WASHINGTON, DC. – A federal appeals court has given the blind and otherwise disabled a major victory in their efforts to maintain self-sufficiency and gainful employment by making products that serve our troops. Former Congressman Alan Grayson won this landmark decision by the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit in the case of SEKRI v. United States (Court of Appeals Docket #: 21-1936 or 1: 21-cv-00778), which goes into effect this week. “I’ve been a champion of the blind and otherwise disabled throughout my entire career, legally and politically,” Grayson says, adding, “one of the acts of kindness that we expect from our government is to show support for people who are physically limited.”
As Grayson requested, the three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., ruled the Department of Defense must use companies that employ the blind and otherwise disabled under the 1938 Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, after the DOD purposely ignored this mandate in selecting for-profit contractors to make the harness that a soldier uses to carry supplies like extra ammunition and water canteens. The appeals court ruling goes into effect this week.
“It brings them into the mainstream of life and work”, Grayson says about the thousands of disabled workers who make such items for soldiers to use. “There is an enormous spirit, a spirit of community inside these workshops. People feel real joy, not only in the work, but in other people’s company.”
While in Congress, Grayson extended this law to require the government to employ the blind and otherwise disabled to make American flags right here in Florida, instead of importing them from China. Grayson anticipates that the lower court is likely to enter a permanent injunction against the Defense Department, prohibiting them from purchasing such items from anywhere else. “The law is simple,” says Grayson. “If the Government can buy these items from the disabled, then they must.”
This victory comes on the heels of former Congressman Grayson winning more than $13 million for the taxpayers last month, in a lawsuit against Iraq War contractor KBR for defrauding the government. A few months earlier, Grayson won a separate case for Goodwill Industries, requiring the military to buy women’s uniforms from the blind and otherwise disabled.
Biden, Macron vow unity against Russia, discuss trade row
WASHINGTON (AP) — Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron vowed to maintain a united front against Russia on Thursday amid growing worries about waning support for Ukraine’s war effort in the U.S. and Europe. Biden also signaled he might be willing to tweak aspects of his signature climate legislation that have raised concerns with France and other European allies.
Biden was honoring Macron with a grand state dinner Thursday evening — the first of the U.S. president’s COVID-19 shadowed presidency for a foreign leader. But following up on Biden’s upbeat comments might not go as smoothly as that fancy affair. Republicans who are about to take control of the House have shown less willingness than Biden to spend billions on Ukraine, and Democratic lawmakers said Thursday they were not about to jump back into the climate legislation.
In fact, for all the positive statements, Macron’s visit to Washington has been tempered by his criticism of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and the challenges both leaders face amid the mounting costs of keeping military and economic aid flowing to Kyiv with no end in sight for the Russian invasion.
Despite the differences, Biden and Macron sought to underscore that the U.S.-France alliance remains solid and that the West must hold steadfast against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
“Today, we reaffirm that, as I said, we’re going to stand together against this brutality,” Biden said. “Putin thinks that he can crush the will of all those who oppose his imperial ambitions by attacking civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, choking off energy to Europe to drive up prices, exacerbating the food crisis. That’s hurting very vulnerable people not just in Ukraine but around the world and he’s not going to succeed.”
Both leaders at an outdoor welcoming ceremony paid tribute to their countries’ long alliance. But they acknowledged difficult moments lay ahead as Western unity shows some wear nine months into the war in Ukraine.
In Washington, Republicans are set to take control of the House, where GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has said his party’s lawmakers will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine. Across the Atlantic, Macron’s efforts to keep Europe united will be tested by the mounting costs of supporting Ukraine in the war and as Europe battles rising energy prices that threaten to derail the post-pandemic economic recovery.
Macron stressed that the issue has ramifications far beyond Ukraine’s borders.
“What is at stake in Ukraine is not just very far from here, in a small country somewhere in Europe,” he declared. “But it’s about our values. And about our principles.”
“Our two nations are sisters in the fight for freedom,” he said.
Biden indicated he would be willing to talk with Putin if the Russian leader demonstrated that he seriously wanted to end the invasion. But the U.S. president, as always, conditioned such talks on support by NATO allies.
“I’m prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding that he’s looking for a way to end the war,” Biden said. “He hasn’t done that yet.”
In addition to their talk of Ukraine — what White House officials said was at the top of the agenda — the two leaders discussed Macron’s and other leaders’ concerns about the recently enacted clean energy law.
Macron has made clear that he and other European leaders are opposed to incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act that favor American-made climate technology, including electric vehicles.
Biden acknowledged “glitches” in the legislation but said “there’s tweaks we can make” to satisfy allies.
“The United States makes no apology. And I make no apologies since I wrote it for the legislation we’re talking about,” Biden added about the legislation.
However, Macron said that while the Biden administration’s efforts to curb climate change should be applauded, the subsidies would be an enormous setback for European companies.
“We want to succeed together, not one against the other,” Macron added. He said the U.S. and France would “resynchronize” their clean energy efforts to ensure there’s no “domino effect” that undermines clean energy projects in Europe.
On Capitol Hill, despite Biden’s talk of possible changes in the law, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, one of the bill’s main architects, said, “Congress passed a law to rev up the American electric automobile industry, create good-paying American jobs and tackle climate change at the same time. I have no intention of reopening it.”
The European Union has also expressed concern that tax credits in the law would discriminate against European producers and break World Trade Organization rules.
The leaders, with aides, met for about three hours after taking part in a formal ceremony with hundreds of people gathered on the South Lawn on a sunny, chilly morning. There was a 21-gun salute and review of troops, and ushers distributed small French and American flags to the guests.
Both Biden and Macron in their public comments sought to keep the focus on the situation in Ukraine.
The state visit should provide a boost to Macron diplomatically that he can leverage back in Europe. His outspoken comments help him demonstrate that he’s defending French workers, even as he maintains a close relationship with Biden. The moment also helps Macron burnish his image as the European Union’s most visible and vocal leader, at a time when Europe is increasingly concerned that its economy will be indelibly weakened by the Ukraine war and resulting energy and inflation crises.
To that end, Biden praised Macron as “not just the leader of France” and for being “very outspoken and very very commanding in Europe.” In his public comments, Macron repeatedly referred to the U.S. president as “dear Joe.”
Still, at moments, Macron’s rhetoric has rankled U.S. and Ukrainian officials, with calls for Ukraine and Russia to meet at the negotiating table. White House officials have publicly maintained that it is solely up to Ukraine’s leadership to decide when it’s appropriate to engage the Russians and have stressed the war could end immediately if Putin ended his invasion.
Macron also raised eyebrows earlier this month in a speech at a summit in Bangkok when he referred to the U.S. and China as “two big elephants” that are on the cusp of creating “a big problem for the rest of the jungle.” His visit to Washington came as both the U.S. and France are keeping their eyes on China after protests have broken out in several mainland cities and Hong Kong over Beijing’s “zero COVID” strategy.
The state visit marked a return of a White House tradition of honoring close foreign allies that dates back to Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency.
Macron and his wife, Brigitte, came to the U.S. bearing gifts carefully tailored to their American hosts, including a vinyl record and CD of the original soundtrack from the 1966 film “Un Homme et une Femme,” which the Bidens went to see on their first date, according to the palace.
Among the gifts Biden and first lady Jill Biden presented the Macrons was a mirror framed by fallen wood from the White House grounds and made by an American furniture maker.
Vice President Kamala Harris hosted Macron for a lunch at the State Department before the evening state dinner in an enormous tented pavilion constructed on the White House South Lawn.
San Francisco will allow police to deploy robots that kill
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Supervisors in San Francisco voted Tuesday to give city police the ability to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations — following an emotionally charged debate that reflected divisions on the politically liberal board over support for law enforcement.
The vote was 8-3, with the majority agreeing to grant police the option despite strong objections from civil liberties and other police oversight groups. Opponents said the authority would lead to the further militarization of a police force already too aggressive with poor and minority communities.
Supervisor Connie Chan, a member of the committee that forwarded the proposal to the full board, said she understood concerns over use of force but that “according to state law, we are required to approve the use of these equipments. So here we are, and it’s definitely not a easy discussion.”
The San Francisco Police Department said it does not have pre-armed robots and has no plans to arm robots with guns. But the department could deploy robots equipped with explosive charges “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect” when lives are at stake, SFPD spokesperson Allison Maxie said in a statement.
“Robots equipped in this manner would only be used in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives,” she said.
Supervisors amended the proposal Tuesday to specify that officers could use robots only after using alternative force or de-escalation tactics, or concluding they would not be able to subdue the suspect through those alternative means. Only a limited number of high-ranking officers could authorize use of robots as a deadly force option.
San Francisco police currently have a dozen functioning ground robots used to assess bombs or provide eyes in low visibility situations, the department says. They were acquired between 2010 and 2017, and not once have they been used to deliver an explosive device, police officials said.
But explicit authorization was required after a new California law went into effect this year requiring police and sheriffs departments to inventory military-grade equipment and seek approval for their use.
The state law was authored last year by San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu while he was an assembly member. It is aimed at giving the public a forum and voice in the acquisition and use of military-grade weapons that have a negative effect on communities, according to the legislation.
A federal program has long dispensed grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms, bayonets, armored vehicles and other surplus military equipment to help local law enforcement.
In 2017, then-President Donald Trump signed an order reviving the Pentagon program after his predecessor, Barack Obama, curtailed it in 2015, triggered in part by outrage over the use of military gear during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting death of Michael Brown.
San Francisco police said late Tuesday that no robots were obtained from military surplus, but some were purchased with federal grant money.
Like many places around the U.S., San Francisco is trying to balance public safety with treasured civilian rights such as privacy and the ability to live free of excessive police oversight. In September, supervisors agreed to a trial run allowing police to access in real time private surveillance camera feeds in certain circumstances.
Debate on Tuesday ran more than two hours with members on both sides accusing the other of reckless fear mongering.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who voted in favor of the policy authorization, said he was troubled by rhetoric painting the police department as untrustworthy and dangerous.
“I think there’s larger questions raised when progressives and progressive policies start looking to the public like they are anti-police,” he said. “I think that is bad for progressives. I think it’s bad for this Board of Supervisors. I think it’s bad for Democrats nationally.”
Board President Shamann Walton, who voted against the proposal, pushed back, saying it made him not anti-police, but “pro people of color.”
“We continuously are being asked to do things in the name of increasing weaponry and opportunities for negative interaction between the police department and people of color,” he said. “This is just one of those things.”
The San Francisco Public Defender’s office sent a letter Monday to the board saying that granting police “the ability to kill community members remotely” goes against the city’s progressive values. The office wanted the board to reinstate language barring police from using robots against any person in an act of force.
On the other side of the San Francisco Bay, the Oakland Police Department has dropped a similar proposal after public backlash.
The first time a robot was used to deliver explosives in the U.S. was in 2016, when Dallas police sent in an armed robot that killed a holed-up sniper who had killed five officers in an ambush.
In campaign swing, Biden focuses on incumbent Democrats
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — President Joe Biden’s travel schedule before Tuesday’s midterm elections reveals his defensive stance in the campaign’s closing days: He’s spending the bulk of his time trying to hang on to seats that his party already holds.
Biden kicked off a four-state, three-day campaign swing on Thursday to support Democrats in competitive races in solidly blue California, Illinois and New Mexico as well as battleground Pennsylvania, where Biden has deep roots.
His first stop was Albuquerque, where he spoke about his student debt relief program by calling it “a game changer for so many people.”
Nearly 26 million people have applied for loan forgiveness, up 4 million from two weeks ago. About 16 million applications are expected to be approved by the week’s end, but no debt can be forgiven until a legal fight over the program is resolved.
“Republican members of Congress and Republican governors are doing everything they can, including taking us to court, to deny relief, even to their own constituents,” Biden said.
Speaking to young voters whose support Democrats are seeking, Biden said, “You represent the best of us.”
“Your generation is not going to be ignored,” he said. “You will not be shunned. You will not be silenced.”
His itinerary illustrates the limited political clout of a president who has been held at arm’s length by most Democrats in tough races this cycle. It also suggests that the president, whose approval rating remains underwater, has concluded that he can be most effective using the waning days before polls close to shore up support for Democratic candidates in areas that he easily won in 2020.
“Democrats are clearly on the defensive and that’s bearing out as the campaign comes to a close,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “Their chances for gains don’t look realistic, so now you look to what you can preserve. The president’s travel schedule is reflective of where they see this cycle going.”
The president’s party typically faces significant losses during midterm elections. Since 1934, only Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, Bill Clinton in 1998, and George W. Bush in 2002 saw their parties gain seats in the midterms.
Some recent presidents saw big losses in their first midterm races. Republicans under Donald Trump lost 40 House seats but gained two Senate seats in 2018; Democrats under Barack Obama lost 63 House seats and six Senate seats in 2010, and Democrats under Clinton lost 52 House seats and eight Senate seats in 1994.
The decision to deploy Biden to areas where he won handily in 2020 was made in part because of concern about voter energy in races that Democrats view as must-win. Party officials are also concerned about some candidates who have seen their races tighten in the final days of the campaign.
In New Mexico, a state Biden won by nearly 11 percentage points in 2020, he held the Albuquerque rally for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is facing a Republican challenge from former TV meteorologist Mark Ronchetti.
Fundraising by Ronchetti’s campaign has surged amid visits from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Ronchetti also received a social media endorsement from Trump despite his acknowledgment that Biden won in 2020.
Later Thursday, Biden was joining Rep. Mike Levin for a get-out-the vote event at a community college in Oceanside, California. Levin represents a district with a slight Democratic tilt that cuts through San Diego and Orange counties and that Biden carried by double digits in the 2020 presidential election. Republican nominee Brian Maryott has gone after Levin over inflation, gas prices and rising crime.
Biden is to spend part of Friday and Saturday in the Chicago area, where two-term incumbent Rep. Sean Casten is facing a stiff challenge from Republican Keith Pekau as he tries to hang on to a suburban district that Biden won by a double-digit percentage in 2020. The White House has yet to announce Biden’s plans for his time in Chicago.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Republican leaders, this week announced an $1.8 million ad buy to assist Pekau, the mayor of south suburban Orland Park. And Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, is due to campaign with Pekau in the district on Friday.
Casten’s campaign, in a fundraising email Wednesday, called the crush of super PAC money a “last-ditch effort to buy this seat” and implored his supporters to send him contributions for the campaign’s final stretch.
The president on Saturday will head to Pennsylvania to campaign with Obama for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro and Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman.
Pennsylvania Democrats are trying to keep control of the governor’s office, which is being vacated by Tom Wolf as he finishes his second term. Fetterman is locked in a tight race with Republican Mehmet Oz, vying for the seat being vacated by the retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
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