Ok, so I'm sure you've noticed that I haven't written about Senator Mark Begich (D. AK) lately. Well, I've been disappointed with him on his vote against background checks just like the rest of the community. I can't say that I was surprised though, being that he's from a state like Alaska. I won't try to defend his vote but I will let former Alaska Attorney General John Havelock (D) explain Begich's vote:
So you can take Havelock's thoughts any way you want. Plus the gun control battle is far from over:Though Anchorage residents are rustic only on weekends, Alaska is a rural state. It is unlikely that Alaskan opinion matches the 90 percent measure of national support for this legislation. But, since a majority of NRA members favored this legislation notwithstanding the position of NRA leadership, a majority of Alaskans also probably supported the proposal, but quietly and without passion. In contrast, the sizable minority of Alaskans who opposed the legislation opposed it with gusto.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski had it easy because the Republican position has been with the NRA all along. So what was Senator Begich (who also has a staunch NRA record) to do? The writer has avoided the taint of contact with the senator's office. Official explanations are obfuscating. No doubt Begich preferred that the bill never come up at all.
Does the conscientious legislator always vote by opinion polls? One day he is condemned for just that, the next day damned for not voting constituents' preference. How important is the strength of constituent feeling? If 40 percent of the voters are strongly against and 60 percent mildly for it, do you give strong feeling extra weight? - Alaska Dispatch News, 4/25/13
So I plan to keep on fighting for background checks and hopefully get Begich on board with this in the future. But I still want Begich to win re-election. I may not agree with him on gun control and oil drilling but he has been a strong voice for Native Americans in the Senate and of course he has been the lead Senator pushing to not only protect Social Security but strengthen it with his bill known as the Protecting & Preserving Social Security Act of 2013:Talks to revive gun control legislation are quietly under way on Capitol Hill as a bipartisan group of senators seeks a way to bridge the differences that led to last week’s collapse of the most serious effort to overhaul the country’s gun laws in 20 years.
Drawing on the lessons from battles in the 1980s and ’90s over the Brady Bill, which failed in Congress several times before ultimately passing, gun control supporters believe they can prevail by working on a two-pronged strategy. First, they are identifying senators who might be willing to change their votes and support a background check system with fewer loopholes.
Second, they are looking to build a national campaign that would better harness overwhelming public support for universal background checks — which many national polls put at near 90 percent approval — to pressure lawmakers.
Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, have been talking in recent days about how they could persuade more senators to support their bill to expand background checks for gun buyers, which drew backing from only four Republicans last week.
“We’re going to work it hard,” Mr. Manchin said Thursday, adding that he was looking at tweaking the language of his bill in a way that he believed would satisfy senators who, for example, felt that background checks on person-to-person gun sales would be too onerous for people who live in rural areas far from a sporting goods store. - New York Times, 4/25/13
Well today, the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act of 2013 got a shout today on Huffington Post:Increases Benefits for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities. Currently, Social Security benefits are adjusted by the Consumer Price Index for workers. However, costs and spending patterns for seniors do not mirror those of the workforce. That is why Sen. Begich’s bill calls for adjusting cost-of-living increases with a Consumer Price Index specifically for the elderly which was created to more accurately measure the costs of goods and services seniors actually buy.
Lifts the Cap on High-Income Contributions. Current law sets a cap based on income at $113,700 for paying into Social Security. If an individual’s wages hit that total for the year, they no longer pay into the program. Sen. Begich’s bill lifts the cap and asks higher income earners to pay Social Security on all their earnings in order to increase the program’s revenue stream and extend the overall solvency of the program.
Extends Social Security for approximately 75 years through modest revenue increases gradually implemented over the course of seven years. - Alaska Native News, 11/14/12
This is the biggest reason why still adamantly support Begich's re-election. Begich is one of the few Senators proposing lifting the cap and making the wealthy pay more into Social Security:Cutting social security benefits is under consideration once again as the US Congress and the White House hurtle toward a full embrace of austerity. The rationale they offer is the professed bankruptcy of the social security system. Undoubtedly, reducing benefits from a program that keeps an estimated 40 percent of elderly Americans out of poverty is an unsettling prospect.
One plan to boost the sustainability of the system involves tweaking the payroll tax rules. According to a January 2013 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the maximum amount subject to the 6.2 % social security payroll tax recently increased to $113,700, but income above that cap is not taxed by social security. Senator Mark Begich (D-AL) and Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) have introduced legislation that would eliminate the cap on taxable earnings, with purpose to ensure the program's solvency for decades to come. This is a sensible path toward preservation of one of our nation's most effective antipoverty programs. In fact, given that 5 percent of American workers earn more than $113,700, the CEPR calculates that if such a cap were lifted, only 1 in 20 taxpayers would be affected. - Huffington Post, 4/26/13
Because Begich is sincere about strengthening Social Security, he's not a top target from progressives over how he voted on background checks:There have been several proposals this congressional session to eliminate or adjust the cap. Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) proposed a bill in February (re-introduced from December 2012) that would phase out the payroll tax cap, as did Sen. Harkin in March. Sen. Begich's bill is co-sponsored by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), while Sen. Harkin's bill has no co-sponsors.
Also last month, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed a bill to apply the payroll tax to income above $250,000.The legislation was patterned after a proposal President Obama made during his 2008 presidential campaign to lift the cap for income above $250,000 (and is consistent with the President’s 2008 pledge not to raise taxes on households with income less than $250,000).
This bill is co-sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). - Truth-Out, 4/12/13
Gun control advocates and progressives are more focused on Democrats like Senators Mark Pryor (D. AR) and Mark Warner (D. VA) over Begich and they should. Warner keeps on wanting to be the big deficit hawk:Many progressive activists say Democratic incumbents will face a sterner backlash if they support cutting entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. That’s potentially critical because Obama has already publicly supported a plan for switching to a so-called “chained CPI” for Social Security benefits that could become a centerpiece of a major deficit-reduction deal.
“A vote against our safety net will rate higher than [the gun-control vote],” said Markos Moulitsas, a liberal activist and commentator. “We consider protecting our social net to be a core Democratic issue. If you don’t believe in doing that, I don’t understand why you’d even be a Democrat. And given how popular Social Security and Medicare are, it’s not as if it’s politically courageous to support those programs.”
According to Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democracy for America, progressive groups have drawn a “line in the sand” on reducing entitlement benefits.
“Anyone up in 2014, and really any Democrat period, needs to know, if they do vote to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits, it’s going to be a clarion call to the entire progressive community,” he said. “It will fire up the grassroots base of Democratic Party.” - National Journal, 4/25/13
Mayor Mike Bloomberg (I. NY) is planning on making Pryor a bigger target on gun control over any of the four Democrats who voted against background checks:“We have never stopped talking,” said Sen. Mark Warner, who was a member of the disbanded Gang of Eight that tried to take on deficits. “The only way we get something done is bipartisan.”
The Virginia Democrat has been in informal discussions with Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who is also open to trying to return to deficit talks with a bipartisan group.
“There is the potential for it,” Chambliss said. “We haven’t been talking formally about it.”
A revival of the group could see the return of veteran negotiators like Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). But they could also tap new blood like Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Johnny Iskason (R-Ga.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), or budget supercommittee members Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Toomey. - Politico, 4/11/13
Personally, I think Bloomberg's campaign would backfire and end up helping Pryor win re-election. You can read my thoughts here:Mayor’s Against Illegal Guns, the well-funded group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is seriously considering a months-long television, radio and direct-mail campaign against Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, one of four Democrats who opposed expanding a background check for guns.
The goal: Make an example of him.
Senior members of Mayor’s Against Illegal Guns met at length Sunday to debate potential responses to the failure of President Obama’s gun regulation package, including a watered-down background check provision that fell five votes short.
In addition to Pryor, three Democratic senators abandoned Obama: Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. The group discussed targeting two of those senators: Pryor and Baucus, according to a senior official involved in the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Unlike the others who face election in 2014, Heitkamp was just elected to a six-year term. Begich was considered more secure politically than Pryor and Baucus, and thus a less attractive target. Baucus announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election. - National Journal, 4/23/13
So yeah, guys like Pryor and Warner are higher targets progressives should be going after. Don't get me wrong, I urge you to continue to push Begich on background checks but if the big fight over Social Security comes up, just remember that Begich is one of the closest allies on this issue and we will need him for this when the time comes. And he recently reassured his opposition to the Chained CPI:
Emphasis mine.U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) yesterday joined with Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to introduce a Senate resolution fighting against cuts to Social Security benefits for seniors and disabled veterans through using the Chained Consumer Price Index (Chained CPI) to calculate cost-of-living adjustments.
Among the highlights of the Concurrent Resolution:
The Social Security program has no borrowing authority, has accumulated assets of $2,700,000,000,000, and, therefore, does not contribute to the Federal budget deficit;
The Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund projects that the Trust Fund can pay full benefits through 2032;
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that using the Chained CPI to calculate Social Security COLAs would reduce Social Security benefits by 0.25 percent per year, resulting in a reduction in outlays of $127,000,000,000 over the first decade;
Reductions in Social Security benefits from using the Chained CPI to calculate Social Security COLAs would continue to compound over time, and the AARP Public Policy Institute estimates that the reductions would grow to 3 percent after 10 years and 8.5 percent after 30 years;
Social Security Works estimates that using the Chained CPI to calculate Social Security COLAs would reduce annual Social Security benefits of the average earner by $658 at age 75, $1,147 at age 85, and $1,622 at age 95;
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides more than 3,200,000 veterans with disability compensation benefits as a result of injuries or illnesses sustained during, or as a result of, military service;
Adopting the Chained CPI would also cut the benefits of more than 350,000 surviving spouses and children who have lost a loved one in battle by cutting Dependency Indemnity Compensation benefits that average less than $17,000 per year.
In addition to Senator Mikulski, the resolution introduced by Senator Harkin was cosponsored by Senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gilibrand (D-N.Y.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). - The Bay Net, 4/25/13
By the way, here's another big issue that Begich is with us on:
Emphasis mine.On Wednesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced bills to the Senate and House of Representatives that would require food manufacturers to clearly label any product containing genetically engineered ingredients -- or risk having that product classified "misbranded" by the FDA.
Boxer and DeFazio have both previously sponsored bills that would have mandated GMO labeling -- Boxer in 2000 and DeFazio on numerous occasions in concert with former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). But the new "Genetically Engineered Food Right-To-Know Act" is the first genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling bill to be introduced with both bicameral and bipartisan support. Its nine co-sponsors in the Senate include Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, while Rep. Don Young, also a Republican from Alaska, is among its 22 cosponsors in the House.In a phone conversation with The Huffington Post, DeFazio, who's been growing organic produce for 40 years, said that he remains agnostic about the health impact of GMOs. He supports mandatory labeling of food with genetically-engineered (GE) ingredients because he wants consumers to be able to decide for themselves whether or not to eat organisms that have only existed for 20 years.
"Even the most ardent free market advocate, someone who's a devout follower of Adam Smith, would have to admit that consumers aren't being given full information right now," he said. "Depriving them of the knowledge of whether or not this food has GMOs does not support a free market."Scott Faber, president of the Environmental Working Group and the Just Label It! campaign in favor of GMO labeling, said that opposition from the biotech and agricultural industries will mean the bill "faces an uphill climb in both the House and Senate," despite its popularity. But he noted that Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D) successfully introduced an amendment to the Senate budget bill in late March to require labeling of genetically modified fish. Moreover, the bill doesn't necessarily need to pass to have its intended effect. - Huffington Post, 4/25/13
I wrote about Begich's ongoing battle to stop the FDA from approving genetically engineered salmon known as Frankenfish:
Begich has even pushed for legislation that would ban Frankenfish:An amendment to the continuing Resolution being debated in the Senate was filed yesterday by Alaska's senators, Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich. The amendment called for clear and unquestionable labeling being placed on salmon products that have been genetically modified.
This is the latest obstacle placed in the path of Aquabounty as that company moves to place their GM salmon on storeshelves for human consumption.
There is concern in many corners that the genetically engineered salmon that has genes spliced from eel pout and a growth hormone from Chinook salmon will elevate the potential for allergies and that the elevated levels IGF-1 growth hormone will increase the risk of colon, prostate, and breast cancer.
The Food and Drug Administration pushed through approval of the genetically engineered salmon during the Christmas break this past year and is currently in the public comment stage of the approval. It is expected that that approval will go through and GE salmon, affectionately nick-named "Frankenfish" will be on store shelves by next year.
“Alaskans deserve to know what is on their dinner plates, especially if it’s something that was grown in a science lab or was caught across the globe,” said Senator Begich. “With Alaskans world renowned stocks of wild salmon, every effort needs to be made to protect the hard-working fishermen selling a real, wild product from imposters trying to trick consumers.” - Alaska Native News, 3/19/13
So it's good to have Begich on our side on that issue as well. Not to mention he's been calling out the Alaska GOP for trying to suppress the Native American vote:Genetically-engineered salmon known as “Frankenfish” would be banned under legislation introduced today by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard. Begich, who has been leading the fight against GE salmon since he came to the Senate, is introducing two anti-Frankenfish measures today.
“Alaska has been supplying the world with nutritious salmon for decades,” Begich said. “We cannot afford to experiment with the world’s largest wild salmon stocks without the certainty that these fake fish won’t pose a serious environmental risk, especially to wild salmon and their habitat. I am introducing these bills to prevent against science experiments ending up on the plates of Alaska families.”
The first of Begich’s bills make it illegal to produce, sell or ship GE salmon in the United States unless the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finds it would have no significant impact. Begich is the lead sponsor of the bill, called the Prevention of Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the United States (PEGASUS).
Late last year, Begich blasted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their findings of “no significant impact” on the proposal from AquaBounty Technologies to produce a hybrid Atlantic salmon modified with a Chinook salmon growth gene and an antifreeze gene from an eel-like fish, the ocean pout. Begich expressed serious alarm at the announcement and believes the FDA lacks the expertise to make such a finding without a thorough review of its impact on ocean ecosystems.
Begich is concerned about the potential impacts of the release of GE salmon into the wild, whether by accident or negligence, as has been the history of other invasive species. The FDA reviewed the AquaBounty proposal not as a food product but as a veterinary drug. Despite the precedent-setting implications of being the first GE animal approved for human consumption, the FDA only considered its limited production, not the more widespread production which would surely follow federal approval.
“The potential that genetically engineered salmon might escape into the wild, interbreed with wild stocks, and compete with those stocks for food would be a disaster not only for wild salmon, but also for the broader ecosystems in which they live,” Begich said. “The FDA lacks the expertise to judge the impact of escaped Frankenfish on wild salmon stocks but these potential impacts must be understood before its production is allowed.” - The Dutch Harbor Telegraph, 2/7/13
And Begich is the only Senator to do this:Many of the bill's critics say HB3 is unconstitutional as currently written and its implementation would disproportionately affect rural voters and Alaska Natives who can't obtain identification as easily as those who live in cities.
"The scheme that is set up in this bill discriminates, not by intention, not based on racial animosity, but by the way the government of Alaska has set up its division of services," Jeffrey Mittman, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, testified.
During a speech before a joint session of the Legislature two weeks ago, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich called the bill a part of a trend to make voting more difficult in Alaska.
Rep. Bob Lynn (R. Anchorage) said Begich was misinformed and accused the senator of not reading the bill before his speech. Begich has stood behind his comments.
A 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional as long as the state provides residents the opportunity to obtain photo identification for free, according to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who testified last month about his experiences regarding that state's voter identification law.
Alaska does not offer free identification to all of its residents. HB3 would not require the state to issue free identification to a prospective voter. - Anchorage Daily News, 3/14/13
Also, Begich is calling for a U.S. Arctic ambassador:U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is furloughing more than half his staff and giving up part of his salary due to automatic budget cuts known as the sequester, his office said.
Begich is the lone member of Alaska's congressional delegation to furlough staff amid the cuts. Begich also has the highest number of staff among the three-member delegation, at 41.
Spokeswoman Heather Handyside said 26 of Begich's staff will be furloughed for at least two days but perhaps four or more. Furloughed staff won't be paid for the days they're out. Staff members have until the end of September to take their mandatory time off.
Handyside said that if staffers are furloughed for two days, Begich will give back two days' worth of his $174,000 salary. If they're furloughed for four days, it would be the equivalent of four days' pay.
Handyside said travel and printing also have been cut from the budget.
Begich, in a statement, said there's no reason that members of Congress shouldn't feel the financial pinch, like anyone else.
"This won't solve our spending problem on its own, but I hope it is a reminder to Alaskans that I am willing to make the tough cuts, wherever they may be, to get our spending under control," he said. - Anchorage Daily News, 4/4/13
Meanwhile, the Alaska GOP is on the verge of tearing itself a part:In the U.S., Alaska officials are at the vanguard of a lot of the country’s initiatives and policymaking in the far north, whether it’s regulating offshore oil drilling or looking into the best site for a deep-draft port. Thus, it comes as no surprise that U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, is one of the few Americans calling for the creation of an Arctic ambassador. In a letter (PDF) to President Obama, Begich stated, “The changes we see in the Arctic today now warrant taking the next step to heighten our diplomatic presence at the top of the globe with the appointment of a U.S. Ambassador to the Arctic.”
On Feb. 11, Begich introduced S. 270, also known as “United States Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs Act of 2013.” He lists a number of geographic reasons as to why the U.S. merits such a position, including the length of Alaska’s Arctic shoreline, the 100 million acres of American territory above the Arctic Circle, and “an even broader area defined as Arctic by temperature that includes the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.” With the definition of the Arctic under contention lately, given that countries such as China are claiming to be near-Arctic, Senator Begich is making sure to cover his bases. He confirms that the U.S. qualifies as an Arctic state according to three different definitions. Most importantly, it’s a littoral state, joining the exclusive club of five Arctic states (one into which Iceland has been trying to muscle its way by positioning itself rhetorically as an Arctic coastal state). Climate change, growing tourism, oil and gas development, are also posited as reasons the U.S. needs an Arctic Ambassador.
Based on the text of the bill, a U.S. Arctic ambassador would have two key duties. First, entrusted with diplomatic representation, he or she would represent the U.S. at the Arctic Council, the United Nations, and to other Arctic states when Arctic affairs were of concern, thereby enhancing “the ability of the United States to respond quickly and appropriately to issues of mutual interest to the Arctic Council and Arctic countries generally.” Second, an Arctic ambassador would play an advisory role, serving as a “principal adviser to the President and the Secretary of State regarding matters affecting Arctic affairs.” - Alaska Dispatch, 4/21/13
And of course, this guy is looking to make a comeback:Republican attorney Bill Walker, who was defeated by Gov. Sean Parnell in the Republican primary election in 2010, announced Thursday that he will run again for governor of Alaska next year.
Walker, a former mayor of Valdez who now lives in Anchorage, criticized Parnell’s approach to Alaska’s oil and gas sector in his declaration of candidacy Thursday, referring to Senate Bill 21 as a “tax giveaway” — the same language Democrats and some Republicans used in unsuccessfully opposing the bill’s oil tax cuts during this year’s legislative session.
“I’m more focused on getting more exploration of the North Slope, getting more companies to the North Slope,” Walker said Thursday afternoon, adding, “We need to have a couple hundred smaller companies coming in. … We’re sort of rewarding those that are drilling for water in the bathtub.” - Juneau Empire, 4/26/13
And Miller is pulling a play from Senator Rand Paul's (R. KY) book by cozying up to Libertarians:Tea Party favorite Joe Miller, who lost a closely watched 2010 election in Alaska, is back for another possible Senate bid next year.
The Republican attorney formed an exploratory committee so he could test the waters for a Senate race in 2014 against Sen. Mark Begich, a vulnerable Democrat.
In 2010, Miller defeated GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski for the party's nomination in Alaska — only to lose the general election when Murkowski ran as a write-in candidate. Murkowski's election was historic: She was the first write-in candidate to win a Senate race since 1954. - USA Today, 4/15/13
If you would like to get more information on the status of the Protecting & Preserving Social Security Act please contact Begich or Congressman Ted Deutch (D. FL-21) for more info:Next year’s elections “will be a referendum on government control,” Miller said Saturday. “In 2014, there’ll be a resurgence of those looking for liberty.”
Mark Fish, chair of the Alaska Libertarian Party and a friend of Miller’s, invited the Republican to speak at Saturday’s convention. A room of about 30 baby-boomers and a few younger Libertarians sat around white-clothed tables, speaking of ineffective incumbent lawmakers and the need to change the direction of America, sentiments Miller echoed during his speech.
Miller also touched on gun control and, more specifically, the government's alleged preparations for civil war. But despite being in a room packed with Second Amendment enthusiasts, some who often visibly display that enthusiasm, no guns sat atop the white cloth. Instead, semi-formally dressed attendants simply ate from a buffet.
After inquiring as to whether there were any Alaska media members in the crowd and brandishing a pair of silver handcuffs, Miller said outright that he hadn’t agreed to speak at the convention for political reasons. He is uncertain he will run in 2014, he told the Libertarians.
After his speech and outside the confines of the Golden Lion’s second-floor conference room, Miller told reporters he was “aggressively pursuing his options.” He hasn’t planned a future announcement, and he’s definitely still a Republican, he said.
Miller may be a Republican, but he seemed at home in front of the Alaska Libertarians, a political group that he shares many of the same views with. And in many ways, building bonds with the Libertarians is classic Miller, who has worked the grassroots of his party in Alaska, rather than the old-guard Republicans -- perhaps a tactic he's modeled after Sarah Palin, who rose to the top with a similar strategy in 2005-06.
"I’m here because we have commonality. I see more from a Libertarian standpoint,” he said, “but we have to stand behind candidates that share the same values. We cannot fracture into small groups and expect change to happen.”
Voters need to form a resolute front and stand firm against “establishment politicians,” he added. “A healthy distrust of the government is key, and I’m sure that’s an idea that’s not alien to Libertarians.” - Alaska Dispatch, 3/16/13
And if you would like to voice your objecting to genetically engineered food like Frankenfish, you sign Earth Justice's letter to President Obama and the FDA here: