1 Month In, Starting to Feel at Home

D.C. has been my home for one exciting, emotional, enlightening month. So far, I’ve seen and reported from inside the Capitol, visited the Newseum, White House, Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln, FDR, Martin Luther King Jr., World War II and Jefferson memorials. I’ve also tried Georgetown Cupcakes (a.k.a. DC Cupcakes) and need to go back for more.

Martin Luther King Memorial

People asked me why I flew here a week before my internship and now I realize it wasn’t early enough. How do tourists visit all the monuments/museums in such a short period of time? I’ve had a month and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Before I leave, I’m determined to hit up the many Smithsonian museums, the National Archives, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum (to take pictures with the wax presidents) and the Newseum at least one more time.

On a slightly less touristy note, I’ve made major improvements since arriving in the city. I turned 21, which means I can finally join other journalists at happy hour. I can recite many of the stops on several Metro lines, I’m not being a nuisance on Metro escalators and I’ve already been asked for directions, which clearly means I’m starting to look like less of a tourist and more of a local. Success! My next goal is to be able to read the newspaper while standing in a moving train. I’ll keep you updated.

Broncos fans at Penn Quarter Sports Tavern give a Mile High Salute. Source: Ron Campbell

But, by far the most exciting discovery I made (with a friend’s brilliant Googling skills) was finding my people at a local bar. By which I mean that I found Broncos fans who are crazier than me. We may have lost in the last minutes against the Titans, but I’ve never had more fun losing.

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New Mexico Lawmakers Want More Money For Nuclear Waste Cleanup

By Andrea Salazar

Times may be tough but nuclear waste is no area to skimp on.

That’s what Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) are arguing as Congress begins appropriating spending for the 2012 fiscal year budget.

In a letter to Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the New Mexico duo urged for more funding for New Mexico’s Water Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) “fence-to-fence” cleanup.
“The senators acknowledge the constraints of the current budget climate and that things are very difficult right now,” said Udall spokeswoman Marissa Padilla. “But what Sen. Udall and Sen. Bingaman are saying is that these are, essentially, two top priorities for New Mexico. They have great importance to the country, and it’s important that they’re properly funded.”
Regarding LANL, waste in the area affects the local community greatly because it affects their drinking water, Padilla said. However, it also has an impact on the country because WIPP receives waste shipments from around the country.
The senators are asking for an increase of $30 million over last year’s funding for WIPP and a budget of $358 million for LANL’s cleanup efforts. They cited safety and a need to comply with the Department of Energy’s consent order to clean up LANL by 2015 as reasons for the increased budgets.
“The importance of removing TRU (transuranic) waste from the site was clearly highlighted this summer when the massive Las Conchas forest fire threatened various laboratory facilities,” the senators wrote in their letter to the subcommittee.
Neither Feinstein nor Alexander could be reached for comment.

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ACLU, Heritage Foundation Weigh In On Supreme Court’s Next Term

By Andrea Salazar

Health care reform and Arizona’s immigration law are expected to be two of the major issues the United States Supreme Court tackles during its fall 2011 term starting in October, and legal analysts representing both ends of the political spectrum are expecting victories for their sides.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Heritage Foundation held dual events in Washington, D.C. Wednesday previewing the upcoming term.
Both organizations touched on the subject of ‘Obamacare’ and agreed that politics must have been involved in the decision to forgo appealing a lower court’s ruling deeming the health care reform law’s individual mandate unconstitutional.
However, Paul Clement, former U.S. solicitor general and partner at Bancroft PLLC, said the question of the mandate’s constitutionality is only the beginning.
“A lot of the focus has been on the individual mandate, but the individual mandate is the tip of the constitutional iceberg when it comes to this case,” he said, “Because you have the question of whether or not the individual mandate is constitutional, if the individual mandate is, in fact, not constitutional, then you have the question of what effect does that have on the rest of this remarkably long and remarkably multifarious statute.”
The ACLU has not officially released an position on the matter, but its legal director, Steven Shapiro, said the mandate falls under the commerce clause and is, therefore, constitutional.
As for Arizona’s immigration law, the constitutionality of which could impact “copycat” laws in states like Georgia, Alabama, Utah, Indiana and South Carolina, Clement says that the administration may face challenges trying to make its case.
“The burden’s on the federal government to explain why it is that immigration is sufficiently different from every other area of the law that a state can’t effectively try to enforce the federal substantive law,” Clement said.
The ACLU’s Omar Jadwat, however, argued that S.B. 1070 goes beyond a federal versus state issue but also has major civil rights implications.

“It’s reminiscent of Jim Crow laws,” Jadwat said, explaining that penalties for being unable to prove one’s legal status creates a system where “certain people are essentially not persons.”

Rulings on the cases the Supreme Court accepts are expected in late June.

Originally for Talk Radio News Service.

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OMB Director Urges Partnership With Agencies When Making Cuts

By Andrea Salazar

With budget cuts looming, the White House’s top budget official expressed his desire to work in partnership with federal agencies when going through the budget process.
Jack Lew, director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, spoke to federal leaders and managers on Tuesday at an event timed to coincide with the release of a new report, entitled “Making Smart Cuts: Lessons from the 1990s Budget Front.” The report was put out by the Partnership for Public Service.
“One of the things I am urging, from an OMB perspective, is that we look at agencies as partners, in the sense that we not dictate here are the ways to achieve all of the savings, to give agencies tools, and to do it in a way that is, perhaps, less directive and more as guidance,” Lew said.
Instead of commenting on the report itself, however, Lew focused on government reform and performance.
“We have an obligation, those of us who believe that government serves an important function, to be there both making the case that there’s this duty to serve the public and to provide essential services but equally the duty to show that we have the capacity to do it better, to do it more effectively, to do it more efficiently and in the case of the budgetary times we are in, to do it more cheaply,” he said.
Looking to the 1990s for advice on the U.S. budget, the Partnership for Public Service interviewed more than 30 current and former federal officials about their experiences with downsizing during that decade. The group outlined four conditions for success in the 1990s and eight strategies used during those times to deal with budget cuts.
The report is available on the Partnership for Public Service website.

Originally for Talk Radio News Service.

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Obama Signs Patent Reform Bill Into Law

By Andrea Salazar

When Thomas Edison filed a patent for the phonograph, it took him seven weeks to get it approved. Today, it takes an average of 3 years.
In an effort to change that, Congress passed the America Invents Act earlier this year, and President Obama signed it into law today at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va.
“We have to do everything we can to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit wherever we find it,” Obama said. “We should be helping American companies compete and sell their products all over the world. We should be making it easier and faster to turn new ideas into new jobs and new businesses and we should knock down any barriers that stand in the way.”
The president said the law would remove some of the red tape that makes it slow to get a patent approved. Other changes to patent law now include a first-to-file instead of first-to-invent standard, something opponents of the bill worry will give big companies an advantage over new innovators.
Despite some opposition, however, the America Invents Act of 2011 passed with bipartisan support. The president took the opportunity to talk about his American Jobs Act and urged the same kind of support for that bill.
“We came together to pass patent reform. We should be able to come together to also put people back to work,” he said.

Originally for Talk Radio News Service.

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USPS Plans To Reduce Work Force, Close Mail Processing Plants

By Andrea Salazar

The U.S. Postal Service will seek to reduce its workforce by up to 35,000 positions over the next 3 years and shrink its network of mail processing facilities to less than 200 by 2013, according to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.

Donahoe and Megan Brennan, chief operating officer and executive vice president, outlined their plans Wednesday to reduce total costs by $20 billion by 2015.

“We have to meet this goal to return to profitability, ” Donahoe said. “What we will announce this morning helps us get part of the way there. [It] will help to create a low cost delivery platform that we need to serve our customers and to best meet the obligations to the American public.”
Brennan expects to achieve the workforce reduction through attrition, since the USPS has 150,000 employees who could retire today. Other changes will include restructuring the First-Class Mail service to a 2-3 day standard, a change motivated by a 25 percent decline in First-Class Mail usage.
Of the 487 operating mail processing facilities, Brennan said the postal service will begin reviewing an additional 252 of them for potential closure, a process she said could take up to three months.
“It is expected that the studies will take three months from today to complete,” Brennan said. “It’s an aggressive plan, but it will put us ahead of the cost curve for the next decade.”Donahoe and Brennan emphasized that residential customers will not see a significant impact at the post office or in delivery as these changes are implemented.“The postal service is still a critical part of the American economy,” Donahoe said. “We’re not going out of business. What we’re trying to do is get our finances in order so that we can stay out there in business and provide excellent service for a long, long time to come.”

Originally for Talk Radio News Service.

GOP Senators Intro Bill To Protect S.C. Boeing Facility

By Andrea Salazar

A group of Republican senators urged Congress Wednesday to pass a bill limiting the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) ability to shut down a Boeing Company facility in South Carolina.

The Acting General Counsel of the NLRB issued a formal complaint against Boeing alleging that it “violated federal labor law by deciding to transfer a second airplane production line from a union facility in the state of Washington to a non-union facility in South Carolina for discriminatory reasons.”

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), John Thune (R-S.D), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) warned against shutting down the South Carolina plant fearing negative economic effects.

“We want to make it easier for Boeing and Motorola and Westinghouse and Nissan and Toyota to build in the United States what they sell in the United States,” Alexander said. “NLRB’s action is making it easier for manufacturers to look at the United States and say, ‘We’re going to build overseas’.”

The bill, introduced by Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), would “prohibit the National Labor Relations Board from ordering any employer to close, relocate or transfer employment under any circumstance.”

“It’ll be hard to continue to make products in America if the NLRB can tell a company after they make an investment, ‘By the way, we’re going to veto your decision’,” Graham said. “The amount of power that this would give an unelected bureaucracy in an American economy is chilling.”

Originally for Talk Radio News Service.

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