Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Legislation About the Federal Reserve

On May 19, 2016 the Congressional Research Service released a report entitled Federal Reserve: Legislation in the 114th Congress by Marc Labonte, Specialist in Macroeconomic Policy. Labonte breaks the bills about the Federal Reserve (Fed) into four categories:
  1. Changes to Fed governance -  "change the Fed's institutional structure."
  2. Changes to oversight and disclosure - increase "congressional oversight or require the Fed to disclose more information to Congress and the public."
  3. Changes involving the Taylor Rule - "require the Fed to compare its monetary policy decisions to those prescribed by a Taylor Rule and report those findings to Congress." According to the Federal Reserve, "Taylor rules are simple monetary policy rules that prescribe how a central bank should adjust its interest rate policy instrument in a systematic manner in response to developments in inflation and macroeconomic activity.
  4. Changes to the Fed's emergency lending powers - "reduce the Fed's discretion to make emergency loans under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act."
The report covers bills that have seen committee or floor action. Labonte analyses the above provisions and the policy debate about them.

Friday, May 20, 2016

PFOA & PFOS Drinking Water Health Advisories

The EPA has published a health advisories fact sheet about PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. These fluorinated organic chemicals are used to make "carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials (e.g., cookware) that are resistant to water, grease or stains."   PFOA and PFOA related chemicals were phased out of production in the United States between 2000 and 2002, but drinking water in some communities has been contaminated by industrial facilities that used these chemicals in manufacturing or by airfields that used the chemicals for firefighting. The health advisories fact sheet provides recommendations about what level of these chemicals in the water should not exceed and steps to remove them from drinking water systems.
The fact sheet is available at  https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-05/documents/drinkingwaterhealthadvisories_pfoa_pfos_5_19_16.final__0.pdf

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Labor Department's Final Rule on Overtime

According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, on May 18, 2016 President Obama and Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez announced a Federal Register final rule updating overtime regulations. The website lists the following key provisions of the Final Rule which goes into effect on December 1, 2016:
The Final Rule focuses primarily on updating the salary and compensation levels needed for Executive, Administrative and Professional workers to be exempt. Specifically, the Final Rule:
  1. Sets the standard salary level at the 40th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage Census Region, currently the South ($913 per week; $47,476 annually for a full-year worker);
  2. Sets the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees (HCE) subject to a minimal duties test to the annual equivalent of the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally ($134,004); and
  3. Establishes a mechanism for automatically updating the salary and compensation levels every three years to maintain the levels at the above percentiles and to ensure that they continue to provide useful and effective tests for exemption.

Additionally, the Final Rule amends the salary basis test to allow employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10 percent of the new standard salary level.
See more information including fact sheets at https://www.dol.gov/WHD/overtime/final2016/

See the final rule at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/05/23/2016-11754/defining-and-delimiting-the-exemptions-for-executive-administrative-professional-outside-sales-and
(Please note: until May 23, 2016 you can download only a pre-publication PDF version of the rule from this link.)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Guidance for Schools about Transgender Bathrooms

According to the U.S. Department of Education's blog, Homeroom, on May 13, 2016, "the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released joint guidance to schools explaining how federal law prohibiting sex discrimination affects schools’ obligations toward transgender students." The Department of Education "also released a compilation of examples of ways that schools across the country are already successfully supporting transgender students."

The guidance letter "identifies the key requirements that schools need to keep in mind to comply with Title IX and other federal laws." A condition of receiving Federal funds is that schools comply with the requirements of Title IX.

Both documents are available from the Homeroom blog.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Vietnam War Summit, Live Streamed April 26-28, 2016

April 26-28, 2016 the LBJ Presidential Library is live streaming The Vietnam War Summit. Speakers include the keynote address by U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and the following major participants:
  • Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State and former National Security Advisor Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Pham Quang Vinh
  • Ken Burns, Award-winning Documentarian
  • Dr. Grace Liem Galloway, former Medic at Third Field Hospital and Cu Chi
  • Tom Hayden, Anti-war Activist and Politician
  • Bob Kerrey, former U.S. Senator and Medal of Honor recipient
  • William McRaven, University of Texas System Chancellor and former Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command
  • Journalists Peter Arnett, Dan Rather, David Maraniss, and Joe Klein
  • Nick Ut and David Hume Kennerly, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers
  • Also present will be Country Joe McDonald of Woodstock fame.
You can live stream the presentations here: vietnamwarsummit.org/live.
Each session will be archived on their YouTube page
See the schedule at http://www.vietnamwarsummit.org/attend/sessions.html

In addition, at UT Austin's LBJ Presidential Library along with a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall), the following exhibits are being featured:
  • Vietnam: Evidence of War, April 1-July 31, Vietnam photojournalism and artifacts from the collection of The University of Texas at Austin's Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
  • Tributes to the Fallen, April 14–June 26, Artifacts from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection comprised of objects that have been left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
  • Vietnam: Turning Points of War, April 14-June 26, Key Vietnam-related documents from the Truman through the Ford administrations

Rather Prize to Improve Education in Texas

Journalist Dan Rather with his grandson, Martin Rather, currently a student at Rice University, have set up a $10,000 prize for a Texas student, teacher or administrator who has the best idea for improving Texas education.

The 2016 inaugural winner of the prize is Dr. Sanford Jeames of Eastside Memorial High School for an idea partnering high school students with college students in a mentorship program. See more information at the Rather Prize website.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Celebrate Earth Day, April 22, 2016

Record Rainfall in Southeast Texas, April 2016
Photo Credit: NASA Earth Observatory map by Jesse Allen, using IMERG data provided courtesy of the Global Precipitation Mission (GPM) Science Team's Precipitation Processing System (PPS). Caption by Kathryn Hansen.

To start your celebration of Earth Day, check the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Earth Day site which gives the history, projects, events and activities association with Earth Day since its inception in 1970. It also includes quotations about the environment such the following from former Wisconsin Governor Gaylor Nelson, the founder of Earth Day:

The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.

For fascinating views of the earth, check NASA's Visible Earth, the origin of the photo displayed above which has particular meaning to those in Houston currently impacted by floods.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Politics from the Past

Does the name Charles Curtis, Alben W. Barkley, Garret A. Hobart, or George Mifflin Dallas sound familiar? Each of these men served as Vice President of the United States. The Senate website has links to their biographies at the end of a brief introduction. Today's controversy about candidates running for elections is nothing new. Former Vice Presidents include one who became a fugitive after murdering a man, one who led an invasion of Washington, D.C. as a member of the Confederate Army, and another who was criticized for playing a piano with an actress posed seductively on top of it.  On the other hand, three received the Nobel Peace Prize, one was the wealthiest banker of his era, and one composed a popular melody. On the Senate site read more about their talents, challenges, and the office of Vice President.