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Money in Politics: a Barrier to Civil Rights Progress in the 21st Century

Panelists at the conference “Money in Politics: A Barrier to a 21st Century Civil Rights Agenda?” on Thursday last week, including PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker, held an important conversation about how big money in politics today is impeding crucial civil rights progress. Baker was joined on the panel — which was moderated by The American Prospect’s Eliza Newlin Carney — by Rashad Robinson of ColorOfChange.org, Spencer Overton of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Janai Nelson of the NAACP, and Heather McGhee of DEMOS. Their dialogue explored the socioeconomic and racial implications of the way we fund elections, and how big money in politics serves as a barrier to a working and representative democracy in the United States. As the panelists made clear, in today’s political system, people of color, women, and low-income people often do not have an equal voice in our democracy.

 

Heather McGhee remarked that “the campaign finance system currently has inherent racial bias,” and noted that the money coming into our political system is overwhelmingly from wealthy white communities. Baker elaborated on this by discussing how many of the policies now in place are those favored by these wealthy interests, and highlighting the lack of adequate disclosure of political contributions as a barrier to organizing against these discriminatory policies. Robinson picked up that theme, discussing how the lack of timely disclosure becomes a barrier for activists trying to connect the dots between political contributions and political outcomes. Overton, who has direct experience with fundraising for campaigns, discussed the pressure to court super-rich donors who have the capacity to give massive sums, rather than reaching out to larger numbers of more modest donors. And Nelson tied money in politics reform to voting rights and outlined the need for a “deliberative democracy” that is responsive to the people.

As the panel drew to a close, panelists discussed how to address this issue moving forward. Baker made the point that currently there aren’t enough elected officials who are fighting for solutions to counteract big money in politics. McGhee reiterated that, despite a few notable exceptions, there has not been sufficient attention given to this issue from politicians serving in office.

It is time for a campaign finance system and a political system no longer run only by those with money and power. To achieve equitable public policies we need a fully representative democracy where all people, no matter their race or socioeconomic status, have an equal voice in the democracy, and that currently is simply not the case.

PFAW

Big Win for Democracy in New York

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Today the people of New York scored a significant victory for democracy in the United States by officially becoming the 17th state on record in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn disastrous Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. This decision, among others, has created an out-of-balance system that allows powerful corporations and other wealthy interests to spend unlimited amounts of money to buy access and influence to advance their political agenda at the expense of everyone else.

This landmark accomplishment in New York comes as the result of a multi-year effort to encourage legislators in the state Senate and Assembly to sign onto a formal letter calling for such an amendment. Because of the work of dedicated activists and a broad coalition of organizations, lawmakers from both parties, representing a majority of each house of the legislature, have joined to represent the will of the people. Over twenty municipalities from the state of New York including Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Mt. Vernon, Ithaca and New York City have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the constitution. Moreover, since 2010 — the year of the Citizens United decision — nearly 700 cities and towns nationally have passed resolutions calling for an amendment and more than five million petition signatures have been gathered in support.

This victory represents the results of collaborative campaigning, with a diverse coalition of organizations coming together to educate, organize, and apply the political pressure necessary to win. On behalf of our more than 156,000 New York members,  People For the American Way is proud to have been one of several national organizations to play a role in advancing this effort. Since the start of this campaign several years ago, our members have signed petitions, written letters, called their legislators and shown up to advocate and protest in person.

In New York and across the country, poll after poll shows that reforming our big money system is a top priority for Americans. And with this historic win, the people of New York have contributed to the momentum of a growing national movement calling for a constitutional amendment to remedy a system that is tilted in the favor of wealthy special interests. If history is any guide, it’s not a  question of whether unaccountable money in politics will be addressed, it’s a question of when. Since our founding, this country has been on an uneven but ultimately forward-moving path towards creating a government that is truly of, by and for all the people. New York has just helped the nation take yet another step in making this promise a reality.  

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Call on Platform Committees to Incorporate Money in Politics Reforms

As the Democratic and Republican platform drafting committees gear up in advance of the party conventions, PFAW joined other national democracy organizations this week in submitting letters calling for the committees to include a comprehensive package of reform measures to fight big money in politics in the platforms.

Specifically, the groups called for the policy reforms outlined in the “Fighting Big Money” agenda — which was released by 13 reform organizations last year — to be incorporated. These measures include: a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, small donor public financing, a restoration of the Voting Rights Act, increased disclosure of political spending, and stronger enforcement of existing campaign finance rules.

The letters note that the presidential candidates have talked about the need to reform our big money system throughout their campaigns, and polling consistently shows that voters of all political backgrounds agree. With an overwhelming majority of Americans frustrated with our out-of-balance political system, incorporating a comprehensive reform agenda within the party platforms is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

You can read the letters to the DNC and RNC platform committees here and here.
 

PFAW

Donald Trump Cozies Up to Anti-LGBT Activists

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Donald Trump has been called “the most pro-gay Republican nominee ever,” but he hardly deserves that reputation.

He has sharply criticized the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling and pledged to appoint judges “as close to Scalia as you could find,” referring to the late justice known for his broadsides against gay people and the “homosexual agenda.”
Not only would Trump radically reshape the judiciary, where many key LGBT issues are decided, but he has also vowed to sign anti-LGBT activists’ top legislative priority, the misnamed First Amendment Defense Act, which would give legal approval to discrimination against LGBT people, and gave his blessing to Kentucky clerk Kim Davis’ attempt to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
And that’s not to mention the fact that his attacks on women, Latinos and immigrants are also attacks on many LGBT people.

Despite his “LGBT-friendly“ reputation, Trump has cozied up to some of the country’s most extreme Religious Right leaders.

Frank Amedia, a pastor who serves as Trump’s “liaison for Christian policy,” describes HIV/AIDS as “a disease that comes because of unnatural sex.” Trump’s frequent campaign surrogate Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist preacher, has blasted gays for living a “filthy,” “miserable” and “perverse” “lifestyle” that he says encourages child abuse and the coming of the Antichrist.

One of Trump’s top advisers, Ben Carson, made waves during his unsuccessful presidential bid with his bizarreludicrous and offensive diatribes against gay rights.
Trump has also partnered with Harlem’s notorious “stone homos“ pastor James David Manning and far-right radio show host Alex Jones, who thinks the LGBT rights movement is a “suicide cult” bent on the destruction of humanity.

Tomorrow, the business mogul is scheduled to speak at the Road to the Majority summit in Washington, D.C., an event sponsored by two anti-LGBT groups, the Faith and Freedom Coalition and Concerned Women for America.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition was founded by Ralph Reed, who got his start in politics when his mentor Pat Robertson recruited him to lead the Christian Coalition in the late 1980s. (Robertson, incidentally, is another anti-LGBT leader who has been courted by Trump.)

Reed started the FFC in 2009, a few years after he lost his own campaign to become the lieutenant governor of his native Georgia, in part thanks to reports that emerged during the election implicating him in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. It turned out that Reed had taken money from casino and lottery interests, including those with ties to Abramoff, to help his consulting firm’s conservative Christian clients wage anti-gambling campaigns that just so happened to block the funders’ potential competitors from entering the market.

Despite the scandal, Reed eventually found a way to return to his old passion of opposing LGBT equality, demanding that the government withdraw an arts grant for repairing the Washington National Cathedral because the Episcopal Church performs weddings for same-sex couples and attacking the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as “a dagger aimed at the heart of religious freedom.”

Concerned Women for America, for its part, is so hostile to LGBT rights that it even opposes the Violence Against Women Act because it includes protections for LGBT victims of abuse and attacked Obama for daring to criticize a Ugandan law that imprisons gay people with up to life terms.

Along with Trump, the upcoming conference will feature Religious Right activists like Jim Garlow, Tony Perkins, Matt Barber and Jason and David Benham, who have allderided gay rights as Satanic.

Later this month, Trump is set to attend an event with many of these same activists, in addition to Cindy Jacobs, a self-proclaimed prophet who believes the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell led to the freak death of birds, and Rick Scarborough, who once suggested filing a “class action lawsuit” against homosexuality and said he was willing to burn to death while fighting marriage equality.

While Trump may focus his stump speeches on building a border wall and torturing prisoners of war, his promise to appoint far-right judges to the bench and his attempts to win the support of radical anti-LGBT activists should give no comfort to those who hope a President Trump might advance LGBT rights.

PFAW

While Trump Makes Racist Attacks On Judge, GOP Holds a Supreme Court Seat for Him to Fill?

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

It was both completely in character and shamefully beyond the pale when Donald Trump accused Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over two lawsuits against Trump University, of having an “inherent conflict of interest” in the cases because of the judge’s Mexican heritage. On Sunday he extended that charge to Muslim judges, who he also suspects would be unable to remain unbiased. If there was a shred of doubt remaining on the question of whether Donald Trump is fit to make judicial nominations before this attack, that debate is now over. Even GOP senators arespeaking out against Trump’s remarks. But in a contortion act that defies logic, those same senators continue to go to extraordinary lengths to hold open the vacant Supreme Court seat for the very person whose approach to judicial matters they are condemning.

GOP leaders rushed to denounce Trump’s remarks about Judge Curiel, with Republican senators including Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake, Rob Portman, and Mitch McConnell speaking out against his comments and House Speaker Paul Ryan calling them “out of left field” even though even a casual observer knows they were coming right from home plate for the past year. Trump has been consistent in his baseless attacks on entire communities since the first day of his campaign, when he smeared Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. And if some in the GOP are (rightly) condemning Trump’s vision of a justice system in which some judges are prohibited from doing their jobs because of their ethnic background, why are they going to extraordinary lengths to put him in the driver’s seat of our nominating process?

GOP senators are still doing everything they can to block President Obama from filling the Supreme Court vacancy. Rather than follow the Constitution and give fair consideration to President Obama’s extraordinarily qualified and respected nominee, GOP senators are running a campaign of unprecedented obstruction in order to allow Trump to make the Supreme Court nomination instead.

Let’s be clear: Trump had already provided countless reasons to call into question his fitness to nominate judges. This is a man who supports killing the family members of terrorists and wants to “open up” libel laws so he can go after journalists. That he’s now implying whole swaths of people are not fit for the federal bench is one of the most disturbing examples yet of Trump’s contempt for the independence of the judiciary and for Americans different from him. It goes against the most fundamental values of our country, and it is Exhibit A of why he should never be the person nominating judges at the Supreme Court or any level.

It’s no wonder Americans are worried about the prospect of Donald Trump making judicial nominations. Even before his attack on Judge Curiel, a recent poll found that the majority of Americans don’t trust Trump to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, and they’re none too pleased with the senators obstructing President Obama’s nominee.Half of voters say they are “less likely to vote for a senator who opposed having confirmation hearings” for Judge Merrick Garland. For Republican senators in tight reelection battles, their unwillingness to do their jobs is increasingly and rightfully becoming a liability with voters.

The fact that GOP senators are flat-out refusing to do their jobs on the Supreme Court was already an outrage. That they are now working to hold the seat open for a man who thinks some judges can’t do their jobs because of their ethnic background or religion is unconscionable and should be, quite frankly, embarrassing to all Republicans. GOP leaders are in a position of both condemning Trump’s approach to judicial issues and working to make sure he’s the one to make lifetime judicial appointments. Make sense? It doesn’t to me, either.

The choice is now crystal clear. It’s time to call the question and give Merrick Garland a vote.  

PFAW

Budget Bills Provide Another #DoYourJob Moment For GOP Congress

PFAW will continue to stand strong with the more than 100 groups insisting on no riders in spending legislation.
PFAW

More and More Agree: Eight is NOT Enough for the Supreme Court

Over the last few days, both the Washington Post and prominent constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe have joined the growing chorus of voices, including Republican as well as Democratic judges, making clear that eight justices are NOT enough for the nine-member Supreme Court, and that the continuing vacancy caused by Senate Republicans’ unprecedented refusal to even consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the vacant Court seat is unconscionable. As the Post put it, the continued vacancy has required the Court to “punt, duck, dodge and weave around contentious issues,” creating “dysfunction.” These problems are documented in more detail in the recent report by PFAW Foundation and the Constitutional Accountability Center, “Material Harm to our System of Justice: the Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court.”

As the report explains, the continuing vacancy has already produced several 4-4 splits on the Court, leaving the contested lower court decision in place but setting no national precedent. In one situation, the result was that the Court could not resolve conflicting interpretations of federal law on loan discrimination in different lower courts, causing confusion and different rules for different people around the country. Specifically, as a result of this Supreme Court 4-4 split, people in some states can be required to get their spouse to co-sign a bank loan, while in other states, some right next door, that requirement is illegal.

In addition to several 4-4 splits, the continued vacancy has caused the eight-member Court to effectively punt several important cases for later review by a full Court, again leaving uncertainty and confusion as a result. For example, in the Zubik case concerning whether religious employers can effectively deny to their employees contraceptive coverage required by the ACA because of religious objections, the Court vacated conflicting lower court decisions and suggested that the government and the employers try to find a compromise and then go back to the lower courts, and the Supreme Court, if necessary. The continued litigation by some religious employers makes clear that future resolution by a nine-member Court will be necessary. But in the meantime, uncertainty about these important rights remains. As the report explains, the continued vacancy also appears to have decreased the number of important cases the Court has agreed to review next term starting in October, and makes it difficult for the Court to issue important temporary stay decisions in divisive cases where decisions must be made quickly, as in cases seeking temporary halts of executions or new election rules.

As a result, both Republican and Democratic-appointed judges and justices, including Chief Justice Roberts, Retired Justice John Paul Stevens, and the late Justice Scalia himself, have explained that having a full complement of nine members is important for a fully-functioning Court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed last week, commenting publicly that “eight is not a good number” for the Court.

And as the Post also explained, the Senate Republican leaders that are responsible for this problem “are doing more than ever to discredit themselves,” claiming that their blockade is about the non-existent “principle” that a vacancy that arises in an election year should be filled by the next president, contrary to history and the Constitution, while at the same time claiming that Republicans could find no “worse nominee” than Judge Garland. This is despite the fact that these very same Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have agreed that Judge Garland is “well-qualified.”  As the Post concludes, this admission should “end the discussion”: Judge Garland should receive a hearing and should be confirmed. But if the Senate Republican blockade continues, the eight-member Court will only cause further harm to our system of justice.

PFAW

Do Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley Agree With Trump That No Mexican Americans Should Serve On The Supreme Court?

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear this week not only that he wants Donald Trump to be president, but that the main reason he wants Trump to be president is so that he will be the one picking Supreme Court justices.

The Republican leader told radio host Hugh Hewitt that “the Supreme Court is the biggest thing the next president will deal with.” He continued, “I made sure of that by making sure that this president doesn’t get to pick this nominee and get them confirmed on the way out the door. But that alone, that issue alone will define much of what America is like for the next generation.”

According to McConnell, “That issue alone is enough to convince me to support Donald Trump.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley also recently expressed his support for Trump selecting a Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. He told the Des Moines Register, “Based upon the type of people he’d be looking for, I think I would expect the right type of people to be nominated by him to the Supreme Court.”

Yesterday, Trump made clear that he applies a racial test when assessing the impartiality of judges, telling The Wall Street Journal that Judge Gonzalo Curiel should not preside over a fraud case involving his Trump University scam real estate seminars case because the federal judge has “an absolute conflict.”

According to Trump, Curiel’s “Mexican heritage” is “an inherent conflict of interest” because “I’m building a wall.” Curiel, whose parents are from Mexico, was born in Indiana.

Trump’s pronouncement raises a serious question for the Republicans who are engaging in an unprecedented effort to stop President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, from so much as getting a Senate hearing, with the apparent goal to keep the seat open for a President Trump to fill.

Trump claims that a judge’s heritage is a conflict of interest because it means that he will be biased against Trump.

During every president’s term, numerous cases involving their policies or interpretations of the law are argued before the Supreme Court. If Trump believes a district court judge’s heritage creates an unfair bias against him, then one can assume that he thinks this same bias would exist in a judge on the highest court.

Approximately 10 percent of our country’s population is of Mexican heritage, and Donald Trump’s racial test would exclude every single one of them from the judiciary. Perhaps this explains why the list of potential Supreme Court nominees that Trump released last month was 100% white.

McConnell, Grassley and other Republicans obstructing President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as they hope for a Republican victory in November now need to answer whether or not they too would apply Donald Trump’s racial test to the court.

PFAW

PFAW Hosts Telebriefing on Donald Trump as the Presumptive GOP Nominee

On Thursday, little over a week after Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee for president, PFAW hosted a member telebriefing to examine the dangers of a GOP nominee who unapologetically stands for bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism – and who has surrounded himself with some of the most extreme voices of the Right.

On the call, Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery noted that white supremacists have been “electrified” by Trump’s rhetoric, many of whom have “come out of the woodwork” to speak out in support of Trump, from releasing robocalls to encouraging others to volunteer for him. Montgomery noted that the damage Trump’s campaign has done by energizing white supremacists could outlast his campaign, and emphasized that we have to be persistent in holding Trump accountable for his ties to extremism.

Senior Research Analyst Brian Tashman discussed how Trump has chosen to associate himself with far-right figures from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pundit Ann Coulter, noting that he is mainstreaming ideas that were once considered fringe by elevating the profiles of these figures. This week PFAW released a new report on Trump’s ties with some of those figures, which you can read here: “Trump’s Team: The Bigoted, Unhinged Conspiracy Theorists Benefiting from Donald Trump’s Campaign.” On the call, Tashman called his courting of conspiracy theorists “one of the most troubling aspects of Trump’s campaign.”

You can listen to the full telebriefing below.

PFAW

Trump Is Lifting the Profile of Conspiracy Theorists Who Blame School Shootings on the Government, Claim Starbucks Puts Ebola Semen in Coffee

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Conspiracy theories aren’t incidental to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, they’re one of its driving forces.

The presumptive GOP nominee attacked his former rival Ted Cruz by baselessly connecting his father to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, citing the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer. He brought up debunked claims about the 9/11 attacks to justify his call for the U.S. to commit war crimes by intentionally killing innocent civilians. He has stoked anti-Muslim sentiment by repeating boguschain-email-inspired stories about Muslim-Americans celebrating 9/11 and a U.S. general using bullets drenched in pigs’ blood to — in Trump’s telling, rightly — massacre Muslim detainees.

And let’s not forget that Trump has for years been attacking President Obama bysuggesting that he is a Muslim usurper who was born outside of the U.S. and had a Hawaii state employee killed as part of an effort to cover up his real birthplace. On top of that, he kicked off his presidential campaign by tarring Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and later tweeted a fabricated, racist meme about black crime rates from a neo-Nazi website.

Polling shows that Trump supporters are disproportionately likely to believe in conspiracy theories, including ones about vaccines and climate science that have been championed by the candidate himself.

It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that Trump has courted the support of some of the country’s most extreme and, frankly, bizarre conspiracy theorists.

A new report from People For the American Way, “Trump’s Team: The Bigoted, Unhinged Conspiracy Theorists Benefiting From Donald Trump’s Campaign,” takes a look at six radical pundits and preachers whose profiles the Trump campaign has elevated by inviting them to interview or campaign with the candidate.

This group of supporters includes pastors like Carl Gallups, who has promoted the disgusting claim that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged by government agents and that the parents whose children died were actually actors, and Robert Jeffress, who believes that gay people use “brainwashing techniques“ to advance their “miserable lifestyle“ and will “pave the way“ for the Antichrist.

Another pastor who has been courted by Trump, James David Manning, has received widespread notoriety for his beliefs that “Obama has released the homo demons on the black man“ and that Starbucks injects “semen from sodomites” into their lattes in order to spread Ebola.

Trump has shared the stage with all three at campaign events and has actively sought their endorsements.

He has also boasted about receiving the support of pundits Ann Coulter and Michael Savage, two far-right extremists who have taken credit for the candidate’s draconian anti-immigrant stance and harsh rhetoric that demonizes immigrants as “killers” and “rapists.”

And, probably most disturbingly, Trump has embraced Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist broadcaster known for regularly screaming about false flag attacks, chemtrails, alien overlords and homosexuality-inducing juice boxes. Trump, nonetheless, cited Jones’ conspiracy theory outlet to defend his debunked claim that Muslim-Americans in New Jersey partied during the 9/11 attacks.

Not only has Trump appeared on Jones’ show to praise the unhinged radio host’s “amazing“ reputation and spread his own conspiracy theories, but his close confidant Roger Stone has also become a frequent guest on Jones’ program and is collaborating with Jones on an effort to intimidate Republican convention delegates who won’t vote for Trump. In the project that they are calling “Days of Rage,” Jones and Stone plan to hold rallies at the hotels where delegates are staying to stop them from “stealing” the nomination from the business mogul.

Jones and his ilk not only now have a presidential candidate from a major party who reflects and reinforces their paranoid and bigoted worldview. They also now benefit from a direct line to the leader of the GOP, who is happy to elevate their profiles and ideas.

PFAW

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, Never Forget Necessitates Never Trump

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Today, on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), we pledge to never forget the genocide of 12 million people, based on their religion, ethnicity, sexuality, and other factors. We do this so that we always remember that it is the duty of each and every one of us to fight genocide, anti-Semitism, and bigotry in every form that we see it.

This week, Donald Trump cemented his place as Republican presidential nominee. More than any other year, I’m cognizant today of my responsibility to speak up against the hatred that Donald Trump espouses day after day.

On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, ‘Never Forget’ necessitates ‘Never Trump.’

The unhinged bigotry of Trump requires Jewish Americans -- and all Americans -- to speak up. Trump has been perfectly clear with his pledge that as president -- in fact, within the first 100 days of his presidency -- he’ll ban Muslims from entering the country. He kicked off his campaign describing Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” When a Trump supporter punched an African American protester at one of Trump’s rallies, saying, “next time we see him, we might have to kill him,” Trump said that the protester “obviously loves the country” and that Trump would pay the protester’s legal fees.

Trump legitimizes and raises up the profile of the white nationalist movement in the United States. He at first refused to disavow support from former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. Yesterday, Duke celebrated Donald Trump’s place as leader of the Republican Party, stating, “Even though Trump is not explicitly talking about European-Americans, he is implicitly talking about the interests of European-Americans,” and “Jewish supremacists who control our country are the real problem and the reason why America is not great.” And Trump says he “doesn’t have a message to [his] fans” who have been sending death threats to Jewish reporter Julia Ioffe, who wrote a profile for GQ on Melania Trump.

When we see this, how can we do anything but speak out? It’s this type of rhetoric that has escalated to genocide in the past. I hope we can put partisan politics aside, and agree that no person hoping to be the next president of the United States should promote racist policies or use xenophobic rhetoric.

It should deeply trouble all Americans that Donald Trump is empowering white nationalists across the country and basing his campaign on demonizing people based on their race and religion. We’re at a pivotal moment in our country. Republican or Democrat, we have an obligation to speak up against the bigotry of Trump. As we pledge on Holocaust Remembrance Day to never forget, we must commit to Never Trump as well.

PFAW

Hey Trump, I Checked My Voter Registration

Donald Trump’s unbridled xenophobia should’ve disqualified him from the presidency long ago, yet he’s now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. His horrific comments against immigrants, women, and so many others started on Day One of his presidential campaign and they haven’t let up.

While many of us have been appalled by Donald Trump’s egregious anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric and policies, we may not have gotten around to checking that our voter registration is all set so we know we’re ready to vote on Election Day. I myself had not checked my voter registration, so I went to my Secretary of State’s website and put in my information to check that everything was up to date and ready to go. It took just a few seconds.

Have you checked your registration? Below are the links for your state. Let Trump and the Republican Party know that no candidate can go after our community and win our vote. Latino voters have the power to decide who wins elections, from the local level to the White House, and we will vote against the hate of Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

Check your voter registration here (these links take you directly to the right page):

 

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas

Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina

North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

PFAW

Ted Cruz Hopes To Save Presidential Campaign With Attacks On LGBT People

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Last month, Ted Cruz delivered a warning to the Republican Jewish Coalition: If the GOP nominates Donald Trump for president, the general election will be a “bloodbath.”

The Texas senator assured the group that he is not the right-wing firebrand he has been made out to be. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that “Cruz said social issues devolve to the states and suggested he would not seek to impose his views as a president.”

“Nobody wants to elect a hectoring scold,” he said.

However, this more moderate and toned-down version of Ted Cruz didn’t last very long, as just days later he launched new attacks against transgender people, smearing them as likely sexual predators. In a television ad, Cruz’s campaign attacked Trump and Hillary Clinton for “letting transgender men go in little girls’ bathrooms”; on the campaign trail, he suggested that his daughters may be assaulted by transgender women.

Cruz then said that he doesn’t think transgender people should be let into public restrooms at all, instead saying that they should only be allowed to go to the bathroom at home.

Such attacks shouldn’t be surprising, considering that Cruz has spent his entire presidential campaign courting the support of radical anti-LGBT activists.

Cruz’s campaign is stacked with anti-gay leaders like Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Colorado state lawmaker who also happens to be an anti-LGBT exorcist who believes that gay people “should be discriminated against”; Gary Glenn, a Michigan lawmaker who wants to outlaw homosexuality; and North Carolina activists Flip Benham and Ron Baity, who have crashed gay couples’ weddings and likened gay people to “maggots,”respectively.

Two people with roles in Cruz’s campaign, Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, have defended Uganda’s “kill-the-gays” bill. Cruz even gladly made a campaign ad with “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson, who said at one Cruz campaign event that Americans should “rid the earth” of gay marriage supporters.

He promised a group of anti-LGBT activists that if he is elected president, “we will not use the federal government to enforce [the] lawless decision [on same-sex marriage].” Speaking with conservative pundits, he warned that marriage equality will destroy the freedom of speech and denounced what he called the gay “jihad“ on freedom.

Then there was Cruz’s attendance at a “religious liberties” conference in Iowa last year that was hosted by radical anti-LGBT pastor Kevin Swanson, who used the forum to promote the death penalty for homosexuality, rail against the Harry Potter books for supposedly turning kids gay, and promise that if his son were ever to marry another man he would show up to the wedding covered in cow manure

Even after having been warned about Swanson’s views on national TV, Cruz attended the event and participated in an onstage interview with Swanson, where he lavished praise on Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who tried to block her office from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples by citing “God’s authority,” and called the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling “fundamentally illegitimate.” The candidate eventually — after much criticism — said that he regretted his appearance at the conference and falsely claimed to have immediately denounced Swanson upon learning about his views.

Despite Cruz’s attempt to reposition himself as the more reasonable alternative to Trump, his anti-LGBT record is one more example of his blatant extremism.

PFAW

It Doesn’t Matter If Donald Trump Is ‘Disciplined’

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

It turns out that the boisterous and bigoted Donald Trump we’ve known for the last few years has just been acting a part. According to the frontrunner’s chief strategist Paul Manafort, Trump is simply “projecting an image“ and once Americans get to know the real Donald Trump, they’ll love him: “The negatives will come down, the image is going to change.”

What a relief!

Some pundits, it seems, were willing to play along with Manafort’s claim that Trump is shedding his outrageous persona, citing a single speech that he delivered immediately following his victory in the New York primary as proof that “Donald Trump 2.0” is “markedly more disciplined, gentler and more appealing than the version of Trump we’ve seen for much of the last year.”

Howard Kurtz of Fox News raved that “the disciplined Donald” was a “changed candidate” who has scrubbed the insults and started “acting more presidential. “

In reality, the only thing that was substantively different about Trump’s New York speech was that he referred to his chief opponent as “Senator Cruz” instead of “Lyin’ Ted.”

That’s it.

But before anybody had a chance to give him a medal for this brave reformation, Trump returned to using his “Lyin’ Ted” moniker in his subsequent speeches and Twitter broadsides. The much-heralded new, disciplined and thoughtful Donald Trump didn’t even last a day.

He even mocked reports of his supposed “presidential” transformation, a transformation we’ve been hearing about since well into last year.

The standards for Trump are so low that he was even hailed for acting “more presidential” simply for using a teleprompter in a speech.

There seems to be no expectation that Trump will have any knowledge of world events, answer basis questions or hold consistent positions. Instead, he wins praise simply for not insulting someone.

Today Trump will deliver a speech at the Mayflower Hotel as part of a series of speeches intended to show “a more sober and serious presidential candidate,” who so far has mostly received attention for his uninformed rants and almost daily policy shifts.

But Trump changing his style won’t make the substance of what he says any less terrifying. After all, his main foreign policy objectives include committing war crimes and accelerating nuclear proliferation.

Appearances in “formal settings” won’t change the fact that Trump’s speeches are so replete with falsehoods that some reporters covering him have admitted that they have all but given up on fact-checking them.

Trump seems to relish in repeating mistruths, like his claim about Muslims partying in New Jersey on 9/11 or a U.S. general who he said rightly massacred Muslim prisoners with bullets covered in pig’s blood. Both are fallacious stories that gained popularity in the online rumor mill. Not that that matters to Trump, who said of the dubious massacre: “It’s an amazing story. It shows toughness, it shows toughness. A true story. The press will say, ‘Well it was a rumor.’ It’s not a rumor, it’s a true story.”

His bizarre birther conspiracy theories, disparaging remarks about POWs and criticism of vaccines have largely faded from the limelight as Trump finds new outrageous things to say each week.

No other candidate for president would ever be able to get away with the amount of falsehoods, unhinged diatribes and sleaze pushed on a daily basis by Trump.

And simply saying that it was all an act doesn’t make Trump a new man or any less scary of a possible future president.

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PFAW

Donald Trump’s Pyramid Scheme for America

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

For a man who constantly brags about his success, Donald Trump sure does like to play the victim. In his latest round of self-pity, the billionaire mogul has decried the delegate-allocation system in Colorado, where his rival, Ted Cruz, won the Republican presidential primary contest in a landslide. 

Trump’s campaign is built around earned media and stadium-sized rallies, and never established the “ground game” critical to win states like Colorado, where delegates are elected by state convention attendees. Predictably, his spokeswoman Katrina Pierson called the process “rigged” and a “pyramid scheme.”

While “pyramid scheme” may be an odd way to describe Colorado’s delegate system, the word accurately reflects many of Trump’s campaign promises.

Trump the businessman knows a little something about pyramid schemes. 

He has endorsed, and in some cases put his name on, companies accused of operating like pyramid schemes, where the first people who sign up reap almost all of the benefits, while the vast majority of people, often lured to buy in with assurances of making huge sums of money, are left in the dust.

The Washington Post reported that one such multilevel marketing company, the Trump Network, “often gave the impression of a partnership that was certain to lift thousands of people into prosperity.” In reality, the alternative-medicine sales company had dismal outcomes and left many people feeling scammed and deceived.

Trump’s pitch for the group sounds like one of his stump speeches, promising to save the American dream from the destructive work of the greedy. 

“Americans need a new plan, they need a new dream,” he said while pitching the company in 2009. “The Trump Network wants to give millions of people a renewed hope and with an exciting plan to opt out of the recession. Let’s get out of this recession right now with cutting edge health and wellness formulas.”

In his campaign addresses, Trump likes to remark that “the American Dream is dead - but if I win, I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before.” Add a bit about “health and wellness” and you have a Trump Network infomercial. 

In 2009, Trump boasted that the Trump Network had sparked “unbelievable enthusiasm” and was “a phenomena” that was “going to be really amazing, really amazing.” But the group was selling discredited and suspect treatments and ended up as one of his many business failures.

His work with the company resembles his time on the campaign trail, where he pretends to fight the corrupt political process and financial system while making vague, ambitious promises of national and personal redemption.

He tells supporters that we “are going to start winning again and we’re going to win so much, you are going to be so happy, we are going to make America so great again, maybe greater than ever before.” Trump will not only make you rich, he says, but he will even “get rid of your depression.”

But like in any pyramid scheme, with Trump’s proposals, the ones at the very top will benefit while everyone else loses out.

Under Trump’s massive $12 trillion tax plan, “the top 1 percent of Americans will receive an average tax break of $227,000 per year while the bottom 20 percent will receive an average tax cut of only $250,” according to Citizens for Tax Justice, which found that “the majority of Trump’s tax cut would go to the top five percent of taxpayers.” 

But the biggest winners of Trump’s tax cut won’t be the top five percent. They won’t even be the top one percent.

“[T]he benefits would be overwhelmingly skewed to the highest-income taxpayers, with those in the top 0.1 percent (who make $3.7 million or more) getting an average tax cut of more than $1.3 million,” says Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center.

Forget about Voodoo Economics. This is Pyramid Scheme Economics.

The supposedly populist candidate also promises to pay off the entire $19 trillion national debt in just eight years — “very easy” — but one estimate found that his huge tax cut for the rich alone will grow the debt by almost 80 percent

Just fulfilling his pledge to balance the budget would be mathematically impossibleunder the proposal he has laid out to do so.

Trump’s plan, if ever implemented, would wreck the economy. And that is not even counting the human and economic costs of his massive deportation scheme.

On the campaign trail, Trump is marketing his candidacy the same way he pitched his bogus health business: I am going to save the American Dream and make us rich.

But like any pyramid scheme, it is bound to fail, and take many people down with it.

PFAW

A Sleazy or Principled Approach to Judicial Confirmations?

Several days ago, USA Today reported on some comments made by Senator Patrick Leahy about the Senate GOP’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court.  Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley has fallen in line behind the order of his boss, Mitch McConnell, and the demands of far-right extremist groups like the Judicial Crisis Network, who make wildly untrue claims about Judge Garland’s record.  GOP senators’ decision to hide behind those outside attacks and refuse to give Judge Garland a chance to defend himself is “sleazy,” Leahy said.  He also urged Grassley to show some independence from partisan interests, as Leahy did when he chaired the Judiciary Committee in parts of George W. Bush’s presidency.

Conservative Ed Whelan challenged Leahy’s positive characterization of his chairmanship on the National Review website in a piece he called “Patrick Leahy (D-Sleaze).”  Whelan criticized then-Chairman Leahy for not holding hearings on a number of Bush’s nominees.  One might think the committee was letting vacancies pile up around the country: that Leahy was fiddling while the American court system burned.  In fact, at this point in Bush’s last two years, the Democratic-controlled Senate had already confirmed 45 circuit and district court nominees, while the current Senate has confirmed a mere 17.  During the entire two years of the 110th Congress, the Senate confirmed 68 judges, a number that Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell show no interest in even trying to match.

In fact, it is Grassley and McConnell who are fiddling.  When the current Congress began, there were 40 circuit and district court vacancies, a number that has increased to 74 due to GOP inaction.  (If you include the Court of International Trade, the increase is from 43 to 78.)  In the same period, judicial emergencies have nearly tripled, jumping from 12 to 34 on April 14 (a change in how the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts weights cases went into effect the next day, affecting the number of emergencies and thereby complicating comparisons after that date).  In contrast, vacancies and emergencies went down in 2007-2008 because Democrats processed judicial nominations in a responsible manner.  Leahy also chaired the committee for 17 months in 2001-2002, during which the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed 100 of Bush’s judicial nominees.  Circuit and district court vacancies went down during that period from 109 to 60.  When it comes to taking seriously their constitutional responsibility to make sure our federal judiciary is sufficiently staffed, the difference between the two parties could hardly be starker.

The contrast is not limited to the confirmation of judicial nominees.  In Bush’s last two years, Sen. Leahy held 22 nominations hearings, including one as late as September 23, 2008 … just a few weeks before the presidential election to replace the term-limited George Bush.  Chairman Grassley has scheduled a confirmation hearing for April 20, the first since January, only the 13th of the current Congress, and he has suggested that he may shut the process down in July.

With 33 circuit and district court nominees in committee, and only five of them having had a hearing (but not until April 20), talk of such an early shutdown is obscene.  Seven of the nominees who have yet to be granted a hearing are circuit court nominees, most of them nominated more than two months ago.  Three of the circuit court nominees already have their “blue slips” from their home state senators.  The fact that this is an election year should not prevent a hearing for these circuit court nominees:  When President Bush nominated Steven Agee to the Fourth Circuit in March of 2008, Sen. Leahy scheduled a hearing seven weeks later, and a committee vote just two weeks after that.

And certainly no one could believably question Leahy’s fairness.  When President Obama took office, Chairman Leahy maintained the same rules and practices he had used with Bush’s nominees.  For instance, as under Bush, he opted to require the “blue slip” approval of both home-state senators before holding a hearing on a nominee, something not in the committee rules but rather a prerogative of the chair.  This led to a number of highly qualified Obama nominees being denied a chance to publicly respond to the often unfair and inaccurate attacks being made against them by GOP senators.  Other times, the Republican senators gave no public reason for their opposition, yet still used Leahy's blue slip  practices  to deny hearings to targeted nominees.  He even allowed Kansas’s GOP senators to change their mind after a hearing and, at their request, did not allow a scheduled committee vote on Tenth Circuit nominee Steve Six to take place.  The committee records are filled with Leahy’s sharp criticism of how qualified nominees were being denied hearings this way, including ones strongly supported by their one Democratic home state senator, including then-Majority Leader Harry Reid.  Nevertheless, he did not change his blue slip practice as he could have done unilaterally.

Whelan also criticizes Senator Leahy as “sleazy” for not getting controversial Fifth Circuit nominee Leslie Southwick confirmed quickly enough and then for opposing his nomination altogether.  As chairman, Sen. Leahy could have simply chosen not to give him a hearing.  In fact, at the confirmation hearing, Sen. Hatch specifically thanked Chairman Leahy for scheduling it over the criticism from “far left groups.”  Giving a nominee an opportunity to address senators’ concerns and defend their record in a public forum is not “sleazy.”

As Sen. Leahy pointed out last week, what’s “sleazy” is the way that the Republican-controlled Senate is mistreating the president’s Supreme Court nominee.  And while well-financed far-right groups are working overtime to keep GOP senators in line, two thirds of Americans are rejecting that position and support a hearing for Chief Judge Garland.  Chairman Grassley would do well to listen to the American people.

PFAW