PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Arizona Senate Defeats Extremist Anti-Immigrant Laws

Arizona’s state Senate yesterday defeated five extreme anti-immigrant bills, including two aimed at provoking the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the constitutional definition of citizenship, and three more that would have required hospitals, schools, public housing administrators, and DMV officials to become immigration enforcers:

One of the rejected bills would have required hospitals to contact federal immigration officials or local law enforcement if people being treated lack insurance and can't demonstrate legal status.

Critics said that would burden hospitals, but Republican Sen. Steve Smith of Maricopa said his bill didn't require much.

"Maybe you forgot it's illegal to be in this country illegally," he said during the vote on his bill. "We just ask them to report the crime, not be the judge and executioner."

Also defeated was a bill to require schools to file reports on enrollments of illegal immigrant students.

The fifth bill was a sweeping measure sponsored by Pearce. It would have made it a crime for illegal immigrants to drive in Arizona. It also had provisions on registering vehicles, workplace hiring and various public benefits.

It would ban illegal immigrants from attending Arizona's public universities and community colleges. The state does not now have a ban but it does require illegal immigrants to pay higher, non-resident tuition rates.

Pearce's bill also would have required eviction of public housing tenants who let illegal immigrants live with them and make applicants for vehicle titles and registration prove they are in the country legally.

Arizona has in recent months led the way in extremist anti-immigrant measures, including passing last year’s SB 1070, which would have required racial profiling by state police. Parts of that bill were temporarily blocked by a judge as the bill is appealed.


That these five bills couldn’t make it through the Arizona Senate shows the power of the backlash against such harsh—and possibly illegal—measures.
 

PFAW

Encouraged by Citizens United, Right-Wing Groups Demand Even More Corporate Influence in Politics

While the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United overturned decades of precedent by granting corporations the right to spend money from their corporate treasuries to help elect or defeat candidates, many pro-corporate activists believe that the ruling didn’t go far enough and seek to eviscerate even more restrictions on corporate money in elections. Opponents of campaign finance reform are spearheading efforts to allow corporations to contribute directly to candidates for office, permit political groups to keep the identity of their donors a secret, and loosen restrictions on foreigners contributing to candidates. The Supreme Court is also set to consider a major case on the constitutionality of Arizona’s clean elections laws that provide public financing for qualifying candidates. Politico reports on the Right’s “sustained assault” on campaign laws:

Not satisfied by the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates to corporate-sponsored election ads, conservative opponents of campaign finance regulations have opened up a series of new legal fronts in their effort to eliminate the remaining laws restricting the flow of money into politics.

They have taken to Congress, state legislatures and the lower courts to target almost every type of regulation on the books: disclosure requirements, bans on foreign and corporate contributions and – in a pair of cases the Supreme Court will consider this month – party spending limits and public financing of campaigns.

The sustained assault, combined with the Supreme Court’s rightward tilt on the issue, has some advocates for reducing the role of money in politics fretting about the possibility of an irreversible shift in the way campaigns are regulated and funded that would favor Republicans and corporate interests in the 2012 presidential race and beyond.



“Depending on its scope, an adverse ruling from the high court could undermine public financing systems across the country and increase still further the grossly disproportionate voice given to corporations and unions in our elections,” warns a memo by Gerry Hebert and Tara Malloy, lawyers at the pro-regulation Campaign Legal Center, which filed a brief defending the Arizona law.

“Just a year after the controversial decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the Court is once again poised to issue a ruling that could make it harder for ordinary citizens to compete with big money in our democracy,” their memo predicted.

Opponents of campaign rules argue that removing restrictions allows more voices to compete in the political marketplace. And they have a slew of other suits pending that could dramatically alter the political money landscape, including one challenging a rule that limited how much the Republican National Committee could spend supporting the unsuccessful 2010 reelection campaign of former Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.).

The Supreme Court is set to decide on Friday whether to hear the case which is being handled by Jim Bopp, a Republican lawyer and leading opponent of campaign restrictions. The impact of the Cao case “could be real big,” if the court overturns the so-called coordination limits at issue, predicted Bopp, who has dozens of cases pending in courts around the country.

One seeks to advance the Citizens United ruling by challenging an Iowa law banning direct corporate contributions to state candidates, while a pair of others dispute whether non-profit groups called the Committee for Truth in Politics and The Real Truth About Obama that aired ads critical of then-candidate Barack Obama had to disclose their donors or activity.
PFAW

Health Care Providers Fear GOP Plans to Defund Planned Parenthood

As congressional Republicans attempt to pass measures to end funding to Planned Parenthood and the Title X program, health care providers fear the devastating consequences for women and health care services. The Hartford Courant reports that Republican legislation could force Planned Parenthood to shut down many of the organization’s clinics. Far-right groups like the Family Research Council say that “there are plenty of other clinics out there to take up the slack,” but health care providers don’t buy the misinformed rhetoric of groups like the FRC, and worry about the GOP’s attack on women’s health care:

"I can't even imagine what would happen if Planned Parenthood's patient base would suddenly have to be absorbed here or at other clinics," said Dr. Peter J. Beller, the director of Hartford Hospital's Women's Ambulatory Health Services.



"Defunding Planned Parenthood would be the moral equivalent of turning off the electricity and a whole segment of health care would go dark," said Mark Masselli, the president of Community Health Center Inc., which serves a population of about 130,000 uninsured and working poor patients in 12 cities throughout the state.

"Many women in the state would just go without vital reproductive health services," Masselli said. "This is what people just don't seem to understand. There just is no other capacity in Connecticut for what Planned Parenthood provides."



The state's new health commissioner, Dr. Jewel Mullen, cites another reason for opposing defunding. In February, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report showing that the national birth rate for teens was dropping dramatically, with Connecticut registering the fourth-lowest teen birth rate in the country.

Mullen said Planned Parenthood's birth-control services — especially to the urban poor — have played an important role in lowering the teen birth rate.

"Statistics show that as few as one-third of teen mothers finish high school," Mullen said. "Less than 2 percent finish college. That has huge social and economic costs. You can't be very optimistic about the outcome for this group if they don't have access to basic reproductive services."
PFAW

Solidarity Rally Challenges GOP’s Corporate Backers

Yesterday, hundreds of people turned out to protest a DC fundraiser held to reward Wisconsin Republicans who voted for anti-union legislation. Activists brought the demonstration to the front door of the BGR Group, a lobbyist firm founded by Mississippi Governor and potential 2012 candidate Haley Barbour, which hosted the lavish fundraiser. The BGR Group’s clients include several Chamber of Commerce affiliates, DuPont, and WE Energies, a major donor to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

PFAW joined a wide coalition to send a message to the Wisconsin Republicans and their corporate financers that Wisconsinites and most Americans oppose union-busting:


PFAW

Hundreds Turn Out at Rally to Support Wisconsin's Working Families

People For the American Way joined a coalition of progressive and labor organizations protesting a high-dollar fundraiser for Wisconsin Republican legislators in Washington D.C. today. After the Republicans pushed through extreme legislation to take away the rights of Wisconsin workers, they came to D.C. for high-dollar fundraiser hosted by a major corporate lobbyist firm, the BGR Group. To show solidarity with the people of Wisconsin, PFAW and activists from around Washington came to the BGR Group’s headquarters for a massive demonstration against union-busting and the GOP’s pro-corporate agenda.


Here are a few pictures from the protest. You can see more on our Facebook page.


PFAW

School Voucher Hypocrisy

In the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes the Speaker of the House to task on his hypocrisy in supporting the slashing of vitally important programs while setting some funds aside for a pet project of his in the District of Columbia.

Let me get this straight. As far as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is concerned, the United States government is "broke," which means we can't afford to pay for key domestic priorities, even if we want to.

Boehner, however, is also convinced that we have federal funds lying around to pay for private school tuition. …

[He] wants U.S. taxpayers to spend $20 million for private school tuition in D.C. over the next five years.

Maybe this is just an extension of Boehner's deep and abiding passion for looking out for struggling children? I have a strong hunch that's not it. After all, the Speaker's budget plan calls for devastating cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, among other things.

If Boehner were motivated solely by a desire to help children and students, these cuts would be off the table. Instead, they remain near the top of the GOP to-do list.

So what's really going on here? It's simply a matter of priorities. Boehner supports brutal spending cuts for most domestic priorities, but he loves vouchers, especially those that benefit Roman Catholic private schools and undermine public education (which his party is growing increasingly hostile towards).

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program certainly does help religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. In other words, the program funnels taxpayer money into religious organizations. In addition to the many other arguments against school vouchers, this program raises significant First Amendment concerns.

Does the Speaker support the program because he thinks it helps students achieve academically? In fact, neutral analyses of the program demonstrate clearly that it simply has not significantly improved the educational attainment of the enrolled students. The Department of Education has concluded that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same for students who applied from schools in need of improvement.

Does the Speaker think that the people of DC want this voucher program? In fact, the city’s mayor opposes it, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and numerous members of the DC Council. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.

So why support a program that the locals don’t want and that the local population’s elected officials have asked you not to impose on them?

Throughout America and within Congress, there are ideologues seeking to privatize education as part of a larger push to privatize a wide swath of core government functions. Other ideologues chafe against the restrictions on government-funded religion that the Founders wisely placed in the First Amendment. So-called “opportunity scholarships” are an opportunity for them, but not for students.

People For the American Way opposes the Speaker’s bill, H.R. 471. It has been passed by committee, and a floor vote is expected near the end of March.

PFAW

Help “Welcome” the Wisconsin GOP to DC this Afternoon!

A bunch of us from the PFAW office will be heading downtown this afternoon to show our support for Wisconsin’s workers, and to tell the state’s GOP legislators what we think of their union busting—in person. Join us! Here’s some info about the rally, in front of the Republican lobbying firm BGR:

Angry about the Republican shenanigans in Wisconsin? Well, now you have the chance to let them know in person!

TODAY (Wednesday), at 5pm, labor, environmental, consumer and civil rights groups will gather for a protest outside a corporate lobbyist fundraiser being held for Wisconsin Republican state and federal lawmakers by the Washington, D.C.-based firm BGR Group.

Please join us there!

What: Protest/speakers outside Wisconsin Republican fundraiser

When: Wednesday, March 16th at 5:00 p.m.

Where: 601 13th Street NW, Washington, D.C.

Last week, Wisconsin Republicans stripped middle class workers of their basic rights under the guise of fixing their state's budget. This week, they are in Washington to receive campaign donations from corporate lobbyists and donors. Wisconsin state Republican lawmakers, including the Senate and House leaders, are expected to attend. Wisconsin's federal delegation was also invited. BGR clients include foreign corporations and governments, health insurers, energy companies and others.

The fundraiser starts at 5:30, so we want to make sure we amass our numbers by 5 and catch some of the legislators on their way in. The event is rain or shine, so please be prepared to take your umbrella if needed.

Hope to see you there!
 

PFAW

Government Shutdown Would Close Courts, with “Dire Consequences”

As if the current judicial vacancy crisis wasn’t enough, now a group of federal judges is warning that a government shutdown over budget issues could lead to courts closing, accused criminals going free, and Americans waiting even longer for access to justice. Judge David Sentelle, chairman of the 27-member Executive Committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference, told reporters that a government shutdown could have “potentially dire consequences” for the courts:

Federal judges would still get paid because under the Constitution, judges’ pay cannot be decreased, Sentelle said. But no other federal employees in the courthouses, like clerks, stenographers, bailiffs and security guards, would get paychecks, making it difficult if not impossible to hear cases, he said.

Also, jury trials would have to end because there would be no money to pay jurors to compensate for them missing work, he said.

If the government shuts down, Sentelle said they would ask essential personnel to work anyway and get their money after a budget is approved. “We’ve been there before and it’s not something you want to ask your employees to do,” Sentelle said.

Without personnel to hear cases, some suspected criminals could be released from prison because their case was not heard before a judge within a required deadline.

A government shutdown would be a one-two punch to the federal courts, which are already severely hampered by a vacancy crisis caused by politically motivated gridlock in the Senate confirmation process. As of March 8, there were almost 100 seats open on the federal bench, 41 of which have been declared “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Too often the courts are forced to be a pawn in political maneuvering in Washington—in this case, with “dire consequences” for ordinary Americans seeking justice.

PFAW

GOP Women Rally Behind Planned Parenthood

Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey and member of the George W. Bush administration, wrote an impassioned op-ed for a New Jersey newspaper today, calling attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and other family planning services “unacceptable”:

I know firsthand the value of Planned Parenthood health centers in providing preventive care to women. In rural areas, Planned Parenthood is often the only place to turn for vital health care needs as well as sex education, and in dense urban areas, Planned Parenthood provides these same services to women in disproportionately low income and underserved communities.

Every year, Planned Parenthood’s doctors and nurses provide more than 3 million women with preventive health care, including nearly one million lifesaving screenings for cervical cancer, 830,000 breast exams, contraception to nearly 2.5 million patients and nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Literally, they are a trusted health care provider to millions of women.

For those who oppose abortion, they should know that Planned Parenthood’s services prevent 973,000 unintended pregnancies and 406,000 abortions each year. Those are statistics that Republicans and Democrats should wholeheartedly embrace.

But the extreme proposals undermining both the National Family Planning Program and Planned Parenthood will have an adverse effect on those numbers. While defunding Planned Parenthood will do nothing to reduce the deficit or improve the economy, it will lead to an increase in unplanned pregnancies and abortions and result in escalating Medicaid costs.

Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have also been adamant about preserving federal funding for Planned Parenthood and similar organizations. Murkowski wrote to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee, ““I believe Planned Parenthood provides vital services to those in need and disagree with their funding cuts in the bill.” Collins’ spokesman told Politico that federal family planning funds have “successfully reduced the number of unplanned pregnancies, therefore helping to reduce health care costs.”

Meanwhile, social conservatives are continuing to lob at Planned Parenthood every attack they can muster. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, wrote an op-ed today arguing that the organization is somehow responsible for a hike in abortions and in STDs.

 

PFAW

James O’Keefe Discredited—Again

When will leaders in politics and the media stop believing right-wing smear artist James O’Keefe? Known for his “sting videos,” O’Keefe has been consistently discredited for his work against ACORN, CNN, a U.S. Senator, and now, NPR.

An analyst for The Blaze, a conservative website, found that the videos were heavily doctored and quoted the NPR executives out of context. Reflecting on the analysis, Politico’s Ben Smith said, “I regret having, even in what I thought was a cautious way, picked up the story”

This wasn’t the first time O’Keefe doctored videos, as he performed the same malicious editing in his “sting” of the civic group ACORN. A probe into the videos by California’s Attorney General found no criminal activity by ACORN employees and said O’Keefe’s videos reflect “highly selective editing of reality.” Later, O’Keefe was arrested and convicted for attempting to tamper with the phones of US Senator Mary Landrieu’s office and also was caught trying to humiliate a CNN reporter when one of his own coworkers called him out.

Currently, Republicans in Congress are trying to defund NPR and PBS, and leading Republicans quickly embraced O’Keefe’s undercover videos, which were deceptively edited to show NPR officials speaking critically of the Tea Party and conservatives.

US Senator Dick Durbin told the GOP to drop its plan to defund public broadcasting and stop using O’Keefe’s discredited videos as an excuse:

If the name James O' Keefe rings a bell with members of the United States Senate it should. Remember some of the other things he was caught doing?... Mr. O'Keefe is obviously not worried about breaking a law if he thinks he is going to come up with a sensational video. He was convicted in Louisiana as I mentioned earlier.

Not only should Republicans stop paying O’Keefe attention, but so should media personalities like Chris Wallace of Fox News who lauded the smear artist as “power player of the week.” But while O’Keefe may be able to win attention for himself, he continues to lose all credibility.

PFAW

The Strategy Behind the Maryland Marriage Bill Withdrawal

Advocates of equality were disappointed Friday when Maryland's pending marriage bill failed to pass the House of Delegates. It had already passed the Senate, in part because the vitriol of equality opponents had prompted one legislator to switch from opposing to supporting the bill. Unfortunately, advocates were unable to garner a majority of the House.

However, the bill was not defeated in a floor vote, but instead was "recommitted to committee." This is a critical distinction, one that allows advocates to introduce the bill again next year with a greater chance of success. Equality Maryland board member David Lublin explains the strategy on Maryland Politics Watch:

The House of Delegates agreed on a unanimous voice vote to recommit the bill to the House Judiciary Committee. This decision effectively kills the bill for the year. Many people naturally wonder why no vote was taken after all of the hard work that was done to advance the bill by so many people inside and outside of the legislature. Proponents agreed to this because they fell a few votes short of those needed to pass the bill on the floor of the House.

The argument for a vote is clear. People have a right to know where their legislators stand on such an important issue. Regardless of the outcome, it would have been the democratic process in action with delegates reflecting the will of their constituents and acting as our representatives.

On the other hand, proponents would have lost by a greater number than the closeness of the unofficial count because some "yes" votes would have become "no" votes. Legislators in marginal districts who might have been willing to stick their necks out to pass a meaningful piece of legislation would not do so if the legislation was going to fail.

Additionally, going forward, it is a lot harder to convert the votes of people who have cast a vote on the floor against marriage than it is to gain the votes of the undecided or who have said they oppose it but have yet to cast an actual vote on the topic. The thought behind not holding a vote is that it makes it easier to bring it up again next year and also does not demoralize opponents in other states. That was the thinking behind the decision to recommit.

Had the bill been defeated in a floor vote, then it would have been hard to reintroduce it successfully until after the next legislative elections, which are not until November 2014. But with the bill recommitted, advocates are freer to introduce it next year. In the meantime, they can spend the intervening months reaching out to legislators and the general population.

PFAW

Anti-Immigration Groups Push Green Wedge Strategy

PFAW’s Right Wing Watch in Focus report, “Previewing the Right-Wing Playbook on Immigration Reform,” identified nine strategies employed by right-wing pundits and politicians to demonize immigrants and derail comprehensive reform.  Among those strategies were to portray immigrants as criminals, invaders, and disease-carriers.   It’s time to add a new category: blaming immigrants for environmental degradation. 

At last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) distributed a beautifully photographed report decrying the declining health of the Chesapeake Bay, blaming the failure of clean-up efforts on immigration, and slamming environmental groups for not joining FAIR’s anti-immigrant crusade.

If you find it confusing that FAIR, whose political allies are among the most far-right members of Congress, is professing deep concern for the environment, there’s a simple explanation. FAIR and its anti-immigration allies believe that appealing to environmentalists concerned about the impact of sprawl and other growth-related issues can be an effective wedge issue to divide progressives.

For more about the blame-immigrants-for-environmental problems strategy, and a progressive response, see this article by People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery on Alternet

PFAW

Another View of the Judicial Vacancy Crisis

The Los Angeles Times today highlights the judicial vacancy crisis by spotlighting the senior judges who have already retired, but who are still needed to hear cases due to the lack of new judges being confirmed.

As federal courts stagger under the weight of mounting caseloads and vacant judgeships go unfilled for years, senior judges like [Betty] Fletcher have come to the rescue, especially in the 9th Circuit, where they shoulder a third of the legal load.

"It's kind of a double whammy," Fletcher said of the courts that have had no new judgeships added in 21 years and that have declining numbers of active judges because of partisan posturing in Congress. Nearly 11% of the nation's 875 lifetime positions are empty.

Senior judges, working overtime to keep the wheels of justice turning, earn the gratitude of their overwhelmed colleagues. But they do not earn a penny more for continuing to work, many of them almost full time, than they would if they were to hang up their robes and head for the golf course.

Of course, as another judge points out, the real victims of the Senate’s inaction on judicial nominees aren’t the judges themselves, but the ordinary people who need their cases to be heard.

"I feel a responsibility to the litigants," said [Judge Dorothy] Nelson, 82. "The courts are not for the judges, and they are not for the lawyers. They are for the people who have real grievances that need to be heard."

In recent weeks, the rate of confirmations in the Senate has risen slightly, but it’s still nowhere near fast enough.

Americans deserve a judicial system that works. Thanks to the obstruction and delay caused by Senate Republicans, that’s not what we’re getting.

PFAW

As Walker Signs Union Busting Bill, GOP Admits It’s All About Politics

Earlier today, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law a bill that strips public workers of their rights to collectively bargain after the Republican-controlled legislature rushed through the legislation. While Walker maintains that the bill is necessary to solve the budget crisis, it is becoming increasingly clear that the move was purely a power grab by the GOP and its pro-corporate allies.

As previously reported, Walker’s bill makes special exemptions for the two labor unions which endorsed his campaign for governor. The workers who were members of unions that supported his opponent, on the other hand, were the targets of the legislation. Moreover, despite claiming that they are simply trying to be fiscally responsible, Walker and his GOP allies backed massive corporate giveaways that expanded the deficit.

But now, Republican leaders in the state legislature are practically admitting that the bill was about partisan politics.

Republican State Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald told Fox News that the bill was passed in order to dramatically weaken the clout of unions who could support President Obama’s reelection campaign in the swing state: “If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.”

Randy Hopper, a Republican State Senator who could be recalled by voters this year, also said in an interview with Fox News, “I think there’s absolutely no question that this is an issue for 2012.”

As Republicans admit that the union-busting bill is all about punishing progressive groups and rewarding corporate backers, it is clear that the GOP’s rhetoric on “fiscal conservatism” should not be taken seriously.

PFAW

Congressmen Expose King Hearings for Undermining Law Enforcement and American Values

During Rep. Peter King's misguided King hearing on what he calls the " radicalization of Muslim American community," Republicans took time to speak about the purported threat of Sharia Law and myths about Muslim Americans' lack of cooperation with law enforcement officials. Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York was right on target when she called the hearings “political theater.” One by one Republican congressmen and their witnesses, none of whom were law enforcement officials, tried to defend the hearings despite ample evidence disproving their assumption that Muslim Americans are radical and dangerous. As Sheriff Lee Baca, a witness called by the Democrats, told the hearing, Muslim Americans consistently work with law enforcement and are far from the “enemy within” that the GOP represents.

Congresswoman Laura Richardson of California pointed to the clear connection between the King hearings’ use of scare tactics, false charges, and fear-mongering and Joseph McCarthy's ruthless investigations in the 1950s.

Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana, one of the two Muslims serving in Congress, discussed his own background in law enforcement and how by stigmatizing and marginalizing Muslim Americans, the GOP was undercutting cooperation between the community and law enforcement:

The two representatives exposed the King hearings as nothing more than a political stunt to ramp up the GOP’s drive to demonize Muslim Americans, while contributing nothing to law enforcement or national security.

PFAW