PPC News

Earth Day Is April 22 Water, Water, Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink

This famous line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is becoming ever more true for our planet with each succeeding Earth Day. Sea levels are rising as polar ice and glaciers melt at an ever-increasing pace. At the same time, California faces an historic drought, and other parts of our country and the world are seeing either too little precipitation or too much too fast to replenish aquifers. 

A recent television documentary focusing on the rapidly retreating glaciers in the Alps called them “Europe’s water towers.” A similar description can be applied to the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro, which have provided water for drinking and raising crops for surrounding areas of East Africa. But Kilimanjaro too is losing its snows. Climate change is a clear and alarming process to a majority of scientists, and is becoming more obvious to ordinary people with eyes to see. Leading climate scientists estimate that we have until 2030 to take action to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, before it becomes a runaway train.

Climate change deniers are in the minority. But they hold the levers of power in this country. From the governor of Florida, a state more threatened by “water, water everywhere” than perhaps any other, to the fossil fuel barons like the Koch Brothers, to organizations like The Heartland Institute that spread anti-scientific untruths, the deniers push efforts in Congress and state legislatures to defeat any action to deal with the near and present dangers posed by climate change. 

 With Earth Day upon us, we need to speak out, to educate, to participate in demonstrations, and to pressure the Congress and state legislatures to pass pro-earth legislation. We need to stand behind President Obama’s strong initiatives to regulate and reduce carbon emissions and foster earth-friendly energy production. We can take our own individual steps through increased recycling, buying as much locally-produced food and manufactured items as possible, reducing use of automobiles, and fostering urban green spaces.

Jean Stewart
Committee for Public Policy and Political Action

Letter from Oklahoma: Let’s Not Trash a Judicial Selection System that Works

Throughout the nation, political forces are working to erode the impartiality of judges by increasingly subjecting them to elections. This open letter from Oklahoma—to legislators and other concerned citizens in that state—details why higher court judges should be insulated from political influence.   

April 6, 2015

We are writing as concerned citizens of Oklahoma who are worried that forces in the state are trying to change the judicial system that has served our state well since 1967. That year, a constitutional amendment changed the system of popularly electing judges to our state’s highest courts, which had led to a huge scandal involving bribery and corruption in the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

That scandal was detailed in a 1997 book, Justice for Sale: The Shocking Scandal of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Now, under that constitutional amendment, a Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC)—composed of lawyers and non-lawyers chosen by the governor, members of the bar, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and the president pro tempore of the Senate—carefully vets potential justices, in a process that includes questioning them in person and having the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation  investigate each. The JNC recommends the three most qualified candidates for a high-court post (on Oklahoma’s Supreme Court, Court of Civil Appeals, or Court of Criminal Appeals), and the Governor appoints one of those.

Oklahoma still elects judges for its 26 judicial districts, which handle most cases in the state. But voters are more likely to know Judges and Associate Judges of a District Court personally, or to know about cases they have tried. Those seeking to be on the higher courts must campaign statewide, making them susceptible to influence from rich donors who can finance expensive media buys to reach voters.

Let’s not trash a system that works well and go back to one that’s been proven to lead to corruption.

Sincerely,

The Members of the Bryan County Federation of Democratic Women

By MaryKathryn Hodge, President

Let’s Show Mitch McConnell that Democrats Don’t Give Up

“If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake.” Thomas Jefferson

On Tuesday, Election Day 2014, all that “hopey-changey stuff” took a terrible beating from a raging red tide. Angry voters swept away Democratic control of the Senate and of many governors’ mansions. As we survey the wreckage, we must look both back and forward to regain our balance, renew our hope, and set our sights on the future our country deserves.

Ten years ago, Barack Obama electrified the 2004 Democratic convention with the message that “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice and dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too….We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

Today, that vision seems to be in shreds. A furious electorate, blaming President Obama for Republican-inspired catastrophes like the 2008 financial collapse and the rise of ISIS (a direct result of President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq) unleashed their anger on Democratic candidates—ignoring the President’s impressive successes in fixing those very problems. Senator McConnell’s cynical strategy of blaming President Obama for the impact of highly organized Republican opposition to all his proposed solutions has worked brilliantly. Mitch McConnell will be the majority leader of an increasingly belligerent and solution-averse Senate. The pessimists among us might be tempted to see Tuesday’s election as the death of Democratic hopes.

But as I read the post-election news stories, I remembered a friend’s inspiring response to the dispiriting reelection of President George W. Bush in 2004. “The day after election Day 2004, I woke up devastated,” she wrote. “I felt a death, the death of my country, as I had known it to be for almost 50 years…. But the next day when I woke up”, she said, “I realized “this is a brand new day.”

“On this brand new day, I will begin the fight anew. Where there is injustice against women, I will be there. Where there is civil injustice, I will be there. Where the American workers’ rights are being compromised, I will be there. Where the Constitution is being challenged, I will be there. Where our clean air, clean water, forests and natural habitats are being destroyed, I will be there. Where our right to worship or not worship is being trampled, I will be there. Where our young men and women are dying in an unjust war, I will be there.”

“On this morning, I will say “thank you, Mr. Bush, for making me stronger in the battle against your unjust policies. There is a new day dawning and I will not turn back!”

As we sort through the rubble of Tuesday’s election and hear the pundits’ post-mortems, let’s remember the President’s stirring words and my friend’s passionate resolve to oppose unjust and destructive policies. Let’s get back out there and promote our party’s ideals, help repair Tuesday’s damage, and restore the hopes President Obama expressed in 2004. So thank you, Senator McConnell! It’s a new day dawning, and we will never turn back.

Elizabeth Joyce
WNDC Vice President for Communications

WNDC Marches on Climate Change—A PPC Report

Climate March insertA Stunning Day in September: The Perspective of a Climate Activist

Being at the People’s Climate March was awe inspiring. Waves of indigenous people, labor activists, faith organizations, college students, and environmental groups streamed through the streets of Manhattan flooding it, this time, with hope and optimism. The diverse groups embodied a collective conscience that showed how unchecked climate impacts would dwarf their other successes.

They flew seagulls, hoisted colorful banners, rode an ark, posed with insightful signs, and played instruments in an unmatched visual spectacle. Over 300,000-plus people fed off the energy of enthusiastic marchers worldwide on screens dotted along the route. The lively event went mute at 12:58 p.m. when we observed a moment of silence for victims of the climate crisis. Then the rainbow of individuals sounded the alarm.

The largest climate rally amazed those new to activism while astonishing long-term advocates. A fellow walker in the latter category wrote me how she wished she could do the march every day. I agreed. Click here to read more.

Veena Trehan

Public Policy Committee

Poverty Rate Decreases—But Still Not Time to Celebrate!

Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013

Data released by the Census Bureau on September 16, shows that the official poverty rate fell from 15% in 2012 to 14.5% in 2013, the first decrease since 2006. The data in this report come from the 2014 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

 As of 2013, there were 45.3 million people living at or below the poverty level, and for the third consecutive year, the change in the number of people living in poverty was not statistically significant. Furthermore, real median household income remained stagnant. The change from $51,759 in 2012 to $51,939 in 2013 was not statistically significant for the second year in a row, following two previous years of declines.

 A primary factor in the declining poverty rate was the significant decrease in the poverty rate for children under the age of 18, which fell for the first time since 2000. The poverty rate for children declined from 21.8% to 19.9% between 2012 and 2013, with the number of children living in poverty falling from 16.1 million to 14.7 million. Despite this improvement, the poverty rate for children remained higher than the rate of poverty among people aged 18 to 64, and those aged 65 or older. In addition, about 1 in 5 related children under age 6 remained in poverty. Little was changed in poverty rates among people over the age of 18.

The poverty rate among Hispanics fell from 25.6% in 2012 to 23.5% in 2013, and the number of Hispanics living in poverty decreased from 13.6 to 12.7 million. In comparison, there was not a statistically significant change in the poverty rate for non-Hispanic Whites (9.6%) or for non-Hispanic Blacks (27.2%).

 The report also shows that income inequality rose from 1999 to 2013. One way the Census Bureau measures income inequality is by comparing changes in household income at selected percentiles. Between 1999 and 2013, incomes declined 14.3% at the 10th percentile (at the lower end of the income distribution) and 8.7% at the 50th percentile, while there was no statistically significant change in income at the 90th percentile (at the upper end of the income distribution). Over the same time period, the ratio of the 90th percentile to 10th percentile income rose from 10.42 to 12.10, another indication of increasing income inequality.

Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013 is at http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p60-249.pdf

A media release from the Census Bureau summarizing the findings is at http://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2014/cb14-169.html

Marcie Cohen
Public Policy Committee