobbyists (47-30).

In other words, all five measures favor Democrats by a significant margin.

What’s interesting to me about this is that it demonstrates the complete failure of the “both sides are just as bad” false equivalency narrative that much of the media have been trying to get Americans to buy into. After years of GOP obstructionism, the government shutdown, and the debt limit fiasco, it’s become a tough sell.

You can’t continually vote against the wishes of the people — as the GOP has with immigration, the minimum wage, and unemployment benefits — and expect people to see you as the good guys. And the media is thankfully no help at all in bailing them out. It turns out that their actions speak louder than the media’s words and no amount of spin will bail them out for continually failing the American people.

[photo via Wikimedia Commons]

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