PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Pawlenty Brags about Former Minnesota Government Shutdown; Hopes we Forget his Role in the Current One

Former Minnesota governor and GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty is trying to deflect criticism of his role in Minnesota’s current government shutdown by touting is role in a previous one.

Pawlenty’s out with a new TV ad that claims he “won” a 2005 shutdown that closed the state government for eight days, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $4.68 million per day. Pawlenty’s choice to brag about the shutdown and claim victory is interesting. Pawlenty’s beef with Democratic legislators was that they wanted to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to keep the state’s health services intact – Pawlenty and Republicans in the legislature wanted to cut 27,000 people off the state's health care plan.  In the end, the two sides agreed to raise the state’s cigarette taxes in order to preserve essential social services and prevent the wealthy from paying more income taxes. This is the fight that Pawlenty claims he “won.”

The ad is part of a large effort by the Pawlenty campaign to whitewash his fiscal record as governor. While Pawlenty likes to claim that he left the state with a budget surplus, that surplus was largely just on paper. As the Wall Street Journal has reported, Pawlenty’s deferred payments and fuzzy math helped to make the state’s budget situation look a lot better than it was…laying the groundwork for the current deficit.

Watch the new ad:

PFAW

Supreme Court Shows Ideological Biases, Is It Still Nonpartisan?

The New York Times posted a must-read editorial highlighting activities by Supreme Court justices, that, particularly in light of the Court’s recent 5-4 decisions favoring corporate special interests over the rights of individuals, create a compelling case for an ethical code of conduct for Supreme Court Justices.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito Jr., for example, appeared at political events. That kind of activity makes it less likely that the court’s decisions will be accepted as nonpartisan judgments. Part of the problem is that the justices are not bound by an ethics code. At the very least, the court should make itself subject to the code of conduct that applies to the rest of the federal judiciary.

So many of the Supreme Court’s decisions this term have worked in favor of powerful corporate interests that it’s becoming almost impossible to ignore the ideological biases of the justices. The editorial discusses some of these worrisome rulings, including making it harder “for private lawsuits to succeed against mutual fund malefactors, even when they have admitted to lying and cheating,” and making it “more difficult for class-action suits in all manner of cases to move forward.” in the recent Wal-Mart case.

The federal judiciary was set up to put space between the legal system and political sphere, but it seems more and more that some justices have brought an intense ideological agenda to the bench. If the American people are to trust in the impartiality of the Supreme Court, its justices are going to have to be held to the very highest of ethical standards.

PFAW

Americans Support Tax Increases

We know the Republican view on taxes. In Minnesota, the government has shut down over Republican refusal to raise taxes on the fewer than 8,000 people making over $1 million. On the national level, Republicans are refusing to even consider raising revenue, threatening to let the U.S. default on its debt. But what about everyday Americans? Even with the influence of the anti-tax Tea Party, Americans strongly support raising taxes in order to decrease the deficit and reduce income inequality, as 19 polls taken since the beginning of the year show. Bruce Braley has the rundown:

A June 9 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 61 percent of people believe higher taxes will be necessary to reduce the deficit.

A June 7 Pew poll found strong support for tax increases to reduce the deficit; 67 percent of people favor raising the wage cap for Social Security taxes, 66 percent raising income tax rates on those making more than $250,000, and 62 percent favor limiting tax deductions for large corporations. A plurality of people would also limit the mortgage interest deduction.

A May 26 Lake Research poll of Colorado voters found that they support higher taxes on the rich to shore-up Social Security’s finances by a 44 percent to 25 percent margin.

A May 13 Bloomberg poll found that only one third of people believe it is possible to substantially reduce the budget deficit without higher taxes; two thirds do not.

A May 12 Ipsos/Reuters poll found that three-fifths of people would support higher taxes to reduce the deficit.

A May 4 Quinnipiac poll found that people favor raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 to reduce the deficit by a 69 percent to 28 percent margin.

An April 29 Gallup poll found that only 20 percent of people believe the budget deficit should be reduced only by cutting spending; 76 percent say that higher taxes must play a role.

An April 25 USC/Los Angeles Times poll of Californians found that by about a 2-to-1 margin voters favor raising taxes to deal with the state’s budget problems over cutting spending alone.

An April 22 New York Times/CBS News poll found that 72 percent of people favor raising taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit. It also found that 66 percent of people believe tax increases will be necessary to reduce the deficit versus 19 percent who believe spending cuts alone are sufficient.

An April 20 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that by a 2-to-1 margin people favor a combination of higher taxes and spending cuts over spending cuts alone to reduce the deficit. It also found that 72 percent of people favor raising taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit and it is far and away the most popular deficit reduction measure.

An April 20 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that by a 2-to-1 margin, people believe that the wealthy should pay more taxes than the poor or middle class. Also, 62 percent of people believe that growing inequality of wealth is a serious problem.

An April 18 McClatchy-Marist poll found that voters support higher taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit by a 2-to-1 margin, including 45 percent of self-identified Tea Party members.

An April 18 Gallup poll found that 67 percent of people do not believe that corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and 59 percent believe that the rich do not pay their fair share.

On April 1, Tulchin Research released a poll showing that voters in California overwhelmingly support higher taxes on the rich to deal with the state’s budgetary problems.

A March 15 ABC News/Washington Post poll found that only 31 percent of voters publican policy of only cutting spending to reduce the deficit; 64 percent believe higher taxes will also be necessary.

A March 2 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 81 percent of people would support a surtax on millionaires to help reduce the budget deficit, and 68 percent would support eliminating the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000.

A February 15 CBS News poll found that only 49 percent of people believe that reducing the deficit will require cuts in programs that benefit them; 41 percent do not. Also, only 37 percent of people believe that reducing the deficit will require higher taxes on them; 59 percent do not.

A January 20 CBS News/New York Times poll found that close to two-thirds of people would rather raise taxes than cut benefits for Social Security or Medicare in order to stabilize their finances. The poll also found that if taxes must be raised, 33 percent would favor a national sales tax, 32 percent would support restricting the mortgage interest deduction, 12 percent would raise the gasoline taxes, and 10 percent would tax health care benefits.

On January 3, a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll found that 61 percent of people would rather raise taxes on the rich to balance the budget than cut defense, Social Security or Medicare.

h/t Teagan Goddard

PFAW

Wisconsin Budget Takes Effect Today: Pros and Cons

The budget forced through the Wisconsin legislature by Republicans takes effect today, and there certainly will be some changes taking place throughout the state as a result. Regardless of the political drama that captivated the nation leading to this bill, what most people care about is how it will actually affect their daily lives. At the most basic level, people want to know if this bill leave them better off. For most Wisconsinites, the answer is a definite no.

This bill will make life more difficult for

  • Working families trying to raise kids (the bill reduces tax credits by $65m)
  • Anyone on Medicaid ($500m in cuts)
  • University of Wisconsin students (5.5% tuition hike)
  • Children of undocumented immigrants (no more in-state rates)
  • Middle school students who dream of going to college (a program that helps qualified students get financial aid)
  • Public servants of all kinds (retirement age raised)

There were, however, a few beneficiaries:

  • Former President Ronald Reagan (Feb. 6 is now "Ronald Reagan Day")
  • People who are rich enough or have enough rich friends to run for office without public financing (it’s no longer available)
PFAW

Wisconsin News Round-Up, 07/01


Today's news from Wisconsin:

 

PFAW

Issa's Committee Meets Perpetual Resistance

House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is known for his particularly partisan investigations, despite his many promises to the contrary. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration is frequently in the crosshairs of Issa’s inquiries, that is, when he’s not trying to figure out how to increase profits for mega corporations.

It seems, however, that whenever Issa tries to make his case, Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) is right there pushing back, producing reports - based in actual fact – and giving the American people the full, unvarnished story.

Earlier this year, Issa tried to blame Obama Administration regulation for high gas prices, but Cummings released a convincing report showing that speculation is a more likely cause.

Yesterday, in advance of Issa’s hearing on the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” gun-trafficking program – a hearing which Issa has kept narrowly focused on Administration actions – Cummings again produced a report suggesting that we would not be in this situation if not for lax federal statues that handicapped our agents’ ability to prosecute gun traffickers.

Issa will undoubtedly try to continue using the Committee to promote his agenda of slamming the Obama Administration and currying favors for his corporate friends. Fortunately, for the American people, Rep. Cummings will be there to continue setting the record straight.

PFAW

Last abortion clinics in Kansas shut their doors

Abortion is legal in the United States. But as of tomorrow, there will be one state where you can’t get one.

Tomorrow is when Kansas’s new TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) regulations will go into place, forcing every abortion clinic in the state to close because none can meet the state’s onerous new rules. The AP elaborates:

The regulations tell providers what equipment and drugs they must stock and set space and temperature requirements for procedure and recovery rooms.

For example, rooms where abortions are performed to have at least 150 square feet of space, excluding fixed cabinets, and to keep their temperatures between 68 and 73 degrees. Each procedure room also must have its own janitor's closet with at least 50 square feet.

TRAP laws are one of the most effective ways states have to eliminate access to abortion without outright banning it. Proponents often say they are concerned with the safety of patients, but the substance of the regulations imply otherwise. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures available – with or without a 50 square foot janitor’s closet available next door.

On the other hand, illegal abortions are incredibly dangerous. As states shut out opportunities for women to access and pay for safe and legal abortion procedures, more and more women may be driven to seek dangerous, illegal procedures.

For more on TRAP laws and other ways state legislatures are trying to make abortion all but illegal, take a look at our report on the war on women in the states.
 

UPDATE: In a last minute decision, one clinic will be allowed to stay open.

PFAW

Today's Supreme Court: Not Since the Gilded Age

There was once a Monty Python sketch about Dennis Moore, a confused Robin Hood wannabe who steals from the poor and gives to the rich. Minus the laugh track, that more and more seems to be the mission of the Corporate Court. The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne has a terrific column on this: "The Supreme Court's Continuing Defense of the Powerful."

The United States Supreme Court now sees its central task as comforting the already comfortable and afflicting those already afflicted.

If you are a large corporation or a political candidate backed by lots of private money, be assured that the court's conservative majority will be there for you, solicitous of your needs and ready to swat away those pesky little people who dare to contest your power.

After discussing some of the outrages of the arch-conservative majority, Dionne writes:

[P]ay heed to how this conservative court majority bristles at nearly every effort to give the less wealthy and less powerful an opportunity to prevail, whether at the ballot box or in the courtroom. Not since the Gilded Age has a Supreme Court been so determined to strengthen the hand of corporations and the wealthy.

People For the American Way Foundation recently submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee analyzing the ominous pro-corporate tilt of the Roberts Court in the term that just ended.

PFAW

Will Immigration Authorities Stop Discriminating Against Same-Sex Marriages?

Last year, we wrote about Joshua Vandiver and Henry Velandia, a married couple who risked being separated because of discrimination in federal immigration laws. Vandiver, an American citizen, and Velandia, a Venezuelan, were married in Connecticut, but because the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits federal agencies from recognizing same-sex marriages, Vandiver was unable to sponsor Velandia for a green card, and Velandia was at risk of being deported.

Then, earlier this month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement quietly closed the case against Velandia – in a move that could set a powerful precedent for how immigration officials deal with cases of married gay couples. From the New York Times:

In a decision that could have far-reaching effects on immigration cases involving same-sex couples, federal officials have canceled the deportation of a Venezuelan man in New Jersey who is married to an American man, the couple’s lawyer said Wednesday.

Josh Vandiver, left, and his husband, Henry Velandia, outside the immigration court in Newark on Friday.

The announcement comes as immigration officials put into effect new, more flexible guidelines governing the deferral and cancellation of deportations, particularly for immigrants with no serious criminal records.

Immigration lawyers and gay rights advocates said the decision represented a significant shift in policy and could open the door to the cancellation of deportations for other immigrants in same-sex marriages.

“This action shows that the government has not only the power but the inclination to do the right thing when it comes to protecting certain vulnerable populations from deportation,” said the couple’s lawyer, Lavi Soloway.

The case has been closely watched across the country by lawyers and advocates who viewed it as a test of the federal government’s position on the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Vandiver, a Princeton graduate student, and Velandia told their story in a video for the Daily Princetonian last year:

 

PFAW

Videos: Young Elected Officials at the White House

Earlier this month, members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials network were invited to the White House for a day of briefings with top Administration officials and a private reception with President Obama.

The White House communications team caught up with a few of the YEOs after the reception. Here’s what they had to say:

 

 

 

PFAW

Senate to Try New Thing Called 'Work'

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has cancelled the scheduled 4th of July recess, in the hopes that the Republican obstructionists in the upper chamber might finally allow some real work to take place on behalf of the American people. The debt talks certainly deserve attention, but this is also a great opportunity to whittle down the critical mass of still-unconfirmed presidential nominees. The number of vacant positions, particularly in the judiciary, is an embarrassing testament to the unprecedented obstruction that is taking place. According to PFAW’s Marge Baker as reported in the Huffington Post, we can’t even begin to tackle this problem unless the Senate actually shows up for work:

Baker sees a simple means of drilling through the obstruction by embarrassing an opposition that has chosen to enjoy fictional days at the office at a time when most Americans are working extra hard to keep their jobs in a tough economy.

“One way to do that is stay in session and work -- force them to work -- and get something done,” Baker said, referring particularly to the Senate where there is an enormous backlog of unfinished business on the appointment front alone.

Of nearly 300 civilian appointments Obama has made this year, fewer than 100 of them have been confirmed by the Senate -- even when there is no opposition.

It’s particularly stark with judicial appointees. Baker noted that there are 15 judge nominees who have been unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee -- nine of them women or minority appointees -- yet none have made it to the floor of the Senate.

To her, that just looks like obstruction. And even worse, in her mind, is the idea that Republicans simply want to flout the law by refusing to confirm anyone to the CFPB -- unless the law is changed.

PFAW

U.S. Senators to LGBT Youth: “We’re making it better”

Thirteen members of the Senate are the latest voices in the It Gets Better Project. In this five-minute long video, senators from across the country speak out to send a message of hope and support for LGBT youth and a call to action for all Americans. Check it out: 

Through its efforts and mission the It Gets Better Project sends a positive message to LGBT youth, but I applaud the senators for taking the message one step further by saying: “we’re making it better”. Going beyond the simple, yet powerful, message of “it gets better,” these senators show us that taking action—and not passively waiting—will result in significant advances and great victories for LGBT rights.

Pointing out their support for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, and some even speaking out in support of marriage equality, these senators show their commitment to fighting for the LGBT community.

“It’s going to get better. Believe in it, let’s fight for it.”  - Senator Udall (CO)

It is disappointing, however, that we only hear from the voices of Democrats. Speaking out against harassment and discrimination of any form, against any group should transcend partisan politics and be countered with action from both sides of the aisle.

In talking about the importance and necessity of working together, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut put it best:

“Our nation has always done better when all of us, no matter where we’re from, what we look like, or whom we love, work together.”

Making it better to ensure that it gets better requires courage, commitment, and hard work on the part of both our leaders and individuals. I am so pleased to see a handful of senators coming out in support of LGBT rights and fighting to fulfill the promise of equality for all.

Special thanks to the following senators for speaking out in support of LGBT rights and continuing the fight for equality: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH), Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA.), Sen. Dick Durbin (IL.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA), Sen. Al Franken (MN), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Sen. Mark Udall (CO), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Sen. Ron Wyden (OR).

And I would like to extend a very special thank you to Senator Chris Coons (DE), who believes “equality is a question of morality,” for leading this important and inspiring effort.

It is my hope that we will soon hear from more members of Congress—Democrats and Republicans alike—with a similar message of making it better for LGBT youth.

PFAW

Chamber's Influence on Corporate Court Examined

In the term that ended Monday, the Roberts Court continued its disturbing trend of removing the legal protections that are often the only way that individuals can avoid becoming victimized by giant corporations that dwarf them in size, wealth, and power. The Chamber of Commerce not only has been working to make this development happen, it has taken credit for it. As reported in Roll Call:

The liberal Constitutional Accountability Center released a report Tuesday pointing out the increasing philosophical alignment between the chamber and the Supreme Court.

The current court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, has sided with the chamber's position on business cases 65 percent of the time, more than it did under any previous chief justice.

"The chamber is having a great deal of success in helping to shape the docket of cases that the Supreme Court hears and then having a lot of success in winning the cases," said Doug Kendall, a lead author of the report.

...

[T]he chamber has encouraged the notion that it is somehow influencing justices.

On the [Chamber's] litigation center's website, the group highlights a quote from Carter G. Phillips, a partner at Sidley Austin who often represents the chamber in the Supreme Court.

"Except for the solicitor general representing the United States, no single entity has more influence on what cases the Supreme Court decides and how it decides them than the National Chamber Litigation Center," he said.

You can read more about the Constitutional Accountability Center's report here.

PFAW

Senate Judiciary Committee Exposes the Corporate Court

The Senate Judiciary Committee held an important hearing this morning looking into the disturbing trend of the Roberts Court to shut down people’s access to justice when they go to court to vindicate their rights against large corporations.

The hearing was on Barriers to Justice and Accountability: How the Supreme Court's Recent Rulings Will Affect Corporate Behavior. Chairman Leahy opened the hearing discussing how recent Supreme Court cases are making it harder for working Americans to get their day in court. He expressed particular concern about three cases:

  • Wal-Mart v. Dukes, which will make it harder to hold big companies accountable when they violate civil rights laws;
  • Janus Capital Group v. First Derivative Traders, which shielded from accountability those who knowingly committed securities fraud; and
  • AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, which prevents victims of consumer fraud from the protections of jury trials and class actions.

The committee invited four distinguished people to address the issue: Betty Dukes (plaintiff in the sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart) was the one panelist who was also a party to one of the cases being discussed. She spoke poignantly about her experience at Wal-Mart and the fear that so many women have of going against their employer, especially one as powerful as Wal-Mart. She promised to continue her fight, but knows that without a national class action, many women will be intimidated into not litigating.

Andrew J. Pincus (a Washington lawyer who has argued many cases before the Court) and Robert Alt (from the Heritage Foundation) denied that the Court was tilting unfairly to favor corporations, argued that the cases were decided rightly, and stated that the Court was simply upholding existing law. In contrast, Melissa Hart (law professor at the University of Colorado) and James Cox (law professor at Duke) took the position that the Court is wrongly shielding wrongdoers from accountability.

Professor Hart correctly characterized as a policy decision the Roberts Court's tendency to interpret procedural law so restrictively, despite congressional intent otherwise, so that Americans become unable to present their case to an impartial court.

Senator Whitehouse discussed the critical role juries play in American government. He noted that juries are mentioned three times in the Constitution, and that they remain a government institution that Big Business cannot corrupt. For years, the far right has been denigrating "trial lawyers" and "runaway juries" in an effort to keep Americans from being able to hold the powerful accountable. Whitehouse argued that the Roberts Court is acting consistently with that pattern.

People For the American Way Foundation submitted testimony to the committee on how the Roberts Court has removed substantive and procedural protections that are the only way that individuals can avoid becoming victimized by giant corporations that dwarf them in size, wealth, and power. These decisions often provide road maps to corporate interests in how to avoid accountability for harm that they do. The constitutional design empowering individuals to consolidate their power against corporations is slowly being eroded by a fiercely ideological Court. Today's hearing is part of an effort to expose the harm that is being done.

PFAW

Issa Helps Himself by Helping Goldman Sachs

You may recall that last year the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) filed a civil suit against Goldman Sachs, and that Rep. Darrell Issa tried to thwart the government[] investigation by sending a letter to Mary Schapiro, chairwoman of SEC. Issa said he was concerned that the lawsuit was timed “to coincide with the Senate’s consideration of financial regulatory legislation.” You may also recall that Issa’s motivations have been called into question in the past, and he’s often been accused of using his political power for his own monetary gain. Well, it appears that there might be more to that than we knew before. Recently, some of Issa’s personal finance disclosures have come to light. ThinkProgress reported:

According to documents filed recently with the House Clerk, Issa went on a buying spree of high yield Goldman Sachs bonds at the same time he was running defense for the investment bank in Congress. From February to December of 2010, Issa bought 12 Goldman Sachs High Yield Fund Class A bonds, each worth up to $50,000 (view page 10 the disclosure here). Many of the bonds were purchased in the months after he filed his letter to the SEC. The $600,000 in new Goldman Sachs investments added to Issa’s already multimillion dollar stake in the company, valued from $5.1 to $15.5 million.

Issa had claimed that his stance was representative of ordinary Americans, but clearly his actions indicate that he may put his own interests first.

PFAW