PEOPLE FOR BLOG

PFAW, CODEPINK and Allies Speak Out Against Trump

Donald Trump has established himself as the candidate of hatred and bigotry, and he's dragging the rest of the party along with him. Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric has become the norm in the GOP presidential debates, as Trump's policy proposals become more absurdly racist and xenophobic -- like a ban on allowing any Muslims to enter the United States.

In the face of this, the progressive movement is standing up for what's right. Over 30,000 PFAW members have already pledged to stand strongly against fascist policies that restrict our basic rights, like the ones Trump has built his campaign on. And our allies at CODEPINK are leading the #StopHateDumpTrump campaign, calling on Americans of all political affiliations to speak out in every way possible against political fear-mongering.

Together, we are pledging to take action in the face of hatred and bigotry that stand in stark contrast to our fundamental American values. 

PFAW

Republican Presidential Candidates: End Your Campaigns of Hate

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

It seems there's no end to the Republican presidential candidates' campaigns of hate. As showcased by last week's Republican debate, their deeply-troubling rhetoric on immigrants and Muslims has become a standard talking point. It's impossible to turn on the TV without hearing the newest iteration of the candidates' hateful stances.

Sitting through last week's debate was nothing short of painful. Donald Trump doubled down on his commitment to ban Muslims from entering the United States. All the candidates were united in their anti-refugee stances.

Of course, it's not just debates where the Republican candidates spew their xenophobia. Their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies are flooding the airwaves. The ad Donald Trump released recently is focused on banning Muslims from entering the U.S. and paints immigrants as a danger to national security. Trump's fellow Republican contenders have been mirroring his language. As Marco Rubio campaigns throughout the country, he's repeating the talking point he used in the last debate, that all immigrants and refugees pose a terrorist threat to America. He also has gone so far as to accuse President Obama, our Commander in Chief, of having "deliberately weakened America." Ted Cruz, for his part, is trying to out-Trump Trump. He too released a new TV ad that falsely portrays immigrants as taking jobs and draining the U.S. economy and he'sproposing not only that the US should not accept any Syrian refugees, but that we should expel refugees who are already here.

That's not the American way. As President Obama said at the State of the Union: "We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn't a matter of political correctness. It's a matter of understanding what makes us strong."

It's time for the Republican candidates to end their campaigns of hate. The bigoted rhetoric and policy positions we're hearing from these candidates go against core American values. They don't merit discussion at the kitchen table, and they certainly don't merit discussion at a debate for those aspiring to the nation's highest office.

Sadly, I'm not holding my breath for Republicans to stop vilifying Muslims or immigrants.

As the Republican presidential candidates continue their attacks, it's critical that ordinary Americans stand up for the values we know are right. The message we heard from President Obama during the State of the Union, his call to embrace diversity and our history as a nation that welcomes immigrants and refugees, is rooted in our country's deepest principles, and no matter what happens in the GOP primary, that's the message we need to carry forward.

PFAW

As Anti-Abortion Groups Gather in D.C., A New High Profile For A Radical Movement

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

This week, many of the various factions of the anti-abortion movement will gather in Washington for the March For Life, an annual event that marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.

The wide array of events surrounding the march reflect many of the strands of the anti-choice movement. This morning, far-flung members of the “rescue” movement -- those who protest outside of clinics and sometimes harass providers and patients -- joined local activists who have been protesting at a new Planned Parenthood building, much to the dismay of the elementary school next door. On Wednesday, a group of demonstrators elsewhere in Washington mistakenly protested outside of a closed Planned Parenthood building. Over the next few days, young activists will have two rallies and a conference dedicated just to them. Lawyers and law students will meet about legal strategies for turning back abortion rights. For the first time, there will be a conference focused on evangelicals.

But many of these events will be connected by the presence of one familiar face: David Daleiden, the young activist whose “sting” operation against Planned Parenthood has shaken up the anti-abortion movement. Daleiden isn’t scheduled for a main-stage slot at the march, but he’ll be making appearances at the Planned Parenthood protest, the evangelical summit, the lawyers’ event and a Family Research council event, along with a related Students for Life event on the West Coast on Sunday.

Daleiden’s influence will likely be felt even at events where he isn’t present: The keynote speech at the march itself will be delivered by Carly Fiorina, the Republican presidential candidate who has routinely recited a false story of what she claims to have seen in one of Daleiden’s films.

The central role of Daleiden in this week’s events reflects the extent to which his project, which stemmed from one of the most radical strands of the anti-choice movement, has brought radical protest groups back to prominence and shifted the strategy and priorities of the more “mainstream” parts of the movement.

Last summer, Daleiden started releasing a series of videos, taken undercover in conversations with Planned Parenthood employees, which he claimed showed the women’s health organization illegally profiting off fetal tissue donated for research. Those claims didn’t hold up, but they opened up a new line of attack for the anti-choice movement -- along with a new wave of violence -- that culminated in the recent votes in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, something that anti-choice leaders say they will now be able to do once and for all if a Planned Parenthood foe is elected president. Planned Parenthood is now suing Daleiden and his accomplices.

This renewed focus on Planned Parenthood has helped to elevate the rescue movement, which Daleiden’s project grew out of. Two of Daleiden’s closest advisors, Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman and Life Dynamics’ Mark Crutcher, helped to pioneer the strategy of cutting down access to abortion by making life miserable for abortion providers and patients. Crutcher has specialized in doing this through “sting” operations, including one that Daleiden’s was modeled after, and now hopes to train and “unleash a whole army of David Daleidens” on abortion providers.

Planned Parenthood has long been a target of these groups. After Daleiden started releasing his videos, anti-choice groups began directing their activists to protests in front of Planned Parenthood clinics led by some of the old guard of the rescue movement. This created what Newman described as “the largest coordinated protest of abortion clinics” since the prime of the rescue movement in the 1980s and 1990s.

Daleiden’s videos have also prompted a shift in how major anti-choice groups are talking about their work. Americans United for Life, the influential anti-abortion legal group, has been a leader in the strategy of pushing abortion restrictions in the name of “women’s health,” offering legislators anti-choice model bills through what it calls its “Women’s Protection Program.” But since Daleiden started releasing his videos, AUL has sensed an opportunity and started shifting its rhetoric toward legal rights for fetuses, launching what it calls an “Infants’ Protection Project” that quietly aims to build on “personhood” protections for fetuses.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the head of the anti-choice campaign powerhouse Susan B. Anthony List, told ProPublica that in Daleiden’s videos, her group “saw our opening -- and we jumped all in.”

That has certainly also been the case with Fiorina and her fellow Republican presidential candidates, nearly all of whom say they want to remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood’s services to low-income women (none of which goes towards abortions), and several of whom have vowed to attempt to ban all abortion, some through a radical “personhood” strategy.

The official theme of this year’s March for Life is “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman go Hand in Hand,” a nod to the strategy of portraying abortion restrictions as protections for women. But it seems likely that it will be hard to escape Daleiden’s attack on Planned Parenthood and its aftermath.


PFAW

Divided Supreme Court Issues Good Decision in Important Class Action Case

On Wednesday of this week, in an important case on class actions previewed last September by PFAWF, the Supreme Court handed down a good ruling for consumers concerning class actions. This was an unusual development for the Roberts-Alito Court, which has generally gone along with big business efforts to limit class actions as an important remedy. This time, although Roberts and Alito (and Scalia) dissented, six justices led by Justice Ginsburg rejected a corporation’s effort to hurt consumers.

Class actions are a crucial type of lawsuit that allows consumers and others with relatively small individual claims to band together and seek large amounts of damages to help hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing. In this case, Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, the corporation had violated federal law by sending unwanted telephone solicitations to some 100,000 people. Jose Gomez got one of those solicitations and filed a lawsuit, asking  for the maximum statutory remedy for himself of $1500 but also seeking to bring a class action on behalf of the tens of thousands of other people who received the unwanted solicitations. The corporation tried to end the suit by offering to pay Mr. Gomez  his $1500 and then arguing that its offer ended the lawsuit and the basis for the class action.  If allowed, that would give corporations an easy and inexpensive way to prevent most class action lawsuits.

The Supreme Court rejected the corporation’s ploy in a 6-3 vote. As Justice Ginsburg explained, if a plaintiff like Mr. Gomez rejects an offer, even if it is for the maximum amount that could be recovered individually, the case remains alive and able to be pursued  as a class action.  Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Alito and Scalia, dissented and argued, as they usually do, that the corporation should prevail , since it was willing to give Mr. Gomez “everything he asks for.” As Justice Ginsburg explained in response, that “would place the defendant in the driver’s seat”, improperly allowing corporations to spend minimal amounts to pay off individual plaintiffs and forestall class actions.

This decision will not remedy the damage that the Roberts-Alito Court has previously done, and could well do in the future, to limit class actions and harm consumers. And the Court left open the question of whether a corporation can stop a class action by formally placing the full amount of an individual’s claim in an account and getting a lower court to rule for the individual and dismiss the class action claim. This loophole should be closed by the Court, as the New York Times explained, to “protect what remains of the class action from the unrelenting efforts of business to undermine it.” At least in this case, however, even Roberts and Alito could not muster the votes needed to further harm consumers and help big business.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Hosts Briefing & Rallies at the Supreme Court for Workers’ Rights Case

Just hours after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning in a case that will likely have a profound impact on the rights of working people, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, People For the American Way hosted a member telebriefing to help unpack what’s at stake in the case.

On the call, PFAW Senior Fellow and constitutional law scholar Jamie Raskin explained that at issue in Friedrichs are “agency fees” that allow the costs of collective bargaining and other union benefits to be shared by all public sector employees rather than by union members alone. Attacking this practice amounts to “a broad-based assault on public sector unions,” Raskin said.

PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker situated the case within the context of the Roberts-Alito Court’s pro-corporate record, where the high court has consistently privileged the interests of corporations over the rights of individual people, such as in the Citizens United decision.

“Workers have a right to stand up for themselves” and to “represent their own interests,” Baker added.

Before the telebriefing, PFAW staff and supporters were at the Supreme Court demonstrating in support of the rights of working people as the justices heard arguments in the case.


You can listen to the full telebriefing below, and read affiliate PFAW Foundation’s new report on “Corporations, Unions, and Constitutional Democracy” here.

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PFAW

Hillary Clinton Lays Out Her Vision For the Supreme Court

In an op-ed today in the Boston Globe, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes on what may be the biggest issue at stake in the 2016 election: the future of the US Supreme Court.

The court’s decisions have a profound impact on American families. In the past two decades alone, it effectively declared George W. Bush president, significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act, and opened the door to a flood of unaccountable money in our politics. It also made same-sex marriage legal nationwide, preserved the Affordable Care Act not once but twice, and ensured equal access to education for women.

On Election Day, three of the current justices will be over 80 years old, which is past the court’s average retirement age. The next president could easily appoint more than one justice. That makes this a make-or-break moment — for the court and our country.

That’s true. As People For the American Way recently laid out in our Judgment Day report, virtually every single important issue—from voting rights to guns to reproductive freedom to workplace fairness to the environment and beyond—will be at stake before the Supreme Court. And because the Justices most likely to retire in the next few years come from both sides of the bench, our country has the opportunity to pull the Court from its dangerous rightward lurch of the last decade—or to solidify a far-right majority for a generation.

But just as important as preventing the next president from appointing more Justices in the mold of Scalia, Thomas and Alito, we need to elect a President who will appoint extraordinary jurists who understand the profoundly progressive nature of our constitution. In her op-ed, Senator Clinton lays out what that looks like.

As president (and a lawyer and former law professor), I’ll appoint justices who will protect the constitutional principles of liberty and equality for all, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or political viewpoint; make sure the scales of justice aren’t tipped away from individuals toward corporations and special interests; and protect citizens’ right to vote, rather than billionaires’ right to buy elections.

Secretary Clinton isn’t alone in laying out a progressive vision for the Court. Senator Bernie Sanders has spoken repeatedly about the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United and how we need to "overturn this disastrous decision.”  And Governor Martin O’Malley has promised to “appoint judges who don't think corporations are people.”

All of this is good news for progressives—and why People For the American Way has been pushing so hard for more conversation about the importance of the Supreme Court as we head into the 2016 election. But it’s not enough.

In the coming weeks and months we’ll continue to push candidates of both parties to make clear what kind of judges they’d appoint to our nation’s highest courts, because, as Secretary Clinton says, “There’s a lot at stake in this election. Nowhere is this clearer than in the US Supreme Court.”
 

PFAW

PFAW’s Latinos Vote! 2015 Highlights

2015 was a banner year for People For the American Way’s Latinos Vote! program, which works to expose and counter anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric and policies from the far-right, the Republican Party, and GOP presidential candidates.

In 2015, PFAW was on the ground in key states discussing the importance of the Latino vote and the extreme agendas of the Republican Party and its presidential candidates. Frequently, we were joined by PFAW board member and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta in our efforts. PFAW also launched numerous Spanish-language radio and digital ads as part of our program.

PFAW’s Latinos Vote! 2015 Highlights

GOP Debates

Colorado

Leading up to the Republican debate in Colorado, PFAW organized a Latino voters and leaders roundtable to address the anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric and stances of the GOP candidates. Dolores Huerta and CO State Rep. Salazar headlined the event. Huerta also joined PFAW to participate in the My Country, My Vote rally in Boulder, CO before the debate.

Selected coverage:

NBC.com: Before GOP Debate, Political Opposites Condemn Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

Fox News Latino: Latinos analizan inmigración y otros temas prioritarios en encuentro Denver

Univision Denver: Dolores Huerta conversa con votantes hispanos en Colorado

Telemundo Denver: Candidatos republicanos debatirán en Colorado

Latin Life Denver: “If We Don’t Vote The Haters Win,” Dolores Huerta, Colorado Latino Leaders and Voters Speak Out Against Republican Candidates

Wisconsin

Before the GOP debate in Wisconsin, Dolores Huerta joined PFAW staff and activists in Milwaukee to protest the extreme Republican candidates. PFAW partnered with local groups including Voces de la Frontera for a press conference and rally.

Selected coverage:

Univision: Debate republicano se llevaría a cabo en medio del tema migratorio

Latina Magazine: Dolores Huerta Sounds Off On the GOP Candidates for President

The Nation: A Billionaire, Some Millionaires, and a No-Show Senator Debate How Best to Block Wage Hikes

Telemundo Wisconsin: Dolores Huerta participó en una marcha en protesta al debate republicano en Milwaukee

CBS 58: 'Stop the Hate' Group to March Tuesday

Nevada

Huerta also traveled with PFAW to Las Vegas, Nevada for the most recent GOP debate. She participated in a Latino voters and leaders roundtable and spoke at the #NoHateDebate rally outside of the debate.

Selected coverage:

PBS Las Vegas: Ralston Live

El Tiempo: “Latinos decidan próximas elecciones”: Dolores Huerta

Las Vegas Review-Journal: Candidates Roll Through Las Vegas Ahead of Tuesday’s Debate

Univision Las Vegas: Varios manifestantes se expresan en contra de discursos anti-inmigrantes de pre-candidatos a la pres

An opinion piece by Dolores was also published on Univision.com before the debate: “Dolores Huerta: La guerra abierta de los republicanos contra latinos e inmigrantes.”

Statewide Elections

Virginia

Leading up to Virginia’s State Senate elections, PFAW launched the first Spanish-language ads to use Trump’s bigoted rhetoric to encourage voters to turn out to the polls. Dolores Huerta also joined PFAW staff and activists on the ground to get out the vote in Northern Virginia.

Selected coverage:

USA Today: How Trump is Helping Clinton: Latino Mobilization Takes Shape

Reuters: Trump Becomes Poster Boy for Efforts to Mobilize 2016 Latino Voters

Washington Post: Anti-Trump Ads to Soon Air on Spanish-Language Radio Stations in Northern Virginia

Washington Post: Democrats Use Anti-Trump Sentiment to Win Latino Votes in Local Elections

El Tiempo Latino: Dolores Huerta: “el voto latino traerá el cambio”

La Opinion: “Callarle la bocota a Trump”: comercial electoral enfocado en movilizar enojo de latinos

Huerta also appeared on Telemundo DC on the weekend leading up to the election to discuss the importance of the Latino vote and encourage voters to cast a ballot in the upcoming elections.

North Carolina

Dolores Huerta traveled with PFAW to North Carolina to get out the vote leading up to local elections in North Carolina, and to protest Gov. McCrory’s decision to sign a severely anti-immigrant bill, HB-318, into law.

In addition to numerous Spanish-language radio interviews, top coverage included:

La Noticia: Dolores Huerta: A votar para sacar a los antiinmigrantes del gobierno

El Progreso Hispano: Dolores Huerta rechaza en Charlotte la HB318

Mundo Latino: ¡A Votar!…es el mensaje para los nuevos ciudadanos USCIS juramentó a 50 nuevos ciudadanos en Charlotte

Scott Walker ALEC Conference

Just after announcing his candidacy for the president, Scott Walker headlined the annual meeting of the far-right, corporate-led American Legislative Exchange Council in California. Dolores Huerta joined PFAW to protest the event on the ground, and PFAW launched Spanish- and English- language ads in Wisconsin, California, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, and North Carolina targeting Walker for his ALEC appearance and anti-immigrant stances.

Watch the ads here.

Selected coverage:

Los Angeles Times: In San Diego, Union Members Protest Conservative Group’s Gathering

Latin Post: Scott Walker on Immigration: Progressive Groups, Civil Rights Icon Dolores Huerta Takes Aim at 'Terrible' Walker

Fox News Latino: Activistas reciben con protestas reunión de ALEC en California

Jeb Bush Presidential Announcement

PFAW ran digital ads on Univision.com and in Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, and Virginia the week that Jeb Bush announced his campaign for president. The ad highlighted Bush’s opposition to the minimum wage and to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Watch the ad here.

Selected coverage:

La Opinion: Dolores Huerta: “Jeb Bush Dice lo Que le Conviene”

Sunshine State News: On His Announcement Day, Democrats Go After Jeb Bush

The Pueblo Chieftain: Huerta: Jeb Bush Against Latinos

Viva Colorado also ran a piece by Dolores Huerta that targeted Bush for his harmful rhetoric and policies following his presidential announcement, “Un vistazo al precandidato republicano Jeb Bush.”

Marco Rubio Presidential Announcement

On the morning that Marco Rubio officially launched his presidential campaign, PFAW released Spanish-language radio ads that ran in Florida and Colorado criticizing Rubio for his dangerous agenda that ignores the interests of working families, including Latinos.

Listen to the ad, and read the English translation, here.

Selected coverage:

Tampa Bay Times: Spanish-Language Radio Ad Goes After Marco Rubio

El Nuevo Herald: El republican Marco Rubio se lanza a la presidencia

The Hill: Progressives: Rubio Bad for Middle Class

Dolores Huerta also published an op-ed in Florida’s El Nuevo Herald following Rubio’s announcement, “Marco Rubio, el candidato equivocado.”

Additional Highlights

In January, PFAW teamed up with American Bridge to release a Spanish language ad targeting Majority Whip Steve Scalise for speaking to a white supremacist group and calling out the Republican Party for its embrace of extremism.

Early this year, PFAW released a new report on the Libre Initiative, a right-wing organization attempting to win over Latino votes for the Republican Party, as part of our efforts to counter the Koch-funded organization.

Throughout 2015, PFAW has continually spoken out as GOP presidential candidates and the Republican Party followed Trump’s lead in anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric and policy positions. Additional press highlights, including op-eds by PFAW staff and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta included:

Univision: Al Punto con Jorge Ramos

USA Today: Dolores Huerta: El poder de la comunidad hispana el día de las elecciones

Univision.com: Marco Rubio eliminará la protección a jóvenes indocumentados aún sin reforma migratoria

Latin Post: People for the American Way's Carlos Sanchez Says GOP Needs Accountability in Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

Fox News Latino: Opinion: GOP Targets Latinos’ Ability to Vote

El Tiempo Latino: Por qué los candidatos republicanos son malos para nuestra comunidad

Latina Magazine: Marco Rubio Says He’d End DACA if President

2016 Elections

PFAW’s Latinos Vote! program in 2016 will continue to expose and counter anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric and policies of the Republican Party and GOP presidential candidates. For more information about our program, please contact Laura Epstein (lepstein@pfaw.org).

 

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PFAW

Merry Christmas, Kentucky: Gov. Bevin Strips Voting Rights of 140,000 and Lowers Minimum Wage

Just in time for the holidays!

Kentucky’s brand new Tea Party governor just broke a campaign promise and REVERSED a positive move by his Democratic predecessor that had restored voting rights to some 140,000 Kentuckians.

Once again, Kentucky will be one of the very few states where people with felony convictions remain disenfranchised after completing their sentences. As ThinkProgress points out, this means that one in five African Americans in the state will be disenfranchised. Studies show that ex-felon disenfranchisement leads to higher rates of recidivism.  

Oh, and Bevin also lowered the minimum wage.

ThinkProgress has more:

In another executive order this week, Bevin reversed former Gov. Beshear’s move to raise the state’s minimum wage for government workers and contractors to $10.10 an hour, bringing it back down to $7.25 an hour. About 800 state workers who have already gotten raises will be able to keep them, but new hires will now have to start at the lower pay rate. In the order, Bevin hinted that he would prefer the state have no minimum wage at all: “Wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government,” he said.

PFAW

Dolores Huerta Joins PFAW for GOP Debate in Las Vegas

Leading up to the December 15 Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, PFAW board member Dolores Huerta traveled to Las Vegas to speak with Nevada voters about the dangerous platforms of Republican presidential candidates. The trip was part of PFAW’s Latinos Vote! program, and this was the third GOP debate where Huerta joined PFAW on the ground to emphasize the extremism of the current Republican presidential candidates.

Her first stop was a Latino voters and leaders roundtable where she addressed the Republican candidates’ far-right platforms on a number of issues, including the environment, immigration, the minimum wage, and women’s health.

Huerta also headlined a press conference with unions and progressive organizations, and a #NoHateDebate rally outside of the debate. As the leading Nevada newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, reported, “Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and civil rights champion Dolores Huerta said ‘there's a war going on’ against women, labor unions and the environment, and it's being waged by the candidates who will take the stage in Las Vegas Tuesday night and their respective party.”

Watch her speech at the #NoHateDebate rally:

Mobilizing voters in Nevada will be a key to Democrats winning the White House in 2016. In 2008 and 2012, Obama won Nevada, but in the 2014 elections, Republicans won up and down the ticket. The state is one of the targets for PFAW’s Latinos Vote! program that works to expose and counter anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric and policies, as Nevada Latinos could be the margin of victory for Democrats in Nevada in 2016. While in 1994 Latino voters were just 5% of the electorate, they’re now 15% of the voting population. By speaking directly with Latino voters and to local media, Huerta was able to address how important the Latino vote will be in Nevada and the dangerous threat that the Republican presidential candidates pose to Latino and immigrant communities. 

PFAW

Report Calls For Stronger Accountability Against Charter School 'Profiteering'

A new report published this month by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder examines the ways that “charter school policy functions to promote privatization and profiteering.”

The report’s authors, Bruce Baker of Rutgers University and Gary Miron of Western Michigan University, identify four major policy concerns:

  1. A substantial share of public expenditure intended for the delivery of direct educational services to children is being extracted inadvertently or intentionally for personal or business financial gain, creating substantial inefficiencies;
  2. Public assets are being unnecessarily transferred to private hands, at public expense, risking the future provision of “public” education;
  3. Charter school operators are growing highly endogenous, self-serving private entities built on funds derived from lucrative management fees and rent extraction which further compromise the future provision of “public” education; and
  4. Current disclosure requirements make it unlikely that any related legal violations, ethical concerns, or merely bad policies and practices are not realized until clever investigative reporting, whistleblowers or litigation brings them to light. 

Al Jazeera America quotes National Education Policy Center Director Kevin Welner:

“What we found is that there are a host of real estate and tax laws that were not put in place with charter schools in mind, but that the owners of charter school enterprises are using in order to profit. I think that understanding the nature of the charter school gravy train, as I call it, is extremely important for the public and policymakers.”

Charter school laws across the country vary wildly in terms of accountability, and school privatization proponents have become big spenders on state-level politics and lobbying in order to win laws that maximize their access to cash while minimizing their accountability to the public.  A recent Associated Press investigation in Florida examined taxpayer funding for charter schools that closed down, finding that “charter schools that receive millions of taxpayer dollars often spend the money on non-tangible assets, including lease payments for facilities,” meaning there are few tangible assets for school districts or taxpayers to recover if a school closes.

Baker and Miron, the authors of the new NEPC report, argue that the “financial incentives embedded in state law, combined with the need for most of the companies to make a profit” have led to schools being run by charter chains or “educational management organizations” to operate “in ways that are often at odds with the goals of charter school reforms and, ultimately, the public interest.”

As we have noted before, all charter schools are not the same – some do an excellent job educating students and some do worse than their public school counterparts. But the original purpose of charter schools – to be labs allowing creative teachers some freedom to identify new approaches that could strengthen public schools – has frequently been flipped on its head, wrote Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter in “A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education.” Often teachers are forced to follow rigid rules while administrators and/or corporate operators rake in huge amounts of money diverted from public schools. Charters are often promoted under the broad  “school choice” mantle along with vouchers and other tax schemes as part of a broader privatization movement that seeks to dismantle public education and undermine teachers unions.

The NEPC report offers a set of specific policy recommendations designed to address areas of concern, improve transparency, and strengthen accountability for the public subsidies received by charter schools and management organizations that operate them. 

The need for greater accountability was also the focus of “The Tip of the Iceberg,” a report published earlier this year by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and the Center for Popular Democracy, which estimated $1.4 billion would be lost to “corruption and mismanagement in charter schools” in 2015.

Change is possible. For years, Ohio’s charter school sector has been the source of embarrassment and scandal, characterized by the Columbus Dispatch as “[f]ailure to close poor-performing schools,mismanagement of taxpayer dollars, and an abundance of conflict of interest issues” -- what ProgressOhio called “a national joke.” Earlier this year, the man chosen by to oversee charter school accountability in the state was forced to resign “after getting caught manipulating school ratings to cover up for chronically failing online charter schools.” But after previously failed attempts to reform the state’s charters, a new law passed this fall with bipartisan support. And in November ProgressOhio cheered the announcement that Richard Ross would step down from his position as State Superintendent of Education, which the group said “gives the state a chance to properly enforce a sweeping new charter school accountability law.”

 

PFAW

PFAW Year-End Member Telebriefing

Last week, PFAW hosted its year-end member telebriefing on the Right Wing in 2015, discussing the parade of horribles we’ve heard in 2015 and previewing what we can expect from the right-wing movement and the Republican presidential candidates going into this critically important election year.  PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney moderated the call, and he was joined by Brian Tashman, Senior Research Associate at PFAW’s Right Wing Watch; PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager; and PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker.

Tashman gave an overview of the extreme rhetoric and policy positions that the Republican presidential candidates have staked out this year. As Tashman explained, we saw “another dark turn in the GOP field. Trump has moved all the major candidates far to the right, discussing topics once considered beyond the pale, like deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants or banning people from entering our country based on their religion.”

Tashman highlighted that Donald Trump is far from the only extreme candidate in the race. Just a few examples that Tashman detailed of other candidates embracing the far-right included that Ted Cruz is touting the endorsement of radical gun activists and an anti-abortion leader who went so far as to support the death penalty for abortion providers. Marco Rubio, for his part, has actually said that local government officials can violate the Supreme Court if they believe that a ruling interferes with their understanding of religion. And Rubio has spoken out against all abortion – even in cases of rape and incest.

Borntrager laid out the dynamics at play in the 2016 presidential election. He explained that Republican candidates will be forced to take to the general election the extreme policy positions that they’re advocating for now. This will likely prove very problematic for the Republican candidates because, as Borntrager said, the “Republican brand is way out of touch with mainstream America.” From speaking out against refugees to supporting mass deportation policies, the positions of the Republican candidates are far to the right of most Americans.

In responding to questions from PFAW members, Borntrager and Baker stressed the importance of pushing back against the fear mongering that the Republicans are engaging in. Baker encouraged members to continue to speak out against the Republican xenophobia by educating their friends and neighbors through facts about, for example, our nation’s immigration policies and refugee screening process. Of course, she also said that we can and should emphasize that the GOP positions on immigrants, Muslims, and refugees are, quite frankly, un-American.

Borntrager discussed PFAW’s specific efforts to expose and counter anti-immigrant, anti-Latino speech from the GOP candidates through PFAW’s Latinos Vote! program. PFAW staff and members have joined PFAW board member and civil rights legend Dolores Huerta to push back against the GOP candidates’ extremism. Just last week for example, Huerta joined PFAW to participate in a #NoHateDebate in Las Vegas leading up to the most recent GOP debate there. In 2016, PFAW will continue to monitor and expose the far-right movement and will engage even further in holding Republican candidates accountable for their dangerous rhetoric and policy positions.

Listen to the full telebriefing here:

PFAW

On Judges, the Worst Year Since 1960

At the end of the year, Senators of both parties often reach agreements to clear the decks of consensus judicial nominees.  At least that was often the case before the Obama-era Republican Party went into “resistance movement” mode and set out to sabotage all things Obama.  Now, as Republicans end their first year in control of the Senate, there are 13 consensus circuit and district court nominees waiting for a floor vote… and they have agreed to confirm exactly zero of them before leaving town.

What they have agreed to is the following:  (1)  unopposed Third Circuit nominee Phil Restrepo, approved by the Judiciary Committee back in July, will finally have his confirmation vote on January 11; (2) Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will schedule votes on four unopposed district court nominees some time in January or February, before the President’s Day recess; (3) Republicans will not send any judicial nominations back to the White House, which would have forced them to be renominated and re-approved by committee.

Republicans also gave up in their efforts to bypass all blue-state nominees and let red-state ones skip over them toward confirmation.  The nominees whose votes have been agreed to are highlighted below.  They are not being taken in order, but ones from both blue and red states alike are being skipped.

  1. L. Felipe Restrepo (PA, Third Circuit) – July 9
  2. Waverly Crenshaw (TN) – July 9
  3. Wilhelmina “Mimi” Wright (MN) – September 17
  4. John Vazquez (NJ) – September 17
  5. Paula Xinis (MD) – September 17
  6. Brian Martinotti (NJ) – October 29
  7. Robert Rossiter (NE) – October 29
  8. Edward Stanton (TN) – October 29
  9. Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger (IA) – November 5
  10. Leonard Strand (IA) – November 5
  11. Julien Neals (NJ) – November 5
  12. Gary Brown (NY) – November 5
  13. Mark Young (CA) – November 5

So while President Bush had 40 judges confirmed in 2007 when Democrats retook the Senate, the GOP-controlled Senate will end the year confirming only 11 of President Obama’s judges.  This is the lowest number of circuit and district court judges confirmed in a year since 1960, the end of the Eisenhower era, when there were fewer than half the number of judgeships than there are today.

All 13 of the above nominees could be confirmed today.  They should be confirmed today.  That they won’t be is a testament to the little regard Senate Republicans hold for the federal court system that guarantees the rights of every American.

PFAW

Ginsburg Calls Out the Roberts Court's Empowering of the Powerful

The Supreme Court issued a ruling today in another of its series of arbitration cases.  Yet again, the Court upheld the ability of a powerful corporation to force consumers to agree to arbitration and sign away their right to engage in class action should the company violate their legal rights.  Class actions are a vital mechanism to hold large businesses accountable.  We’ve been writing about this trend for the past several years in cases like AT&T v. Concepcion and American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant.

Unlike the other cases, today's ruling in DIRECTV v. Imburgia was not 5-4 in the predictable lineup.  Instead, it was 6-3, with Justice Breyer writing the opinion, joined by Justices Kagan, Scalia, Alito, Kennedy, and Chief Justice Roberts.  Justice Ginsburg (joined by Justice Sotomayor) dissented, while Justice Thomas had a separate dissent.

Ginsburg’s dissent opened up with clear description of how the Roberts Court has empowered corporations and weakened consumers:

It has become routine, in a large part due to this Court’s decisions, for powerful economic enterprises to write into their form contracts with consumers and employees no-class-action arbitration clauses.  …  Acknowledging the precedent so far set by the Court, I would take no further step to disarm consumers, leaving them without effective access to justice.

Americans have long been able to count on strong consumer protection laws to protect them for being victimized by predatory corporations.  Those laws, including the right to class actions, have been essential in letting ordinary people stand as equals to giant corporations and hold those businesses accountable.  Ginsburg is correct to say that the line of 5-4 arbitration cases has left us “disarmed,” because giant corporations are increasingly empowered to change the relationship between buyer and seller into one between predator and prey.

We are, indeed, disarmed and without effective access to justice … despite laws designed to protect us.

In closing, Ginsburg wrote that the Court is:

further degrading the rights of consumers and further insulating already powerful economic entities from liability for unlawful acts.

We deserve better from our nation’s Supreme Court.

PFAW Foundation

Senate GOP Floats Plan to Politicize Judges Even More

Yesterday, Senate Republicans – who have allowed only 11 judicial confirmation votes the entire year – at long last agreed to schedule a vote for consensus Third Circuit nominee L. Felipe Restrepo.  The agreement came five months after he cleared the Judiciary Committee unanimously.  As if that needless wait weren’t already evidence of partisan obstruction, Republicans agreed to the vote only if it could be delayed by more than another month, until January 11.

And today, Roll Call is reporting on GOP plans to ramp up partisanship in judicial nominations even more:

Yet there is a decent chance Congress will go home for the year without [confirming anyone].  That would be a signal the process of confirming judges, already at its slowest pace in more than half a century, is grinding to a halt earlier than ever in the life cycle of a modern two-term president.

It remains likelier that, before adjourning next week, the majority Republicans will agree to create a handful of new judges — but perhaps only [Tennessee nominee Waverly Crenshaw] and four more who would also join U.S. District Courts in states represented by two GOP senators.

Currently, there are 13 circuit and district judicial nominees who have been waiting for a confirmation vote, some since as long ago as July.  When Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally schedules a vote on such a nominee, it has usually been in the order that they came out of the Judiciary Committee (and, when nominees advance on the same day, the order that they are listed on the Senate Executive Calendar).  Below is the list of nominees, in order, including the date they were approved by the Judiciary Committee and became eligible for a confirmation vote.  All but Restrepo would serve on district courts.  The list is color coded by partisanship of home state senators (with Restrepo the only one represented by both a Republican and a Democrat).

  1. L. Felipe Restrepo (PA, Third Circuit) – July 9
  2. Waverly Crenshaw (TN) – July 9
  3. Wilhelmina “Mimi” Wright (MN) – September 17
  4. John Vazquez (NJ) – September 17
  5. Paula Xinis (MD) – September 17
  6. Brian Martinotti (NJ) – October 29
  7. Robert Rossiter (NE) – October 29
  8. Edward Stanton (TN) – October 29
  9. Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger (IA) – November 5
  10. Leonard Strand (IA) – November 5
  11. Julien Neals (NJ) – November 5
  12. Gary Brown (NY) – November 5
  13. Mark Young (CA) – November 5

Under the scheme being floated by Senate Republicans, “their” nominees would skip over four district court nominees who come from states with Democratic senators, even though the blue-state nominees have been waiting longer for a vote.  Individuals and businesses in Minnesota, New Jersey, and Maryland would be punished by Mitch McConnell for electing the “wrong” senators, yet another escalation by the GOP in their politicization of the judicial confirmation process.

Every nominee waiting for a vote has been fully vetted by the Judiciary Committee and advanced without opposition to the full Senate.  Each should have a vote before senators go home.  It is bad enough that Restrepo has been needlessly put off to January.  Gaming the list to disfavor certain nominees based on which party their state’s senators belong to would add insult to injury.

PFAW

Republicans Created Trump; They Must Stand Up To Him

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Donald Trump made one of the most stunning political statements in recent memory yesterday when he called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." 

Campaign spokespeople quickly clarified that Trump was referring not only to a blanket ban on Muslim immigrants, but also to preventing Muslims from coming to the U.S. as tourists and possibly even preventing American citizens who are traveling or living abroad from returning home. (He generously made an exception for Muslim members of the military.)

Trump continues to be the frontrunner in the Republican presidential primary. It's time for party officials to reckon with what they have created.

Trump is the product of a party that has for decades thrived on stirring up fears of a scary "other" -- from the Southern Strategy to Willie Horton to the persistent rumors that President Obama is a secret Muslim or Kenyan or both. The Republican establishment has for years tolerated its candidates rubbing shoulders with the most extreme elements of its base, whether it's the white nationalists who have spoken at CPAC or the parade of extremists at each year's Values Voter Summit. 

But there are certain things leading Republicans have largely been careful not to say out loud. Until now.

Trump, building off the Right's campaign to paint undocumented immigrants as dangerous invaders, launched his campaign by announcing that Mexican immigrants were rapists, drug dealers and other criminals. Then, when the news cycle shifted, he shifted his bigotry. He has spent the last several weeks repeating the objectively untrue claim that "thousands and thousands" of Muslim Americans in New Jersey took to the streets to celebrate the 9/11 attacks. He suggested shutting down some mosques and refused to rule out the possibility of a national database of American Muslims

Trump's relentless stream of bigotry isn't turning away the far-right base of the GOP. Instead, he remains at the top of Republican presidential polls. 

It's not enough for Trump's rivals and the party's leadership to say they disagree with his absurd plan to bar Muslims from the country. They must reckon with what their party has become and, if they don't like it, speak out forcefully on behalf of the American values of freedom, liberty and pluralism. It's not enough for them to reject one outrageous plan. They must speak out against bigotry and prejudice. And they must make clear that even if Trump were to become the party's nominee, he would be on his own.

The Republican Party created Trump. Now it's time for them to take responsibility and, if they don't like what Trump is saying, take a strong stand for what is right.

PFAW