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Sen. Inouye’s Civil Rights Legacy

Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, passed away yesterday at the age of 88, having represented the people of Hawaii in either the House or Senate as long as it has been a state. Inouye was elected to the Senate nine times, serving nearly 50 years. Taking office the year before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Inouye was a leader in half a century of civil rights battles in the Senate. John Nichols of The Nation details Inouye’s role in some of those battles:

The last sitting senator who joined the epic struggles to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, he led the fight for the Americans with Disabilities Act and was a key sponsor of the constitutional amendment to extend voting rights to 18-to-20-year-olds.

Inouye battled for reparations for Japanese-Americans who were interned in government compounds during World War II. And he was a passionate defender of the right to dissent. Indeed, the ACLU recalls, “Senator Inouye fought every iteration of proposed constitutional amendments to ban flag desecration—support that was particularly meaningful to the defense of free speech because of his military service.”

Inouye was one of the handful of senators who rejected the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s and he emerged as one of the earliest and most determined backers of marriage equality in the Senate, asking: “How can we call ourselves the land of the free, if we do not permit people who love one another to get married?”

When the debate over whether gays and lesbians serving in the military arose, Inouye declared as a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient: “In every war we have had men and women of different sexual orientation who have stood in harm’s way and given their lives for their country. I fought alongside gay men during World War II, many of them were killed in combat. Are we to suggest that because of their sexual orientation they are not heroes?”

Sen. Inouye represented the best of American values. This country will miss him.

 

PFAW

Connecticut and The Cause Of Our National Political Paralysis

Call it an occupational hazard for someone who pays close attention to the right wing in America. On Friday, even while my mind and heart were struggling with how to take in, much less make sense of, the news about the killings at a Connecticut elementary school, another part of me was steeling itself for what I knew was to come.

And come it has. Rather than contributing to constructive discussion about a way forward on issues like the insufficient availability of mental health treatment and the extravagant availability of equipment designed for large-scale killing, Religious Right leaders and their Tea Party allies have wasted no time in placing blame for the killing on their usual targets: liberals, teachers, religious pluralism, judges, and the separation of church and state. Yet again.

These past few days have reminded me how Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, while the smoke had not even cleared from the destruction of the World Trade Center, blamed liberals, feminists, gays, People For the American Way, and others for the attacks. Falwell was shamed into an apology, which he later recanted. But Religious Right leaders are showing no shame in using this tragedy to push their agendas in offensive and destructive ways.

On his radio station Monday morning, James Dobson cited lack of belief in God, legal abortion, the advance of marriage equality as reasons for the school shooting: "I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that's what's going on."

The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer also blessed his listeners with his personal insight into what he says was God's gentlemanly reason not to protect those children from harm:

God is not going to go where he is not wanted. Now we have spent since 1962 - we're 50 years into this now - we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost. Telling God, 'We do not want you in our schools.'...In 1962 we kicked prayer out of the schools. In 1963 we kicked the word of God out of the schools. In 1980 we kicked the Ten Commandments out of schools. We've kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, 'Hey, I'll be glad to protect your children, but you've got to invite me back into your world first. I'm not going to go where I am not wanted. I am a gentleman.

Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee made similar comments as did others. The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody defended them from their critics, saying their views were shared by millions of evangelicals.

Why look at what these people are saying? Because of the real power they now hold. What they say is what keeps us from even discussing, never mind solving, this country's critical problems.

Even efforts to bring people together to comfort the suffering brought attacks. Operation Save America called Sunday's interfaith memorial service "an affront to Almighty God" and added that "We expelled God from school and banished Him from the schoolyard. He was replaced with metal detectors, condoms, policemen, anti-bullying policies, No-gun zones, and violence of unprecedented order."

One of the most dismaying statements came predictably from Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel, who responded to President Obama's remarks at the memorial service on Sunday with this tweet:

Absolute slime ball, #Obama exploiting memorial service to push radical#GunControl. His extremism knows no lows#Newtown

It is amazing what can be conveyed about our politics in 140 characters or less. It strikes me that Barber's tweet is emblematic of everything that the radical right has done to distort our political system and destroy our ability to even have a reasonable conversation about critical problems the country needs to solve.

Would that this was just about guns. This frenzied effort to forestall even a conversation about the ready availability of military-style weapons - and this is even before the NRA itself wades in - points to a larger picture.

Just five years ago, we were able to have some reasonable political conversations, even across party lines, about important issues like climate change and immigration reform. Of course, there were significant disagreements about the exact nature of the issues and the proper policy responses. But more recently, any effort to even acknowledge the existence of climate change runs up against a solid wall of denialism from the right wing and most importantly from legislators who now so fear the far right. Similarly, some conservatives who championed comprehensive immigration reform five or six years ago saw the effort savaged by the right wing who sounded the alarm of losing white America.

On the fiscal front, Grover Norquist's no-taxes-ever pledge, backed with the kind of political intimidation that deep-pocketed ideologues have perfected in the Tea Party era, have made it nearly impossible for the country to seriously address both its short-term job shortage and its long-term deficit problem. And we saw last year that the fear of a right wing primary challenge is much greater than the fear of damaging the credit rating of our country.

The horrific shootings in Connecticut may be leading some elected officials to consider tackling some problems that have been ignored or considered politically off-limits. But we should not have to rely on tragedies to overcome obstacles to needed action. While the far right's ideological enforcers can be counted on to fight any move by conservatives toward common sense and common ground, such movement is essential. As we are sometimes so painfully reminded, Americans need a functional political system, one with the ability to address urgent political questions to achieve much needed compromises. And quite simply, none of this can happen until we have political leaders with the courage to stand up against the far right's willingness to paralyze our country.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

PFAW

What Republican 'Soul-Searching'?

On Nov. 6, Americans turned out in massive numbers to reelect President Obama, take away seats from Republicans in the House and the Senate, and pass progressive ballot measures throughout the country. But it seems that Republicans in Washington and in states across the country just didn't get the hint. Despite all the talk of post-election "soul-searching," there doesn't appear to be any self-examination going on among those currently clinging to their seats in Congress and state legislatures.

Just look at Michigan. Just weeks after the state legislature's Republicans took a drubbing from voters, who cut their majority in the state House from 18 to 8 despite recent Republican gerrymandering, the state's GOP leadership went on a right-wing rampage.

First, they passed a package of so-called "right to work" laws that are meant to politically weaken unions and have the side effect of financially weakening the middle class. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder was against "right to work" before he was for it, thanks to some powerful arm-twisting from corporate front groups.

Then, they got to work on some extreme anti-choice measures. One tries to force abortion clinics out of business by regulating them into the ground. It also places unnecessary burdens on women, including requiring them to prove they weren't "coerced" into seeking an abortion; prohibiting them from consulting with their doctor via videoconference; and requiring them to sign a death certificate and hold a funeral for the aborted fetus (this requirement, at least, has just been removed from the bill). Yet another bill would let doctors refuse to provide or employers refuse to cover any procedures they find immoral. This one isn't just about abortion - it could allow employers to refuse their employees insurance coverage for contraception, or even blood transfusions. Sounds familiar? The Blunt Amendment in the U.S. Senate - wildly unpopular except among the Senate GOP - would have done the same thing.

Anybody who was paying the least bit of attention to this year's elections would have noticed that two of the things voters find most repugnant about today's GOP is its blind allegiance to big corporations and its enthusiasm for regulating women's health.

Apparently the Republican Party wasn't paying attention. Or is just too beholden to the interests of the Corporate and Christian Right to care.

What's happening in Michigan is just a microcosm of the whole. In Ohio, immediately after an election shaped in part by the GOP's toxic attacks on women's health, Republican legislators got to work trying to defund Planned Parenthood. And in Washington, DC, Republican leaders are approaching fiscal cliff negotiations with the sole goal of protecting George W. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy.

This isn't what I'd call "soul-searching."

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

PFAW

How Exxon Mobil and the Koch Brothers Helped Bring Us Michigan’s Anti-Labor Laws

Over the sound of thousands of people protesting – with voices chanting ‘shame on you!’ – Michigan’s proposed anti-labor bills were signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Rick Snyder. 

What was obvious to those gathered to speak out against the so-called “right to work” legislation was its damaging nature – its affront to workers’ ability to collectively bargain and its harm to middle-class families across the state. 

What may have been less obvious to some were the bills’ connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a one-stop shop for corporations looking to get special-interest legislation introduced.  Funded by the likes of Exxon Mobil and Charles Koch, ALEC promotes “model bills” for state legislatures on a number of issues.  As People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch explained in an “In Focus” report on ALEC:

ALEC propagates a wide range of “model legislation” that seeks to make it more difficult for people to hold corporations accountable in court; gut the rights and protections of workers and consumers; encumber health care reform; privatize and weaken the public education system; provide business tax cuts and corporate welfare; privatize and cut public services; erode regulations and environmental laws; create unnecessary voter ID requirements; endorse Citizens United; diminish campaign finance reform; and permit greater corporate influence in elections.

One type of “model legislation” ALEC puts forward is a model “Right to Work” Act.  And as the Center for Media and Democracy points out, Michigan’s bills included almost identical language to ALEC’s model bill. This is extremely troubling – not only for the many families in Michigan that will be affected, but also for our democratic process in general. 

Because as the same Right Wing Watch report notes:

Americans are increasingly recognizing and speaking out against the disproportionate power of corporations in shaping public policy and steering politicians, and ALEC is a prime example of how Corporate America is able to buy even more power and clout in government. Rather than serve the public interest, ALEC champions the agenda of corporations which are willing to pay for access to legislators and the opportunity to write their very own legislation…. ALEC represents an alarming risk to the credibility of the political process and threatens to greatly diminish the confidence and influence ordinary people have in government.

 

PFAW

Young Elected Official Stands Up to Michigan Anti-Labor Bill

Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward of Pontiac, Michigan – a member of our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network – stood up against Michigan’s new anti-labor law in a statement yesterday.  PFAW is proud of the work of young elected officials to protect workers’ rights and stand up for the middle class by speaking out against this damaging bill.

Woodward’s statement reads:

 

Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, states that the so-called “right to work” law would harm workers, unions, and everyday citizens across the state.  “You can't grow the middle class by weakening their very ability to earn a fair wage,” said Woodward.

“With their proposed  ‘Right to Work for Less’  Law, Governor Snyder and his anti-worker Republicans have signaled their new Jobs Plan---workers need to earn less,” Woodward continued. “This law will make it harder for workers to bargain for decent pay and benefits, making it harder, in turn, for them to support their families.”

PFAW

Justice Scalia’s 7 Worst Anti-Gay Statements

On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two landmark cases on marriage equality. Yesterday, Justice Antonin Scalia reminded us again why gay rights advocates, to put it mildly, aren’t counting on his vote.

Scalia is the Supreme Court’s most outspoken opponent of gay rights. He led the dissent to the two major gay rights decisions of his tenure on the Court, the decisions to strike down Texas’ criminal sodomy law and to overturn Colorado’s ban on local anti-discrimination measures. And in his spare time, he minces no words about his uncompromising opposition to gay rights. Here are seven of his most egregious anti-gay statements:

  • Compares bans on homosexuality to bans on murder: Yesterday, Scalia asked a gay law student, “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?”
     
  •  …and to bans on polygamy and animal cruelty: In his dissent to the Colorado case, Romer v. Evans, Scalia wrote, “But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible--murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals--and could exhibit even 'animus' toward such conduct. Surely that is the only sort of ‘animus’ at issue here: moral disapproval of homosexual conduct, the same sort of moral disapproval that produced the centuries old criminal laws that we held constitutional in Bowers.”
     
  • Defends employment and housing discrimination: In his dissent to Lawrence, the decision that overturned Texas’ criminal sodomy law, Scalia went even further, justifying all kinds of discrimination against gays and lesbians: “Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. The Court views it as ‘discrimination’ which it is the function of our judgments to deter.”
     
  • Says decision on “homosexual sodomy” was “easy” because it's justified by long history of anti-gay discrimination: In a talk at the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year, Scalia dismissed decisions on abortion, the death penalty and “homosexual sodomy” as “easy”: “The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion,” he said. “Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.”
     
  • Says domestic partners have no more rights than “long time roommates”:  In his dissent in Romer, Scalia dismissed the idea that a law banning benefits for same-sex domestic partners would be discriminatory, saying the law “would prevent the State or any municipality from making death benefit payments to the ‘life partner’ of a homosexual when it does not make such payments to the long time roommate of a nonhomosexual employee.”
     
  • Says gay rights are a concern of “the elite”: In his Romer dissent, Scalia lashes out at the majority that has upheld gay rights: “This Court has no business imposing upon all Americans the resolution favored by the elite class from which the Members of this institution are selected, pronouncing that "animosity" toward homosexuality is evil.“
     
  • Accuses those who disagree with him of supporting the “homosexual agenda”: Lifting a talking point straight from the far right, Scalia accused the majority in Lawrence of being in the thrall of the “homosexual agenda”: “Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.”
PFAW

Pending Judicial Nominations Pile Up

Republicans resist lame duck confirmations that have been made necessary by their own obstruction.
PFAW

Still No Explanation From Grassley on Judiciary Committee Delays

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved five nominees to serve on federal district courts in New York, California and Florida and on the US Court of International Trade. A week ago, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley postponed votes on all five nominations without giving a reason, a delaying tactic that he has used on 97 percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees who the committee has voted on.

Sen. Grassley did not explain the reason for the delay last week, when a coalition of Iowa and national groups urged him to stop such routine delays. And the reason remained unclear today, as all five nominees were approved without opposition.

These five nominees now join fifteen other federal judicial nominees awaiting confirmation votes from the full Senate. The Senate has made progress by scheduling confirmation votes on four unopposed district court nominees in the past week, but that small amount of progress isn’t nearly enough to fill the gaps in overworked federal courts. Seven of the nominees still waiting for votes would fill officially-designated “judicial emergencies.”

It would be easy, of course, for the Senate to hold votes on all of the remaining nominees before the end of the year. After all, most were approved by the Judiciary Committee many months ago. But Senate Republicans have continued to stall even nominees with strong bipartisan support. All the circuit court nominees waiting for votes have the support of their home-state senators, Republican and Democratic, and nearly all of the pending district court nominees were approved by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous or nearly unanimous bipartisan support. One circuit court nominee, New Jersey’s Patty Shwartz, has been waiting nine months just for an up-or-down vote from the Senate; Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto has also been waiting since March.

If the Senate fails to vote on these nominees during the lame duck, the confirmation process – from presidential nomination through floor vote – will have to start all over again next year.

Notable about the district court nominees approved by the Judiciary Committee today is that all are women or people of color, representative of President Obama’s efforts to bring diversity to the federal courts. The nominees also include New York’s Pamela Chen, who would become just the fifth openly gay person to be confirmed to a lifetime federal judgeship.

PFAW

More Dissembling from Chuck Grassley

Sen. Grassley again offers a blizzard of misleading statistics to hide his party's obstruction of President Obama's judicial nominees.
PFAW

Far-Right Leaders Still Condemning "Intrinsically Disordered" Gays and Lesbians While The Rest of the Country Moves Forward

It has been hard to keep up with all of the historic wins for marriage equality in the past few months. Three states passed ballot measures in support of marriage equality, and one rejected a state constitutional amendment banning it. A new CBS News Poll found – consistent with other recent national polls – that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court could announce any day whether it will hear cases related to the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. It is not hard to see that the tide is turning in our country.

But some people, it seems, are still not getting the memo.

Case in point: Mission America leader Linda Harvey. PFAW’s Right Wing Watch tuned in to Harvey’s daily radio show today and reported on her tired – but disturbing – opinions about what she views as “unnatural” behavior. “Homosexual marriage is wrong because two men together or two women is intrinsically disordered,” Harvey said. “The behavior is unnatural.”

Not to be outdone, televangelist Pat Robertson also shared some homophobic remarks today as he weighed in on the news that two women were married in West Point’s Cadet Chapel. After proclaiming that General Douglas MacArthur, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee must each be “rolling over in his grave,” he asked: “What have they done to our cherished institution?”

But I have a different question. With the country seeing progress for LGBT communities in cities and states across the country, and with more and more Americans supporting marriage equality, the real question is when these far-right leaders are going to realize that they are on the very wrong side of a losing battle.

PFAW

PFAW Supports President Obama’s Call for a Balanced Approach to Fiscal Plan

President Barack Obama posed an important question to families across the country yesterday: what does $2,000 mean to you?

In a speech on extending tax cuts for the middle class as the fiscal deadlines approach, President Obama emphasized the importance of this tax measure for everyday Americans:

 

“If Congress does nothing, every family in America will see their taxes automatically go up at the beginning of next year…A typical middle class family of four would see its income taxes go up by $2,200. $2,200 out of people’s pockets. That means less money for buying groceries, less money for filling prescriptions, less money for buying diapers. It means a tougher choice between paying the rent and paying tuition. And middle class families just can’t afford that right now.”

 

He made the case that extending tax cuts for the middle class would give families peace of mind and give those in Washington more time to work out a comprehensive fiscal plan “in a balanced way – including asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more so we can still invest in things like education and training in science and research.”

Earlier this month, People For the American Way – as well as PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action and People for the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials and Young People For programs – joined more than 100 other organizations in calling for a budget agreement that prioritizes job creation, saving the safety net, stopping sequestration, and adding new revenue from corporations and the wealthiest earners.

Americans agree with this approach. A Washington Post-ABC poll released yesterday found that the majority (60%) of Americans support increasing taxes on the wealthy and that 67% oppose raising the age for Medicare coverage. As families across the country know, the solution to our fiscal problems cannot come from putting efficient systems like Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block so that we can extend tax breaks for the richest Americans.

Beyond being bad for families, it’s bad for our national economy. As the Congressional Research Service found this fall, lower tax rates for the wealthy do not spur economic growth. Instead, as President Obama said today, “let’s approach this problem with the middle class in mind” – and make sure Congress isn’t taking money out of our national investments in health and education to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.

 

PFAW

Grassley's Non-Response on Judicial Nominations

Chuck Grassley issues a misleading response to complaints about his obstruction of resident Obama's judicial nominees.
PFAW

PFAW Joins Allies at Conference to Fight Money in Politics

Super PACs and corporate lobbyists, beware.

Earlier this month, organizations from around the country working to fight back against the influence of big money on our democracy gathered to share ideas and make plans for action. The conference, associated with the Money Out/Voters In Coalition – of which People For the American Way is a leading member – provided a forum to discuss Constitutional and legislative solutions to the growing problem of corporate influence in politics. As AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld described it:


“Last Saturday in Los Angeles saw the most detailed, ambitious and encouraging discussion of exactly how to approach campaign finance and lobbying reform that I’ve seen in two decades of reporting on the decline of American democracy.”


Conference-goers grounded their discussions in the notion that corporations should not have the same constitutional rights as people to spend money to influence elections. They noted that constitutional and other remedies are needed to prevent powerful and wealthy special interests from undermining our democracy.

And national polls have consistently found that Americans want solutions. Earlier this year, the Brennan Center for Justice found that three in four Americans “believe limiting how much corporations, unions, and individuals can donate to Super PACs would curb corruption.” Another recent poll found that nine Americans out of ten agree that there is too much corporate money in politics.

As People For the American Way’s Marge Baker put it:



“This is happening because the people want it to happen.”


It is clear that Americans realize we have a problem on our hands. And as movement leaders come together, float plans, and debate proposals, it is also clear that those who care about repairing our democracy will continue to fight back against corporate influence in politics until we as a country have enacted viable solutions.

 

PFAW

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Supports LGBT-Inclusive Immigration Reform

CHC says that it will “protec[t] the unity and sanctity of the family, including the families of bi-national, same-sex couples, by reducing the family backlogs and keeping spouses, parents, and children together.”
PFAW

GOP Bad Faith on the Pace of Confirmations

Since a bipartisan agreement on judges ended in May, the rate of confirmations that Republicans have consented to has plummeted.
PFAW

Florida Federal Judge: We Need More Judges!

One of the district's vacancies could have been filled many months ago, if only Republicans would stop their blanket obstruction.
PFAW

This is How Judicial Nominations are Supposed to Work

President Obama will end his second term with more vacancies on the federal courts than there were when he started. Today there are 99 vacancies on the federal circuit and district courts, 33 of which are for courts that are so busy that they’ve been officially designated “judicial emergencies.” This glut of vacancies is in large part due to Senate Republicans’ persistent obstruction of the president’s nominees – even the ones from their own states who they purportedly support. During President Obama’s first term, judicial nominees have had to wait on average three times as long after committee approval for a vote from the full Senate as did nominees in President George W. Bush’s first term.

But some vacancies are due to a less well-known but all too common delay at the very start of the nominations process.

Before he makes a nomination to the federal judiciary, President Obama asks senators from the state where the vacancy has occurred to present him with recommendations. It’s a way to identify nominees from any given state and to ensure home-state, often bipartisan, support for nominees. The problem is, senators from both parties have too often dragged their feet in recommending acceptable nominees, leading to often years-long vacancies in the federal courts.

These vacancies exist despite the fact that most federal judges give months, sometimes even a full year of notice before retiring or taking senior status (semi-retirement) so that a replacement can be found.

This week, senators from Colorado and New Mexico showed how the process is meant to work – and how it would work, if all senators followed their lead.

In Colorado, district court judge Wiley Daniel announced last winter that he would be leaving his seat in January 2013. Colorado senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet set up a bipartisan commission to find qualified nominees for the seat in a timely manner. They then recommended a set of finalists to the White House, which in turn nominated Raymond P. Moore on Tuesday, before the seat he would fill becomes vacant. Of the 18 future vacancies currently listed by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, Colorado is one of only two states with a nominee.

In New Mexico, Judge Bruce Black announced in June that he would be leaving the court in October, just a few short months. So New Mexico’s senators, Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman, announced their bipartisan commission that very day, leading to the president’s nomination yesterday of Kenneth John Gonzales to fill the vacancy.

There is no excuse for seats on the federal courts to be left open for years, as caseloads multiply and litigants face delays. The senators from Colorado and New Mexico showed how the front end of the judicial nominations process can be efficient and fair.

PFAW