PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Scapegoating Teachers

Last week, PFAW’s Michael Keegan wrote of “increasing power of corporate interests in deciding who benefits from the government, and who becomes a scapegoat.”

Watch Jon Stewart call out right-wing commentators on their willingness to scapegoat teachers and other public employees while protecting the interests of millionaires:

via TPM
 

PFAW

King Having Trouble Finding Anti-Muslim Muslims to Testify at his “Radicalization” Hearings

Speaking of officially-sanctioned Islamophobia, GOP Rep. Peter King is having a hard time finding Muslim Americans, or any experts at all, to testify in his planned hearings about the “radicalization” of American Muslims. According to the American Prospect’s Adam Serwer, the one witness that King has managed to nail down for the hearings—which are scheduled to start next week—is a man on the advisory board of a group that seeks to “educate” law enforcement officers in the field of stereotyping Muslims. Beyond that, King hasn’t had much luck finding Muslim Americans to jump on his anti-Islam bandwagon:

Now, King has already removed two witnesses from his hearings for being controversial. The first, AEI Scholar Ayaan Hirsi Ali, has suggested amending the U.S. Constitution to give fewer rights to Muslims. The other, Walid Phares, (who is also on the Clarion Fund advisory board) is a Lebanese Christian who was removed after CAIR accused him of ties to Christian militias implicated in civilian massacres in Lebanon.

These witnesses may have been "controversial," but I suspect part of the reason they were removed is that King may have not realized when he chose them that neither of them identify as Muslims. After the Investigative Project's Steve Emerson wrote King an angry letter saying he felt rejected by King's decision not to call him as a witness, King emphasized that "the lead witnesses would be Muslims who believe their community is being radicalized." Hirsi Ali was raised a Muslim but is an atheist, and Phares is a Christian.

As it stands, King has one witness, tied to the industry of Islamophobic distortion that is undermining the war of ideas against al-Qaeda by relaying misinformation to law enforcement. There just isn't a very deep bench of Muslims willing to testify before Congress that most Muslims are enemies of the state.

As PFAW’s Michael Keegan wrote last month, the problem with King’s proposed hearings is that they seem to be aimed not at dealing with the facts about domestic terrorism, but at further exploring falsehoods and misinformation that have lead to widespread resentment of American Muslims:

Rep. King, in his highly public hearings, intends to explore the "radicalization" of American Muslims and what he sees as a lack of cooperation between Muslim communities and law enforcement. Before he starts, King should look at what the experts say. The nation's top law enforcement official, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, recently said that "the cooperation of Muslim and Arab-American communities has been absolutely essential in identifying, and preventing, terrorist threats."

The actions of a handful of violent extremists don't represent the beliefs of an entire faith community. In fact, National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter, in earlier testimony before Rep. King and the Homeland Security Committee, said that the prevalence of violent extremists in American Muslim communities was "tiny…a minute percentage of the [U.S. Muslim] population."

Local law enforcement officials agree. This month, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who oversees one of the largest law enforcement operations in the country, in one of the nation's largest American Muslim population centers, said he hadn't seen any evidence of the lack of cooperation that King claims exists: "Muslim Americans in the county of Los Angeles have been overwhelmingly astounded by terrorist attacks--like everyone else--and overwhelmingly concerned about a non-repeat performance of that kind, and are willing to get involved and help."

It’s no wonder that King has been forced to rely on extremists, not experts, to argue his case.
 

PFAW

Sweeping Anti-Choice Bill Passes House Committee

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill today that would severely restrict reproductive rights, including undercutting women’s ability to buy their own insurance coverage for abortion.

Lawmakers stripped the bill, H.R. 3, of some of its most controversial provisions, including language that would redefine rape, and changed it to clarify that insurance must cover “life-saving” abortions.

But, as Amanda Terkel writes in the Huffington Post, the sweeping anti-choice bill is still troubling:

Arons points out that H.R. 3 would still impose "a permanent, blanket prohibition on any and all federal spending for abortion care," whereas under current law, only specific programs have such restrictions and they must be renewed every year.

The bill would also deny tax credits to businesses that offer employees health insurance plans that happen to cover abortion care, as well as disallow any medical deductions for expenses related to abortion. Women would not be able to set aside their own money in pre-tax health accounts for abortion coverage.

The revised H.R. 3 would also still hit the District of Columbia particularly hard. In 2009, Congress voted to lift the District's abortion funding restrictions and allow it to make its own choices. Smith's bill denies the Capitol "home rule."

"Each of these provisions represents an expansion, not simply a codification of abortion funding restrictions that now exist in federal law," Maloney said.

H.R. 3 is part of the expansive Republican war on women, which on the federal level has included efforts this year to slash federal funds to family planning clinics. Republican efforts on the state level have sought to regulate abortion clinics into the ground, impose potentially dangerous ultrasound requirements, force women to go to anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers” before obtaining abortions, and even legalize the killing of abortion providers.
 

PFAW

Ugly Islamaphobia in Orange County

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has released a disturbing video of about one hundred anti-Islamic protesters heckling attendees a fundraiser for a Muslim charity last month. The protestors, some with bullhorns, shout at attendees to “go back home,” “no Sharia law,” and “one nation under God, not Allah.” The hecklers were part of a larger group gathered to protest the event, which was treated to speeches by several local Republican elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Gary Miller and Ed Royce. Royce told the crowd that multiculturalism has “paralyzed too many of our fellow citizens”:

The Orange County Register spoke with the organizers of the event, the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA:

ICNA spokesman Syed Waqas said the protesters "should know the facts. We have no links to any overseas organization. We absolutely denounce violence and terrorism."

He said the group started in Southern California about eight months ago and is trying to raise $350,000 to start social programs such as women's shelters, fighting hunger and homelessness in the area.

Among the activists who worked to spread the word of the protests was Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam activist who was largely responsible for turning a proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan into the nationally controversial “Ground Zero Mosque.” Geller has become a leader in the effort to conflate all practicing Muslims with a tiny splinter of extremists—an effort that has born fruit in ludicrous state-level “Sharia law bans” and even in congressional hearings aimed at pinning all Muslims for the actions of a few. (For more on the congressional hearings, read Michael Keegan’s recent op-ed on the “new McCarthysim”).

While some protesters said they objected to previous remarks made by some of the speakers at the fundraiser, the protests instead consisted of hurling blanket anti-Muslim slurs at the people in attendance.

Islamophobia often comes out in subtle ways in mainstream political discourse—take, for instance, Mike Huckabee telling the virulently anti-Islam Bryan Fischer that President Obama’s childhood hears in Indonesia made him fundamentally different from Americans who grew up with “Rotary clubs, not madrassas,” or the opposition of many elected officials to the Geller-branded “Ground Zero Mosque.” These elected officials aren’t out on the streets heckling Muslims—but by condoning Islamophobia, however subtly, they’re helping this kind of outright racism to take hold.
 

PFAW

Wisconsin YEO Chris Larson Stands Up To GOP Power Play

Republicans in the Wisconsin State Senate announced that they will penalize the fourteen boycotting Senators by imposing a $100-a-day fine and taking away their parking spaces, but the chamber’s Democrats are determined to block the GOP’s radical anti-labor legislation. In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Democratic State Sen. Chris Larson described the group’s resolve not to budge in the face of Republican threats. Sen. Larson is a member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, and is working closely with PFAW to build momentum to stop Governor Scott Walker’s plan to quash workers’ rights. He makes clear that the public is increasingly turning against Walker’s plans, and that the Republicans’ latest move only shows their desperation to quickly pass their extreme legislation:

"They've become increasingly desperate with these petty things that they're throwing out there," Larson said. "The next thing they're gonna throw out is we're gonna have to say 'Mother, may I' before anybody can talk."

TPM asked Larson, who said he was at a rest stop in Illinois, whether he was prepared to pay the fines. "You know, it's not about us, it's not about the finances," said Larson. "It's about the cuts that they're doing to workers rights, it's about the cuts that they're doing to educators, and throwing out Medicare, Medicaid and Seniorcare, and trying to change these provisions."

Larson also was not entirely sure whether the fines were legally permissible. "First of all, it's in the Constitution that you cannot diminish a person's wages," said Larson. "But it's beside the point. The fact that they're trying to hold our paychecks and have these fines, it's petty and it's not impacting anybody. We had a meeting and nobody flinched at it. It was just like, wow, he's [Fitzgerald] looking really desperate."

Later in the interview, TPM noted to Larson that the fines appeared to be based on a provision in the state Constitution that the legislature "may compel the attendance of absent members in such manner and under such penalties as each house may provide."

"Well, we'll have to see when we go back," said Larson. "We'll go over it with some lawyers. The fact is, it's giving - it's not making us think about it twice. We're focused on preserving workers' rights, preserving the way of life in Wisconsin without these huge cuts to rights. That's what we're focused on.

"If they want to throw out fines, if they want to call us names and if they want to take over our staff, they're doing everything they can to ignore what the real issue is, and that's that they're going too far with their power grab. The public is crying foul and calling them out on their power grab, and they're just ignoring it."

He also added: "What they do to us is of little consequence, compared to what they're doing to themselves right now."
PFAW

Supreme Court Recusal Bill Introduced

For several weeks now, more and more people have been paying attention to the general absence of enforceable standards for the recusal of Supreme Court Justices from cases in which their impartiality is in question. Rep. Chris Murphy (CT) has introduced a bill, cosponsored by Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY), that would introduce significant reforms to the manner in which Supreme Court Justices recuse themselves – or don't – from cases in which their impartiality may reasonably be questioned.

Currently, Justices decide for themselves whether they will recuse themselves. They do not need to state the reasons for their decision to recuse or not to recuse, and their decisions are non-reviewable. This can be a problem. As Talking Points Memo reports:

Justices Thomas and Scalia have been under frequent fire in liberal circles over their attendance at conferences sponsored by Koch Industries in recent years, a company whose owners have been major financial backers of conservative political causes. Thomas' wife, Ginni Thomas, runs a conservative nonprofit group, Liberty Central, and some have suggested her activism against President Obama's health care legislation could be a conflict of interest for her husband if the new health care reform law -- as expected -- reaches the Supreme Court. Justice Thomas raised eyebrows this weekend when he said in a speech at a banquet that his wife was working "in defense of liberty" and that they "love the same things, we believe in the same things."

Rep. Murphy discussed this at an event yesterday to generate support for his reform bill.

"The problem is the only person who can decide whether Justice Thomas can recuse himself is Justice Thomas," Murphy told reporters at a press conference outside the Capitol. "That's wrong and that needs to change."

Fortunately, by the time the Supreme Court hears the healthcare case, Americans might not have to rely only on Justice Thomas' goodwill. As described on Rep. Murphy's website, his bill would:

  • apply the Judicial Conference's Code of Conduct, which applies to all other federal judges, to Supreme Court justices. This would allow the public to access more timely and detailed information when an outside group wants to have a justice participate in a conference, such as the funders of the conference;
  • require the justices to simply publicly disclose their reasoning behind a recusal when they withdraw from a case;
  • require the Court to develop a process for parties to a case before the Court to request a decision from the Court, or a panel of the Court, regarding the potential conflict of interest of a particular Justice.

Until the bill passes, we will continue to strongly urge Justice Thomas to recuse himself from future healthcare reform cases, as requested by Rep. Weiner and 73 of his colleagues.

PFAW

Wisconsin State Senator Calls Protestors “Slobs,” “College Students Having a Fun Party”

This is probably news to the tens of thousands of Wisconsinites who have been rallying for worker’s rights in the state capital for weeks, but according to Republican State Sen. Glenn Grothman, they are a bunch of “college students having a fun party.”

On MSNBC last night, Grothman called the protestors “a bunch of slobs” and insisted, “I think if you would interview all the people who are creating a ruckus…the vast majority are either college students, college TAs, or hangers-on, or just unemployed people looking for somewhere to hang out.”

Democratic State Rep. Cory Mason shot back, “These slobs that you’re referring to are police officers and nurses and firefighters and people who keep us safe. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

In all fairness to Grothman, reports from Madison say that the state capital building has begun to smell funky after weeks of housing protestors. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise: after all, democracy is a messy business.

PFAW

Still More Bipartisan Support for Goodwin Liu

Richard Painter, once the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, has a comprehensive, well-researched piece in the Huffington Post whose title says it all: "Qualified, Measured, and Mainstream: Why the Senate Should Confirm Goodwin Liu." Now a professor at the University of Minnesota, this conservative lawyer is one of the many legal scholars from across the political spectrum to support Liu's nomination.

Despite this broad support, perhaps no jurist nominated to the federal bench by President Obama has been maligned, mischaracterized, and mistreated by far right extremists more than Goodwin Liu. Point by point, Painter demolishes the myths about Liu. As Painter explains in detail, the caricature the far right has created bears no relation to reality. As he writes:

Liu's opponents have sought to demonize him as a "radical," "extremist," and worse. National Review Online's Ed Whelan has led the charge with a "one-stop repository" of attacks on Liu. However, for anyone who has actually read Liu's writings or watched his testimony, it's clear that the attacks--filled with polemic, caricature, and hyperbole--reveal very little about this exceptionally qualified, measured, and mainstream nominee. ...

This post brings together a variety of material about Liu:

  • First, I review Liu's background, qualifications, and key endorsements.
  • Second, I highlight two letters from respected authorities that shed important light on Liu's scholarly record.
  • Third, I provide several responses to various attacks on Liu.
  • Fourth, I address Liu's opposition to the Supreme Court confirmations of Roberts and Alito, two Justices whom I vigorously supported as a Bush administration lawyer and whom I believe were outstanding additions to the Court.

These materials summarize why Liu is an excellent choice for the federal bench. But even if you read this entire post, nothing substitutes for reading Liu's writings or watching his testimony for yourself. That is how I reached the conclusion that Liu deserves an up-or-down vote in the Senate and ought to be confirmed.

Liu's nomination has been stalled by Republican senators for more than a year. Today, he appears yet again before the Senate Judiciary Committee. When the committee once again approves his nomination and sends it to the Senate floor, leadership should schedule a vote, defy any GOP threats to filibuster, and get this most talented of judicial nominees confirmed at last.

PFAW

The Debate We’re Not Having About Budget Deficits

Today’s New York Times reported on the latest Times/CBS poll showing majority opposition to weakening public employee unions bargaining rights by a nearly 2-1 margin (60 percent to 33 percent). In the context of the battle in Wisconsin over Governor Walker’s assault on unions and collective bargaining, this is important information. Also important, but given far less “ink” is the extremely important finding that, also by a nearly 2-1 margin, those surveyed support increasing taxes as a way to reduce their states’ budgets over cutting the benefits of public employees. 

Tax increases were not as unpopular among those surveyed as they are among many governors, who have vowed to avoid them. Asked how they would choose to reduce their state’s deficits, those polled preferred tax increases over benefit cuts for state workers by nearly two to one. Given a list of options to reduce the deficit, 40 percent said they would increase taxes, 22 percent chose decreasing the benefits of public employees, 20 percent said they would cut financing for roads and 3 percent said they would cut financing for education.

This is huge! Although elected officials and most commentators seem to have taken the revenue side of the equation off the table, the American public support tax increases more than any other option as a way to address budget deficits. The American public understands that in hard times like these, we don’t sacrifice public employees, public infrastructure or public education – we agree to all tighten our belts and share the burden of climbing out of the hole that we’re in. Would that Gov. Walker agreed to take a 20 minute call from one of these wise Americans. 

PFAW

As Unions Are Demonized, Corporate Power Continues To Be Left Unchecked

On The Morning Joe, Richard Haass offered his proposal to resolve the conflicts in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, where Republican governors are attempting to dismantle organized labor by stripping workers’ rights to bargain collectively for the purported reason of balancing the budget. Haass, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations, agreed that collective bargaining is a right of workers that shouldn’t be rescinded, and went on to say that elected officials should “make a deal” with unions who represent public employees: “You can’t expect people to collectively bargain fairly with the people they are contributing to, why not make a deal with the public-sector unions,” said Haas, “going forward you can collectively bargain, but in exchange, you can’t contribute to the people you’re bargaining with. Essentially have a no political contribution to state officials, and that’s the deal.” According to Haass, this would prevent unions from “tilt[ing] the political playing field.”

If Haass believes that the unions which represent nurses, teachers, and police officers should be barred from influencing elections, will Haass and his likeminded commentators formulate a similar proposal for corporations?

As a result of Citizens United, corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money from their general treasuries to fund political groups to bolster or attack candidates for office. And in states like Wisconsin, corporations can make direct contributions to the candidates, just as Koch Industries gave the maximum $43,000 to Scott Walker’s campaign.

Corporations helped finance the Republican campaign apparatus, and now their influence in lawmaking is mushrooming. “Citizens United alone did not win the 2010 elections for Republicans,” writes People For president Michael Keegan, “But the money it let loose helped ensure that those swept to power by widespread voter dissatisfaction would be eager to pander to the interests of corporations and the wealthy, and to demonize those who oppose them,” like labor unions.

Haass may claim that it’s unfair for labor unions to negotiate with officials they backed in the election, but the far more significant and serious question is: should corporations be allowed to finance the campaigns of the politicians who write their taxes, implement their regulations, and in many cases subsidize their coffers?

Just today, the “free-market” Republicans voted unanimously to maintain the tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies that go to big oil companies.

As the Republican majority in the House of Representatives time and again confirms, corporate-backed politicians almost always side with corporate interests in government.

PFAW

Chamber Fails to Poke a Hole in Nation's Anti-Discrimination Laws

The Supreme Court issued its decision in Staub v. Proctor Hospital today, addressing whether an employer may be held liable for employment discrimination based on the discriminatory animus of an employee who influenced, but who did not make, the ultimate employment decision.

Although the case involved the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), that statute's similarity to Title VII means the outcome of this case could affect people's ability to fight against a variety of different types of employment discrimination. Both statutes state that unlawful discrimination has occurred if bias was a "motivating factor" behind an employment decision, even if other, legitimate reasons existed.

The Supreme Court ruled today for the fired employee. Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.

The Court held that if a worker's supervisor is motivated by bias and intentionally takes steps to cause the worker to be penalized in some way, which then results in the worker being penalized, then the employer is liable, even if someone else who is free of bias actually carries out the penalty.

The hospital was supported by Big Business interests in an amicus brief filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They had argued that as long as the person who made the actual firing decision was not biased and had made an independent investigation of the facts, then the company could not be held liable for the discriminatory actions leading up to that point. This interpretation, if accepted, could potentially have opened a loophole in anti-discrimination statutes, one where corporations could maneuver their internal processes to shield themselves from liability for unlawful employment decisions.

However, as SCOTUSBlog reports:

[T]he Court majority rejected the hospital's argument that, since the supervisor who made the final decision actually did her own investigation before acting, that should neutralize the effect of the other supervisors' bias and get the hospital off the hook. If the biased supervisors' intent fit into the scenario laid out by the Scalia opinion, the Court said, an investigation by the final decision-maker would not remove liability.

This defeat for the Chamber of Commerce is a victory for workers across the country.

PFAW

Corporate Personhood Debunked (This Time)

It's not often these days when you can't get even one of the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court to ignore precedent, twist the facts, ignore logic, or do whatever else it takes to help Big Business consolidate the already substantial power it exercises over ordinary Americans. Today is such a day.

In FCC v. AT&T, the giant telecom corporation, backed by supportive amicus briefs from numerous corporate interests, argued that inanimate corporations have "personal privacy" for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Several years ago, the FCC investigated alleged overcharges by AT&T. After the investigation, AT&T's competitors filed a FOIA request to get the FCC to release documents on what they had found. The FCC said it would not disclose confidential commercial information about AT&T, pursuant to a specific exemption in the FOIA statute. However, the company argued that certain additional material would cause the company embarrassment and therefore fell into a separate statutory FOIA exemption allowing government agencies not to disclose material compiled for law enforcement purposes that would "constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled for AT&T, holding that FOIA's statutory language "unambiguously" indicates that a corporation may have a personal privacy interest within the meaning of this FOIA exemption. The court said that: (1) FOIA defines "person" to include a corporation; and (2) the term "personal" is derived from the word "person" and is simply the adjectival form of the word.

Aside from leading to a bizarre definition of "personal," Big Business's idea of corporate personhood would significantly weaken the ability of news organizations and government watchdogs to examine government records containing vital information about corporate behavior affecting public health and safety – records that would otherwise remain hidden from the American people.

Fortunately, this assertion of corporate personhood was too much even for the Corporate Court that gave us Citizens United. A unanimous Court noted that in common conversation, the term "personal" is often used as the opposite of "business-related." Moreover, a simple look at a dictionary suggests that the word "personal" does not relate to artificial entities like corporations.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce submitted an amicus brief in support of AT&T. Its extremism has reached the point that not even one Justice on the Supreme Court was willing to accept its view. Keep that in mind the next time the Chamber purports to represent mainstream values as it seeks to weaken Americans' efforts to impose reasonable regulations on businesses and hold them accountable when they do wrong.

PFAW

Corporate-Funded American Crossroads Prepares for Massive Spending in 2012

The twin groups founded by GOP heavyweights Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are readying to spend $120 million to influence the 2012 elections. As reported in Citizens Blindsided, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS were handsomely funded by Wall Street and private equity moguls, energy interests, and companies owned by billionaire Republican donors. After raising a combined $71 million for the midterm elections, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS intend to spend a whopping $120 million to beat President Obama and Democratic candidates for Congress. Brody Mullins of the Wall Street Journal reports:

Two conservative groups founded last year with the help of Republicans Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie have set a goal of raising $120 million in the effort to defeat President Barack Obama, win a GOP majority in the Senate and protect the party's grip on the House in the 2012 election.



In setting their new fund-raising goal, Crossroads officials say they spoke with nearly all of their major 2010 donors, numbering in the dozens. "They have told us they are sticking with us, and most of them have said they plan to come in at a significantly higher level," said Steven Law, the president of the two Republican groups. Mr. Law said he also has found new donors.

American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS were set up under two different sections of the law and follow slightly different rules. American Crossroads is a so-called 527 organization, which must disclose its donors, while Crossroads GPS is a 501(c)4 entity that doesn't have to make public its donors.



Leaders of the two Crossroads groups say they will focus on television advertising and other election activities, which could complement the Republican National Committee's focus on rallying Republican voters and funding state parties.

Campaign-finance rules give groups such as Crossroads an advantage over the RNC. Because political parties can't raise more than $30,000 from an individual, they must spend millions of dollars to raise money from thousands of donors.

Outside groups face no such caps, so they can raise larger amounts from fewer individuals, incurring smaller fund-raising expenses in the process. American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS disclosed in an annual report sent to donors this week that they spent 96% of the money raised on campaigns.

The RNC spent about 70% of its money for the 2010 campaign on fund raising and other overhead expenses.
PFAW

The Story of Citizens United

The Story of Stuff Project has made a new video telling the story of Citizens United v. FEC. Take a look:

For more information on the influence that corporate spending had in the 2010 elections, read PFAW's report, Citizens Blindsided.

PFAW

Updates from the Front Lines of Wisconsin

Below you will see live Facebook updates from State Rep. Kelda Roys of Wisconsin, a member of People For the American Way Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network. She has been repeatedly denied entry to the state Capitol as a result of the protests against Gov. Walker's attempt to obliterate Wisconsin's public employee unions under the guise of fiscal reform.

UPDATE:

Check out Rep. Roys' coverage of the protests: 

PFAW