PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Rep. Franks calls President Obama "an enemy of humanity"

Recently, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) accused President Obama as being “an enemy of humanity” in a speech at the How to Take Back America Conference. Rep. Franks said:

We shouldn't be shocked that he does all these other insane things. A president that has lost his way that badly, that has no ability to see the image of God in these little fellow human beings, if he can't do that right, then he has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an enemy of humanity."

 

Could Franks be piggy-backing on Rep. Wilson’s “you lie” outburst during President Obama’s speech on health care in front of congress? What strikes me most about this quote (and something that may receive less media attention) is that Franks uses the abelist term “insane” to describe President Obama. I want to pose a question: how many House members have publicly called the President a word to describe someone living with mental illness before President Obama’s term in office?

PFAW President Michael Keegan’s made the following statement in response to Rep. Franks’ comments:

Rep. Trent Franks' remarks at the How to Take Back America Conference show a stunning lack of respect for our president and the office of the presidency itself. Rep. Franks is following the lead of Glenn Beck, but he's a member of Congress, not a talk show host, and he should act like one.

Americans, and especially members of Congress, should be able to disagree passionately about politics without making wild and irresponsible accusations. President Obama's views on reproductive rights are supported by a majority of Americans, and it is outrageous for Rep. Franks to claim that anyone who holds such views is unfit for public office and an "enemy of humanity."
 

 

 

PFAW

Mary Travers, Defender of Democracy and Folk Music Legend, R.I.P.

Mary Travers of the folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary passed away this week. She was a longtime friend, ally, and supporter of People For the American Way and a powerful advocate for justice and equal rights throughout her life.

PFAW honored Travers and her bandmates Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey for their decades of activism at our 1999 Spirit of Liberty event. This tribute video, which was played at the event, explains why they were awarded the Defender of Democracy award: The progressive movement had a great friend in Mary Travers, and we are saddened by the loss. We send our condolences to her friends and family.

PFAW

Obama Nominates First Openly Gay EEOC Commissioner

President Obama recently nominated Chai Feldblum to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  She'll be the first openly gay person to hold that post.

Feldblum, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, previously served as legislative counsel to the AIDS Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, where she played a role in the drafting of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

"She has also worked on advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights" and "been a leading expert on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act," according to a biography released by the White House.

Her degrees are from Harvard Law School and Barnard College, and she went on to clerk for Judge Frank Coffin on the First Circuit Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun.

Of course, the Right Wing has lost no time at all in branding her "general counsel to the Forces of Darkness."  Stay classy, you guys.

PFAW

Happy Constitution Day!

At People For, our mission is to promote and defend constitutional values, so September 17th, Constitution Day, has a special place in our heart. Senator Robert Byrd passed legislation to create Constitution Day in 2004, and we wanted to celebrate this year by sharing clips from some of our Constitution reading events from years past.

In 2009 Senator Byrd reads the Preamble:

In 2006 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reads Article 3:

In 2004 Richard Gere reads Article 1, Section 3:

and Article 5 and 6:

In 2004, Betty Friedan reads the 19th Amendment:

In 2009, Ana Marie Cox reads the 18th Amendment:

and the 21st Amendment:

In 2009 Michael York reads the 25th Amendment:

PFAW

The Writing is on the Wall

The writing is on the wall. As any number of commentators have suggested, it’s pretty clear that no matter whom the President nominates for the next Supreme Court vacancy, the Republicans and their allies on the far right are going to fight. Indeed, as Jeff Toobin points out in his excellent article in The New Yorker, even the President’s mainstream nomination of David Hamilton for a seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals – his very first judicial nominee – continues to languish because of unfounded attacks from the Right. As one White House official is quoted by Toobin: ‘If they are going to stop David Hamilton, then who won’t they stop.” 

As suggested in Toobin’s article, the Republicans claim it’s payback for the President’s votes against Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.  But as history is showing us, then-Senator Obama’s votes were the correct ones. The Roberts court is Exhibit A in far right judicial activism – not the balls and strikes umpiring we were promised by the Chief Justice.  In any event as Republican Senator Thune makes clear in yesterday’s Roll Call article, the only way for the President to avoid a fight is for him to nominate a conservative – anything else would meet significant resistance.

So the cards are on the table. If we’re going to have a fight, then let’s think boldly about the kind of Justice we need on the Court. And that means a Justice who understands that the law and the Constitution mandate protections for average Americans against the interests of the more powerful. It means a Justice who understands that the law and the Constitution protect important privacy rights. It means a Justice who appreciates that the law and the Constitution affect the realities of Americans’ everyday lives.  It means a Justice who respects the core constitutional values of justice and equal opportunity for all.  If we’re going to have a fight, let’s make it one worth having – let’s make it a fight for core constitutional values.

PFAW

Bagram Detainees Obtain Right to Challenge Detention

The Washington Post reported on Sunday, that the Obama administration this week will put in place a new review system to allow detainees held by the U.S. at a military base in Bagram, Afghanistan the ability to challenge their detentions.  While this is a small step in the right direction, the bigger issue is the administration’s decision to continue arguing against habeas corpus rights in the federal case brought by some of those same Bagram detainees now pending before the DC Court of Appeals. 

After the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 recognizing by a vote of 5-4 the habeas rights of detainees held by the U.S. at the military base in Guantanmo Bay, Cuba, and since Obama has declared that the Guantanamo detention center will be closed by the end of the year, all eyes have turned toward Bagram where hundreds of detainees are being held there without review. While both sides continue to argue the merits of whether the constitutional right of habeas corpus should apply to detainees held overseas by the U.S. in a zone of conflict, at least the administration now concedes what many of us have been arguing for years:  it is a basic human right that an individual cannot be deprived of their liberty without due process.  

Let’s hope that the new process afforded to Bagram detainees in the end will be a meaningful one. 

PFAW

DOJ Won’t Prosecute Schlozman

In a disappointing move, Attorney General Eric Holder has decided not to prosecute former head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division and interim U.S. Attorney Bradley Schlozman for lying to Congress, instead giving deference to the decision of the Bush Administration.  Operatives like Schlozman led to the massive politicization of the Justice Department during the years of the Bush Administration and created an atmosphere of distrust by the very citizens the DOJ was meant to protect. 

During Schlozman’s testimony to the Senate in 2007, he repeatedly evaded questions regarding his actions, including hiring practices during his tenure.  Furthermore, Schlozman repeatedly refused to take responsibility for the Civil Rights Division’s failure to fully investigate thousands of claims of disenfranchisement during elections, instead choosing to pursue unmeritorious claims of voter fraud in key battleground states.

Because of such politicization by operatives like Schlozman, People For the American Way Foundation and numerous other civil rights and voting rights organizations were forced to defend the rights of voters across the country and protect them from disenfranchising tactics such as voter ID laws and overly stringent registration policies.  Fortunately, massive mobilization efforts like the Election Protection program were able to help meet this challenge, but it should not have to been our responsibility to protect voters from their own Department of Justice. 

While we understand the desire of Attorney General Holder to move forward and applaud his steps to reinvigorate the Civil Rights Division and eliminate the tarnish left by the previous Administration, we should not allow bad acts to go unpunished.  It is clear that Schlozman perjured himself during his testimony to the Senate, as concluded by the Office of Professional Responsibility’s internal report.  The American people deserve justice and we had hoped that bad actors such as Schlozman would be prosecuted as a testament to the American public that the DOJ will no longer play politics with justice.     

PFAW

Rosen on Roberts

Jeffrey Rosen’s op ed piece in the New York Times over the weekend, The Trial of John Roberts, echoes a theme noted by a number of commentators, one on which I posted last week: that the Supreme Court’s decision to open up long-settled law with respect to regulating corporate expenditures in candidate elections in the recently argued Citizens United case is a quintessential exercise in judicial activism. And it’s the kind of judicial activism that then nominee John Roberts pretended to foreswear through his claims to be an umpire, simply calling balls and strikes.  

Where I part company from Rosen, however, is in his analysis that Chief Justice Roberts “deserves credit for trying” to forge a broader consensus on narrower grounds, citing, in particular, last term’s Voting Rights Act case.  The cynic in me says that the decision was 8-1 to uphold Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and not 5-4 to overturn it, because the Chief Justice simply did not yet have the votes to do so. And Rosen’s reliance on greater unanimity on the Court with respect to upholding business interests – according to the Chamber 79% of these cases decided on margins of 7-2 better – is not, in my view, a reflection of Chief Justice Roberts’ forging consensus on narrow grounds. It’s a reflection of how conservative this Court really is, why the judicial philosophy of the next nominee to the Supreme Court really matters, and why it’s important to begin having that discussion now.

PFAW

A personal reflection on 9-11

It's hard to believe that 9-11 was eight years ago.

My partner Dan had just moved from Chicago to DC a month before. After watching the buildings fall from the PFAW conference room, and hearing rumors about a truck bomb at the State Department, where one of my best friends had just started working, I walked several blocks and grabbed a bus filled with stunned-into-silence passengers.  I traveled a few miles to Wesley Seminary, where Dan was supposed to be having a meeting. We went home and tried to imagine what it would feel like to live in D.C. under a now far more real threat of terrorist attacks.  

The next day, home from work, we painted walls, bringing a little change and beauty to our tiny corner of the planet.

The following day, back at work, my colleagues and I were stunned to hear Jerry Falwell blaming gays, liberals, feminists, church-state supporters, and People For the American Way, among others, for the attack, and to see Pat Robertson enthusiastically agreeing with him. It was breathtaking even for those of us accustomed to the televangelists' harsh rhetoric for all who disagreed with them. 

PFAW moved quickly to put video of that exchange on Robertson's TV show into the hands of national news organizations and helped the world understand more clearly the cruelty at the heart of the Religious Right political movement. 

That mean-spiritedness is again on public display, with Religious Right leaders energetically peddling false charges about supporters of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples and portraying their political opponents, including President Obama, as bent on the destruction of liberty in America. I wonder what sort of patriotic platitudes we'll hear from today from the leaders of a movement that has tried for decades to claim ownership of patriotism and the flag and smear as un-American all those who don't share their vision of an America in which some are more equal than others. 

Will they even bother to pause from their ongoing efforts to destroy the president, denigrate their opponents, and rile enough fear and hatred to push their way back into power?

PFAW

Rep. Joe Wilson’s Macaca Moment

Causing a stir on the Internet and throughout Capitol Hill, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted “you lie” during Pres. Obama’s health care speech to a joint session of Congress. Rep. Wilson, who claims that his emotions got the best of him, made the inappropriate outburst as Pres. Obama stated that people who immigrated into the country illegally would not be covered under his health care plan. From CNN:

Two words, delivered with index finger punctuating the air and directed at the president of the United States, made a little-known South Carolina congressman one of the most controversial men on the Internet -- at least Wednesday heading into Thursday.

Following the initial outburst, after Pres. Obama stated “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions,” Rep. Wilson then shouted out “not true.”

People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan issued the following statement:

“Representative Wilson’s behavior last night was inappropriate and deeply disrespectful of the President, the Congress, and the millions of Americans who want to hear a reasoned discussion of health care reform. Mr. Wilson was right to apologize, and GOP leaders were right to distance themselves from his behavior.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing this as a skit on Saturday Night Live.

PFAW

It’s More than Balls and Strikes

The Supreme Court is about to hear argument in a case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that should put an end to the myth advanced by Chief Justice Roberts at his confirmation hearing that he, as a Justice, is simply serving as an umpire, calling balls and strikes about what the law provides without any intention of influencing the direction of the law.  

After hearing oral argument last term, the Court postponed a decision in Citizens United, which involves the FEC’s attempt to treat an anti-Hillary Clinton movie as an impermissible “electioneering communication,” and ordered the parties to submit briefs that address the question of whether regulating corporate expenditures in candidate elections is constitutional. So instead of deciding the case in front of them, those who had been on the losing side in the past have reached out to redecide an issue that had been settled. 

Regardless of where you are on the merits of regulating express candidate advocacy by corporations – the issues of campaign finance regulation and the question currently being addressed by the Court are extraordinarily complex and weighty – it seems likely that those formerly in the minority, including Justice Roberts, seeing a change in the make-up of the Court (with Justice Alito replacing Justice O'Connor, who originally helped decide the quesiton), have seized a potential opportunity to re-make the law.  

So let’s be clear. Chief Justice Roberts isn't just calling balls and strikes: he's actually determining which pitches get thrown. 

Judges bring their own legal ideology to the table when they decide cases. It makes a difference whether the next nominee to the Supreme Court understands that the law and the Constitution mandate protections for average Americans against the interests of the more powerful. It makes a difference whether the next nominee to the Supreme Court understands that the law and the Constitution protect important privacy rights. It makes a difference that the next nominee appreciates that the law and the Constitution affect the realities of Americans’ everyday lives. It’s not just balls and strikes. Judicial philosophy matters.

PFAW

Young Elected Officials Stand Up for Domestic Partner Benefits

Congratulations to El Paso, Texas, where unmarried partners of both gay and straight city employees will be eligible for insurance benifits.  And congratulations to City Representatives Eddie Holguin, Rachel Quintana, and Suzie Byrd, members of PFAW Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network who made it happen.

Citizens spoke up on both sides of the debate, and, as usual, some right-wing lies made it into the debate, but the YEOs weren't buying it.

"One of the gentleman compared homosexuality to pedophilia, and that is just false, and I am absolutely not going to stand for that," said City Rep. Susie Byrd.

Lower Valley City Rep. Eddie Holguin said it is precisely because of his religious upbringing that he voted for the benefits.

"In that upbringing I have always been taught not to judge... And that's why I have supported and do support treating everyone equally."

He also commented on some of the criticism speakers have leveled against the proposal in the past several weeks. "Why do many of the hateful things that are said here come from people who call themselves Christian?"

Eastside City Rep. Rachel Quintana said before the debate, she was only 60 percent sure she favored the plan.

"I have gone (up) 40 percent to being 100 percent in favor of this today."

Thanks to El Paso for taking a stand for equality!

PFAW

Must Read: E.J. Dionne’s ‘The Real Town Hall Story’

A must read, today’s E.J. Dionne column in the Washington Post “The Real Town Hall Story,” recounts a side of the town halls that was missing from television news coverage: that the “highly publicized screamers represented only a fraction of public opinion” and “most of the town halls were populated by citizens who respectfully but firmly expressed a mixture of support, concern and doubt.”

According to the Dionne, many television networks have sent stringers to scout boisterous and hostile town halls:

The most disturbing account came from Rep. David Price of North Carolina, who spoke with a stringer for one of the television networks at a large town-hall meeting he held in Durham.

The stringer said he was one of 10 people around the country assigned to watch such encounters. Price said he was told flatly: "Your meeting doesn't get covered unless it blows up." As it happens, the Durham audience was broadly sympathetic to reform efforts. No "news" there.

Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello (D), who represents the district formerly held by conservative Virgil Goode for more than a decade, described three different groups that he’s encountered in his 17 townhalls:

When I reached Rep. Tom Perriello last week, he divided the crowds at the 17 town halls he had held to that point in his largely rural Virginia district into three groups: conservatives, for whom the health-care battle is "about big government, socialism and all that"; the left, for whom "it's about corporate accountability"; and a "middle" for whom "it's about health care costs" and the problems with their coverage.

But the only citizens who commanded widespread media coverage last month were the right-wingers. And I bet you thought the media were “liberal.”

Have you looked at the news coverage of the health care debate and wondered where are the ordinary Americans in town hall meetings who support health care reform? They’re in the cities and suburbs, and rural America too. Or maybe you’ve been to a town hall meeting, and prepared yourself for loud, angry, violent opposition only to find reasonable voices on both sides of the debate willing to hear what their representatives had to say. Unfortunately, the media has ignored those voices in favor of tabloid TV.

PFAW

Returning Justice to Justice: Stop the Obstruction

Don't miss today's New York Times article on the steps Attorney General Eric Holder is taking to restore the Civil Rights Division's historic focus on high-impact enforcement against policies that have a discriminatory impact on minorities. Also underway are plans to beef up hiring of career attorneys and an administration-wide effort to enforce regulations that bar those who receive public funds from advancing policies that have a disparate impact on minorities.

Now all the Attorney General needs is for an end to the Republican obstruction that has prevented the confirmation of Tom Perez to head the Civil Rights Division, not to mention Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel and Chris Schroeder to head the Office of Legal Policy. By the time the Senate returns from its August recess, these nominees will have waited nearly 8 months, more than three months, and nearly one and a half months, respectively, for a vote by the full Senate following approval of their nominations by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It's time to stop the obstruction and to give the Attorney General the assistance he needs in returning justice to the Justice Department.

PFAW

The Republicans’ New Super-Super Majority Rule

Check out this classic piece by Rachel Maddow, illustrating how far the Republicans are willing to go as the Party of No.

PFAW