PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Name Your PAC

Americans for Prosperity. Americans for Job Security. Americans for New Leadership. Center for Individual Freedom. Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity.

These are just a few of the many feel-good names that adorned corporate-funded groups that spent millions to elect pro-corporate candidates in the 2010 elections.

Now, the Sunlight Foundation has created a tool to help you name your own corporate front-group PAC. Try it here:

And for more about some of the real groups that hid their pro-corporate intentions behind platitudes about the American Dream, check out our report: Citizens Blindsided: Secret Corporate Money in the 2010 Elections and America’s New Shadow Democracy.

Via NPR
 

PFAW

Action Alert: Keep making calls on the DREAM Act

The House vote on the DREAM Act is now expected next week. Please keep calling! 866-967-6018

To assist you in your call, here is the action alert from the National Immigration Forum.

The DREAM Act is moving closer to a vote in the House, and anti-immigrant Members of Congress are getting ready.  They are circulating their familiar talking points referring to the DREAM Act as a “mass amnesty,” and claiming that it would result in the “crowding out” of U.S. citizens from U.S. public universities.

We need you to call your representatives to push back on anti-immigrant falsehoods.

Please call your Representative TODAY.
  Use this number: 866-967-6018, and your call will be directed to the office of your Representative.  Ask your Representative to support a vote on the DREAM Act and to vote for passage of the Act.

Briefly, the DREAM Act would give legal status to immigrant youth who were brought here by their parents and who subsequently grew up here, went to school here and now want to go to college or serve in our military.  They are American in every way except their paperwork.

Why should your Representative support the DREAM Act?

•    Because the public supports it—70%, according to a recent poll by First Focus.

•    Because the military wants it.  Secretary of Defense Bill Gates recently wrote a letter to the DREAM Act’s sponsor in the Senate in support of the DREAM Act.  Retired Gen. Colin Powell has also spoken publicly in favor of the DREAM Act.  The DREAM Act will help the military meet recruitment goals, because one of the ways students will qualify is to serve in the military.

•    Because taxpayers deserve a return on their investment.  Allowing immigrant students to continue their education and achieve their potential will translate into better jobs and higher tax revenue when these promising young people enter the workforce.  A single-minded focus on enforcement, as proposed by anti-immigrant Members of Congress would deny taxpayers this return on investment, and result in higher deficits, cuts in other programs, or higher taxes to pay to deport these immigrant youth.

Call your Representative TODAY and ask him or her to support the DREAM Act.  Call 866-967-6018.

For more information, go here.

A vote is also looming in the Senate. Contact info for your Senators is available here.

PFAW

Democrats Eschew Republican Example and Follow the Constitution

This week, Americans get to see the difference between a party that respects the rule of law and one that holds it in contempt.

Earlier this week, Senate Democrats got a food safety bill passed - then discovered a procedural problem with constitutional implications: One section of the Senate bill would raise revenue, but the Constitution requires revenue bills to originate in the House. Now, in the face of Republican obstruction, Democratic leaders are working to figure out how to get the bill passed correctly before time runs out.

While the headlines are on the mistake, the main focus really should be on how Democratic leaders are responding appropriately to it - in stark contrast to how Republican leaders dealt with a similar foul-up in February 2006, when they controlled Congress. GOP leaders sent a bill for the president's signature that they knew had not passed the House.

The Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005 squeaked through the Senate after Vice President Cheney cast the tie-breaking vote. But when the bill was transmitted to the House, in a mistake that no one noticed at the time, one of the numbers in the bill text was changed, changing the rights of Medicare recipients and creating a $2 billion difference between the two bills. The House passed its version with a bare two-vote margin. Then Republican leaders discovered that the two chambers had voted on different bills, meaning that a basic constitutional requirement had not been met.

Having a revote would have been politically difficult. So, faced with a choice between their partisan political agenda and the United States Constitution, GOP leaders chose ... politics. They sent the Senate version to the White House for President Bush's signature, with the Republican Speaker's false certification that it had passed both chambers.

As the Washington Post reported at the time:

Once the mistake was revealed, Republican leaders were loath to fight the battle again by having another vote, so White House officials simply deemed the Senate version to be the law. ...

The issue would be solved if the House voted again, this time on the version that passed the Senate. But that would mark the third time House members would have to cast their votes on a politically difficult bill, containing cuts in many popular programs, and it would be that much closer to the November election.

The way the two parties handled similar situations speaks volumes about their commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law.

PFAW

On November 30, the Pentagon released its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell report, including:

 

•    Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"

•    Support Plan for Implementation.

•    WESTAT Survey Report: Support to the DOD Comprehensive Review Working Group Analyzing the Impact of Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

o    Volume 1: Findings From the Surveys
o    Volume 1: Appendices A - AL
o    Volume 2: Findings from the Qualitative Research Tasks

•    RAND Report 2010: Sexual Orientation and the U.S. Military Personnel Policy. An Update of RAND's 1993 Study

Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded the first of two days of hearings on the report. Perhaps most notable was Senator McCain’s performance. It appears his new “concern” is that Congress hasn’t been given enough time to review the issue. He objected to having been given only a few minutes with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

As you can see from the CQ Congressional Transcript, Senator McCain fails to recognize the Secretary’s scheduling conflict; obviously they can’t ask him questions if he’s not in the room. He fails to recognize that he hasn’t just had the 36 hours since the report’s release to review the issue; he’s had almost two years of the Obama Administration, debate during the presidential campaign before that, and a full 17 years since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’s original enactment. What exactly is Senator McCain waiting for?

One word: WikiLeaks.

Not one bit of connection to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell there. Yet, instead of using every second of his precious first round time with Secretary Gates, Senator McCain took time at the end to question the Secretary on the WikiLeaks controversy. And that wasn’t the last time you heard WikiLeaks mentioned today.

Serious? Yes.

Ripe for oversight? Yes.

Topic of today’s hearing? No.

But let’s not end on a sour note.

Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen (who were joined by the Honorable Jeh C. Johnson and General Carter F. Ham, USA, the co-chairs of the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group) were strong in their resolve for repeal.

Mullen -- who said he believes personally and professionally that repealing the law is the right thing to do -- said the repeal would be the only change the military services would experience as a result.

“Nothing will change about our standards of conduct,” the chairman said. “Nothing will change about the dignity and the fairness and the equality with which we treat our people. And nothing will change about the manner in which we deal with those who cannot abide by these standards.”

For some, Mullen told the senators, the debate on the issue is all about gray areas.

“There is no gray area here,” he said. “We treat each other with respect, or we find another place to work. Period.”

Well said, Admiral Mullen.

Tomorrow brings the testimony of the chiefs of the various armed services. If you’d like to watch, check out C-SPAN 3 or the Committee’s own webcast. An archive of today’s webcast is available here.

PFAW

Action Alert: A House vote on the DREAM Act is expected tomorrow morning

A House vote on the DREAM Act is expected tomorrow morning. Call 866-967-6018 now to be connected to your Representative.

To assist you in your call, here is the action alert from the National Immigration Forum.

The DREAM Act is moving closer to a vote in the House, and anti-immigrant Members of Congress are getting ready.  They are circulating their familiar talking points referring to the DREAM Act as a “mass amnesty,” and claiming that it would result in the “crowding out” of U.S. citizens from U.S. public universities.

We need you to call your representatives to push back on anti-immigrant falsehoods.

Please call your Representative TODAY.
  Use this number: 866-967-6018, and your call will be directed to the office of your Representative.  Ask your Representative to support a vote on the DREAM Act and to vote for passage of the Act.

Briefly, the DREAM Act would give legal status to immigrant youth who were brought here by their parents and who subsequently grew up here, went to school here and now want to go to college or serve in our military.  They are American in every way except their paperwork.

Why should your Representative support the DREAM Act?

•    Because the public supports it—70%, according to a recent poll by First Focus.

•    Because the military wants it.  Secretary of Defense Bill Gates recently wrote a letter to the DREAM Act’s sponsor in the Senate in support of the DREAM Act.  Retired Gen. Colin Powell has also spoken publicly in favor of the DREAM Act.  The DREAM Act will help the military meet recruitment goals, because one of the ways students will qualify is to serve in the military.

•    Because taxpayers deserve a return on their investment.  Allowing immigrant students to continue their education and achieve their potential will translate into better jobs and higher tax revenue when these promising young people enter the workforce.  A single-minded focus on enforcement, as proposed by anti-immigrant Members of Congress would deny taxpayers this return on investment, and result in higher deficits, cuts in other programs, or higher taxes to pay to deport these immigrant youth.

Call your Representative TODAY and ask him or her to support the DREAM Act.  Call 866-967-6018.

For more information, go here.

A vote is also looming in the Senate. Contact info for your Senators is available here.

PFAW

Illinois sends civil union bill to Governor Quinn

In a 61-52 vote on November 30, the Illinois House approved the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. The Senate followed suit on December 1 with a 32-24 vote. The bill would make civil unions available to Illinoisans as of July 1 of next year.

Equality Illinois celebrated the victory.

On that date, thousands of same-sex couples in Illinois will have access to protections that were previously denied to them, such as emergency medical decision-making, hospital visitation, inheritance rights, and others.  This is a historic moment for our State, and we would not have been able to get here without the extraordinary leadership of the bill's chief sponsors, State Representative Greg Harris and State Senator David Koehler.  Many of our partner organizations and community leaders devoted endless energy to helping pass this bill.  Clergy all around Illinois educated their congregations and even prayed for elected officials to understand the urgency of the protection that civil unions offers.  And our supporters from every corner of the State participated by contacting lawmakers, canvassing, phone banking, writing letters, and making contributions.  This is your victory too.

Governor Quinn has pledged to sign it into law.

Quinn has been an outspoken supporter of the bill, which was co-sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, one of two openly gay state legislators. During the recent election, Quinn gambled his political career on the legislation by vowing to pass it and sign it into law. He defeated state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, a staunch conservative, by less than 20,000 votes.

"It's always the right time to do the right thing,"; Quinn said paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr. during a press conference, when asked to address criticism that the state's large debt and high jobless rate should take precedence over social issues.

"My conscience is not kicking me in the shins today," he said. "I believe I did the right thing for the people of Illinois and all those who live in Illinois."

The action in Illinois is an important step forward in the fight for equitable relationship recognition. PFAW welcomes this step but notes that civil unions are no substitute for marriage. Marriage is a state institution recognized in every state, across state lines, and at the federal level. Civil unions are exclusively state-based. Like domestic partnerships, they provide some state benefits, but they are not portable from state-to-state, and they receive no federal recognition. In addition, the separate status of “civil unions” stigmatizes lesbian and gay families as unworthy of perhaps the most basic foundation of our society.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has produced maps that show the successes thus far and the challenges moving forward.

We have won the battle, but we have not yet won the war.

PFAW

Right Wing Escalates Drive to Censor and Investigate the Smithsonian

Even after successfully demanding that the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery censor part of its “Hide/Seek” exhibit, congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have continued their attacks on the Smithsonian. House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor joined right wing extremists like Bill Donohue and Glenn Beck to pressure the Smithsonian to remove a video by the late artist David Wojnarowicz in an exhibit on the ways art portrays homosexuality and AIDS.

Georgia Republican Jack Kingston, who is in the running to become chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, called for a Congressional investigation into the art at the Smithsonian with hopes to strip the museum of its funding, despite the fact that the exhibit was entirely funded by private donors. Speaking to Fox News, Kingston said that parts of the “pro-gay exhibit” are “really perverted” with “lots of really kinky and questionable kind of art.” Kingston went on to say that the Smithsonian “should be under the magnifying glass right now” and is “a waste of tax dollars, and during these hard budget times we can’t afford it.”

With the prospect of congressional investigations of art and the de-fuding of museums, critics of censorship are speaking out.

PFAW President Michael Keegan writes in his new Huffington Post Op-Ed that “the path from David Wojnarowicz's struggle with AIDS to the director of a Smithsonian museum announcing, ironically on World AIDS Day, that Wojnarowicz's artwork might spoil someone's Christmas, says a lot about American politics at the start of a new era of right-wing power.”

Blake Gopnik, the arts critic for the Washington Post, spoke out against the Right’s blatant attempts at censorship in a must-read Op-Ed for the Post. In his November 5th review of “Hide/Seek,” written well-before the Right cultivated the controversy, Gopnik in his description of a painting by Andrew Wyeth said that “it’s that censor-baiting force that clearly made it worth painting for Wyeth -- and worth looking at for all the rest of us.” Now, Gopnik is pushing back on the conservatives’ demands for censorship:

If every piece of art that offended some person or some group was removed from a museum, our museums might start looking empty - or would contain nothing more than pabulum. Goya's great nudes? Gone. The Inquisition called them porn.

Norman Rockwell would get the boot, too, if I believed in pulling everything that I'm offended by: I can't stand the view of America that he presents, which I feel insults a huge number of us non-mainstream folks. But I didn't call for the Smithsonian American Art Museum to pull the Rockwell show that runs through Jan. 2, just down the hall from "Hide/Seek." Rockwell and his admirers got to have their say, and his detractors, including me, got to rant about how much they hated his art. Censorship would have prevented that discussion, and that's why we don't allow it.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has said that taxpayer-funded museums should uphold "common standards of decency." But such "standards" don't exist, and shouldn't, in a pluralist society. My decency is your disgust, and one point of museums, and of contemporary art in general, is to test where lines get drawn and how we might want to rethink them. A great museum is a laboratory where ideas get tested, not a mausoleum full of dead thoughts and bromides.

In America no one group - and certainly no single religion - gets to declare what the rest of us should see and hear and think about. Aren't those kinds of declarations just what extremist imams get up to, in countries with less freedom?

Of course, it's pretty clear that this has almost nothing to do with religion. Eleven seconds of an ant-covered crucifix? Come on.



The attack is on gayness, and images of it, more than on sacrilege - even though, last I checked, many states are sanctioning gay love in marriage, and none continue to ban homosexuality.

And the Portrait Gallery has given into this attack.



Artists have the right to express themselves. Curators have the right to choose the expression they think matters most. And the rest of us have the right to see that expression, and judge those choices for ourselves.

If anyone's offended by any work in any museum, they have the easiest redress: They can vote with their feet, and avoid the art they don't like.
PFAW

With top leaders of the military and the majority of Americans all calling for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Right is desperately trying to find ways to maintain the ban on gays from serving openly.

After months of emphasizing the need to wait for the Pentagon’s comprehensive report on the impact of allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in the armed forces, now conservative opponents of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) have dismissed the report altogether. The Right’s rejection of the Pentagon study is not surprising since the report found that repealing DADT won’t have negative consequences on military effectiveness or cohesion, and that the vast majority of soldiers do not oppose its repeal. According to the report, “69 percent of respondents believe they have already served alongside a gay person” and among “those who believed that, 92 percent said their units were able to work together and 8 percent said the units functioned poorly as a result.”

But the support for repealing DADT by military leaders, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and most Americans can’t overcome the doggedly anti-gay and anti-equality views of many conservative politicians and groups. Instead of considering and evaluating the clear and unequivocal conclusions of the Pentagon study, defenders of DADT decided to target the report itself: rather than studying and assessing the impact on military cohesion and effectiveness, many Republicans say, the report should have been a referendum on the policy.

John McCain, the Senate GOP’s point person on opposition to repealing DADT, essentially asked for an unprecedented referendum to see if the policy should be repealed or not:

“How best are you going to assess the effect on morale and battle effectiveness and retention unless you consult and find out what the view of the troops is?” McCain said in a brief interview on Monday.



"It is not part of the working group's mandate to ask service members the broad question of whether they think DADT should be repealed, which, in effect, would amount to a referendum," Gates said in an October letter to McCain. "I do not believe that military policy decisions ... should be made through a referendum of service members."

McCain went on to attack Gates as a “political appointee who’s never been in the military,” even though Gates is a veteran of the US Air Force and also served in the CIA.

McCain’s support for what would effectively be a referendum also contradicts his previous claim that military leaders should be the ones deciding the future of DADT, telling Chris Matthews: “the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says ‘Senator we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.”

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham sent a similar message, saying that the troops should participate in a referendum on the policy decision:

Graham, who opposes repeal of the ban on gays in uniform, agreed with McCain that the survey “asked the wrong question” of the troops. “The question that needs to be asked of our military is: Do you support repeal? Not how do you repeal, how do you implement repeal,” Graham said.

The Family Research Council also rejected the report outright because it wasn’t a referendum on DADT in a statement:

“Media reports to the effect that a majority of servicemembers ‘would not have a problem’ with homosexuals in the military overlook the fact that the surveys did not ask whether respondents support repeal of the current law. If most servicemembers say that under a different policy, they would continue to attempt to do their job in a professional manner, that is only what we would expect. This does not mean that a new policy would not undermine the overall effectiveness of the force. And if even a small percentage of our armed forces would choose not to re-enlist, or part of the public would choose not to serve in the first place, the impact on the military would be catastrophic.”

Frank Gaffney of the right-wing Center for Security Policy also commented that asking service members’ opinions of serving with openly gay and lesbian members was not enough, and that they should have been polled on DADT itself:

The question occurs: How many of our servicemen and -women will decide they don't want to submit to a "zero-tolerance" enforcement of the new homosexual-friendly regulations that will be promulgated if the present statute proscribing LGBT service is repealed?

Don't expect an answer from the Pentagon "study" that will be released with much fanfare next week - after more than a fortnight of misleading leaks and pre-publication spin. After all, questions Congress expected to have answered about whether folks in uniform would support the law's repeal and, if it occurs, whether they would leave the military were not even asked. We can only infer the answers from questions that were asked, notably about how problematic implementation would be.

With little left to stand on, the Right’s new demand that the repeal of DADT be determined by a poll of the troops, rather than a decision by military and legislative leaders, only demonstrates the desperation of their attacks. Judging by their reaction to the comprehensive report, it is doubtful that they would even accept the results of a hypothetical and unprecedented poll of the troops if it doesn’t conform to their staunchly anti-gay beliefs.

PFAW

GOP Leaders Get Back to Basics: Art Censorship!

In case you were thinking it’s been too long since we’ve had some good, old fashioned censorship from Republican leaders, worry no longer.

House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Tuesday called for the dismantling of an exhibit in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery after they learned that it contains video of a Jesus statue with ants crawling on it, as well as works of art with strongly sexual themes.

Titled "Hide/Seek," the exhibit is slated to run from Oct. 30 to Feb. 13. The conservative website CNS News.com first alerted the two Republican leaders to its content.

Yes, instead of getting the economy back on track or trying to make sure families have access to quality health care, GOP leaders have decided to go after an 11 second clip in a 30 minute video in an exhibit not paid for with tax dollars.

But hey, maybe it was disruptive, designed purely to shock and offend. Maybe there were riots in the street of appalled arts patrons who were disgusted by what they saw.

Sullivan says the museum has heard from people all over the country, but no visitors who have seen the piece inside the exhibit have complained.

Or maybe the GOP isn’t just trying to inflame passions to score political points. Maybe they’re so convinced that taxpayer money shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near expressive content, because someone could be offended by the content. If that’s that case, they’ll probably be lining up to oppose this project.

Operators of the popular Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky are seeking state tax incentives to build a creationism theme park at a nearby site — a project that Gov. Steve Beshear officially will announce Wednesday.

Mike Zovath, senior vice president of the non-profit group Answers in Genesis, one of the partners in developing the park, said Kentucky officials have told him the proposal for state tourism-development incentives “looks good.”

Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?

So I guess it’s just a ploy to score political points by inflaming division and ignorance. Great. Glad we cleared that up.

PFAW

Opposition to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has ranged from subtle and outright homophobia to claims that the House, in passing repeal, was “dissing the troops.” Many Republican senators who voted to stop the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell from coming to a vote earlier this year said that they were uncomfortable with voting for or against repeal until the Pentagon completed its study of the policy.  The study, released today, finds that an overwhelming majority of both soldiers and their spouses had absolutely no problem with letting gay and lesbian soldiers serve openly. The report found that “69 percent — believed they had already worked with a gay man or woman, and of those the vast majority — 92 percent — reported that the unit’s ability to work together was very good, good or ‘neither good nor poor.’” The authors of the report, Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon’s chief counsel, and Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commander of the United States Army in Europe, even wrote that “we are both convinced that our military can do this, even during this time of war.”

Now that the Pentagon has conclusively found that unit cohesion and effectiveness won’t be jeopardized by a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it is important to remember the Republican senators who said Congress should wait for the report before an up or down vote on repealing DADT.

Mark Kirk (R-IL):

I think we should wait for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to report. This was actually the recommendation of Secretary Gates and the President, but Speaker Pelosi wanted to move forward anyway. The problem here is that when you remove the policy, you got to have a new policy….I’m going to read every word of that study.

Scott Brown (R-MA):

I am keeping an open mind, but I do not support moving ahead until I am able to finish my review, the Pentagon completes its study, and we can be assured that a new policy can be implemented without jeopardizing the mission of our military.

Olympia Snowe (R-ME):

Moreover, as I have previously stated, given that the law implementing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has been in place for nearly 17 years, I agree that it is overdue for a thorough review. The question is, whether we should be voting on this issue before we have the benefit of the comprehensive review that President Obama’s Secretary of Defense ordered in March, to secure the input of our men and women in uniform during this time of war – as the Joint Chiefs of Staff from all of the services have requested prior to any vote. We should all have the opportunity to review that report which is to be completed on December 1, as we reevaluate this policy and the implementation of any new changes.

John Ensign (R-NV):

“It is my firm belief that Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be able to fight and risk their lives in defense of this great nation. As a nation currently engaged in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, the focus of all decisions affecting military readiness, recruiting and retention, and unit cohesion should be to maximize the success of ongoing operations.”

Ensign spokesperson Jennifer Cooper reiterated this point: "Senator Ensign is waiting on the report from the Pentagon and the testimony of the military chiefs to see if any changes to this policy can or should be done in a way so as not to harm the readiness or war fighting capabilities of our troops."

Roger Wicker (R-MS):

Congress should refrain from conducting any legislative action on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ until the Defense Department has concluded its comprehensive review of the policy.

Richard Burr (R-NC):

Don't Ask Don't Tell has worked. Now personally I don't see a reason to reverse it. But that's a personal opinion. I think the country should have a debate. And what we should do is we should wait until the Department of Defense has gotten back the survey of those individuals who serve. That survey's back in December. This is not too far off…. Now I'm not scared to have the debate, I welcome the debate, but I'm also very confident that we should time this in a way that makes as little impact on those troops that are deployed as we possibly can.

John Thune (R-SD):

I believe it is in the best interest of our military to allow the DOD to complete its review of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, before Congress injects politics into the process.
PFAW

Where are the Women in the Federal Courts?

An ally just sent along this graph showing the progress of women in the federal judiciary over the past 10 years. What’s alarming about it is that, in terms of numbers, there has been very little progress at all:

President Obama’s judicial nominees have been the most diverse group in history. 44% of his nominees are women—twice as many as were nominated under George W. Bush. And 42% of his nominees are African American, Hispanic, or Asian American. But President Obama’s nominees, as diverse a group as they are, just aren’t making it to the courts. Instead, they’ve run into a concerted Republican effort to block every possible judicial nomination, no matter how uncontroversial. This filibuster campaign is not only creating personnel emergencies in courts across the country—it’s stopping qualified women and minorities from bringing a much-needed diversity of experience to the federal bench.

PFAW

Putting the "Lame" in Lame Duck

Republicans continue to make the case that they are the ones who serious about fixing the economy, shrinking the deficit and putting Americans back to work. This, as they gear up for endless witch hunts that will be make the Republicans' investigations into the Clinton administration in the 1990's look like a picnic... as they move to oppose extending unemployment insurance for millions of Americans in need... as they push to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit with tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.

Zach Carter at Campaign for America’s Future put it very succinctly last week when he wrote:

Economic sabotage is the essential Republican strategy for winning the White House in 2012. They will block every effort to actually improve the economy they can, and make a big show out of criticizing any economic aid they can't block.

Incredibly, the GOP is attacking Democratic efforts on the Hill to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, pass the DREAM Act, confirm judicial nominees and pass the DISCLOSE Act as "distractions" from addressing economic concerns, while Republicans do all they can to block real progress on getting Americans back to work.

A report released today shows, conclusively, that the military is ready for gays and lesbians to serve openly. Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a matter of basic fairness, our national character and national security. The same goes for the DREAM Act, which the Pentagon has said would strengthen the military in addition to offering a much-needed path to citizenship for hardworking immigrant youth. Confirming judges is essential to the country having a working justice system. Passing DISCLOSE is a matter of making sure American voters wield the power in our democracy and not corporations that hide behind shadowy front groups to buy elections.

These things are not distractions. They are essential to making sure Americans have a country that works... one in which their rights are protected and democracy thrives. Republicans want block these measures for the same reason they want to block economic assistance for Americans in need and policies which would strengthen the economy and create jobs. They know that what's good for America is bad for them politically, and for the next two years, everything we want to do that will be good for America will have to be done over the vigorous opposition of an ultra right-wing Republican Congress.

PFAW

A new Pew Research survey confirms, again, that a large majority of Americans support repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and allowing gay and lesbian Americans to serve openly in the military:

As the Pentagon prepares to release its highly anticipated survey of military personnel about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, most Americans (58%) say they favor allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces. Fewer than half that number (27%) oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

These opinions have changed little in recent years. Since 2005 – including three surveys this year – roughly 60% have consistently favored permitting homosexuals to serve openly in the military. There is greater support for permitting gays to serve openly today than there was in 1994, after President Clinton put in place the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In July of that year, 52% said they favored allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military while 45% said they opposed allowing this.

Pew found that majorities in each age group and education level favor DADT repeal. Large majorities of Democrats and Independents favor repeal, and Republicans are about evenly split. Interestingly, one group that Pew found is resoundingly against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is people who say they identify with the Tea Party: “Only about four-in-ten (38%) Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party favor allowing gays to serve openly while 48% are opposed.” About half of the Republicans surveyed chose to align themselves with the Tea Party.

The Senate will mostly likely take a final vote on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal after this week’s release of the Pentagon’s report on repeal. A handful of GOP senators have indicated that they’ll vote to get rid of the discriminatory policy in the likely event that the Pentagon’s report supports the move. Pew’s survey is yet another piece of evidence that the senators who continue to back Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are not supporting the majority of Americans, the needs of the armed forces, or even the preference of the majority of their own party. Instead, in trying to hold on to a discriminatory and failed policy, they pander almost exclusively to the extreme social conservatism of a vocal right-wing movement.
 

PFAW

At the Supreme Court, a New Threat to Workers

Tuesday morning, with Justice Sotomayor recused, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in CIGNA v. Amara, a case that will test the Court's pro-corporate leanings, in this case, whether it will become harder for employees to hold their employers accountable for providing inaccurate summaries of major changes in their pensions plans.

Cigna has 27,000 employees participating in the pension plan at issue. Several years ago, Cigna made a number of significant changes to its plan. As required by federal law (ERISA, or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act), the company gave its employees a summary of the major changes written in a way that the average plan participant would understand.

Unfortunately for the 27,000 participants in Cigna's pension system, Cigna gave them a misleading summary, one that did not reveal some of the financial disadvantages of the plan. In a class action suit against the company, a federal district court found that Cigna had deliberately misled its employees in order to avoid a backlash, one that might have led the company to roll back some of the changes. Had employees known the truth, they could have protested, they could have sued to stop the changes, or they could have begun looking for work elsewhere with a better retirement plan. In a decision affirmed on appeal, the court concluded that since the class of plaintiffs suffered "likely harm" as a result of the misleading summary, Cigna has to give them some measure of recovered benefits.

So Cigna has turned to the Roberts Court for a bailout.

The corporation argues that employees need to do more than show "likely harm" to recover benefits. Instead, according to Cigna, the standard should be "detrimental reliance:" Each of the up to 27,000 plaintiffs in this class action suit should be required to convince a court that they (1) actually read the summary document; (2) had no knowledge of plan terms contradicting the summary; and (3) relied on the summary to make a detrimental employment or retirement decision that he would not otherwise have made (e.g., prove that they would have moved to a company with better retirement benefits but for the misleading summary).

That's an extremely high hurdle for each individual. How likely is it that employees will be able to prove that they read a summary document that they may have received years ago? How does it help employees who relied on their coworkers to explain the summary document to them? How will employees prove that if they had known the truth about the pension plan, they would have challenged their employer to change it or, alternatively, would have found a new employer with a better pension package?

In addition, forcing the employees to prove their individual cases rather than act as a class would be an administrative nightmare for a court, and a boon to large corporations with thousands of employees.

The statutorily mandated summary document is the central mechanism for achieving one of ERISA's fundamental goals - ensuring that participants accurately understand their rights and obligations under the plan. Cigna's "detrimental reliance" standard threatens to frustrate that goal, taking power from the employees who Congress sought to protect and handing it to the corporations.

PFAW

Republican Judges Against Republican Obstruction

Add another set of voices to the growing chorus of Americans fed up with Republican leaders' unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominations: Federal judges nominated by Republican presidents. According to ThinkProgress:

[Last] week, seven Republican-appointed federal judges co-signed a letter warning of the consequences of the GOP's systematic obstruction of President Obama's judges. The letter [is] from the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit, which includes Republican appointees Alex Kozinski, Ralph Beistline, Vaughn Walker, Irma Gonzales, Frances Marie Tydingco-Gatewood, Richard Frank Cebull, [and] Lonny Ray Suko[.]

The letter states:

In order to do our work, and serve the public as Congress expects us to serve it, we need the resources to carry out our mission. While there are many areas of serious need, we write today to emphasize our desperate need for judges. Our need in that regard has been amply documented ... Courts cannot do their work if authorized judicial positions remain vacant.

While we could certainly use more judges, and hope that Congress will soon approve the additional judgeships requested by the Judicial Conference, we would be greatly assisted if our judicial vacancies - some of which have been open for several years and declared "judicial emergencies" - were to be filled promptly. We respectfully request that the Senate act on judicial nominees without delay.

Americans want a government that works. Why don't Senate Republican leaders agree?

PFAW