PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Victory for Equal Rights in Maryland

Need a bit of good news this gloomy-weather Friday? Here's some: there was a great victory for equal rights in Montgomery County, Maryland earlier this week.

As the good women of Feministing report, the county council passed a law a year ago prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity, but right-wing groups' efforts to prevent it from taking effect have delayed its enforcement. On Wednesday, a court put an end to the right-wingers' obstructive tactics.    

Transgendered people in Montgomery County will now have legal recourse against discrimination, and, as Ann at Feministing explains, a broader range of people will also be protected: 

While most headlines couch [the victory] in terms of preventing discrimination against transpeople (which, of course, the law does), the actual language bars discrimination on the basis of gender identity. This is a broader term that covers people who may not identify as trans, but run the spectrum of gender-nonconforming presentation.

Excellent news!

PFAW

We're All "Pro-Life"

Pop quiz, fellow progressives: how do you refer to the two sides of the abortion debate?

Did you say "pro-life" and "pro-choice"? Those are the terms I generally use when talking about the issue too. And, as I was reminded by a conversation between colleagues this morning, it doesn't make much sense.

In reality, people who are against reproductive rights don't have a monopoly on being pro-life. As a colleague of mine said this morning, "We're all pro-life."

I think you'd be pretty hard-pressed to find somebody who really thinks there should be more abortions. Progressives, conservatives, moderates, people of no political persuasion whatsoever: I think we're all agreed there.

You'll hear right-wingers sometimes refer to the pro-choice movement as the "pro-abortion" movement, which is, for the reasons mentioned above, ridiculous. (Again: find me the person — anywhere, ever — who actually thinks abortion is a good thing.)

I Googled certain ways of stating the positions to see how often they crop up on the internet, and found the results interesting. "Pro-life" and "pro-abortion" definitely win out over "pro-choice" and "anti-choice": 

Pro-life: 6,750,000

Pro-abortion: 903,000

Pro-choice: 3,640,000

Anti-choice: 458,000

So, two questions.

Do you think progressives should reclaim the term "pro-life" and refer to people who don't believe in abortion rights as "anti-choice"?

Second: if you are familiar with the way a non-English speaking country talks about reproductive rights — if they're fortunate enough to have the freedom to discuss these things in public — how would you translate the phrases they use to discuss it?

Let me know at blogtalk@pfaw.org.

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ABC News on Sarah Palin’s Book Banning Past

ABC News ran a story last night on Sarah Palin’s attempt to pressure a librarian to censor the town’s collection of books.

It’s stories like this that make me really love librarians.

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Cheer Up, Gary Bauer

Gary Bauer is all gloom and doom about the prospect of Obama-appointed Supreme Court Justices.

“[I]f the next two or three Supreme Court appointments are appointments made by Barack Obama, confirmed by a Democratic Senate...' -- my friends, the things we have been fighting for 30 years will not only be lost, they may, in fact, be lost permanently," Bauer contends.

But cheer up, Gary! Most Court-watchers speculate that the next few openings on the Court will come from the moderate/progressive wing of the Supreme Court.

So even if President Obama’s nominees were to the left of the current Justices, the balance of the Court really wouldn’t shift that much. After all, Chief Justice Roberts already has four votes in his pocket, and Justice Kennedy usually provides the fifth.

Of course, if President McCain gets to appoint replace those Justices with nominees “in the model of Sam Alito, John Roberts and Antonin Scalia” the lurch to the right would be seismic. And that would make Gary Bauer very, very happy.

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Need to Brush Up on Your Wonk Lingo?

Luckily, the good folks at the ACLU have your back. They've just posted the concluding installment of "Congress-ese," a series of blog entries aimed at teaching you stuff about Congress you didn't learn in social studies class.

Find the answers to questions like:

And much more. A valuable learning resource. Well done, ACLUers!

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Rep. Chris Smith Thinks You Don’t Have Any Values

At the RNC this week, Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey declared that America’s schools and universities have become “bastions of moral relativism,” and as a remedy for this, “Our students must find the God of the Bible and Biblical values in the classroom, on the campus.” Setting aside for a moment the establishment clause of the First Amendment (which I would encourage Congressman Smith to peruse) this is a perfect example of the Religious Right’s conception of values. Namely: there are no values but our own. Whether it’s for political purposes or out of a sincere ignorance, the right has decided that the only two value systems are (1) the values that James Dobson says you should get out of the Bible and (2) moral relativism -- in which nothing is right and nothing is wrong. So if you don’t agree with them that same-sex marriage is a sin, you probably also think it’s ok to push little old ladies down the stairs. Allow me to respond:

Dear Congressman Smith: Progressives have values. Among other things, we value honesty, respect, humility, and kindness. You are violating these values and you are very, very wrong to do so. Sincerely, Drew

Clip and full transcript at Think Progress.

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Voting Rights Opponent Appeals to Supreme Court

 As expected, the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One (NAMUDNO), a public utility district in Travis County, Tex., filed a direct appeal yesterday with the Supreme Court from a unanimous ruling last May by a three-judge federal district court rejecting NAMUDNO's claims that it is exempt from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and, in the alternative, that Section 5 is unconstitutional.

People For and a number of other parties intervened as defendants in the district court in order to help defend the constitutionality of Section 5. Section 5 of the VRA requires all or part of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to have their voting procedures pre-approved, or "pre-cleared," by the Department of Justice or a three-judge federal district court in Washington before they can be changed.

For more information, view People For's statement on the district court ruling. You can also view the district court's ruling here.

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Another Shot At Fair Pay

Via TAPPED, it looks like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will be up for another vote in the Senate this month. John McCain has opposed it in the past, and last time it was defeated in a procedural vote. But if Sen. McCain wants to admit his mistake and support the bill now, we’d all welcome his change of heart. I can’t speak for women voters, but all the women I know seem to enjoy getting a fair paycheck. Voting to make that harder sure seems like a funny way to try to win an election. Lots more info on Lilly Ledbetter, the Supreme Court, and this particular legislation can be found at People For’s SaveTheCourt.org.

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Reigniting the Culture War

For all the talk about reformers and mavericks, the Republican convention this week struck me as a return to the GOP's decades-old culture-war handbook, with speaker after speaker launching attacks on the "elites" in the media and Washington who supposedly look down on small-town America. At the GOP convention, there was a dispiriting number of distortions and ugly charges hurled from the podium, but nothing exemplified the spirit of the event to me more than the repeated outright mockery of community organizers.

As someone who has worked as a tenant organizer, I was offended by the smug sneering directed toward people who work hard for little pay on behalf of those who are struggling. How does attacking people who sacrifice for the common good mesh with the Republicans' stated desire to divert social service funds to community groups? How does it fit with speakers' claims to be standing with "real people" against "elites?" And I'm sorry, but how can anyone not laugh out loud at the ludicrous image of Wall Street millionaire and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney complaining about Eastern elites?

Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin made it clear that she's an able attack dog — proudly describing herself as a pitbull — and should not be underestimated. But she also made it clear that she's willing to stretch the truth when following the GOP's win-at-all-costs playbook. I think James Fallows had it right when he said that the decision to pick Sarah Palin was a signal that the McCain camp was embracing Karl Rove's base-motivating strategy and Religious Right leaders have reacted with a fervor that is hard to overstate. Clearly the pick of an anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-science extremist wrapped in a folksy hockey-mom package has fired up the base in ways that even McCain's pledge to pack the Courts with right-wing judges has failed to do.

After the derisive and divisive comments from so many speakers, John McCain's decrying of partisan rancor last night rang hollow to me. His use of right-wing buzz words such as "culture of life" and "judges who won't legislate from the bench" was a reminder that McCain would continue in the partisan tradition of the Bush administration.

In addition, the ridiculousness of the attacks on the "liberal media" — which has more often than not been fawning in its treatment of McCain — is so transparent that I hope the press will not cave in to the campaign's bullying demands that reporters stop asking legitimate questions about Palin's record, or about the impact of McCain's promised policies on the lives and liberties of millions of Americans.

But we can't count on the media to do the necessary truth-telling about John McCain, Sarah Palin and the Religious Right culture warriors who are now mobilizing to put them in the White House. That's our job — and yours!

John McCain and Sarah Palin have lit a fire under the GOP's far-right base. I have to say they've done the same for me, and I hope the same is true for other Americans who share my deep concern for the ways they would use their power to undermine our nation's highest values and reverse so much progress that we've made toward those ideals.
 

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The New Normal

One of the amazing and historic things about this presidential campaign is that it's made us blasé about how amazing and historic it's been.

No one's really talking anymore about the fact that the Democratic Party just nominated its first African-American candidate for president. Or that a female candidate got closer than any woman's gotten before to securing the nomination.

Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's presidential runs are now just the new normal. Kids who saw this election play out will grow up not finding it at all remarkable that someone who's not a white male can have a real shot at the presidency.

It's something I thought about after watching "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" recently, a film with Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy, and Katharine Hepburn that was in wide release 40 years ago, in 1968.

This scene between Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier made me smile. Tracy's daughter has just brought surprised her parents by bringing home her new fiance — an African-American doctor played by Sidney Poitier. Tracy and his wife — life-long liberals — are struggling to be OK with this news.

Tracy: Have you given any thought to the problems your children are going to have?

Poitier: Yes, and they will have some. And we'll have the children — otherwise I don't know what you call it, but you couldn't call it a marriage.

Tracy: Is that the way [my daughter] feels?

Poitier: She feels that every single one of our children will be president of the United States, and that they'll all have colorful administrations.

See the scene on YouTube here:

 

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Personally, I Liked Huckleberry Finn

The Anchorage Daily News has a nice rundown of Sarah Palin’s troublesome history of censorship.
Back in 1996, when she first became mayor, Sarah Palin asked the city librarian if she would be all right with censoring library books should she be asked to do so. According to news coverage at the time, the librarian said she would definitely not be all right with it. A few months later, the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, got a letter from Palin telling her she was going to be fired.
People For has a long history of standing up against book banning, so we’re not amused. Just asking: If public libraries are the cradles of democracy, what does that make Sarah Palin?
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A Judicial Victory For Church-State Separation in Florida!

Yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling that rejects the latest efforts by the far right to undermine religious liberty in that state and pave the way for the return of a state voucher program. Just a few hours after hearing oral argument, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously held that two proposed state constitutional amendments that would undermine religious freedom and overturn the Court's ruling a few years ago striking down the state's publicly-funded school voucher program cannot be placed on the November ballot. The ruling knocking these measures off the ballot came in a lawsuit in which lawyers with People For the American Way Foundation were co-counsel to the plaintiffs challenging the measures; the Florida Education Association and the NEA provided lead counsel in the case. Other groups participating in the case as co-counsel included the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Anti-Defamation League. At issue was the authority of the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission to place these proposals on the ballot. The Commission is authorized to propose state constitutional amendments pertaining to the "state budgetary process." We argued that these amendments, which would have removed the state constitutional provision prohibiting public aid to religious institutions and allowed the state to fund religious and other private school education through vouchers, exceeded the Commission's authority, as they did not pertain to the budgetary "process." The state urged a broad interpretation of "process" that basically would have encompassed everything the state spends money on, an interpretation that would give the Commission the power to propose just about any constitutional amendment on any substantive issue or subject that it wanted. We lost in the trial court and the state Supreme Court accepted direct review, given the timing and importance of the case. With ballots scheduled to be printed very shortly, the Court expedited consideration and heard oral argument on the morning of September 3. It was very clear from the Justices' questions that they had significant concerns that the state's interpretation of the Commission's authority was far too broad, and that "process" is not the same as "substance." Just a few short hours later, the Court ordered that these harmful proposals cannot be placed on the ballot, and that "no motion for rehearing will be entertained." Many thanks and congratulations to everyone who worked on this case, particularly the FEA and the NEA.
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Aren’t Rights a Good Thing?

In her speech last night, Sarah Palin mocked the idea that terrorists would be "read their rights." Well, setting aside the obvious complications that come from prosecuting an international “war on terror,” I’m perturbed by the idea that reading someone his rights would be a bad thing. One of the great selling points for this country is that even bad guys, really bad guys, terrible terrible guys, have rights. After all, sometimes those presumed-guilty people end up being, you know, innocent. In support of my view (and, umm, the Constitution) allow me to trot out the old war horse of this particular argument, A Man For All Seasons.
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law! Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that! Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
I expect our friends at the Thomas More Center to put out a similar statement any moment now.
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Oh, What a Week

Sarah Palin and John McCain

By the end of the Democratic National Convention last week my feet were aching but my spirit was soaring. I loved meeting People For members, and had a chance to connect with a lot of progressive advocates, political leaders, and potential donors. Our standing-room-only panel on the future of the Supreme Court was thoughtful and lively. Several of our staff did magnificent jobs in other panel discussions throughout the week. And the whole event felt like history in the making.

I hadn't even gotten home when the afterglow was interrupted by the announcement on Friday that John McCain had selected Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, to be his running mate. Like many others, we’ve been busy since then looking at her record, and when it comes to the issues we care about, it's not pretty.

Let me state clearly that I have spent my whole career working to give women the opportunity to take leadership roles. I am opposed to the media or anyone else judging women candidates on their hair, hemlines, or anything other than their policies, positions, and qualifications. I agree with Sen. Barack Obama that this campaign should not be about Palin's children, and as a mother, I appreciate that at least from the outside it appears that her teenage daughter is getting support at a difficult time.

In other words, let's judge Palin on her political positions and her record — and let's judge John McCain based on this important decision. Here's some of what we know already, with more coming out by the hour:

  • Palin opposes women's access to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest
  • she has a strong anti-equality record, opposing domestic partner benefits for gay couples, marriage equality, and expansion of hate crimes laws
  • as a mayor she reportedly asked about banning books from the library and threatened to fire a librarian who resisted
  • she supports the teaching of creationism in public school science classrooms

No wonder our Right Wing Watch blog reports that even the most extreme Religious Right leaders are falling all over themselves to gush about Palin — James Dobson even called her "God's answer" to prayer. When McCain floated the possibility of a pro-choice running mate, Religious Right leaders threatened to tank the campaign. The campaign caved, and the Religious Right got what they wanted. So much for Mr. Maverick.

Sarah Palin has proven that she knows how to win local and statewide elections, and I encourage progressives not to take her too lightly or dismissively. Given what we're learning about her record and political beliefs, there's plenty of reason to question her selection by McCain, and to remind Americans what their election would mean for the future of the Supreme Court and for our rights and liberties. With your help, that's what we're going to do.

Let me know what you think at Kathryn@pfaw.org.

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It’s Good to Be the AG – Forgetful Gonzales Gets Off the Hook for Mishandling Secrets

Alberto Gonzales
The Associated Press and Washington Post reported today that Justice Department investigators have faulted Alberto Gonzales for repeatedly mishandling national secrets during his tenure as Bush’s White House counsel and Attorney General. The eye-opening accounts reveal that Gonzales failed to properly secure classified information in his DOJ office and even took classified materials home with him. What’s worse, he used an unlocked briefcase to transport the materials and didn’t store them in his home safe. But the coup de grace, courtesy of the DOJ investigators, is that Gonzales “did not know the combination to the safe at his house.” The crux of Gonzales’ defense, according to his lawyers, is that he didn’t intentionally mishandle documents but rather “was forgetful or unaware of the proper way to handle the top secret papers.” This strains credulity, especially since Gonzales was briefed at least twice on security procedures and signed a document that informed him of repercussions for mishandling classified information. As incredible as Gonzales’ absent-minded professor defense may seem, it’s all too familiar for those who watched the attorney firing scandal play out. He and his co-conspirators repeatedly pleaded ignorance, often to a comical degree – Kyle Sampson actually uttered the words “I don’t remember” 122 separate times in his testimony. The public has long since learned more than enough to know that Gonzales’ misconduct was due to arrogance and incompetence, not forgetfulness. His defense is cowardly and insults our intelligence, but his lawyers apparently don’t believe that he can defend himself on the merits. That strategy has worked so far – the Bush DOJ has declined to file criminal charges against its former leader – but it may not work forever.
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