Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Congressman Steve Cohen: Getting Acquainted With Eric Holder.

Dear Constituents,

This week, I had my first opportunity to speak with new Attorney General Eric Holder face-to-face. On Tuesday, he invited me and the other House Judiciary Subcommittee Chairmen to a luncheon at the Department of Justice (DOJ) where we were able to discuss some of the most pressing issues before our committee. On Thursday, I questioned him during a Judiciary Committee hearing, the video of which is available HERE.

In my two encounters with the Attorney General this past week, I have been very impressed by Mr. Holder’s thoughtfulness, candor and thorough knowledge of the issues. During the lunch, I had the chance to talk to him about my bill currently before the committee, the Justice Integrity Act, which I introduced on March 9 along with Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (MI-14). This legislation would examine the causes of racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system and develop proposals for reducing or eliminating unjustified disparities where found. The Attorney General agreed with the need for urgency in combating this problem in the United States, and told us that his office was already compiling statistics for a report on sentencing disparities along racial barriers.

On behalf of the City of Memphis, I spoke with the Attorney General about the enormous costs to the City of bringing the Liberty Bowl stadium up to code with the requirements for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While I’m always a proponent of individuals with disabilities (I helped pass a state disabilities act in the Tennessee Senate), I know that the attendance at games make the levels of seating recommended by the DOJ unreasonable, and the modifications necessary for compliance by the Liberty Bowl are too costly. The seating requirements that they recommend are similar to those required by the University of Michigan, which averages over 110,000 people for football games, nearly triple the attendance of a normal University of Memphis game. My fellow subcommittee chairman and I also discussed the broader issues of torture and the treatment of foreign detainees and how the DOJ would break from the past legacies of Alberto Gonzales and the Bush Administration.

On Thursday, I took the opportunity to question Mr. Holder on issues within the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, which I chair, during a hearing of the Judiciary Committee. Specifically, we discussed legislation I introduced that would set standards of accountability and responsibility in the use of "deferred prosecution agreements" and the related use of highly-paid monitors to oversee the agreements. The bill, entitled "The Accountability In Deferred Prosecution Act of 2009," would regulate the process employed by the Justice Department that now allows U.S. Attorneys "unyielding and absolute" power in determining when to use deferred prosecutions, the terms and conditions of the agreements and the selection of outside monitors for lucrative contracts. One case involved Smith Nephew in Memphis in which Former Attorney General John Ashcroft was selected as a monitor by a U.S. attorney whom he appointed and was paid a staggering $52 million for his services. This raises serious issues about the appointment process, the billing process and the issues of justice in these matters. Mr. Holder generally agreed with our assessment that this practice needed to be investigated more thoroughly and pledged to work with my subcommittee on this issue.

Attorney General Holder has already made sweeping changes in the Department of Justice and I am pleased to see this vital arm of the Executive Branch back in good hands. I look forward to working closely with the Attorney General in the weeks and months ahead to help make the U.S. justice system fairer and more equitable for all Americans.

On Thursday, I was one of a 62 Representatives to vote against the War Supplemental bill for Iraq and Afghanistan that came before the House. This was a very difficult decision, and I might not have voted this way had Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-03) been able to include his amendment requiring the Secretary of Defense to produce an exit strategy for Afghanistan before the end of the year. On my recent trip to the Middle East, I was shocked by the state of Afghanistan, and the breadth of problems our military faces there. The war supplemental bill called for an increase in funds for reconstruction, but I can attest that there’s hardly anything to reconstruct because there is almost no infrastructure in place. I personally don’t believe that the United States, during the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, should be funding a full-blown nation-building effort half the world away when we need the same schools, hospitals and roads in Memphis, Tennessee, as well as hundreds of other urban centers across the country. Afghanistan is recognized as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and much of what we’re spending there ends up in individuals’ pockets and doesn’t aid the Afghan people. The main argument for the war is the threat of Taliban taking over Pakistan and gaining access to their nuclear arsenal. While this is indeed a concern, I don’t believe that Pakistan is in imminent danger. If the situation becomes more perilous, I believe that the Pakistanis would ask the United States to come to their aid with troops and resources, but I don’t expect that to happen.

You may remember that back in March, I told you about how I wrote to First Lady Michelle Obama to inform her about the infant mortality epidemic in Memphis. I had the chance to speak with the First Lady about this issue personally a few weeks ago when the President invited me to attend a social gathering with a few other Members at the White House, and I’d like to share her response to my letter with you HERE. I introduced a resolution supporting efforts to reduce the high infant mortality rate in the United States on March 18 because I believe the infant mortality rate in this country is shameful. According to 2007 estimates, the United States’ infant mortality rate is 6.37 deaths per 1,000 live births, ranking our country 29th in the world. In Memphis, the infant mortality rate is the highest of any city in the country, about three times higher than the national rate. In fact, the rate of infant mortality in the 38108 ZIP code ranked worse than countries such as Vietnam, Iran, and El Salvador with 31 deaths per 1000 live births.

On Tuesday, I was happy to announce that the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector Lower Mississippi River in Memphis, TN, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Civil Engineering Unit in Miami, FL, and the City of Memphis developed a lease agreement that has re-opened the Coast Guard-owned Auction Street boat ramp for public access. I assisted in the negotiation of the lease agreement which addresses the U.S. Coast Guard’s right to control parking on the property, limit access during heightened security conditions, and release the U.S. Coast Guard from liabilities associated with public use of the boat ramp. The term of the lease is 20 years and will cost the City of Memphis 10 dollars. This was a complicated legal issue and I am very pleased that I was able to help in the mediation of this conflict.

On Wednesday, I announced that the Memphis Health Center (MHC) received a grant in the amount of $2,943,724 from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for primary care services for the following year. I am grateful to HHS for recognizing the important work of Memphis Health Center. Without MHC, thousands of people in the 9th District might not receive the vital care they need and deserve. In three locations throughout the 9th District, the MHC delivers primary and preventative care services to patients regardless of their ability to pay. These federal dollars are being spent wisely; over the years, the MHC has given priority to the needs of people who otherwise likely would have hospital emergency rooms as their only option for health services. The MHC positively impacts our community every day, and I congratulate them on this award.

William L. Jackson, CEO of Memphis Health Center, Inc., stated, “Memphis Health Center has been an important provider of care to vulnerable medically underserved populations in Shelby and Fayette counties for more than thirty years. We are delighted to be able to continue to provide primary medical services with the funds made available through the Department of Health and Human Services.”

Finally, on Thursday, I voted in favor of legislation which provides over $6 billion in federal funds to upgrade school buildings to make them more energy efficient and more reliant on renewable sources of energy. Congressional Research Services projects that Memphis City Schools (MCS) will be allocated a grant in the amount of $28,639,000, while Shelby County Schools (SCS) would receive $2,346,000.

This is exactly the kind of smart legislation we need to get out of this economic crisis. This bill saves money for our schools, creates jobs and gets us closer to our goal of providing every child with a world class education by giving more students and teachers a safe, environmentally-friendly learning environment. At the same time, it modernizes our schools and prepares our workers for a new, clean American energy economy.

Currently, MCS and SCS are millions of dollars short of the funding they desperately need. The environmental quality of a school isn’t just important for our children’s health – it’s critical for their learning. The legislation we passed today provides much of the funds they need to build the kind of safe, healthy, clean schools that will prepare our students in the 9th District for the 21st century.

As always, I remain,

Most sincerely,

Steve Cohen
Member of Congress

Progressive U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen(Tennessee District 9-D) Is A Fan Of Tha Artivist ...

See Also...

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special:Reflections On The 2009 Inauguration Part One:

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special: Yes He Did...So Now What??? Defining The Obama Presidency...

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special:O Yes We Did!!! The Barack Obama Tribute...

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special: Barack Obama & The Hip Hop Effect On American Politics:


Get The Barack Obama Holiday Inaugural Gift Package By R2C2H2 Tha Artivist!!!

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