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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Cosponsors Bill to Expedite Veterans Claims Process

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) announced support today for the bipartisan WINGMAN Act (H.R.512), legislation that would streamline the veterans claims process between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and congressional offices that process claims on behalf of veterans and their families.

Tulsi Gabbard at Hawaii County Civil Defense

“It’s my honor to serve the hundreds of Hawaiʻi veterans that contact my office each year for help. However, slow turnaround and thick layers of bureaucracy at the VA too often leave certified congressional staff jumping through tedious hoops to access critical information on behalf of veterans and their families. At times, we have waited for months to get a simple answer from the VA on behalf of a Hawaiʻi veteran. This is unacceptable. The WINGMAN Act would cut through the red tape and allow congressional offices to provide quicker, more efficient service to our veterans,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Background: The WINGMAN Act would streamline the veterans claims process between congressional offices and their constituents by eliminating the requirement to use the VA as a middle-man. Under WINGMAN, certified constituent advocates would be able to directly access the status of pending claims, medical records, rating decisions, statement of the case, supplementary statement of the case, notice of disagreement, and Form-9 files within a reasonable amount of time, without having to go through a middle-man at the VA.

Each year, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s office helps hundreds of veterans get assistance from the VA and other federal agencies. Constituent advocates are located in every county, and hold regular “office hours” to help constituents, including veterans, with federal agency casework. For a list of upcoming office hours, click here. For information on how the congresswoman and staff can assist constituents, click here.

Press and Media Invited to Attend Huge Announcement at Ala Moana Shopping Center Monday

Click to enlarge

It sounds like something big is going to be announced between Hawaii Island Creations and Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker as I received a media invite to attend the announcement of a major franchise deal!

Posting this announcement with their permission since I can’t attend personally:

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Lawmakers Call For Reinstatement of Glass-Steagall

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) joined 26 Members of Congress in introducing the Return to Prudent Banking Act today. The bipartisan legislation, endorsed by Public Citizen and the AFL-CIO, would reinstate important consumer protections put in place after the Great Depression and require separation between commercial and investment banking.

(Left to right) Reps. Walter B. Jones, Tim Ryan, Tulsi Gabbard, and Marcy Kaptur call for a reinstatement of Glass-Steagall.

“From the Great Depression through the turn of the 21st Century, Glass-Steagall helped keep our economy safe. Repealing it allowed too-big-to-fail banks to gamble with the savings and livelihoods of the American people, with devastating, irrevocable consequences. Hawaiʻi, along with communities across the country, paid the price in 2008 with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Today, the banks that were “too big to fail” in 2008 are even bigger and more powerful now. We must reinstate Glass-Steagall and create a financial system that works for every American—not just Wall Street banks,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02)

“The 2008 crash nearly took down our entire economy and led to the great recession which wiped out average Americans’ income. But now, Democrats and Republicans have memorialized support for Glass-Steagall in their respective political platforms. Even President Trump has declared his support for a new Glass-Steagall law,” said Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (OH-09). “That is why we are here, to build on the momentum and the movement to reinstate Glass-Stegall.”

“Wall Street banks should not be allowed to use taxpayer-insured consumer deposits to gamble in the markets and then get taxpayer bailouts for failed decisions,” said Congressman Walter B. Jones (NC-03). “It’s time to put American taxpayers and depositors first.  It’s time to pass the Return to Prudent Banking Act and reinstate Glass-Steagall.”

“I am proud to cosponsor the Return to Prudent Banking Act, which revives the separation between commercial banking and securities companies as written in the Glass-Steagall Act. These are smart financial reforms designed to protect our economy from another financial crisis and hardworking American taxpayers from another Wall Street collapse. We know that the climate of deregulation led to the financial crisis. We can’t let that happen again,” said Congressman Tim Ryan (OH-13).

Background: In 1933, the Banking Act—also known as the Glass-Steagall Act—passed amid an atmosphere of chaos and uncertainty to address banking failures of the Great Depression. The goal of its lead cosponsors, Rep. Henry Steagall and Sen. Carter Glass, was to separate commercial and investment banking and restore confidence in the American banking system.

In 1999, Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and removed the barriers between investment banking and traditional depository banks. This action gave financial institutions and investment firms access to the deposits of the American consumer, which then were used to gamble on the Wall Street casino. This misguided deregulation allowed the creation of giant financial supermarkets—that could own investment banks, commercial banks, and insurance firms—and created companies too big and intertwined to fail. This lack of regulation also allowed Wall Street to leverage their debt past sustainable ratios using consumer mutual funds and the pension accounts of American workers as collateral.

Hawaii Representative Wants to Switch Political Parties Because of Presidents Treatment of Women and Minorities

Rep. Beth Fukumoto

In the last couple years, I’ve watched leaders in the Republican Party become less and less tolerant of diverse opinions and dissenting voices. I am under constant scrutiny for working across the aisle to pass common sense legislation that will benefit my district and the people of Hawaii.

Today, I’m facing demands for my resignation from leadership and possible censure because I raised concerns about our President’s treatment of women and minorities. I’ve been asked by both my party and my caucus to commit to not criticizing the President for the remainder of his term and to take a more partisan approach to working in the Legislature. That is not a commitment I can make. As a representative of my community, it is my job to hold leaders accountable and to work with anyone, regardless of party, to make Hawaii a better place for our families.

This morning, I sent a letter to my district explaining that I would like to leave the Republican Party and seek membership in the Democratic Party. When I was re-elected in November, I was elected as a Republican, and I want to honor my community’s choice by consulting them before any decision is made. As I articulated in my letter, I encourage my constituents to contact me with input and provide feedback. I was elected by the people of Mililani, and I am here to represent them.

Rep. Beth Fukumoto

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Announces She Will Personally Reimburse Cost of Trip to Syria

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) announced today she will personally reimburse the cost of her trip to Syria.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has stated that she will personally cover the costs of her Syria trip.

Though the trip has met every requirement of the House Ethics Committee, the congresswoman has decided to reimburse AACCESS-Ohio for the trip because it has become a distraction from the important issue at hand—do the American people want their taxpayer dollars to continue to be used in support of militant groups working hand-in-hand with al-Qaeda and ISIS in the effort to overthrow the Syrian government? Contrary to baseless claims in the media, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is beholden to no one in the region, her views on the situation are her own, and her determination to seek peace is beyond question.

Background: As a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard traveled to Aleppo, Damascus, and Beirut from January 14-22, 2017 to see and hear firsthand the impact of the war in Syria directly from the Syrian people. For more information on the trip, click here. Earlier this year, the congresswoman introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act (H.R.608), legislation that would prohibit U.S. government funds from being used to support al-Qaeda, ISIS, or other terrorist groups.

Office of Consumer Protection Announces Settlement with Western Union

The State of Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection today announced a settlement with Colorado-based The Western Union Company, resolving a multistate investigation which focused on complaints of consumers who used Western Union’s wire transfer service to send money to third parties involved in schemes to defraud consumers.  In addition to Hawaii, 48 states and the District of Columbia participated in this settlement.

“Scammers prey on our citizens with bogus telemarketing and mail scams on a daily basis.” “We believe that the anti-fraud program outlined in this settlement will make it harder for them to succeed,” said Office of Consumer Protection Executive Director, Stephen H. Levins.

According to Levins, “The biggest sign of a scam is if someone asks you to wire money to recover your winnings.” “This is the reason why Federal law bars telemarketers from receiving payments through money transfer, such as provided by companies like Western Union or MoneyGram.”

The settlement requires Western Union to develop and put into action a comprehensive anti-fraud program designed to help detect and prevent incidents where consumers who have been the victims of fraud use Western Union to wire money to scam artists.

That anti-fraud program, which Western Union has agreed to evaluate and update as warranted, includes the following elements:

  • Anti-fraud warnings on send forms that consumers use to wire money;
  • Mandatory and appropriate training and education for Western Union’s agents about fraud-induced wire transfers;
  • Heightened anti-fraud procedures when warranted by circumstances such as increased fraud complaints;
  • Due diligence checks on Western Union agents who process money transfers;
  • Monitoring of Western Union agent activity related to prevention of fraud-induced money transfers;
  • Prompt and appropriate disciplinary action against Western Union agents who fail to follow required protocols concerning anti-fraud measures;

Western Union also has agreed to pay a total of $5 million to the states for the states’ costs and fees, from which Hawaii will receive approximately $46,000. In addition to this settlement with the states, Western Union also settled claims related to fraud-induced transfers with the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice that was announced on January 19, 2017.  As part of those related settlements, Western Union has agreed to pay $586 million to a fund that the Department of Justice will administer to provide refunds to victims of fraud induced wire transfers nationwide, including victims in Hawaii.

In addition to Hawaii the following participated in the settlement: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia.

Mobile Biometrics Route Launch on Maui – Rep. Woodson Supports Federal Immigration Efforts

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is piloting a one-time, one-week biometrics collection for immigration benefits on Maui, from February 27 to March 3, 2017.

“I am pleased to announce that this much needed immigration service is coming to Maui,” said Representative Justin Woodson (Kahului, Puunene, Old Sand Hills, Maui Lani). “This will be very helpful in saving time, money, and resources for people who previously needed to travel to and from Oahu to get biometrics work done.”

The Mobile Biometrics Station will be at the Royal Lahaina Resort located at 2780 Kekaa Drive. Notices for appointments (Form I-797) will be mailed out beginning Feb. 10, and will include specific instructions.  If there are any questions, please contact USCIS at 1-800-375-5283.  This pilot is for biometric services only, and no interviews or case specific inquiries will be accommodated.

“I’d like to thank the USCIS for their support for this important program,” said Woodson. “This is a great relief to the Maui community. I want to let everyone know that this service will be available to them so they can take advantage of it while it is there. Hopefully the successful turnout will encourage this service to spread to other neighbor islands as well.”

For more information about this pilot program, please email: Hawaii.CommunityRelations@uscis.dhs.gov

University of Hawaii Keeping Close Watch on Impact of U.S. Travel Restrictions

University of Hawaiʻi President David Lassner and the chancellors of the 10 campuses shared a message on January 30 to UH students, faculty and staff.

UH President David Lassner

To our UH System ʻohana:

With the issuance of the recent Executive Order on travel, our first concern is for our impacted students, faculty and staff who are currently abroad or have plans to travel abroad. The situation is fluid as courts weigh in and different guidance is provided to holders of green cards. Out of an abundance of caution, the best advice as of this writing is that individuals with immigrant or non-immigrant visas or with green cards who are originally from the seven named countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) should defer travel outside the U.S.

Our international students and scholar support offices are already reaching out directly to the impacted students and faculty we know of with additional support and guidance. Faculty and scholars from across the UH System with specific questions and concerns about their situation can reach out to our Faculty and Scholar Immigration Services office. Students who have specific questions should reach out to their campus international student service office.

More fundamentally, we stand in support with the broader higher education community in our concern over the impact of this restriction on the free flow of information and ideas that is enriched by our international students and scholars. The University of Hawaiʻi, State of Hawaiʻi and our nation have been immeasurably strengthened through the diversity of the students and faculty we attract. The fundamental values of our nation and our state have long supported the welcoming of others to our shores and embracing them into our communities.

Diverse knowledge, ideas, cultures and perspectives enrich us immensely as we work toward a better future for all. We will support our professional associations and colleagues who are working to promote more effective solutions to keeping our nation safe.

Aloha,
President and Chancellors

Hawaii Governor Issues Statement on Immigration to United States

Gov. David Ige today issued the following statement on immigration to the United States:

“I have been in contact with Attorney General Doug Chin regarding several orders issued by the federal courts in the last 24 hours. We believe these orders apply to all U.S. international airports, including those in Honolulu and Kona, and expect legal travelers to this country to be welcomed in Hawai‘i without being detained unlawfully by the federal government.

Refugees entering the United States are screened by the National Counter terrorism Center, FBI, Defense and State departments, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  Refugees fleeing from war and persecution seek, simply, a better life.

Hawai‘i has a proud history as a place immigrants of diverse backgrounds can achieve their dreams through hard work. Many of our people also know all too well the consequences of giving in to fear of newcomers. The remains of the internment camp at Honouliuli are a sad testament to that fear. We must remain true to our values and be vigilant where we see the worst part of history about to be repeated.”

Hawaii Attorney General Opposes White House Executive Order on Immigration

Attorney General Doug Chin has joined 17 other state Attorneys General opposing the White House’s Executive Order on immigration.  The statement reads in part:

“As the chief legal officers for over 130 million Americans and foreign residents of our states, we condemn President Trump’s unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful Executive Order and will work together to ensure the federal government obeys the Constitution, respects our history as a nation of immigrants, and does not unlawfully target anyone because of their national origin or faith.”

Click to read

Hokulea Arrives at Galapagos Islands

Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea arrived yesterday at  Puerto Ayora, the capital city of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. The crew will be joined by a contingent of teachers and students from Hawaii as well as representatives from The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International for an educational visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Marine Site. During their stay, the crew and participating schools will engage in activities to further their understanding of the area’s fragile ecosystem and how its preservation aligns with the Worldwide Voyage’s Malama Honua mission.

Situated in the Pacific Ocean more than 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands and the surrounding marine reserve have been called a unique “living museum and showcase of evolution.” Similar to Hawaii, the Galapagos Islands is an isolated volcanic archipelago known for its endemic species and rich biodiversity. The location became famous after naturalist Charles Darwin visited in 1835 to study the area’s rare animal species which led to his theory of evolution by natural selection.

This stop on the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage will be an opportunity for the voyage mission crew to learn about the Galapagos Islands’ conservation management and environmental sustainability efforts while bringing attention to science, evolution and the importance of protecting the earth’s most fragile resources.

Educators and students from Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School, Kamehameha Schools, and James B. Castle High School will all be present throughout Hokulea’s stay in the Galapagos. Groups will engage in a series of land tours, dives, and a Hoike event, or final presentation, to showcase their scientific findings and share the potential impacts the learning from this visit could have on education in Hawaii.

The learning journey will include visits to the Charles Darwin Research Center and the Tomas de Berlanga School, which focuses on developing a sense of stewardship in its students for the society and environment in which they live.  The school was launched in 1994 by a group of Galapagos residents who believed that improved education was a prerequisite to a more sustainable Galapagos.  They sought to launch an educational model that could serve as a showcase of best practices and as a future training ground for educators from other schools on the islands.

After the Galapagos Islands, Hokulea will continue on her voyage to Rapa Nui and French Polynesia for further community outreach and opportunities to share the Malama Honua message. In June 2017, Hokulea will make her long-awaited return to the Hawaiian Islands with a historic homecoming ceremony at Magic Island

NASA to Observe Lava Flow Patterns on Big Island – Looking to Unlock Mysteries of Coral Reefs and Volcanoes

NASA is hosting a media day on Feb. 8 in O’ahu, Hawaii, to spotlight two field campaigns that seek to unlock some of the mysteries behind two of Hawaii’s treasured natural resources: coral reefs and volcanoes.

Starting Feb. 10, NASA will fly its Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer (GLISTIN) on a Gulfstream III aircraft to observe lava flow patterns at Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island.

This month, scientists begin collecting data on coral reef health and volcanic emissions and eruptions with NASA’s Hyperspectral Infrared Imager (HyspIRI) preparatory airborne mission onboard the high-altitude ER-2 aircraft. Starting Feb. 10, NASA will fly its Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer (GLISTIN) on a Gulfstream III aircraft to observe lava flow patterns at Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island.

The event will be held at Marine Corps Base Hawaii from 1 to 4 p.m. HST and will feature briefings by volcano and coral reef scientists and tours of the ER-2 aircraft. Mission personnel will discuss the HyspIRI science instruments and different data collection methods, including an autonomous kayak for coral reef research, and describe how NASA uses field research in developing future Earth-observing space missions.

ER-2 aircraft

This event is restricted to U.S. media. Reporters planning to attend must contact Kate Squires at 661-276-2020 or kate.k.squires@nasa.gov no later than noon PST on Wednesday, Feb. 1.

The data collected from the HyspIRI has the capacity to support a potential future satellite mission to study the world’s ecosystems and provide information on natural disasters. GLISTIN provides data critical to understanding and modeling ice sheets, how fast they are changing, and what are the driving processes controlling these changes. These field campaigns are examples of how NASA collects data from space, air, land and sea to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science programs, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/earth

Veterans For Peace Endorses Gabbard’s Stop Arming Terrorist Act

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) released the following statement today after Veterans For Peace announced endorsement for the Stop Arming Terrorists Act (H.R.608):

Tulsi Gabbard in Puna after Tropical Storm Iselle

“Those who have seen and experienced war firsthand share a unique appreciation for the need for peace. From Iraq to Libya and now in Syria, the U.S. has and continues to wage wars of regime change, each resulting in unimaginable suffering, devastating loss of life, and the strengthening of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS. I am grateful to have the support of Veterans for Peace for the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, and for their work to prevent the United States from continuing to pursue counterproductive, interventionist wars,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

“As veterans we took an oath to preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States. The threat to the Constitution comes not from Russia, China or ISIL but from within the walls of Washington D.C. where the Congress and the Executive branch have enmeshed the country in ongoing unnecessary, illegal and unconstitutional wars. As Veterans For Peace we seek to restrain our government from intervening, overtly or covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations,” said Barry Ladendorf, President of Veterans For Peace. “Certainly, the U.S. government should not be supporting regime change wars nor directly or indirectly supporting known terrorist organizations, proxy groups and their allies to violently overthrow established governments. We also thank Rep. Gabbard, a veteran of the Iraq War, for introducing this important bill, Stop Arming Terrorist, which Veterans For Peace proudly supports and for her recent important fact finding trip to Syria,” continued Ladendorf, who served as a naval officer during the Vietnam War.

Background: Veterans For Peace is a global organization of Military Veterans and allies whose collective efforts are to build a culture of peace by using their experiences and lifting their voices. The network is comprised of over 140 chapters worldwide whose work includes: educating the public, advocating for a dismantling of the war economy, providing services that assist veterans and victims of war, and most significantly, working to end all wars.

The bipartisan Stop Arming Terrorists Act (H.R.608) is cosponsored by Reps. Peter Welch (D-VT), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Walter B. Jones (R-NC), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Ted Yoho (R-FLY), and Garrett Thomas (R-VA), and endorsed by Progressive Democrats of America, the U.S. Peace Council, and Veterans For Peace.

The legislation would prohibit U.S. government funds from being used to directly or indirectly support terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS or those working with them. In the same way that Congress passed the Boland Amendment to prohibit the funding and support to CIA backed-Nicaraguan Contras during the 1980’s, this bill would stop CIA or other Federal government activities in places like Syria from using U.S. funds to directly or indirectly support al-Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, ISIS, or other groups working with them. It would also prohibit the Federal government from funding assistance to countries that are directly or indirectly supporting those terrorist groups. The bill achieves this by:

  1. Making it illegal for any U.S. Federal government funds to be used to provide assistance covered in this bill to terrorists or groups working with terrorists. The assistance covered includes weapons, munitions, weapons platforms, intelligence, logistics, training, and cash.
  2. Making it illegal for the U.S. government to provide assistance covered in the bill to any nation that has given or continues to give such assistance to terrorists.
  3. Requiring the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to determine the individual and groups that should be considered terrorists, for the purposes of this bill, by determining: (a) the individuals and groups that are associated with, affiliated with, adherents to or cooperating with al-Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or ISIS; (b) the countries that are providing assistance covered in this bill to those individuals or groups.
  4. Requiring the DNI to review and update the list of countries and groups to which assistance is prohibited every six months, in consultation with the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees, as well as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
  5. Requiring the DNI to brief Congress on the determinations.

Hawaii Democratic Party to Release “Haven of Aloha” Call to Action Letter and Petition

With the prospect that the themes and statements of intolerance from the 2016 presidential and congressional elections could find their way into the laws and policies of our national government, the Democratic Party of Hawai’i releases a statement on Thursday explaining how that outcome is unacceptable to the people of Hawai’i and contrary to the core values of our society.

The letter, entitled ‘Haven of Aloha” is intended to serve as a recognition of the need for protecting members of the Party and community at large as well as a call for state and local officials to stand up for these values and fill the void of leadership in protecting the social safety net for all.

“We felt it necessary to articulate the values that we stand for and will not compromise. Other municipalities and states have issued similar statements, but ours is unique to our culture and place because it is framed in the Aloha spirit.” said Tim Vandeveer, Chair of the DPH. According to the statement, this is because in Hawai‘i, ‘we are defined by diversity and guided by Aloha.’

“We have much to be proud of in these islands. By the greatest margins in our nation, we overwhelmingly rejected the politics of bigotry, misogyny and hatred. But still, we must redouble our efforts,” Vandeveer stated, “It is in this context that the job of local city and state governments and judiciaries, becomes so important.”

“Our congressional delegation will stand up for us to ensure that we have a voice as the party in opposition to the potentially hostile agenda of the GOP-majority Congress and the President. However, where the social safety net is torn asunder at the federal level it will become incumbent upon our local leaders to utilize our values to bind together and preserve our quality of life and character of our society– to take leadership and responsibility for the most vulnerable among us as well as our youth and coming generations.”

The message is the core of a document the DPH created and invited the Congressional Delegation, State Executive, Senate and House leadership, the Mayor and City Council, and others to sign onto as a unified public statement of shared values to send notice of recognition and protection to potentially affected communities.

The letter serves as a call to action for party members and elected officials to stand up for all people, and fight to protect abiding values of liberty, social justice, economic justice, protection of the environment, and compassion and respect for the dignity and worth of the individual. It urges residents to continue to respect and welcome immigrants, refugees, people of all religions, races and sexual identities, as we work for the betterment of humankind.

“Hawai‘i must continue as a diverse, inclusive, and positive model for our fellow citizens across the ocean and beyond. May we always be an inspiring ‘Haven of Aloha’,” said Vandeveer.

Please join us at DPH Headquarters located at 627 South St. #105 on Thursday, January 26 at 2pm for a formal unveiling and release of the ‘Haven of Aloha’ document, list of signatories, additional statements of support and invitation for public participation via an islands-wide petition.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard Returns From Syria with Renewed Calls: End Regime Change War in Syria Now

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) returned to Washington, DC after a week-long visit to Damascus, Aleppo, and Beirut to see and hear firsthand the impact of the war in Syria directly from the Syrian people. She heard stories of suffering, pain, courage and hope from people all across the country.

Tulsi Gabbard meets with Syrian religious leaders in Aleppo, led by Archbishop Denys Antoine Chahda of the Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo, and joined by Archbishop Joseph Tabji of Maronite Church of Aleppo, Rev. Ibrahim Nseir of the Arab Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Aleppo, and others. Each called for peace, and an end to foreign support of terrorists who are trying to rid Syria of its secular, pluralistic, free society. Photo courtesy of Abraham Williams.

She met with refugees, Syrian opposition leaders who led protests in 2011, widows and family members of Syrians fighting alongside groups like al-Qaeda, as well as those fighting on the side of the government.

Tulsi Gabbard visits with Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other humanitarian workers at the Jibreen shelter, housing nearly 1,400 families who fled mostly the eastern part of Aleppo City. Photo courtesy of Abraham Williams.

The Congresswoman also met with Lebanon’s newly-elected President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard, Syrian President Assad, Grand Mufti Hassoun, Archbishop Denys Antoine Chahda of Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo, humanitarian workers, students, small business owners, and more.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard met these women at the Barzi Community Center. Many of these women have husbands who are fighting on opposite sides of the war, but who find friendship and empowerment together in their daily sewing classes. They have hope to be able to provide for their family and take care of their children. When asked, “Where is your husband?” many reply, “He is lost.” Photo courtesy of Abraham Williams.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard released the following statement upon her return:

“My visit to Syria has made it abundantly clear: Our counterproductive regime change war does not serve America’s interest, and it certainly isn’t in the interest of the Syrian people.

“As I visited with people from across the country, and heard heartbreaking stories of how this war has devastated their lives, I was asked, ‘Why is the United States and its allies helping al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups try to take over Syria? Syria did not attack the United States. Al-Qaeda did.’ I had no answer.

“I return to Washington, DC with even greater resolve to end our illegal war to overthrow the Syrian government. I call upon Congress and the new Administration to answer the pleas of the Syrian people immediately and support the Stop Arming Terrorists Act. We must stop directly and indirectly supporting terrorists—directly by providing weapons, training and logistical support to rebel groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIS; and indirectly through Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey, who, in turn, support these terrorist groups. We must end our war to overthrow the Syrian government and focus our attention on defeating al-Qaeda and ISIS.

“From Iraq to Libya and now in Syria, the U.S. has waged wars of regime change, each resulting in unimaginable suffering, devastating loss of life, and the strengthening of groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.

“Originally, I had no intention of meeting with Assad, but when given the opportunity, I felt it was important to take it. I think we should be ready to meet with anyone if there’s a chance it can help bring about an end to this war, which is causing the Syrian people so much suffering.

“The U.S. must stop supporting terrorists who are destroying Syria and her people. The U.S. and other countries fueling this war must stop immediately. We must allow the Syrian people to try to recover from this terrible war.”

Background: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) is a twice-deployed combat veteran who has served as the United States Representative for Hawaiʻi’s 2nd congressional district since 2013. As a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard traveled to Lebanon and Syria as part of a delegation led and sponsored by the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services (AACCESS)–Ohio. The 7-day trip was approved by the House Ethics Committee, as required by House rules, and was not taxpayer funded. The trip included visits to Aleppo, Damascus, and Beirut from January 14-22, 2017. Other members of the delegation included former Congressman and Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich and his wife, longtime peace advocates Elie and Bassam Khawam, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s husband, Abraham Williams.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard met these children at a shelter in Aleppo. Their families fled the eastern part of the city. Many of these children have only known war, loss and hardship. Their families’ only wish is for peace. Photo courtesy of Abraham Williams.

Earlier this year, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act (H.R.608), legislation that would prohibit U.S. government funds from being used to support al-Qaeda, ISIS or other terrorist groups. In the same way that Congress passed the Boland Amendment to prohibit the funding and support to CIA backed-Nicaraguan Contras during the 1980’s, this bill would stop CIA or other Federal government activities in places like Syria by ensuring U.S. funds are not used to support al-Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, ISIS, or other terrorist groups working with them. It would also prohibit the Federal government from funding assistance to countries that are directly or indirectly supporting those terrorist groups. The bill achieves this by:

  1. Making it illegal for any U.S. Federal government funds to be used to provide assistance covered in this bill to terrorists. The assistance covered includes weapons, munitions, weapons platforms, intelligence, logistics, training, and cash.
  2. Making it illegal for the U.S. government to provide assistance covered in the bill to any nation that has given or continues to give such assistance to terrorists.
  3. Requiring the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to determine the individual and groups that should be considered terrorists, for the purposes of this bill, by determining: (a) the individuals and groups that are associated with, affiliated with, adherents to or cooperating with al-Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or ISIS; (b) the countries that are providing assistance covered in this bill to those individuals or groups.
  4. Requiring the DNI to review and update the list of countries and groups to which assistance is prohibited every six months, in consultation with the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees, as well as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
  5. Requiring the DNI to brief Congress on the determinations.

Court Dismisses Sandwich Isles Communications Lawsuit Against the Public Utilities Commission

Attorney General Doug Chin announced that state circuit judge Rhonda A. Nishimura today dismissed a lawsuit filed by Sandwich Isles Communications against the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Sandwich Isles, which provides phone and internet services to residents of Hawaiian home lands, sued the PUC to restore millions of dollars in federal subsidies that were suspended in 2015 by federal regulators. Judge Nishimura ruled from the bench, granting the PUC’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

After federal regulators suspended subsidies to Sandwich Isles in 2015 and 2016, the PUC issued decisions declining to certify it as an eligible telecommunications carrier. Sandwich Isles must be designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier to receive a type of federal subsidy granted to communications companies to provide services to certain rural or other hard-to-reach geographic areas. After the PUC issued its decision, Sandwich Isles appealed to the circuit court.

The PUC declined to issue the certification in September 2016 because it was waiting for the results of a federal audit of the participation by Sandwich Isles in the federal subsidies program. The subsidy payments to Sandwich Isles were suspended by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015 because of the audit and those subsidies are still suspended. In December 2016, as a result of the audit, the FCC ordered that Sandwich Isles pay substantial fines and repay the federal government more than $27 million in overpayments.

Attorney General Doug Chin stated, “Given the federal audit and its findings, the Public Utilities Commission was right to act with caution in this situation.”

The FCC’s orders are in the process of being implemented. Today’s ruling does not impact those proceedings. A written order from Judge Nishimura is forthcoming.

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin Voices Opposition to Two Presidential Nominations

Attorney General Doug Chin has joined five other state Attorneys General opposing the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for United States Attorney General and has joined eight other state Attorneys General opposing the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to become Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Click to read full letter

The letter opposing Senator Sessions’ nomination to lead the United States Department of Justice notes, “The Justice Department seal reads ‘Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur’: ‘Who prosecutes on behalf of justice.’ As state attorneys general—the chief law officers of our respective states—we regularly work with the U.S. Department of Justice. Senator Sessions has stood for policies antithetical to this core mission of the Justice Department. For these reasons, we believe him to be unqualified for the role of United States Attorney General. We join the thousands of individuals and organizations that have voiced their opposition to Senator Sessions’ appointment and respectfully urge you to reject his nomination.”

The letter cites Senator Sessions’ refusal to protect racial minorities and vulnerable populations and his rejection of bipartisan criminal justice reforms.

The letter opposing Attorney General Pruitt’s nomination to head the EPA says in part, “As the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt made it a priority to attack the rules—promulgated by EPA to implement Congressional mandates—that EPA is charged with enforcing. This is not just a matter of policy difference; Mr. Pruitt has sought to tear apart the very notion of cooperative federalism that forms the foundation of our federal environmental laws. That cooperation makes it possible for states and the federal government, working together, to protect the health of the American people and the resources on which we depend.”

The letter cites Attorney General Pruitt’s multiple lawsuits seeking to block the EPA from fulfilling its mandates under the Clean Air Act as well as his continued questioning of human impacts on climate change.

The letter opposing Senator Sessions was also signed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine. The letter opposing Attorney General Pruitt’s nomination was also signed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Delaware Attorney General Matthew Denn, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, and Vermont Attorney General Thomas Donovan, Jr.

The letter opposing Senator Sessions’ nomination was sent to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein. The letter opposing Attorney General Pruitt’s nomination was sent to Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso and Ranking Member Tom Carper.

AG Multistate Letter to Senate Judiciary re Sessions

AG Multistate Letter to Senate Judiciary re Pruitt

Hawaii Representative Urges Community-Based Measures to Protect Coral Reefs

Napili Bay project to study oxybenzone-pollution prevention

State Representative Angus McKelvey reinforced his commitment to protecting Hawaii’s coral reefs by endorsing the Napili Bay and Beach Foundation’s upcoming study on strategies to manage oxybenzone pollution.

Oxybenzone is a chemical found in many sunscreens, and presents a serious threat to coastal coral reefs. Coral reefs are not just ecologically important; they are also highly valued by the tourism industry and residential communities. Evaluating the feasibility and effectiveness of community-based management strategies is therefore important to a variety of stakeholders.

“I am especially happy that the Napili Bay foundation has been selected to conduct this study. This shows that businesses, community groups, and others share in the concern for our coral reefs,” said McKelvey. “Currently, no reliable data regarding oxybenzone-pollution management strategies exists.

Thanks to the Napili Bay and Beach Foundation’s proactive efforts, this critical information will be available to make informed decisions about protecting not only Napili Bay’s coral reefs, but also elsewhere across the globe.”

The study will determine the effectiveness of a multi-pronged public relations campaign to promote alternatives to using sunscreens that contain oxybenzone. It will encompass an environmental and demographic assessment pre- and post-campaign launch. Toxicity assays will be measured against two control sites, where no campaign will occur.

“As one who burns early and often, and is a skin cancer survivor, I know how important it is to protect yourself from the sun,” McKelvey said, “but there are many products that, along with sensible sun habits, can protect your skin and our reefs.”

Hokulea Re-Enters the Pacific Ocean, Sailing Towards the Galapagos Islands

Iconic polynesian voyaging replica Hokulea yesterday departed Balboa, Panama and began her sail to the Galapagos Islands. After making a momentous crossing of the Panama Canal, crews spent several days engaging in a cross-cultural engagement with indigenous groups and sharing the meaning of the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage sponsored by Hawaiian Airlines. Hokulea’s voyage to the Galapagos will take approximately 10 days.

“Hokulea is back in Pacific waters after nearly two years and the Galapagos will be the first Pacific islands we will visit on this journey home,” said Nainoa Thompson, president of Polynesian Voyaging Society.  “The Galapagos Islands will be an important mission stop where we will celebrate their sustainability efforts, identify parallels with Hawaii and bring attention to science, evolution and protecting the earth’s most fragile natural resources,” added Thompson.

A contingent of students and teachers from Castle High School, Kamehameha Schools and Halau Ku Mana will be traveling to the Galapagos to work with the crew of Hokulea. Students will join the crewmembers on their engagements and take part on an unparalleled educational journey in this UNESCO World Heritage Marine site.

Hokulea will stay approximately in the Galapagos for approximately one week before setting sail for Rapa Nui.

Hawaii Governor Calls for Reboot of School System

Gov. David Ige today promised to reshape the Department of Education to support dreams and aspirations of each student in remarks he made at the 3rd Annual Hawai‘i School Empowerment Conference at the Hawai‘i Convention Center.

The conference was sponsored by the Education Institute of Hawai‘i, a non-profit organization committed to improving public education in Hawai‘i. The annual conference aims to increase awareness and deepening understanding of the effort to improve public education through school empowerment and innovation in learning.

Here is the full text of Gov. Ige’s prepared remarks:

A Clear Path to Achieving Excellence in Hawaiʻi’s Public Schools 

Coding. Robotics. Digital media. International education exchanges. None of these programs were offered when I attended public schools in Pearl City, and it’s impossible to predict what fascinating opportunities await students in coming years.

What I can tell you is this: The success of today’s students in the future workplace and in our communities requires an absolute reboot of the rigid school system built over a century ago. Our school system is simply not relevant to today’s students.

That’s why I asked the members of the Board of Education, those I appointed and those who began serving prior to my taking office, to develop and implement a plan to transition from yesterday’s system to one that truly prepares students to think creatively and to be innovators. I asked board members to design a system that encourages teachers and principals to make meaningful decisions about curriculum and instruction, educational programs, and expenditure of schools funds.

The Board responded to my challenge. They worked with the community to develop a new strategic plan for the department. They courageously determined that transformation requires a fresh mindset, starting at the top. And they initiated a search for a new superintendent. I fully support this decision. We need a change agent who is committed to exploring unconventional options in the quest to prepare our students for the future.

I want students, parents, teachers and other educators to be assured that my goal is to reshape the department so that it supports the dreams and aspirations of each student. I believe those closest to the students understand best how their students should be educated. That is the type of system we are working together to achieve.

The community supports this goal as evidenced by the tremendous participation in last summer’s Education Summit and dozens of follow-up meetings in communities throughout the state. I am proud of the work my volunteer team, parents, teachers, business leaders and community members have done to create a Blueprint for Hawaiʻi’s education system. I asked them to think big, and they did. I can tell you, there is no shortage of innovative thinking in Hawaiʻi.

My passion for education isn’t new, and the solutions I am promoting now aren’t a surprise to anyone who has been recently engaged in the dialogue on education. I campaigned on this issue and education remains my top priority.

We don’t know what the next technological wave will bring. But we do know that Hawaiʻi’s public education system must be set up so teachers are able to exercise their professional judgement and employ tools that enable student success.

Students who design robots in elementary school will build the communities of the future. Students who experience what it’s like to be innovators and entrepreneurs in high school will drive the state’s new economy. Students who travel with their class will collaborate with their peers around the world to solve global challenges. It is our responsibility to provide them with a robust learning experience so they can achieve rewarding and successful lives.