GLAD

Issa’s Investigative Bombshell

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has plans to launch investigations into everything from Wikileaks to the mortgage crisis, but a high-profile hearing he held yesterday showed some…interesting priorities. Issa was concerned that the Department of Homeland Security inappropriately required Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to be vetted by Obama Administration political appointees, in a process that has since been revised. The only problem? He couldn’t find any evidence of actual wrongdoing:

Narrowing most of Chief FOIA and Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan's answers to a, "yes or no," Issa asserted she forwarded FOIA requests to DHS political appointees, who then evaluated the information based on how embarrassing or politically sensitive it was.

Despite Issa's claims, however, both the written committee findings and a report issued by the DHS inspector general found the privacy office did not engage in unfair or illegal politicization of FOIA requests. Throughout the hearing, Callahan insisted no FOIA requesters were disadvantaged because of their political party or area of interest.

"To my knowledge, no one other than a FOIA professional made a substantive change to a FOIA release," Callahan said. "The department was not engaging in spin. They just wanted to know what was in the documents."

Maybe it was the lack of evidence that caused Issa to withhold thousands of pages of documents from the Democratic staff of his committee until early this week:

Republican Committee staff obtained at least 7,200 pages of documents from an independent source. They shared approximately 1,900 pages with the Democratic staff in February, but they waited to share an additional 5,300 pages until Monday of this week.

So what did Issa’s investigation into DHS’s FOIA practices find? Politico’s Ben Smith points to one object of controversy illuminated in a report by the committee’s Democratic staff, an extended discussion about whether or not it was appropriate for the department to redact curse words and catty comments made by a government employee about Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s wardrobe. The report concluded:

This evidence does not indicate that the swear words or comments about the Secretary's attire were political in nature, or that information in these documents was withheld for partisan political purposes.

So Issa’s brave investigation revealed that the news media was denied access to some rude and irrelevant comments government employees made about each other, for reasons that were not political.

Glad we took the time to get that settled. Now about that mortgage crisis?

 

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GOP Leaders Get Back to Basics: Art Censorship!

In case you were thinking it’s been too long since we’ve had some good, old fashioned censorship from Republican leaders, worry no longer.

House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Tuesday called for the dismantling of an exhibit in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery after they learned that it contains video of a Jesus statue with ants crawling on it, as well as works of art with strongly sexual themes.

Titled "Hide/Seek," the exhibit is slated to run from Oct. 30 to Feb. 13. The conservative website CNS News.com first alerted the two Republican leaders to its content.

Yes, instead of getting the economy back on track or trying to make sure families have access to quality health care, GOP leaders have decided to go after an 11 second clip in a 30 minute video in an exhibit not paid for with tax dollars.

But hey, maybe it was disruptive, designed purely to shock and offend. Maybe there were riots in the street of appalled arts patrons who were disgusted by what they saw.

Sullivan says the museum has heard from people all over the country, but no visitors who have seen the piece inside the exhibit have complained.

Or maybe the GOP isn’t just trying to inflame passions to score political points. Maybe they’re so convinced that taxpayer money shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near expressive content, because someone could be offended by the content. If that’s that case, they’ll probably be lining up to oppose this project.

Operators of the popular Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky are seeking state tax incentives to build a creationism theme park at a nearby site — a project that Gov. Steve Beshear officially will announce Wednesday.

Mike Zovath, senior vice president of the non-profit group Answers in Genesis, one of the partners in developing the park, said Kentucky officials have told him the proposal for state tourism-development incentives “looks good.”

Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?

So I guess it’s just a ploy to score political points by inflaming division and ignorance. Great. Glad we cleared that up.

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Kagan Defends Marshall

As we and others have noted, many Republican Senators have adopted the perplexing tactic of attacking Kagan’s strong ties to civil rights giant and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Today, Kagan masterfully defended Justice Marshall’s judicial philosophy against Senator Kyl’s accusations of judicial activism.

Senator Kyl accused Justice Marshall of favoring the disadvantaged over the powerful – a critique that may reveal more about Senator Kyl than Justice Marshall. But as Kagan put it, Justice Marshall’s philosophy wasn’t about unfairly advantaging one group over another – it was about the “Court taking seriously claims that were not taken seriously anywhere else.” I think all of us, with the possible exception of Senator Kyl, can be glad that the Court gave Marshall and his colleagues a fair hearing in Brown v Board.

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Leahy: Senators Will Address Oil and the Courts in Kagan Hearings

Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he’s going to make sure the subject of oil and the courts comes up in Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, which begin next week. The Hill reported Saturday:

The chairman, who will guide the confirmation hearing, pointed to controversial cases slashing a damages award in the 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill incident, an environmental disaster that's now been dwarfed by the Gulf spill.

"Turning back the award in the Exxon-Valdez, I wonder if the Supreme Court would do that today as they watch what's happening in the Gulf," Leahy said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, to air this weekend.

"It wasn't the liberals who said that Exxon shouldn't have to pay the amount that a jury gave the people of Alaska for their oil spill," the Vermont senator added later, critiquing conservative judges' decisions in some cases.

We, too, wonder if the current Supreme Court’s allegiance to corporate interests would lead it to give the same sort of gift to BP as it did to Exxon in 2008, if damage claims from BP’s devastating spill make their way to the high court. In fact, the pro-corporate reflexes that led to the Court to halve a jury’s award to the Exxon spill’s victims are exactly what we’d like Kagan to address in the upcoming hearings.

Take a look at the 20 questions we’ve drafted for Kagan . We’re glad to hear that a few of them may be asked.

 

 

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Justice Department Intervenes in LGBT Rights Case

Think Progress points out that the Department of Justice is intervening in an LGBT rights case for the first time in a decade.

The case centers on an openly gay 14-year old student named Jacob in Mowhawk, New York* who sued his school district for failing to appropriately respond to the repeated harassment he suffered at school.  Now the DOJ, citing Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is intervening in the suit, arguing that “the law also covers discrimination based on gender stereotypes.”

According to the Utica Observer-Dispatch, the school district claims that it’s close to a settlement.  It also contains an apt summation of the case from Jacob’s father: “He has the right to go to school and feel safe.”

We’re glad that the Justice Department feels the same way.

* - Side Note: Can we all agree on how awesome it is that Mowhawk, New York has an openly gay 14 year old willing to stand up for his rights?  Jacob – When you get to college, give us a call.  I know some people you should meet.

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Fair Pay Issue Growing in Campaign ‘08

As you may have seen, the Obama campaign is running ads focusing on McCain’s opposition to fair pay for women.  I think it’s safe to say that everyone around here is glad to see Obama talking about the issue and eager to see McCain’s response.

But looking at the conversation, it’s important to remember that we aren’t moving forward on this issue.  Thanks to the Supreme Court, we’re actually moving backwards.  It was, after all, the very bad decision to take away Lilly Ledbetter’s fair pay that brought pay discrimination to the fore.  And regardless of whether or not we manage to pass the Fair Pay Act, more bad Supreme Court Justices could make the situation much, much worse.

Our friends at the National Organization of Women have put together a great fact sheet on Equal Pay which is fascinating and disturbing at the same time.  (Via Dana Goldstien at TAPPED)

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Matching the Right's Passion

This week gave me a sobering reminder of just how motivated and organized the Radical Right is. I think it's a real challenge to us to match their passion and commitment. On Wednesday, national and local Religious Right leaders convened a call of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pastors and activists at 215 locations in California, Florida and Arizona. Those are the three states with constitutional amendments banning marriage for same-sex couples on the ballot this year. They rallied their troops for what they describe as nothing less than warfare against "Satan." The call's main focus was Proposition 8 in California, which Watergate felon-turned-Religious Right organizer Chuck Colson called "the Armageddon of the culture war."
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