Political Flavors

Letter Writing Sunday: Stop SOPA

Posted in Editorials on November 27th, 2011

By now you might have heard of SOPA – the Stop Online Piracy Act which has been introduced into committee in the House of Representatives. It claims that it’s goal is to protect copyrighted works on the internet, but in fact the definitions are so broad that many sites that are abiding by current law would be in trouble. In addition, there are no provisions for due process, as cnet news explains:

It allows the U.S. attorney general to seek a court order against the targeted offshore Web site that would, in turn, be served on Internet providers in an effort to make the target virtually disappear. It’s kind of an Internet death penalty.

More specifically, section 102 of SOPA says that, after being served with a removal order:

A service provider shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site (or portion thereof) that is subject to the order…Such actions shall be taken as expeditiously as possible, but in any case within five days after being served with a copy of the order, or within such time as the court may order.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has drafted this letter that you can send to your elected representatives here:

I am a constituent and I urge you to reject the Internet Blacklist Bills (PROTECT IP Act in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House). I am deeply concerned by the danger these bills pose to Internet security, free speech online, and innovation. The Internet Blacklist Legislation is dangerous and short-sighted, and I urge you to join Senator Wyden and other members of Congress, such as Representatives Lofgren, Eshoo and Issa, in opposing it.

Letter Writing Sunday: Transit Tax Benefits for Straphangers

Posted in Editorials on November 20th, 2011

Hat tip, Long Island Fail Road.

As someone who takes public transportation to work every day, I am happy to take advantage of the Transit Tax Benefit – I can set aside a certain amount of money from my salary every month, pre-tax, and spend it on bus or train fare. Currently the amount is $230 per month, which is a reasonable amount considering a NYC Subway pass is $104 per month and a Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit or Metro North Commuter Rail pass can be over $200 per month.

If it’s so incredibly controversial to remove tax brakes for corporate jets, why can’t working people of all classes write off their commuting costs? And yet somehow this years budget will roll back the allowance to only $115 per month.

You can take action by sending an email to your member of Congress and Senators, and asking them to support H.R. 2412 and S. 1034, both titled “The Commuter Benefits Equality Act” which will keep the Tax Benefit at the current level. My letter is below

I am writing to you today to ask you to support The Commuter Benefits Equality Act. As a commuter, I face increasingly high fares every year and this tax benefit helps to reduce the cost. Public transportation has many benefits, one of which is a cleaner environment for all of us to enjoy, and so this incentive has multiple positive qualities.

At this time of economic hardship for so many Americans, I urge you to pass this bill so that there will be as few obstacles as possible for getting people back to work.

Letter Writing Friday – Occupy Wall Street

Posted in Editorials on October 14th, 2011

I have been following the Occupy Wall Street protests with great interests. Like many on the left, at first I wasn’t sure what I thought – but every day that they stayed, I was more captivated. I haven’t been there in person yet. Most of my free time in these past few months has been spent volunteering for a campaign for a local election on Long Island. I would like to visit after election day. But like many Americans, I worry about the threat to my day job if I were to be arrested.

Last night, I went to sleep after reading the news that Mayor Bloomberg had decided that this morning at 6AM he would force the protesters from the park, for cleaning. This was exactly how Los Indignatos were forced from their protest in Barcelona, while Adam and I were visiting in May. When the protesters tried to return, they were beaten with clubs by the police. I worried about something similar happening in New York.

This morning, however, brought good news. Mayor Bloomberg has backed down. I opened my email and revised the message I had started to write to my City Councilman, Mark Weprin last night, and sent it.

This morning I was very relieved to hear that Mayor Bloomberg decided not to remove the protesters from Zuccotti Park. I am writing this email to urge you to do everything you can to support New Yorkers’ First Amendment Rights. Our city is made great by the diversity of people who live here, and that includes differences in politics. I am proud to live in a place where the Occupy Wall Street Protests are taking place, and where the right to peaceful protest is respected by the government.

I sent a similar email to Mayor Bloomberg, and included a reference to his inspiring speech defending Park 51 last year where he claimed to champion diversity and freedom. Here’s hoping he will continue to be that Mayor and not the misguided one he was last night.

Senator Gillibrand Responds on Climate Change

Posted in Editorials on September 8th, 2011

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sent me a response to this letter.

Thank you for contacting me regarding your concern for the Clean Air Act, and your desire to protect the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other pollutants. I share your view on this issue and will continue to oppose efforts to undermine the Clean Air Act.

One of my top legislative priorities has been, and will continue to be, to ensure that New York’s families have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. I will continue to oppose attempts to overturn the EPA’s endangerment finding, strip the EPA of its lawful authority, or delay the implementation of Clean Air Act regulations set forth by Administrator Jackson.

We must continue to press for cleaner standards for the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. These plants, many of which are inefficient and scheduled to be decommissioned, must not be allowed to continue to operate under the lax standards that they now follow. We need to ensure that all newly constructed coal fired power plants meet emissions standards and that the plants that continue to operate abide by elevated performance standards. These outdated power plants represent the inefficient and carbon-intensive technologies that we must move away from in order to transition to a clean energy economy.

Thank you again for writing to express your concerns, and I hope that you keep in touch with my office regarding future legislation. For more information on this and other important issues, please visit my website at http://www.gillibrand.senate.gov and sign up for my e-newsletter.

I am very impressed with this thorough response. Kudos, Senator!

Letter Writing Sunday: Grocery Store Slavery

Posted in Editorials, Food and Drinks on June 26th, 2011

My husband and I are frequent customers at our local Stop and Shop. The location is convenient, and they have a large selection of organic produce and meats for a cheaper price than Whole Foods. However, it has come to my attention via this editorial by Mark Bittman that the labor practices used by their supplier of tomatoes is akin to slavery.

Normally we get the “Nature’s Promise” tomatoes, Stop & Shop’s generic organic brand, but the label only reads “Made in the USA.” It’s impossible to tell if they were grown in the conditions Bittman describes, although they may not be as he says the fields in Florida require a massive amount of fertilizer. Luckily out local farmers market will be able to supply us with tomatoes for the time being, and we will be giving this letter to the store manager.

This website has other letters you can give to the manager at your local Giant, Kroger, Martin’s, Publix or Trader Joe’s as well. These chains also sell tomatoes from Immokalee Florida.

Letter Writing Sunday: Save the Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium

Posted in Editorials on June 12th, 2011

The New York City budget has a proposed cut in the budget for the Bronx Zoo and Aquarium of 50%. The Wildlife Conservation society is urging people to write to their councilwo/man, Speaker Christine Quinn and to Mayor Bloomberg to protest these cuts.

As someone who cares about the health of New York City’s economy, I urge you to restore funding to cultural organizations like the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium for Fiscal Year 2012.

The proposed budget cuts more than 50 percent of operating support to the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium. This would be a devastating blow, potentially sparking program cuts and layoffs.

When you cut funding to our City’s cultural organizations, you hurt New Yorkers. These organizations pump valuable dollars into our communities and employ New Yorkers citywide.

The Wildlife Conservation Society alone, which runs the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium, pumps more than $316 million into New York City’s economy. More than four million guests visit WCS facilities each year, buying from local merchants in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and across New York City.

Now is not the time to cut organizations that provide jobs to New Yorkers, drive local economies citywide, and educate our children. Please support restoration to cultural organizations and ensure our zoo and aquarium continue to serve the communities that depend on them.

Letter Writing Friday: NYSC Should be Embarassed

Posted in Editorials, Pictures on June 3rd, 2011

I’ve been going to NYSC since February of 2009, and I am generally satisfied. I consider myself to be in favor of a healthy lifestyle which includes lots of exercise. I am not in favor of shaming people about their bodies. So I filled out a customer satisfaction survey and included the following:

Currently, there is an advertisement in the window of the location I visit which says “Thought flu season was scary? Swimsuit season is here.”

I am at a loss for words as to why Town Sports Clubs thought that this was an appropriate advertisement. According to the CDC, since October 2010, 5,991 Americans have been hospitalized due to influenza and 105 children have died.

This is hardly comparable to a little embarrassment due to some love handles or cellulite on the beach.

I would appreciate a response as to the reasoning behind this advertisement. I am otherwise very satisfied with NYSC because I had found it to be a supportive environment to pursue my fitness goals until I saw that poster this week. I also am publishing this inquiry on my blog located at www.politicalflavors.com in hopes of drawing attention to this crass advertisement.

I look forward to their response.

Tell Senator Kirsten Gillibrand To Support Net Neutrality

Posted in Editorials on May 25th, 2011

In January, I wrote a letter to Senator Gillibrand, asking her to support Net Neutrality. I received this response, dated April 7, 2011:

Thank you for contacting me regarding Net Neutrality. Your thoughts and concerns are very important and I appreciate you taking the time to share them with me. Please know that as I participate in discussions on the issues before the United States Senate, the thoughts and opinions of all my New York constituents are given careful consideration.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. Please visit http://gillibrand.senate.gov and sign up for my e-newsletter for updates on this, and other important issues being considered by the Senate.

Kirsten E, Gillibrand
United States Senator

I really dislike substance-less form letters. I want my representatives to tell me what their position is, even if they disagree with me. I couldn’t find anything else on her position online or on her own website. However, I did find this email to another blogger from February 2010, where the Senator comes out in support of Net Neutrality:

Thank you for writing to me about Net Neutrality legislation in Congress. I share your concerns, and support protecting free and open communication on the Internet.

The Internet plays a vital part in nearly all aspects of our lives as Americans; from commerce to education to entertainment. It is important that people continue to have access to all of these services. The freedom to communicate is a principle that also applies to the Internet. For that reason, I will support efforts in the United States Senate to ensure that users are able to access a broad variety of content and prevent discrimination by network providers.

And so I left am unsure as to whether I was sent a meaningless form letter by mistake, or if the Senator has changed her position. I’ve told her where I stand. Have you?

Kirsten Gillibrand Responds on Reproductive Rights

Posted in Editorials on May 11th, 2011

Last week, I received a response from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to the letter I wrote her regarding Crisis Pregnancy Centers, and several tweets and emails I sent regarding the increasing attacks by Republicans on women’s rights – including HR3 – the so-called “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act” which has since passed the House of Representatives.

As I have written previously, this bill would:
-Tax women who purchased insurance coverage that includes abortion care
Tax employers who provide such insurance
-Stop Medicaid (health insurance for poor people) from covering abortions for women who have been raped unless it meets the Republicans narrowed criteria of “forcible rape
-Create “Abortion Audits” for women who had abortions, to determine the cause of the unwanted pregnancy. If the women had not reported the abortion, and if they had been pregnant for reasons other than “forcible rape” she would have to pay a tax
-Allow doctors and hospitals to refuse life saving care to a pregnant women if such care would harm or kill her fetus.

I also contacted her about the vote to defund Planned Parenthood. Although the House voted for it, the Senate voted against it.

Senator Gillibrand affirmed her pro choice position:

I hope I am correct in taking this to mean that she will vote against the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act if there is a Senate vote on it. Where do your representatives stand?

Gary Ackerman Reponds on Citizens United

Posted in Editorials on March 31st, 2011

Congressman Gary Ackerman recently sent me this response to my letter:

Thank you for contacting me to express your concern regarding corporate influence in political campaigns.

The Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission strengthens the power of corporate lobbyists and special interests in the political process. This misguided and overreaching decision grants corporations the same First Amendment rights as American citizens to spend unlimited amounts of money in support of or in opposition to candidates for public office and inhibits the ability of average Americans to have an impact on elections.

As a result of the Citizens United decision, American citizens will be forced to compete with corporations who can spend millions of dollars in support or in opposition to candidates for public office without breaking the bank. As a result of the Court’s decision, oil companies can threaten to spend millions to ensure the defeat of Members of Congress for supporting a clean energy bill, or corporations with foreign interests can spend millions in support of a candidate to secure a favorable trade agreement for another country. At a time when the American public increasingly questions the impact of big donors and lobbyists on the legislative process, our democracy certainly does not need to reverse the progress that has been made with regard to campaign finance reform.

In response to the Court’s decision, I introduced the Corporate Politics Transparency Act. Under my bill, publically-traded companies would be required to notify shareholders of all independent expenditures made either for or against a candidate for public office over the last six years if spending exceeds $10,000 in an election, by disclosing the spending in quarterly statements, annual reports, proxy statements, and registration statements. I am also a cosponsor of legislation that would require corporations to seek approval from a majority of shareholders before spending on politics. I firmly believe that if companies want to spend corporate funds to influence elections, their shareholders have a right to know, approve or disapprove of the spending, and have the opportunity to hold corporate management accountable for how their company is spending their money.