PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Clarence Thomas Reminds Us (Again) Why the Supreme Court Matters

In a bit of good news, the Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of two Establishment Clause cases from Utah striking down as unconstitutional state-approved memorial crosses on public highways. But in dissenting from this decision not to take the case, Clarence Thomas has done us the favor of reminding Americans just how out of the mainstream he is.

While Thomas's dissent is an expansive critique of the Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence, he does briefly remind readers just how far from the mainstream his views are.

Even if the Court does not share my view that the Establishment Clause restrains only the Federal Government, and that, even if incorporated [by the 14th Amendment to apply to the states], the Clause only prohibits "actual legal coercion," the Court should be deeply troubled by what its Establishment Clause jurisprudence has wrought. [emphasis added and internal citation removed]

Mitt Romney has made clear that he sees Clarence Thomas as the kind of jurist he would nominate to the Supreme Court. This is no surprise coming from someone who asked rejected Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork to lead his campaign's legal advisory team.

Thomas's dangerously narrow vision of the Establishment Clause is a good reminder of how much is at stake when Americans vote for president in 2012.

PFAW

Mississippi Personhood Campaign Draws More Scrutiny, Questions

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

With few Mississippi politicians speaking out against a proposed “personhood” amendment on the state’s ballot next week, Personhood USA is hoping that the Magnolia State will be the first to adopt its radical anti-choice legislation, which has been resoundingly defeated multiple times in Colorado. Personhood USA’s Keith Mason said on Friday that Mississippi’s Initiative 26, “looks like it’ll be the first one to pass in this country.”

Mississippi already has some of the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the United States. But opponents of the personhood initiative have started succeeding in educating voters over the far-reaching consequences of the proposed law, which would not only criminalize abortions without exceptions for rape, incest or health of the mother, but also potentially ban certain forms of birth control, the treatment of ectopic and problem pregnancies and in-vitro fertilization. One opponent of Initiative 26 said that polling shows that the more voters learn about the full impact of Initiative 26, the less likely they are to support it: “It’s the largest movement on numbers I’ve seen, in terms of the undecideds. It reverses the position…They’ve given us all the ammunition we need to defeat it.”

On Friday, Rachel Maddow discussed the grassroots campaign to defeat the personhood amendment and investigated the amendment’s radical roots – specifically, the role of Personhood Mississippi’s leader, Les Riley. As Maddow noted, Right Wing Watch first uncovered that Riley previously blogged for a secessionist group that wanted to create an independent theocratic state in South Carolina. In addition, Riley heads Mississippi’s far-right Constitution Party and is a past member of the neo-Confederate League of the South.

Maddow had as her guest Cristen Hemmins, who shared her story as a rape survivor who twenty years ago was kidnapped and raped by two men who shot her when she tried to flee. Hemmins told the Huffington Post that one of the bullets pierced her uterus, but if she had gotten pregnant and ifthe personhood law had been in effect at the time, she would have been prohibited by law from terminating the pregnancy.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

PFAW

Fetus' Rights > Women's Rights in Mississippi?

This Election Day, Mississippi voters will vote on Initiative 26 -- an amendment that would define every zygote or fetus from the moment of fertilization as a legal "person." It's the latest attempt to severely curtail women's reproductive rights. Not only are voters being asked to define embryos as people, this amendment will also outlaw the most common types birth control and in vitro fertilization and would open the door for criminal investigations of miscarriages. Mississippi, already home to some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, will now make it nearly impossible for women and their doctors to make informed and sound decisions. Initiative 26, if passed, will be one of the most damaging intrusions into women's reproductive health we've seen, even in a year marked by restrictive anti-choice bills. A number of organizations are working on fighting Initiative 26, including the Mississippi Nurses Association, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Mississippi and the Mississippi State Medical Association.

Fetus' Rights > Women's Rights in Mississippi?

This Election Day, Mississippi voters will vote on Initiative 26 – an amendment that would define every zygote or fetus from the moment of fertilization as a legal “person.”  It’s the latest attempt to severely curtail women’s reproductive rights.  Not only are voters being asked to define embryos as people, this amendment will also outlaw the most common types birth control and in vitro fertilization and would open the door for criminal investigations of miscarriages. Mississippi, already home to some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, will now make it nearly impossible for women and their doctors to make informed and sound decisions. Initiative 26, if passed, will be one of the most damaging intrusions into women’s reproductive health we’ve seen, even in a year marked by restrictive anti-choice bills.

A number of organizations are working on fighting Initiative 26, including the Mississippi Nurses Association, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Mississippi and the Mississippi State Medical Association. 

PFAW

PFAW Foundation Celebrates 30 Years of Defending Constitutional Values in New York

Earlier this month, Norman and Lyn Lear hosted a celebration of the organization's 30th anniversary with a party in New York City. And what a celebration it was!

Board members, supporters, friends and staff came together to toast three decades of defending the Constitutional values that are at the core of our nation.

Board member Alec Baldwin spoke about his involvement with the organization and why producing accurate information about the far Right is so important.

Norman Lear talked about why he founded the organization 30 years ago, and why our work remains relevant today.

And former President Bill Clinton stopped by to talk about the state of the country, the role of government and the time he almost became President of People For the American Way.  (He decided to run again for governor of Arkansas.  That seems to have worked out well...)

PFAWF President Michael Keegan, Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, PFAWF Co-founder Norman Lear, and Youth Leadership Programs Director Andrew Gillum


President Clinton, Lyn Lear, Michael Keegan and Board Member Alec Baldwin


Andrew Gillum, PFAW Board Member Carole Shields, President Clinton and PFAWF Board Member Rabbi David Saperstein



Board Member Ronald Feldman, Alec Baldwin, President Clinton and Andrew Gillum take their turns at the podium


President Clinton and Norman Lear greet each other ...


... and hug it out


Michael Keegan, Norman Lear and Alec Baldwin wish PFAW Foundation "Happy Birthday"


Norman at the podium with a commemorative 30th Anniversary print made specially for People For the American Way Foundation by renowned artist Ed Ruscha seen in the background

PFAW

Speaking of Class Warfare…

One of the most absurd things to come out of American politics in recent months is the allegation that the president’s proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans – bringing them back to the levels they enjoyed under Clinton -- amounts to “class warfare.”

In the Huffington Post last week, PFAW’s Michael Keegan called the GOP’s renewed cries of “class warfare” both “ironic and cynical.”

If you want to see what class warfare really looks like, you need look no further than Texas, where a group of oil companies has successfully lobbied to have a government panel re-examine a very large tax break that they were previously denied, and are now on the verge of receiving a $135 million gift from the state. Who’s paying for that gift? Public schools.

Here’s how the oil companies, led by Valero, are wrangling the refund from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, according to the AP:

Valero first asked for the refund for six of its refineries in 2007, and wants payment retroactive to that year. Since then, at least four other companies have asked for the same retroactive refund.


Valero argues the units should be exempt under a Texas law that says industrial plants don't have to pay taxes on equipment purchased to reduce on-site pollution. The law saves companies millions, and is meant to encourage investment in new technology.


At first, the request was denied. The commission's staff said the hydrotreaters reduce pollution in diesel and gas, not necessarily at the plant. In fact, staff said, the hydrotreaters actually increased sulfur dioxide pollution near the refineries because the toxic gas is now burned off in a flare.


Valero appealed, and the panel's chairman, Bryan Shaw, said last April that the Legislature likely intended a broader interpretation of the law. He instructed his staff to research whether they could award partial exemptions to Valero. Shaw declined to be interviewed for this story, saying it could present a conflict because the issue will be brought before him again.


Shaw, the environmental commissioner who encouraged the panel to take a new look at the oil company tax refund, was hand-picked for his post by Gov. Rick Perry. He’s an odd choice to head an environmental quality panel – as Mother Jones reported last week, he’s a climate change skeptic who has a long history of siding with industry over environmental groups.


But Gov. Perry’s ties to the oil industry run deep – since 1998, he’s raked in $11 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies, including $147,895 from Valero, the company that’s leading the effort to get the $135 million tax refund.


While oil companies enjoy expensive access to the governor and an ally at the top of one of the committees charged with holding them accountable, it’s the state’s children who are breathing polluted air and whose schools are being asked to pay for new corporate tax breaks. From AP:


Now, the AP's analysis shows, the Pasadena Independent School District may have to refund $11.3 million to two refineries if commissioners grant the request.


Early Monday, Gonzales and others handed out fliers, collected petition signatures and offered $10,000 cookies and brownies at a mock "bake sale" designed to raise awareness about the money at stake. Eight Houston schools planned similar mock sales for later in the day.


The mom-turned-activist said she learned about the refineries' requests while unsuccessfully lobbying earlier this year to convince Perry and the Legislature to dip into the state's so-called rainy day fund to ease cuts to the schools.


Gonzales lives near a miles-long stretch of refineries, where massive pipes and stacks light the night like skyscrapers do in other cities. An intense, burnt chemical scent hangs over the town.


"You smell it. That's what we're known for. Stinkadena because of the refineries," Gonzales said. "There are days when we can't go out because our children's asthma is that bad ... and then they want money back?"
 

PFAW

Limbaugh: Elizabeth Warren, for Advocating Fair Taxation, is a 'Parasite'

De facto head of the GOP and all-around blowhard Rush Limbaugh had the gall to call Elizabeth Warren a “parasite” and “an arrogant condescending, conceited snob who has profound resentment” last week in his latest attempt at throwing cold water on anything approaching rationality in political dialogue.

So one has to ask what Warren said that was so upsetting to the right-wing provocateur.

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody! You built a factory out there? Good for you! But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You built a factory, and it turned into something terrific or a great idea: God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

But hey, I get it. Anything that says there is a social compact automatically makes right wingers like Limbaugh hyperventilate. They’d rather sacrifice a good economy, schools that educate our young, and yes, a social contract that helps our seniors stay out of poverty than tell the most privileged of our society that they have to pay a larger share of their income in taxes than their secretaries. If that were my goal, I’d be pretty angry at Elizabeth Warren too.

Elizabeth Warren 1. Rush Limbaugh, right wingers, space cadets, nitwits and bullies 0.

PFAW

What You Talkin' Bout, Willard?! YOU Attacking Harvard?

Willard Mitt Romney absolutely refuses to let the words that come out of his mouth be dictated by reality. He recently insisted that "corporations are people." Now, in an attempt to portray himself as some sort of "everyman" instead of the millionaire tycoon that he is, he's attacking President Obama for his ties to Harvard faculty. But judging by his associations and resume, Romney himself might as well keep a residence in Cambridge and have his own reserved parking space on Harvard's campus.

We say it again: What you talkin' bout, Willard?!

From Talking Points Memo:

Mitt Romney once again criticized President Obama for taking his advice from the "Harvard faculty lounge" in a speech in Florida on Thursday. He's repeated the line on the campaign trail despite being a Harvard alum himself and counting Harvard faculty among his own top advisers.

In a major address on foreign policy last month, Romney used the school as a punchline to decry Obama as overly weak in dealing with dictators. "That may be what they think in that Harvard faculty lounge," he said, "but it's not what they know on the battlefield!"

Romney has never served on the battlefield, but he does hold degrees from Harvard in business and law. That's one more than Obama, who has a law degree from the school and headed the Harvard Law Review. And it's not just Romney who has Crimson ties: The Boston Globe notes that three of his children have attended Harvard Business School.

But, hey, at least he's not taking his advice from the faculty lounge, right? Actually Romney relies on their expertise plenty. Meghan O'Sullivan, a former Bush aide, teaches international affairs at Harvard and reportedly advises him on foreign policy. His economic adviser for 2008 and 2012, Greg Mankiw, is a star professor there whose textbook is used at colleges around the country.

 

PFAW

The Commerce Clause and American Progress

In the Tea Party, it’s all the rage these days to declare everything unconstitutional – Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, disaster relief, federal civil rights laws, health care reform, basically any law that enables the federal government to take on national-scale problems.

One of the main strategies that the Tea Party has been using to push this extreme and regressive view of the Constitution is pushing aside the Commerce Clause, the clause in the Constitution that gives Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”

The Commerce Clause, long recognized by courts as the rationale for important progressive economic programs, has come under fire from opponents of health care reform, who are arguing in the courts – with mixed success -- that the clause does not allow the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate.

In a new report, People For the American Way Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin argues that “a powerful case can be made “that the Commerce Clause is “the most important constitutional instrument for social progress in our history.”

Without it, Congress could not have passed the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Clayton and Sherman Anti-Trust Acts, the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition of race discrimination in hotels, restaurants and other places of public accommodation, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and dozens of other federal statutes protecting the environment and establishing the rights of citizens in the workplace and the marketplace.


Why, then, does the Commerce Clause seem pale and dull next to the Free Speech and Equal Protection Clauses?
Perhaps it is because these provisions clearly declare radiant principles of liberty and equality that translate into easily understood and intuitively attractive protections against arbitrary government power.

Because the Commerce Clause has been a powerful instrument of social reform over the last century, its meaning has periodically provoked deep jurisprudential controversy. This is ironic since the Court routinely and unanimously upheld congressional assertion of a comprehensive federal commerce power before broad democratic purposes entered the picture. The commerce power became the target of virulent attack by corporate conservatives when progressives and labor gained political influence and used this power as the constitutional basis upon which to regulate and improve the character, terms and conditions of the American workplace and marketplace in favor of large numbers of the American people.


Raskin follows the Commerce Clause from its origins at the Constitutional Convention, through the Lochner era, when an activist court “put the Commerce Clause in a straightjacket” to strike down federal worker protection laws and other attempts to regulate interstate commerce, to the late 1930s, when the court returned to a more expansive view of the clause, allowing progressive economic programs and civil rights reforms to flourish, to the Rehnquist Court, which again began to narrow down the scope of Congress’s constitutional regulatory power, to challenges to the Affordable Care Act, which threaten to take us back to the Lochner era.
 

You can read the full report here.

PFAW

Mitt Romney Still Thinks Corporations are People. They Still Aren’t.

Campaigning in Florida today, Mitt Romney doubled down on his recent claim that “corporations are people”:


Speaking to a town hall-style gathering at a Miami airport hotel, the former Massachusetts governor repeated the line he first said last month at the Iowa State Fair.


“I’ll communicate to the private sector, by the way, that we like you,” Romney said in response to a question about how to encourage banks to lend more money. “We like enterprise. I was in Iowa the other day, and people suggested that we just raise taxes on corporations.”


He went on: “I told them, corporations are people. … Raising taxes on corporations is raising taxes on people.”


While it’s true that corporations are owned by people, Romney intentionally ignores the basic purpose of corporations: to be a legal entities separate from human beings that own them, with different rights and responsibilities under the law. He also ignores the fact that many large corporations pay much less in taxes than actual human beings – GE, for instance, paid no federal income taxes in 2010.

Even if corporations were people, they’d be doing fairly well in today’s economy. Corporate profits have soared in the past year, even as more and more human beings are out of jobs and facing poverty.

When Romney made his first “corporations are people” remark, we responded with a petition and a TV ad in New Hampshire. Sounds like it’s time to dust that ad off:

 

 

PFAW

Don't Ask Don't Tell: So Long, Farewell

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the discriminatory law that banned gays and lesbians from openly serving in our nation’s armed forces, has been officially been relegated to the history books after a devastating 18-year existence that snatched away the careers of more than 14,000 capable and dedicated servicemembers. With repeal celebrations happening across the country, President Obama released a statement, which said in part,

Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change; to members of Congress, from both parties, who voted for repeal; to our civilian and military leaders who ensured a smooth transition; and to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal is a major achievement in itself, but it is also indicative of where we are as a country regarding LGBT equality. While the Right Wing has issued statements condemning this historic occasion, Republican members of Congress have largely remained silent. Opponents of gay rights realize that their discriminatory views are quickly becoming outdated, and that younger voters overwhelmingly support LGBT equality.

Celebrations have been occurring across the country. One moving video in particular has gone viral on Youtube. In it, a gay soldier from Alabama, currently stationed in Germany, calls his father right after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal is finalized to come out. The soldier is greeted with acceptance and loving support. After the long fight waged by People For the American Way, other progressive groups and brave men and women in uniform who often risked their careers to fight for what they believe in, it’s heartening to see how America has become a little more just, equal and fair today than it was before.

 

 

PFAW

Saving the Constitution From the Tea Party

What if our federal government didn’t have the power to provide for emergency disaster relief? To prevent children from being put to work at an early age…without even the protection of a minimum wage? To prohibit discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and public schools? To help struggling states fund public education?

These are the logical ends of the radical, regressive vision of the Constitution that has become popular among the Tea Party -- and that for the first time is enjoying serious consideration in the halls of Congress and in federal court rooms.

The Center For American Progress’s Ian Millhiser released a paper today outlining some of the ways the Tea Party’s selective worship of parts of the Constitution threatens to derail the success of the hard-won protections contained in the whole Constitution. Millhiser brainstorms a list of some of the things that would be unconstitutional under the Tea Party’s Constitution:

  • Social Security and Medicare
  • Medicaid, children's health insurance, and other health care programs
  • All federal education programs
  • All federal antipoverty programs
  • Federal disaster relief
  • Federal food safety inspections and other food safety programs
  • Child labor laws, the minimum wage, overtime, and other labor protections
  • Federal civil rights laws

 

You can add to that the basic definition of citizenship and the concept of separation of church and state. And that doesn’t even include the progressive amendments to the Constitution that Tea Party activists want to roll back, such as the amendment providing for the direct election of U.S. senators.

PFAW examined the Tea Party’s dangerous cherry-picked Constitution in a report last year, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party’s Really Serving America , which demonstrates that the Tea Party’s supposed allegiance to the Constitution deliberately ignores the text and history of the original document and the progressive amendments that have extended its freedoms to more and more Americans.

Earlier this week, PFAW Foundation, CAP and the Constitutional Accountability Center launched an effort called “Constitutional Progressives,” aimed at protecting and defending the whole Constitution – it’s its text, history and more than 200 years of amendments. You can sign a pledge to support the whole Constitution at constitutionalprogressives.org.

 

PFAW

PFAW Foundation Youth Leadership Programs Accepting Applications for 2012

We’re excited to announce that we are now recruiting for both our Young People For (YP4) Fellowship Program and the Front Line Leaders Academy (FLLA)!

Young People For (YP4) is a strategic long-term leadership development program that identifies, engages and empowers the newest generation of progressive leaders to create lasting change in their communities. The one-year fellowship equips college students with the skills and resources necessary to create lasting change on their campuses and in their communities.

Fellows receive access to:

  • Trainings from national and regional progressive movement leaders
  • One-on-one coaching from YP4 staff and/or other progressive movement leaders
  • Assistance and support in implementing a sustainable, community-driven action plan


Apply for the Fellowship today or nominate another progressive leader on campus! Applications are due no later than January 31, 2012. Contact Zach Dryden at zdryden@pfaw.org or by phone at 202.467.2367 if you have any questions about the fellowship.

The Front Line Leaders Academy (FLLA) is a premier campaign leadership development program offered every year by YP4 and the Young Elected Officials Network to 20 talented young people from across the country. For eight months FLLA provides young leaders the opportunity to learn political skills from successful political campaign professionals. Fellows selected into this elite academy are trained on how to be an effective candidate, campaign manager, finance director, communication director and field organizer. Fellows work one-on-one with young elected officials and campaign experts as they develop the necessary skills to become the next generation of progressive candidates, campaign leaders and community organizers.

Fellows receive access to:

  • Trainings on the five core components of campaigns: candidacy, field, campaign management, finance, & communications
  • Coaching from members of the Young Elected Officials Network and proven campaign experts
  •  A national network of FLLA alumni including progressive activists, organizers, and young elected officials

Apply for the Front Line Leaders Academy or nominate another progressive leader today! Applications are due no later than October 31, 2011. Contact Joy Lawson at jlawson@pfaw.org or by phone at 202.467.2315 if you have any questions about the fellowship.

Please share this information with your networks and don’t hesitate to let us know if you have questions about either fellowship. For more information about our work please visit www.youngpeoplefor.org.
 

PFAW

Mitt Romney and Rick Perry Confirmed to Attend Far-Right Values Voter Summit

The Family Research Council sent word today that GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney is now confirmed to join Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Herman Cain at this year’s Values Voter Summit, a far-right extravaganza hosted by some of the most intolerant Religious Right groups in the business. Organized by the vehemently anti-gay Family Research Council, the event is also sponsored by the American Family Association and Liberty Counsel, among other right-wing groups.

Last year, we raised an alarm when Romney and Bachmann, along with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Rep. Mike Pence and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee attended the event. We were particularly concerned that these leaders would be willing to share the stage with the American Family Association’s spokesman Bryan Fischer, whose record of bigotry against gays and lesbians, Muslim Americans and American Indians, among others, is truly appalling.

Although Fischer is not yet listed as a confirmed speaker at this year’s event, attendees will have the honor of sharing the stage with some pretty extreme Religious Right activists, including Liberty Council’s Mat Staver, who opposes anti-bullying initiatives that protect LGBT kids and says that gay rights supporters have “a very militaristic anti-Christian viewpoint”; retired General Jerry Boykin, who thinks President Obama is using health care reform legislation to recruit an army of brownshirts loyal only to him; and Star Parker, who claims that black family life “was more healthy” under slavery than today.

And that’s not to mention the two main organizers of the event, the FRC and the AFA, which have both been listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center for their propagation of false anti-gay rhetoric.

Highlights of last year’s summit included FRC leader Tony Perkins simultaneously insulting gay troops and a number of key U.S. allies in Iraq and Afghanistan by declaring that countries that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in their armed forces are “the ones that participate in parades, they don't fight wars to keep the nation and the world free”; and Rick Santorum asserting that there are “no families” in impoverished neighborhoods.

Apparently the tone of last year’s event and the guest list of this year’s haven’t given any pause to the top GOP presidential candidates, who are eager to recruit the support of even the most extreme leaders of the Religious Right. That Romney is returning to VVS is an important reminder that, despite his self-styled “moderate” image, he is just as beholden to extreme Religious Right interests as the rest of the field.
 

PFAW

New York Couple Denied Marriage Rights; PFAW Foundation Helps them Fight Back

When Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio went to their town clerk in Ledyard, New York recently to obtain a marriage license, they were met with an unwelcome surprise. The town clerk, Rose Marie Belforti, refused to grant them a license because she objected to New York’s new law legalizing same-sex marriages. She told Carmichael and DiBiaggio to come back on another day to obtain a license from a subordinate officer.

Marriage equality loses some of its “equality” when same-sex couples are forced to jump through hoops that weren’t there before in order to obtain a marriage license. Carmichael and DiBiaggio contacted People For the American Way Foundation to help them fight back against this clear instance of discrimination. PFAW Foundation recruited the law firm Proskauer Rose, LLP to provide pro bono counsel to the couple, and the firm sent a letter to town officials urging the town clerk to follow the laws of the state or resign her position.

In a town meeting on Monday night, the issue of the clerk’s refusal to do her job was not addressed. In response, PFAW Foundation launched a petition demanding that Belforti to perform her job duties, follow the laws of New York and grant same-sex marriage licenses or resign her post.

You can sign the petition here.
 

PFAW