PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Letter to Obama from Feingold: "Concrete Steps" to Restore Rule of Law

Following up on my previous post about Sen. Feingold....

My main man Russ yesterday sent a letter to the President-elect "urging President-elect Barack Obama to take 'concrete steps' to restore the rule of law after the eight-year assault by the Bush Administration on the Constitution. In a letter to the President-elect, Feingold offered recommendations for action in four key areas – the separation of powers, excessive government secrecy, detention and interrogation policy, and domestic surveillance and privacy."

Read it. It's good.

http://feingold.senate.gov/releases/08/12/20081210.html

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NY State Senate Democratic Leader: "Real reform should not ever include limiting civil rights"

We are suspending negotiations, effective immediately, because to do so otherwise would reduce our moral standing and the long-term Senate Democratic commitment to reform and to change.  We believe that ultimately, we must do what is right for the people of the State of New York. Furthermore, real reform cannot and should not ever include limiting the civil rights of any New Yorkers. Those issues must be part of the legislative process.

                        -- NY State Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm A. Smith

From Newsday:

ALBANY, N.Y. - Senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith said Wednesday any deal with three dissidents to secure his party's hold on the chamber majority is officially off.

Smith said he has the support of the Democratic Caucus and has ceased negotiations with the three, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. and Sen.-elect Pedro Espada Jr., both of the Bronx, and Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn. Their support would give the party a 32-30 majority beginning Jan. 1 after decades of Republican control.

"We're prepared to wait if we have to to come into the majority," Smith said. He was flanked by senators Neil Breslin of Albany and Liz Krueger of Manhattan when he made the announcement.

Smith said the three renegades were motivated by "personal interests." He also said he wouldn't subject civil rights issues to negotiation, referring to a proposal backed by many Democrats to legalize gay marriage.

I've read more reports and looks like what was happening was three senators holding the Democratic majority hostage for their own interests, and in the process, not just obstructing the potential for marriage equality, but an entire progressive agenda which has been blocked for years by a Republican-controlled New York Senate. Even if this means the Democrats lose the majority they won in last month's election, it was the so-called "Gang of Three" who were really trying to thwart the will of New York voters.

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Supreme Court Says No to Obama Citizenship Challenge

The Supreme Court just rejected an appeal in a case challenging the validity of President-elect Obama's birth certificate, his citizenship and, in effect, his constitutional eligibility to assume the office of President. The fact that it took more than one split second to reject this preposterous, paranoid, conspiracy theory-based case is a little disturbing. A similar case had been thrown out this fall, but that did not stop Justice Clarence Thomas from circulating the appeal papers to his colleagues for consideration.

Read more here:

http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/08/supreme-court-rejects-appeal-over-obamas-citizenship/?hp

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Bill Moyers Journal: Russ Feingold On The Rule Of Law

Senator Russ Feingold, one of Washington's leading voices for civil liberties and constitutional rights, was on Bill Moyers Journal over the weekend discussing some of the steps he hopes the incoming Obama administration will take to restore the rule of law.

Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars has a video, transcript and Sen. Feingold's Daily Kos post on the issue. Read more and check out the video.

Russ Feingold on Moyers screen cap

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Putting the Justice back in the DOJ

In Washington, we're hearing rumblings that the Right may be looking to start a fight over Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, whose confirmation hearing will be in early January. It's tough to imagine the kind of audacity it would take to challenge Holder's nomination after Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales.

After eight years of being dominated by politicization, cronyism and extremism, the Department of Justice is in desperate need of a good housecleaning. The Department, like the Attorney General, is supposed to defend the rule of law and Americans' constitutional rights. But under the Bush administration, the DOJ has been used as a weapon against constitutional values, used to fight the administration's ideological and political battles.

In the wake of 9/11, John Ashcroft's Justice Department led the Bush administration's relentless assault on civil liberties. The DOJ was on the forefront of the draconian expansion of surveillance and police powers, and contributed heavily to post-9/11 era of extreme government secrecy. Career lawyers at the DOJ were subtly -- and not so subtly -- pushed out in favor of attorneys more politically and ideologically aligned with the administration. The Civil Rights Division was completely politicized and instead of using its resources to protect voters' rights (by enforcing the Voting Rights Act among other things), the DOJ waged an attack on voting rights by supporting disenfranchising policies like Georgia's restrictive voter ID law. The Department also exploited the 'widespread voter fraud' myth for politically motivated witch hunts -- part of a larger trend of selectively targeting political and ideological opponents for investigation and prosecution.

And how can we forget the Gonzales era at the DOJ! The Attorney General is supposed to be the people's lawyer, but Gonzales was more the president's bag man. The problems that existed under Ashcroft continued or got worse. As more and more news came out about the NSA's illegal warrantless spying on Americans, the torture of U.S. detainees, legally questionable military tribunals and other subversions of the rule of law, we found out that the DOJ had expressly signed off on these administration policies and in some cases even supplied the legal and intellectual underpinning out of the Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). And when a scandal broke over the firing of U.S. attorneys, it became clear exactly how politically motivated hiring and firing practices had been at the DOJ, which evidently was staffed with a disproportionate number of graduates of Pat Robertson's law school (including one of the people tasked with the hiring/firing)!

Attorney General Mukasey has been arguably better than his two predecessors, but following the records of Ashcroft and Gonzales, that's not very hard. Eric Holder is a stellar choice: smart, capable and able to lead the DOJ in a new direction. But he will have his work cut out for him and he'll need help from people like you and me. First, we need to make sure he's confirmed, and that could mean a campaign to defeat whatever attacks right-wing senators throw at him. Then, because of the politically skewed hiring practices, he's going to need the support of the people to make dramatic changes at one of the government's most important agencies.

For eight years, the Department of Justice -- a government agency with a rich history of enforcing civil rights and the rule of law -- has served the worst ideological and partisan impulses of the Bush administration. The era of overzealous ideologues and partisans like Ashcroft and Gonzales is coming to an end.

Thank goodness.

But now it's time to dig in our heels and do our part to put the justice back in the Department of Justice. I hope you don't mind if I call on you for help in the coming months.

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Trending Toward Greater Acceptance

GLAAD today published a new survey of Americans' feelings on GLBT issues.  The news, I'd say, is generally positive.

    • Three-quarters of U.S. adults (75%) favor either marriage or domestic partnerships/civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Only about two in 10 (22%) say gay and lesbian couples should have no legal recognition. (Gay and lesbian couples are able to marry in two states, and comprehensive civil union or domestic partnership laws exist in only five others and the District of Columbia.)

    • U.S. adults are now about evenly divided on whether they support allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry (47% favor to 49% oppose).

    • Almost two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults favor allowing openly gay military personnel to serve in the armed forces. (The current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law bans military service by openly gay personnel.)

But it also called to mind a fascinating piece by Ann Friedman in The American Prospect.

This is something I've heard a lot in the wake of the passage of California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. "History is on our side! Don't worry, the demographic trends are with us!"

I'm sorry, but that's just not good enough. These are the kind of conciliatory comments that go part and parcel with the culture-war frame. Civil-rights era activists knew history was on their side. But their goal was not to make every white American comfortable with the idea of sharing public spaces and power with people of color. It was to guarantee people of color those rights, regardless of where the culture stood. That's the thing about rights. You have to claim them.

If you're interested in claiming a few rights, you should sign onto People For's petition to stop federal discrimination against some married couples and Dump DOMA.

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Great Idea Posted at Change.org/ideas: Dept. of Innovation

I wrote a post yesterday about a Change.org in which People For the American Way is participating: Ideas for Change in America. It's actually a collaboration with MySpace as well, and many organizations and everyday citizens have become involved. The ideas so far are GREAT. I hope some readers here have the chance to add their own.

One idea that I particularly liked is for the creation of a Department of Innovation. The idea in itself is incredibly innovative, and it might be just what the doctor ordered to help overcome some of the enormous challenges facing us as a country and a planet.

Here's more:

We need to harness the creative imaginations of all americans as individuals and collectives to overcome the great challenges of our time. We know we need to do this, but do we know how?

Yes. We can:
- help leaders articulate the need for innovation and focus American's creative energy on the areas that matter most and can most benefit from creative solutions
- help individuals collaborate to come up with even better ideas than they already have or could come up with on their own
- manage ideas and the innovation process so that the most promising ideas are identified, and the very best implemented successfully
- engage more and more americans in contributing creatively to solving our challenges

You can read more about this idea and others at Change.org/ideas. I also stongly encourage you to add your creativity to the process if and submit your own idea or ideas if you have any. But remembe: you can vote for many ideas! So please make sure to support National Early Voting to help it to the next round in the Civic Engagement category.

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Bush Against the Constitution. Again.

When Bill Clinton left the White House, the right wing message machine started pushing they myth that his staff had trashed the place on the way out.

President Bush seems to be doing something similar, but instead of pulling the W’s (or O’s?) off the keyboards, he’s trashing the Constitution.

Among the many midnight regulations that Bush has put in place, is this one which denies thousands of federal employees collective bargaining rights.  These kinds of regulations are usually lumped in the anti-worker category, but the Supreme Court has made clear that the right to free association is implicit in the First Amendment.  And what's a union if not a peaceable assembly of workers exercising their right to free speech?  In the case of federal employees, they're even assembling to petition the government.  A triple whammy!

So, yes, you should be angry that Bush took a shot at the labor movement on the way out the door, but he also found one more opportunity to thumb his nose at the Bill of Rights.

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Vote for Ideas to Change America

Change.org is running a great contest to get ideas for real change and innovation from the public and presenting some of the best ones to the Obama transition team.

From Change.org:

What's Your Big Idea for Change in America?

President-Elect Obama says he wants to hear ideas from all Americans, so we're taking him up on his offer. Submit your ideas for how to change America, discuss with others, and vote for your favorites.

The "Top 10 Ideas for America" will be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day. We will then build a national campaign to advance each idea in Congress, marshaling the resources of Change.org, MySpace, and our dozens of partner organizations and millions of combined members.

There are a bunch of issue categories under which you can enter ideas. I already entered National Early Voting as a People For the American Way-sponsored idea in the Civic Engagement category. Please read more and support the idea by clicking the vote count button so it can make it to the second round.

Click here:

http://www.change.org/ideas/view/national_early_voting_great_way_to_safeguard_fair_elections

Then cruise the change.org/ideas site, read about some other ideas and ENTER YOUR OWN!

If you post an idea that you think People For the American Way would like to sponsor, please send me the link for your idea, after you post it, at bbetz[at]pfaw[dot]org.

Good luck with your idea or ideas. And tell your friends!

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Excellent Choice for Homeland Security

One of the very best cabinet picks that President-elect Obama has made got a bit lost in yesterday's "team of rivals" coverage.  Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to head the Department of Homeland Security is a brilliant pick. She'll bring a combination of smarts, no-nonsense pragmatism, and moral clarity to an agency - and set of issues - much in need of all three. No one knows better than she - as an extremely popular and effective border state Governor - what it will take to move forward with serious immigration reform.  And, with respect to the Department's overall agenda, she's got the toughness to walk that fine between keeping us safe while adhering to fundamental constitutional values.

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New Senate Can Deliver Some Quick Victories

A Washington Post article today points out that even not counting the two yet-undecided Senate contests in MN and GA, the Democrats could have the filibuster-proof 60 votes to move several key pieces of legislation by picking up a few Republicans. The article highlights several possible bills - two of which are civil rights bills of particular interest to People For the American Way.

First up: DC Voting Rights. The right of voters to be fully represented in Congress is paramount to the health of our democracy. Shamefully, the institutional disenfranchisement of Americans is probably most egregious in our nation’s capital, where 600,000 taxpayers have a congressional representative with no voting power.

Voting rights in Congress for the District of Columbia is another example. Legislation to expand the House of Representatives from 435 to 437 seats by giving the District and Utah an additional vote each were three votes shy of the 60 needed to end a filibuster in September 2007. Eight Republicans voted with the Democratic majority, which is 51 to 49 and includes two independents.

In addition, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - for which People For the American Way was far out front in leading the fight - could have the support it needs to correct a terrible Supreme Court decision (a decision supported by both of President Bush's right-wing Supreme Court nominees, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito).

In April, 50 Democrats and six Republicans supported legislation that would have amended the 1964 Civil Rights Act by allowing more time for workers to file discrimination complaints. Five new Democrats will be replacing Republicans who opposed the legislation named after Lilly Ledbetter, the female employee who lost her suit against Goodyear Tire and Rubber over discrimination claims. The Supreme Court ruled that Ledbetter should have filed her claim within six months of the alleged incidents.

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As my daughter would say... OMG!

It's been quite a time here in Washington DC. Lots of excitement in the air about he new administration. People we know and love are taking new jobs with the Obama administration (how good does that sound!) and helping to plan for one of the truly historic changes we've seen in recent years. Staff here at People For are excited about all the opportunities we will have to push some new creative ideas forward, both at the federal level and in the states. And to top that off, I got the news that the National Journal has rated People For the American Way the number one most effective advocacy organization at "winning the ground game" and helping to expand Democratic power this year.

Earlier this week I had another opportunity to celebrate. People For founder Norman Lear and his good friend, poet Maya Angelou, came to my hometown of Philadelphia to be honored with the Marian Anderson Award, which is given to honor people who use art and culture to further social justice.

Norman, of course, broke new ground and social taboos with television programs that provoked countless conversations in American homes, founded People For the American Way, bought and shared with the American public a first printing of the Declaration of Independence, and created Declare Yourself, which got more than 2 million young voters signed up this year. He never stops!

The awards event, as you'd expect, included great music and art, from the Philadelphia Orchestra to hip hop poets and gospel music. I was especially touched by director Jonathan Demme talking about his belief in People For the American Way, the work we do and the television ads he created for us many years ago. 

If this wasn't enough activity for one week, I also spent a rainy Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia protesting the passage of Proposition 8 in California. One of the best parts of the demonstration (about 500 people outside Philadelphia City Hall) was that the event was only one of many demonstrations held across the country on that Saturday. Back in D.C., People For staff and activists joined the local march and many of you were kind enough to share notes and pictures from marches you attended in your communities. Thanks so much. You truly understand how much is at stake if we allow the Right to chip away at the constitutional values that lie at the heart of America.

All in all, this week has been incredibly inspiring. It was truly great to see how appreciated we are at the Marian Anderson event, to see how committed so many of you are to the cause of equality, and knowing that I lead an organization so uniquely qualified to help bring about the positive change this country needs.

We're already seeing a newly energized Radical Right. Although their unpopular president is leaving office, they are already taking aim at the incoming Obama administration. They're digging in their heels to do all they can to keep this country from moving forward. And that's where we come in. As long as the Right is willing to sustain their attacks on constitutional values, we'll need your help to protect them -- it's the American Way.

PFAW

Virgil Goode Loses Seat

Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode (R) lost his reelection bid to Democrat Tom Perriello by 745 votes, according to official results certified today by the Virginia State Board of Elections.

Goode gained prominence when he joined the far-right attack on Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress, who had chosen to use a Quran in a swearing-in photo-op. Previously known for his focus on illegal immigration and sponsorship of bills to build a fence on the US-Mexican border and amend the Constitution to prevent children of illegal immigrants from becoming citizens, Goode managed to connect those issues with Ellison’s Quran in a letter to some of his constituents:

Dear Mr. Cruickshank:

Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The Ten Commandments and “In God We Trust” are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, “As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office.” Thank you again for your email and thoughts.

Sincerely yours,
Virgil H. Goode, Jr.
70 East Court Street
Suite 215
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151

When the statements attracted controversy, Goode stood by the letter, which he had personally written. He responded to the criticism in an op-ed in USA Today, where he played the 9/11 card:

Let us remember that we were not attacked by a nation on 9/11; we were attacked by extremists who acted in the name of the Islamic religion. I believe that if we do not stop illegal immigration totally, reduce legal immigration and end diversity visas, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to infiltration by those who want to mold the United States into the image of their religion, rather than working within the Judeo-Christian principles that have made us a beacon for freedom-loving persons around the world.

Ironically, Ellison was ultimately sworn in on Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, and Monticello, Jefferson’s estate, is in Goode’s district.

Goode later continued his attention-seeking extremism as one of the leading proponents of the North American Union/ NAFTA superhighway conspiracy theory, along with Jerome Corsi, Phyllis Schlafly, and the John Birch Society. He warned that immigration reform “will lead us on a path to likely have a North American currency, will further break down the borders between our countries, and it really undermines the concept of the United States of America in favor of something called North America. And it will harm the lifestyles and the status and standing of most American citizens.”

Goode has requested a recount, which he is entitled to, but it appears that he no longer has the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives.

 

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How to Create a Good Voting Website

Voting rights activists and web designers alike should take a look at the Election Assistance Commission's new best practices for voter information websites.

Most of the information to be included on a website seems to be pretty obvious:

  • Answers to common voter questions such as “Am I registered to vote?” and “Where do I vote?”
  • A mapping service to show polling locations.
  • A sample ballot that is identical to the ballot issued for the election.
  • Information on the registration and voting process.

But a point later on might be easy to overlook.

  • Well designed interfaces that are easy to navigate.

God bless the District of Columbia, but its Board of Elections and Ethics website is kind of a mess. I’m sure they include everything they ought to, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find information about in-person absentee voting and it took me forever to find my sample ballot. I have to imagine that if the site were designed by, say, these guys, I’d be able to find everything just fine.

Just one of the many ways in which voting can (and should) be made less cumbersome.

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Obama Chooses Barnes for Key White House Position

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Melody Barnes to be Director of the Domestic Policy Council:

Melody Barnes is co-director of the Agency Review Working Group for the Obama-Biden Transition Team, and served as the Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to Obama for America. Barnes previously served as Executive Vice President for Policy at the Center for American Progress and as chief counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee from December 1995 until March 2003.
Healthcare reform, as part of an economic recovery plan that takes care of the middle class, will be a priority for Barnes.  We appreciate the work she’s done in the past, and we’re sure she’ll do great work in the new administration.
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