AAMIA Vice-Chair Shares Stage with President at Pro-Worker Press Conference

President Obama held a press conference today to urge House Republicans to pass an urgent extension to payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance. Joining the president on stage was Rev. Dr. Robert P. Shine, vice-chair of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action. Dr. Shine, pastor of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia, was invited to represent members of his community who would be hurt by the loss of these important benefits if they aren’t renewed in January.

Rev. Dr. Robert P. Shine, fifth from left, behind the president.

Dr. Shine released a statement in support of the president’s efforts to extend tax relief to working people and unemployment insurance to Americans suffering from long-term unemployment:

“It was an honor to stand behind our President today, both literally and figuratively. Extending the payroll tax cut and extending the lifeline of unemployment insurance are two of the most important things our elected officials in Washington can do, both to help individual American families get by and to help get our economy moving again. The refusal of House Republicans to take a simple, bipartisan step on behalf of working Americans is truly shocking. While millionaires and billionaires are enjoying the lowest tax rates in decades, working families across the country are struggling to get by. For working families, $40 a paycheck from the President’s tax cut will make all the difference. For those struggling to find work, unemployment insurance means survival.

“During the Christmas season, the President is standing with working people while the GOP is continuing to protect millionaires. I’m proud to stand with the President.”


An Open Letter to Kayak CEO Steve Hafner

When a fringe right-wing group complained that the TLC show “All-American Muslim” portrayed Muslim people in a positive light, a few prominent business made the unfortunate decision to cave to advocates of intolerance. People For the American Way Foundation is standing with those who support religious liberty. After helping to organize a demonstration at Lowe’s in Dearborn, MI, PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan has released an open letter to the CEO of Kayak, demanding an explanation for his company’s actions.

An Open Letter to Kayak CEO Steve Hafner

Dear Mr. Hafner:

I am writing to express my deep concern about Kayak's decision to pull advertising from the TLC program "All-American Muslim" in the wake of complaints from a far-right anti-Muslim group that resented the program's portrayal of Muslims as ordinary people facing ordinary challenges. We were also baffled by Kayak's responses to questions about the reasoning behind your decision to pull the ads.

To anyone who respects diversity, the Florida Family Association's insistence that "All-American Muslim" should be boycotted because it portrays "Muslims as ordinary folks just like you and me," instead of as fanatics and terrorists, reeks of bigotry. Your decision to pull advertising from the show following these complaints is extremely troubling.

Kayak's explanations for its actions have only furthered our concerns. Robert Birge, your Chief Marketing Officer, claimed that TLC withheld information about the program that would have changed your view that "All-American Muslim" is a show about a "worthy topic." We fail to understand why, had you been provided a more comprehensive description of the program, you would have come to the conclusion that a show depicting American Muslims as normal citizens rather than as terrorists was an inappropriate programming for your advertising. What information about the show was withheld? In what way is a show about ordinary, non-stereotypical Muslims troubling?

In the New York Times, Mr. Birge claimed that TLC pitched "All-American Muslim" as a "fair and balanced look at the life of an American Muslim," but that the channel failed to disclose the "pre-existing controversy surrounding race, religion and specifically the divide between the Muslim and Christian communities in Dearborn, Mich." What controversy are you referring to? Is the manufactured controversy of fringe activists like David Canton and the FFA enough to cause you to drop your advertising? We hope that you had researched Mr. Canton and the Florida Family Association prior to catering to his demands.

Buckling to the pressure of anti-Muslim extremists is extraordinarily offensive not only to Muslims, but to all Americans who value the diversity of our society and the freedom of religion enshrined in our Constitution. You insist that Kayak was not swayed by the bigotry of anti-Muslim groups, but haven't provided any other credible reason for dropping your support of the show. We firmly believe that one cannot be committed to diversity while claiming that merely portraying diversity can be unacceptably controversial.

The American people deserve a much fuller explanation of your actions.


Michael Keegan

President, People For the American Way Foundation


Romney’s New Campaign Finance Position is “More Radical than Citizens United”

On MSNBC this morning, Mitt Romney seemed to endorse doing away with all limits on direct contributions to political campaigns. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent caught the quote:

“I think the Supreme Court’s decision was following their interpretation of the campaign finance laws that were written by Congress. My own view is now we tried a lot of efforts to try and restrict what can be given to campaigns, we’d be a lot wiser to say you can give what you’d like to a campaign. They must report it immediately. And the creation of these independent expenditure committees that have to be separate from the candidate, that’s just a bad idea.”

Clean elections advocates are, unsurprisingly, aghast:

“This is more radical than Citizens United,” David Donnelly of Public Campaign Action Fund told me when I asked for his reaction. “It means that if he is president he will appoint Supreme Court justices that will eviscerate any ability to regulate campaign finance.”

While Citizens United allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money running ads for or against candidates for office, corporations are still banned from giving money directly to candidates (and limits on individuals' direct campaign contributions remain intact for now). Citizens United unleashed a flood of corporate money into politics. Romney’s plan wouldn’t fix that – instead it would make candidates even more beholden to corporate interests.

Incidentally, this is yet another issue where Romney has come full circle since running for Senate in 1994. At the time, Romney came out strongly for campaign contribution and spending limits, saying, “To get that kind of money, you’ve got to cozy up as an incumbent to all of the special interest groups who can go out and raise money for you from their members. And that kind of relationship has an influence on the way you’re going to vote….I don’t like the influence of money, whether it’s business, labor, I do not like that kind of influence":


The Payroll Tax and the 47%

Republicans in Congress have been attracting plenty of unwanted attention for their muddled refusal to extend a payroll tax cut that will, if not passed, hit 160 million American workers with a substantial tax increase on Jan. 1. Most of that attention has focused, rightly, on their refusal to provide a tax break to working people even as they do everything in their power to ensure historically low tax rates for the wealthiest.

But in a column today, David Frum points out that it’s more than the GOP’s image as tax-cutters that’s hurting in this debate. As long as the payroll tax stays an issue, more light is shed on the bogus claim, swallowed whole by the Right and even some in the media, that “47 percent of Americans pay no taxes.” The claim has caught on despite being flatly untrue – while only 53 percent of Americans make enough money to pay federal income tax, all workers pay federal payroll taxes. The myth that half of Americans don’t contribute to the federal budget is convenient for GOP talking points, but it just isn’t true.

Frum writes:

[U]nlike House Republicans, I am not in thrall to another Journal teaching: the claim that the poorer 47% of Americans “pay no tax.” This claim rests on denying the existence of payroll taxes altogether. If you deny that payroll taxes exist, it becomes very difficult to discuss the consequences of reducing or remitting them, including some arguably serious long-term consequences.

Republicans, with their “47 percent” claim, are essentially payroll tax deniers. By having a debate about cutting the payroll tax, they are being forced to admit not only that it exists, but that it can be an actual burden on working Americans.

The White House, meanwhile, has started collecting compelling stories via Twitter from individual Americans of what an extra $40 per paycheck (the savings from the payroll tax for a family earning $50,000 a year) will mean to American families. You can follow and contribute your own story with the hashtag #40dollars.


Americans Stand Against Bigotry By Protesting Lowe's in Dearborn, MI

On December 17, PFAW Foundation helped organize a demonstration at Lowe’s near Dearborn, Michigan, to protest the home-improvement chain’s decision to pull advertising from the TLC show “All American Muslim” due to pressure from the far-right Florida Family Association. Over 200 interfaith supporters of diversity, inclusion and liberty attended the event. Speakers included Reverend Charles Williams, a member of PFAW Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council, PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network member and State Representative Rashida Tlaib, and other interfaith religious leaders.

Protest after Lowes Pulls Ads from "All American Muslim":


Mitt Romney, Still a Man of the Corporations

In an ad earlier this month, Mitt Romney accused President Obama of failing to create any job during his stints as a community organizer and law professor. Romney, the ad claims, “created thousands of jobs” in his career at the private equity firm Bain Capital.

The picture, of course, is murkier. As the New York Times and others have found, the corporate takeovers that Romney oversaw in his role at Bain Capital often created great amounts of wealth for investors while resulting in the large numbers of layoffs. In one takeover the Times examined, Romney’s handiwork led a company’s sales to double while it transferred thousands of jobs overseas. In another, investigated by the Los Angeles Times, Bain partners raked in about $50 million from a company that soon went bankrupt, costing 700 people their jobs.

One of Romney’s colleagues during this time told the LA Times, "I never thought of what I do for a living as job creation. The primary goal of private equity is to create wealth for your investors."

It turns out that Romney (who once joked that he was “unemployed” on the campaign trail) is still reaping some pretty sweet benefits from Bain’s work restructuring companies. A new report from the New York Times finds that when Romney left Bain in 1999, he cut a deal to continue receiving “share of some of Bain’s profits”:

While Bain’s deals typically yielded enormous profits for its investors and partners, several have led to serious financial problems — and sizable layoffs — at companies it acquired.

The 2000 purchase of KB Toys, then one of the country’s largest toy retailers, became one of the most contentious.

As in most Bain deals, the partnership put up a small fraction of the money — in this case $18 million — and borrowed the rest of the $302 million purchase price. Just 16 months later, the toy company borrowed more to pay Bain and its investors an $85 million dividend.

That gave Mr. Romney and the other partners a quick 370 percent return on their money. But it also left the toy company with a heavy debt burden. Before long, the company began closing stores around the country and laid off 3,400 workers. It filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004.

Two more recent deals have also led to spiraling debt loads and layoffs. Since Bain and another private equity firm led a buyout in 2008 of Clear Channel Communications, the company has struggled under nearly $20 billion in debt and has cut 2,500 jobs.

Sensata Technologies, a European company that makes sensors and controls used by the auto and aerospace industries, prospered after a Bain-led buyout in 2006, but the firm also laid off several hundred American workers. Most of the jobs were moved overseas, and the federal Labor Department spent at least $780,000 to retrain some people who lost their jobs.

In itself, there’s no problem with Romney receiving investment income from his old company. But he is running ads claiming that he is a job creator, even as he brings in income from deals that may result in massive layoffs. And he’s claiming to be a champion of the middle class while pushing a tax policy that benefits people like him who bring in millions of dollars a year in investment income at the expense of those working paycheck to paycheck.

This summer, Romney defended massive corporate tax breaks, insisting, “Corporations are people.” He, apparently, is one of those people.

See the ad we ran in New Hampshire, highlighting his remark:



Gingrich Shreds the Constitution a Little Bit More

Newt Gingrich put in a remarkable appearance on Face the Nation this weekend. In an interview with Bob Schieffer, the candidate extrapolated on his plan to scrap the constitutional separation of powers in favor of a state where federal judges are routinely intimidated and ignored by Congress and the president.

To summarize, Gingrich’s plan is to allow Congress to order U.S. Marshals to drag judges whose opinions they disagree with before them, and to allow the president to simply ignore court rulings he disagrees with. Here’s a key exchange:

Schieffer: Alright here's another one, this is now. Next year the Supreme Court is going to take up Obama's healthcare proposal. What if they throw it out? Can President Obama then say I'm sorry boys, I'm just going to go ahead and implement it. Could he do that?

Gingrich: The key question is, what would the congress then do? Because there are three branches...

Schieffer: But could he do that?

Gingrich: He could try to do that. And the congress would then cut him off. Here's the key -- it's always two out of three. If the president and the congress say the court is wrong, in the end the court would lose. If the congress and the court say the president is wrong, in the end the president would lose. And if the president and the court agreed, the congress loses. The founding fathers designed the constitution very specifically in a Montesquieu spirit of the laws to have a balance of power not to have a dictatorship by any one of the three branches.

Of course, Republican attorneys general took the Affordable Care Act to the courts precisely because Congress and the president had agreed on it, and the courts were their last resort in the effort to stop the law from taking full effect. That’s how the system is supposed to work. But instead, what Gingrich is advocating is what Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic calls the “Rock, Paper, Scissors Constitution” – where, instead of the careful checks and balances envisioned by the founders, you have a system where two branches of government can always team up to crush the third. The courts have always been an important check on the power of the majority. Gingrich, it seems, couldn’t care less.

People For the American Way senior fellow Jamie Raskin has a new piece in the Huffington post discussing Gingrich’s deeply troubling plans for the judicial branch, and why Mitt Romney may not be much better for the courts. You can read it here.


Whose Opinion of the Courts Matters to the GOP?

During last night's GOP presidential debate, Newt Gingrich perhaps unintentionally but perfectly encapsulated his party's distorted vision of the role of the judiciary in our constitutional structure. It came when Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly asked the candidates whether Congress should eliminate courts that issue decisions it does not approve or. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, a key part of the exchange went as follows:

GINGRICH: Sure. I'd ask, first of all, have they studied Jefferson, who in 1802 abolished 18 out of 35 federal judges? Eighteen out of 35 were abolished.

KELLY: Something that was highly criticized.

GINGRICH: Not by anybody in power in 1802. [emphasis added]

Putting aside the question of historical accuracy, note that Gingrich did not say "not by anyone in 1802." He was careful to limit the people whose criticism he deemed relevant to those who were in power in 1802.

One reason we have courts is to prevent those in power from using their official authority to harm those out of power – the tyranny of the majority. If the majority uses their control of government to pass laws harmful to minorities, you don't expect them to criticize their own actions. The criticism would come from those out of power who are their victims – the same people who courts are intended to protect.

That no other candidate found Gingrich's limited framing objectionable says volumes about their dangerously distorted vision of the role of courts in our society.


Mitt Romney is Right

There was one remark in last night’s GOP debate that we here at PFAW whole-heartedly agreed with. Asked about his view on judicial appointments, Mitt Romney said:

Let me note that the key thing I think the president is going to do, is going to be with the longest legacy. It's going to be appointing Supreme Court and justices throughout the judicial system. As many as half the justices in the next four years are going to be appointed by the next president.

Judicial nominees will indeed be the most lasting legacy of the next president. And that’s why we can’t afford to hand over those decisions to Mitt Romney.

At last night’s debate, Romney joined his fellow candidates in praising Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court’s ultra-conservative base. Under these justices, the Court has moved farther to the right than it has in decades, consistently privileging big corporations over individual Americans. When Romney declared this summer that “corporations are people, my friend,” he was summarizing, and approving of, the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

But it’s not just that Romney wants more Alitos and Thomases on the Supreme Court. Romney sent a signal that he would move the federal courts even farther to the right than they are today when he took on Robert Bork as his campaign’s chief legal advisor. Bork’s conservativism is so extreme that a bipartisan majority of the Senate rejected him for the Supreme Court in 1987. He was against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He thought it was just fine to criminalize homosexuality. He was a professed fan of censorship. And since then, he has become even more extreme in his defense of corporate power and dismissal of individual rights. But not, apparently, too extreme for Mitt Romney.

Romney is absolutely right that appointing judges will be “the key thing” the next president will do. And it’s exactly the reason why he shouldn’t be president.


Video: Peter Montgomery on the Marriage of the Religious Right and the Corporate Right

The Al Jazeera program Fault Lines takes an in-depth look this week at the increasingly close relationship between the Religious Right and the Corporate Right, and how it’s playing out in the Republican presidential race in Iowa.

Among those interviewed are former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Michelle Bachmann’s Iowa co-chair Tamara Scott, Cornerstone Church pastor Cary Gordon….and People For the American Way’s own Peter Montgomery.

Peter concludes:

Over the past few decades, the Religious Right won the fight to turn the Republican Party into an anti-abortion, anti-choice party. They won that. They have won the fight to turn the party almost entirely into an anti-gay party. They are winning the fight to turn the party into an anti-environmental party, an anti-regulatory party. And now they are winning the fight to make it an anti-tax party: no tax increases no matter what, no matter how dire the economic situation the country’s in. It’s the corporate agenda pretty much whole-hog.

Watch it above.


On Judges, Murkowski Stands Alone Within Her Party

Since President Obama took office, Senate Republicans have used every weapon in their arsenal to slow down or prevent altogether confirmation of his judicial nominees. With partisan obstruction as their lodestar, they have abandoned the principles they professed to have when they were pushing for rapid confirmation of President Bush’s nominees.

But one Republican stands out as an exception: Senator Lisa Murkowski.

When it came time to break the outrageous filibuster of Goodwin Liu, Senator Murkowski was the lone Republican not to salute and obey when her party leadership pushed her to vote against cloture. Last week, she again stood alone among her party and voted to end the partisan filibuster of Caitlin Halligan.

We thank Senator Murkowski for standing on principle.

Today, Sen. Murkowski’s efforts to end the obstruction of a highly qualified Alaskan nominee to the Ninth Circuit are bearing fruit. Morgan Christen’s nomination has had the strong, bipartisan backing of both Sen. Murkowski and Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. The workload in that part of the Ninth Circuit has become so bad as to be officially declared a judicial emergency. Late summer, Christen’s nomination was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Christen should have received a floor vote expeditiously, and that is what Sen. Murkowski requested. Unfortunately, Republican leadership put partisanship against President Obama over all other factors and prevented a floor vote for over three months, until today. This afternoon, to no one’s surprise, she was confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support (the vote was 95-3).

We often disagree with Sen. Murkowski on issues and expect to do so in the future. But when it comes to President Obama’s judicial nominees, we agree. Sen. Murkowski’s lonely stands for principle over party deserve praise.


Justice Department Charges Anti-Immigrant Hero Joe Arpaio with Long List of Civil Rights Violations

Sheriff Joe Arpaio is something of a hero to the anti-immigrant Right. He was one of the most outspoken proponents of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law last year, in a large part because he had already been using the racial profiling tactics it authorized for years. He delighted in punishing prisoners –including protestors of his tactics – by making them wear pink underwear, a practice he commemorated last month by giving Sarah Palin her very own pair. He briefly had his own reality TV show. He was courted by the Tea Party. GOP presidential candidates, including Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain vied for his endorsement, which he ultimately gave to Rick Perry before joining the candidate on the campaign trail.

Arpaio’s reckless flair for self-promotion and disregard for civil rights have been well-known for as long as he has had national fame. But today, the Justice Department released a long and scathing report detailing the Sheriff’s record of civil rights violations, including his discrimination against Latinos and non-English speakers, “excessive use of force” and “unlawful retaliation against individuals exercising their First Amendment right to criticize MCSO’s policies or practices.”

The AP outlines some of the most shocking allegations in the report:

The civil rights report said Latinos are four to nine times more likely to be stopped in traffic stops in Maricopa County than non-Latinos and that the agency's immigration policies treat Latinos as if they are all in the country illegally. Deputies on the immigrant-smuggling squad stop and arrest Latino drivers without good cause, the investigation found.

A review done as part of the investigation found that 20 percent of traffic reports handled by Arpaio's immigrant-smuggling squad from March 2006 to March 2009 were stops - almost all involving Latino drivers - that were done without reasonable suspicion. The squad's stops rarely led to smuggling arrests.

Deputies are encouraged to make high-volume traffic stops in targeted locations. There were Latinos who were in the U.S. legally who were arrested or detained without cause during the sweeps, according to the report.

During the sweeps, deputies flood an area of a city - in some cases, heavily Latino areas - over several days to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders. Illegal immigrants accounted for 57 percent of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted by his office since January 2008, according to figures provided by Arpaio's office.

Police supervisors, including at least one smuggling-squad supervisor, often used county accounts to send emails that demeaned Latinos to fellow sheriff's managers, deputies and volunteers in the sheriff's posse. One such email had a photo of a mock driver's license for a fictional state called "Mexifornia."

The report said that the sheriff's office launched an immigration operation two weeks after the sheriff received a letter in August 2009 letter about a person's dismay over employees of a McDonald's in the Phoenix suburb of Sun City who didn't speak English. The tip laid out no criminal allegations. The sheriff wrote back to thank the writer "for the info," said he would look into it and forwarded it to a top aide with a note of "for our operation."

Federal investigators focused heavily on the language barriers in Arpaio's jails.

Latino inmates with limited English skills were punished for failing to understand commands in English by being put in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day or keeping prisoners locked down in their jail pods for as long as 72 hours without a trip to the canteen area or making nonlegal phone calls.

The report said some jail officers used racial slurs for Latinos when talking among themselves and speaking to inmates.

Detention officers refused to accept forms requesting basic daily services and reporting mistreatment when the documents were completed in Spanish and pressured Latinos with limited English skills to sign forms that implicate their legal rights without language assistance.

The agency pressures Latinos with limited English skills to sign forms by yelling at them and keeping them in uncomfortably cold cells for long periods of time.

These allegations are disturbing enough in themselves. But what’s even more troubling is that the person behind them has been not only held up as a hero by the Right, but has served as an inspiration for immigration legislation around the country. In a report last year, we examined the ways the anti-immigrant Right has worked to dehumanize immigrants in order “to inflame anti-immigrant sentiment and build political opposition to comprehensive immigration reform.” It should come as no surprise that Sheriff Joe is the movement’s figurehead.


Holder: Protecting Voting Rights a ‘Moral Imperative’

In a groundbreaking speech last night, Attorney General Eric Holder promised that the Obama administration would fight back against attacks on voting rights – whether they’re launched by individuals committing voter intimidation or state governments suppressing the vote through restrictive and discriminatory laws.

Holder said the administration would fight for voting rights on three levels: prosecuting voter intimidation, ensuring that state redistricting efforts are not discriminatory; and urging lawmakers to reform election laws “in ways that encourage, not limit, participation.”

A People For the American Way Foundation report in October examined the proliferation of right-wing attacks on voting rights, from restrictive Voter ID laws to illegal but hard to trace deception campaigns.

Holder addressed the efforts of dozens of states to make voter registration more difficult, saying:

As concerns about the protection of this right and the integrity of our election systems become an increasingly prominent part of our national dialogue – we must consider some important questions. It is time to ask: what kind of nation – and what kind of people – do we want to be? Are we willing to allow this era – our era – to be remembered as the age when our nation’s proud tradition of expanding the franchise ended? Are we willing to allow this time – our time – to be recorded in history as the age when the long-held belief that, in this country, every citizen has the chance – and the right – to help shape their government, became a relic of our past, instead of a guidepost for our future?

For me – and for our nation’s Department of Justice – the answers are clear. We need election systems that are free from fraud, discrimination, and partisan influence – and that are more, not less, accessible to the citizens of this country.

Today, Senators Ben Cardin and Charles Schumer introduced legislation that would impose tough penalties on those who create and distribute deceptive information about voting and elections. PFAW Foundation’s Andrew Gillum responded:

Right-wing politicians and talking heads have aggressively pushed the myth that ‘voter fraud’ is a great threat to the sanctity of our elections. However, the evidence shows that the real threat to our democracy comes from laws that discourage whole communities of people from voting and from devious voter suppression practices like those that took place in Maryland last year. We must fight suppressive laws, like Voter ID requirements, at the legislative level. Deceptive practices can, and should, be combated by law enforcement. This bill takes an important step toward ensuring that all Americans are free to exercise their right to vote without intimidation and harassment.


Ornstein: Senate GOP Causing "Damage to the Vital Interests of the United States"

The latest condemnation of the Senate GOP's dangerous obstruction against executive and judicial nominees comes from Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. In a column published in Roll Call, Ornstein blasted Senate Republicans for the damage they are doing to our country.

Last week, Republicans blocked a vote on the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, setting a new standard for nominees to that court that will be virtually impossible for any president of either party to meet. Just two days later, they blocked a confirmation vote for Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, admitting that they did so not because of any problems with him but because they do not like the law creating that Bureau. Next, two days ago, Senate Democrats tried to overcome Republicans' obstruction of ambassadorial nominees, with mixed results. Ornstein writes:

The good news on Monday was that the Senate, in a show of broad bipartisan support, confirmed Norm Eisen to be the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.

Eisen had been in the post for the past year on a recess appointment, and by all accounts, Czech and American, had been doing an exemplary job protecting and advancing American interests and values in a country that is a critical ally to the United States and an important commercial and trading partner. Why the recess appointment? Because Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) decided well over a year ago that Eisen, while serving in the White House, had not been truthful to the Senator's staff over his role in the dismissal of the inspector general of AmeriCorps. Never mind that a voluminous record showed that Eisen had not dissembled, that the entire board of AmeriCorps, left to right, Democrats and Republicans, supported the dismissal, and the actions were upheld in two federal courts. Grassley would not budge.

Senate Democrats filed a successful cloture petition and Eisen was confirmed by voice vote. But the obstruction continued with a politically motivated filibuster of Mari Carmen Aponte to be ambassador to El Salvador. Aponte is now serving under a recess appointment, which expires at the end of the month.

The ostensible reason to oppose her? Decades ago Aponte had a boyfriend who might have had ties to Fidel Castro's government. Never mind that Senators had access to her FBI file — and that she has had a succession of top-secret clearances after exhaustive security checks. Aponte did not fare well — she fell 11 votes shy of the 60 needed once again to overcome cloture.

In a different world — i.e., the world the United States knew from 1789 until a few years ago — her 49-37 margin would have meant a comfortable confirmation. No more. Filibusters used to be rare events for bills, rarer for executive confirmations, rarer still for judicial nominations. Now they are more than routine; they are becoming the norm. Holds were not as rare, but the use of holds to block multiple nominees for not weeks or months but years or until death, were not typical; now they are the standard.

Citing other ongoing examples of Republican senators sabotaging ambassadorial nominations to countries key to U.S. security, Ornstein sums up the situation:

This goes beyond partisan polarization to damage to the fabric of governance and worse — to damage to the vital interests of the United States. ...

[S]hame on a Senate which went from blocking a well-qualified nominee for an appeals court judgeship via filibuster to blocking a superbly qualified nominee for the consumer bureau, to yet another in a series of ambassadors stymied via holds and filibusters. This is no way to govern.


Corporate Investment of Choice: Political Influence

It turns out that many major U.S. corporations do spend a great deal of money on government – but not on taxes. Rather, they pay lobbyists to garner favorable government. According to a recent report in the International Business Times, at least 30 multi-million dollar American corporations spent more money lobbying Congress than in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010.

Corporate behemoths such as General Electric, Verizon Communications and Wells Fargo managed reap huge profits and actually receive tax rebates, while shelling out huge sums to influence politicians. The article was based on staggering findings by Public Campaign: The 30 corporations studied racked up $164 billion in profits and received $11 billion in tax rebates – a feat made possible with the help of $22 million spent on federal campaigns and much, much more on lobbying – over the two year period, all while laying off employees and increasing executive compensation at a time of stagnant middle class wages.

It’s hardly a surprise that corporations are investing so much in political influence, judging by the tax loopholes they’ve created and enjoyed. But it’s clear that these policies don’t serve the American people. Because corporations don’t have to disclose their political donations, shareholders are all too often put in the position of indirectly contributing to political campaigns they may not wish to support. Most shareholders would prefer their investments to go towards strengthening the company and the economy, but according to the report’s co-author, Matthew Gardner, corporations “are so busy avoiding taxes, it’s no wonder they’re not creating any new jobs.”

The time has come to demand accountability and fair treatment of corporations. This begins with stopping the undue influence they enjoy due to their ability to spend endlessly on lobbying, a luxury that everyday Americans simply do not have. Shareholders can demand that their investments go towards developing better products instead of to political contributions by supporting the Shareholder Protection Act. The harm caused by extensive corporate influence in the political system is clear, and we need to act now to restore the balance of power to the people.