Moving on

By Shlomit Auciello | Feb 25, 2021

By the time you read this, there's a chance the federal government will have moved beyond the 2020 election and begun the work that needed doing for the last four years and more.

While there's a chance the latest coronavirus stimulus package will be approved by the end of this week, there are many efforts, started in the last four years, that stalled during the last administration. I'm sure each of you has a mental list of priorities for the 117th Congress. Here, in no particular order, is mine.

The 2010 legal decision known as Citizens United empowered and protected organizations that pool money in order to increase their access to mass media. By determining those with the most cash get the loudest megaphone, the Supreme Court made your voice harder to hear.

According to the House of Representatives website at govtrack.us/congress/bills/, H.R. 1, the For the People Act, would “expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures.” This bill was supported with a joint House-Senate resolution but has been sitting in committee since Jan. 4.

A bill introduced Feb. 15, H.R.1076, would “require all political committees to notify the Federal Election Commission within 48 hours of receiving cumulative contributions of $1,000 or more from any contributor during a calendar year.”

I don't know anyone who sincerely believes a corporation, political action committee, or labor union is deserving of the same rights as a living citizen. Our worship of the dollar gives it too much power.

Congress needs to return some of that power to citizens by rewarding companies and organizations that provide equal pay and benefits to those who do the same job, no matter their gender, marital status, etc. This campaign is so old that the language in the original Equal Rights Amendment has become archaic.

When first proposed almost in 1923, the ERA called for guaranteeing equal rights regardless of sex. It took 97 years to clarify the ERA would protect individuals against discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity and sexual orientation; the bill continues to languish, pay remains unequal and while the National Labor Relations Act says employers can't prohibit workers from discussing salaries and working conditions in the workplace, many company handbooks speak against such conversations and many workers are asked to sign contracts stating that their compensation or benefits are private and cannot be disclosed.

Somehow, many Americans operate under the false assumption that our individualism permits a lack of caring and compassion. If we are to stop retracing the mistakes of the past, those who have enough must wake up to our responsibility to support those who still struggle to meet their basic needs.

Meanwhile, the source of our abundance continues to be exploited. We turn our backs on the living world, exploiting it as a resource and a dumping ground.

In the Senate, S.29, S.101, and S.282 would offer some protection from human endeavor to fragile and vital ecosystems. None of these bills go as far as I'd like to make some places off limits to tourism, scientific exploration and drone overflight.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wants to exempt certain governments and other entities from species protections in the Lacey Act of 1900 that were expanded in 1981 and 2008. His bill, S.277, was introduced Feb. 8, but no text has been delivered to Congress for review.

Cruz's bill should be soundly defeated.

Much of the discussion about environmental policy centers on the energy-dependent systems that power our growth-driven policies and activities. A number of bills, such as H.R.848, S.193, S.216 and S.218 focus on climate change and energy independence, but few recognize the need to increase conservation or study the impact of energy systems that are considered viable alternatives to fossil fuels.

When I was a reporter and the conversation about offshore wind was just beginning here in Maine, I asked many in the industry what the impact would be of vibrating machines in the oceans where much of life navigates and communicates by using vibration. That was more than a decade ago and these questions remain unanswered.

Instead, offshore wind developers tout the benefits of siting their projects beyond the horizon. Out of sight, out of mind.

Central Maine Power continues to push a transmission corridor that will tear a wide swath in the wild places of our state, and now a so-called-natural gas developer wants to set a pipeline alongside the road on which many of us depend.

According to the website fracktracker.org, “In 2019 there were 614 reported pipeline incidents in the U.S., resulting in the death of 10 people, injuries to another 35 and about $259 million in damages.”

When someone is hurt in one of these preventable disasters, their chances of healing rely on a system that parses out medical care through a profit-based insurance system. Once again, money and the lobbying it buys are directing policy.

As Medicare for All languishes in the halls of the U.S. Capitol, many who would like to see us move more rapidly toward a single-payer national healthcare system are looking to the individual states. Here in Maine, Maine Healthcare Action is working toward that goal. They can be reached at mainehealthcareaction.org.

Last on my list of urgent issues facing Congress: Confirm judicial and other federal appointees whose credentials are similar to (or better than) those approved in the last four years.

There are currently almost 900 empty judicial positions, mostly in the Appeals and District courts. Let's put aside all the hypothetical litmus tests. While senators may think it's okay to render a decision before the evidence is presented, any judge worth the job will tell you that cases are decided after they are heard. There are often factors that cannot be predicted. While I feel comfortable with voters using litmus tests to help with their decisions, such blanket opinions are damaging to justice.

As I said at the start, you may have other priorities. What seems clear to me is that rehashing the last 20 years of American politics has limited use. The constant party bickering, a sort of morality politics, polarizes us when we need to find consensus. There are things we need to do together. That's what government is for.

Our job is to choose legislators who share our vision of a country that advances the positive attributes we share. We need to continue to tell those in the House and Senate what we want them to do. Their job is to write bills, come as close to agreement as they can on the language, and vote.

Tell them what you want at house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative and senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992.

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