The National Journal today reports on the rocky progress of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which for the first time this year has become an object of partisan dispute. Why? The Democratic-backed reauthorization includes new protections for LGBT people, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. That bill passed in the Senate despite 31 no votes – all from Republican men.
In response, the House GOP put together an alternate bill that not only axes the new protections recommended by Democrats but eliminates some protections that are already in the bill. Yesterday, the White House threatened to veto the House bill.
Now, the House GOP is playing the victim, accusing Democrats of trying to make them look bad by including things like help for gays and lesbians and undocumented immigrants in the bill:
The Senate version would expand current protections to gay, bisexual, or transgender victims of domestic abuse, subject non-Native American suspects of domestic abuse occurring on reservations to the jurisdiction of tribal courts, and increase temporary visas for victims who are undocumented immigrants. The House bill was amended on Tuesday to allow illegal immigrant “U visa” recipients to receive permanent residence if the perpetrators of the crimes against them are aliens, are convicted of the crimes, and are deported to the visa holders’ home countries.
But Republican leaders have accused Democrats of adding those hot-button issues to intentionally create a fight for political advantage—and lash out at House Republicans for waging a “war against women.” House GOP leaders—including Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia—say they want to stay away from “issues that divide us.”
That’s right. House Republican leaders – who threatened to shut down the government to stop Planned Parenthood funding, who won’t even consider cutting tax loopholes for giant corporations, who continually go out of their way to express their opposition to equal rights for gays and lesbians – are now worried about “issues that divide us.” Like, apparently, protecting gay people, Native Americans and immigrants from domestic abuse.
One “issue that divides us” apparently didn’t turn off some House Republicans. Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia offered an amendment to the bill that, according to the National Journal, would provide “help for convicted domestic abusers who want their gun-ownership rights back.” That one, at least, didn’t make it past the Rules Committee.
Last week, PFAW’s Right Wing Watch reported that a who’s who of Religious Right activists had recently gathered in the Capitol, with the endorsement of Speaker John Boehner, for a George Washington-themed prayer event.
Last night, Rachel Maddow did a segment on the event, drawing heavily from Right Wing Watch research to expose the extremism of its participants:
Right Wing Watch uncovered video of Lou Engle claiming that marriage equality would “unleash” a “sexual insanity”; Engle praying against health care reform with Sen. DeMint and then-Sen. Brownback; Jim Garlow saying that Satan is attacking the U.S. with marriage equality; David Barton claiming that AIDS can’t be cured because it’s God’s punishment for being gay; and the head of Alveda King’s group saying that supporting abortion rights is akin to supporting terrorism.
Here at People For the American Way, we spend a lot of time monitoring right-wing figures who seem far out of the mainstream. And then the Speaker of the House invites them to the Capitol.
The Austin Chronicle has set up a new Twitter account devoted exclusively to digging up old stories on the shenanigans of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. They’ve pulled up some good stuff, including this story from last year on the governor’s involvement in shutting a planned student production of a controversial play at Texas’ Tarleton State University.
The play in question was Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi, which provoked a furor from Religious Right groups when it was first released in 1998 because of its depiction of a gay Christ. The production was canceled after the playwright and theater staff received death threats, but it was later reinstated – with metal detectors at the door. People For the American Way Foundation was among the groups defending the right of the play to be put on in peace at the time, staging "A Quiet Walk for the First Amendment" in front of the theater on opening night.
How times have not changed. When a student at Tarleton State started working on a production of Corpus Christi last year, he ran up against opposition from none other than Texas’ Lieutenant Governor, David Dewhurst. Dewhurst issued a press release attacking the student production as a “lewd display” and “morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans.” The backlash unleashed by Dewhurst’s statement was so strong that the professor in charge of the show ultimately decided to cancel it and three other student productions because of “safety and security concerns for the students.”
While Perry’s deputy was the public face of the opposition to the show, the Chronicle dug up a tidbit from the Texas GOP website that made it clear that the governor himself was not only aware of but also involved in the censorship effort:
In a "thank you" note on the Texas GOP Vote website, Conservative Republicans of Texas President Steve Hotze gives credit (a-hem) to Dewhurst for his moment of censoriousness, but then adds this interesting little factoid:
We also owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Perry for his behind the scenes work to stop the play at Tarleton State. Ray Sullivan, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, was notified of the play on Thursday and after discussing it with the Governor, the necessary steps were taken to ensure that its performance was canceled.
This all brings to mind the GOP’s latest successful censorship attempt, targeting a recent exhibition about gays and lesbians in American Art at the National Portrait Gallery. Like the criticism of Corpus Christi, the criticism of the exhibit centered on both its acknowledgement of gay people and on a depiction of Christ that some on the Religious Right found objectionable. The groups targeting the exhibit were led by the far-right Catholic League, which also, not coincidently, was a leader in the fight against the original production of Corpus Christi.
The success of Religious Right censorship campaigns depends, in a large part, on the willingness of elected officials to play along. In the 1980s and 1990s, Jesse Helms took on the role of censorship champion. In the most recent Smithsonian scandal, John Boehner and Eric Cantor were more than willing to echo the complaints of far-right groups like the Catholic League. And if Perry’s involvement in the Tarleton Corpus Christi incident is any indication, if he were president he would be happy to lend his hand to similar efforts.
GOP activist James Bopp Jr. has played a critical role in eviscerating campaign finance regulations throughout his career as a Republican attorney. He successfully argued in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life that Congress couldn’t prevent corporations from using money from their general treasuries on so-called “issue ads,” and he initially represented the right-wing group Citizens United in the landmark case that ushered in massive corporate involvement in politics (although he did not argue the case in Supreme Court).
After fighting for the power of corporations to increase their already-substantial role in public affairs, now Bopp is launching a pro-GOP political group that seeks to cash-in on the glut of corporate money. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones reports that Bopp is one of the founders of the newly formed Republican Super PAC and is set to expand corporate involvement in politics to an even greater degree by having candidates participate in the fundraising for undisclosed corporate dollars:
"The different thing here with our PAC is that we are going to harness the political fundraising of candidates and parties," he says. He explains that the committee will allow candidates and parties to fundraise for their campaigns and party organs at the same time they solicit unlimited, anonymous contributions to the super PAC.
Here's how it works: Say House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) approaches the CEO of Exxon for a contribution to his reelection campaign. Under federal law, the CEO can only give Boehner $2,500. In the past, that’s the end of the conversation. But Bopp's plan envisions Boehner and his campaign asking that same donor—and his company—to pony up more money, as much as he wants, for the Republican Super PAC. The donor can even specify that the money be spent supporting Boehner or attacking his opponent. Then Bopp's PAC can buy ads, send out mailings, canvass neighborhoods, and do all the other things a political campaign typically does on Boehner’s behalf.
The Republican Super PAC is the logical outgrowth of Citizens United and a series of other recent court decisions that have overturned long-standing restrictions on corporate campaign spending. Bopp says these rulings allow his new group to go into uncharted campaign finance terrain. "This is perfectly legal," Bopp insists.
House Speaker John Boehner has finally acknowledged what Americans have known for a long time yet Congressional Republicans don’t seem to understand: the immensely profitable energy industry really doesn’t need federal subsidies, particularly when eliminating these needless giveaways would save our cash-strapped treasury up to $45 billion over the next decade.
“It’s certainly something we should be looking at,” Mr. Boehner said in an interview with ABC World News. “We’re in a time when the federal government’s short on revenues. They ought to be paying their fair share.”
Boehner goes on to say that President Obama is to blame for high gas prices, so voters will register their frustrations by voting against him in 2012. However, it’s more likely that Americans will feel similarly frustrated with the knowledge that while they are writing their check to the IRS each year and watching Congress cut the programs that matter most, huge companies are receiving enormous subsidies while raking in record profits. We would all be better off if Congress redirected these favors to big business toward creating jobs for the middle class.
Also, while we're at it, requiring the country’s biggest companies to pay more than $0 in taxes would make sense too.
Last September, in the heat of the mis-named “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy and the hubbub over Terry Jones’ first, aborted, Koran-building spectacle, People For’s Michael Keegan warned of the “careful mainstreaming of Islamophobia” in American life:
Some anti-Park51 crusaders, even Sarah Palin, denounced Jones' dangerous publicity stunt. But the fact is that his actions would attract little attention, and do little harm, if they weren't taking place in the context of widespread and loud Islamophobia encouraged and implicitly condoned by prominent political leaders. Leaders such as Palin could pretend to be tolerant by denouncing Jones' clear extremism, while all the while continuing to push subtler, more pervasive strains of Islamophobia. The suggestion, made by Palin, John Boehner, and by Jones himself that the Koran-burning event and the building of the Islamic Community Center had some moral equivalence is treacherous indeed, implying that somehow the practice of Islam is itself an offensive act. It's this sort of insidious notion -- passed off as a legitimate argument -- that creates the growing level of distrust of Muslims in our society.
The outcry against the Park51 Islamic community center in lower Manhattan set the tone for what has become virulent and widespread anti-Islam sentiment among many leaders on the Right, which has led to an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes. In March, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that one-fifth of all anti-Muslim hate crimes since Sept. 11, 2001 had occurred in the ten months since the Park51 controversy had erupted.
The mainstreaming of anti-Muslim rhetoric has also contributed to a rash of attacks on American mosques. The ACLU is now compiling data on mosque attacks in an interactive map – they have so far chronicled incidents in 21 states:
We should have known what was coming in January when the House GOP, in one of its first acts in the majority, took away the limited floor voting rights of the District of Columbia’s one delegate in Congress. The move was depressingly ironic coming from a party that had swept to power on a movement that claimed to echo the spirit of the American Revolution and its call for “no taxation without representation.” But the irony was lost on most of the GOP, and, it seems, hasn’t been found yet.
Today, the House will vote on whether to spend $100 million of federal tax dollars over five years to impose a school voucher program in the District that doesn’t work and that the local government doesn’t even want. The voucher program, which funnels federal money to religious schools, is a pet project of House Speaker John Boehner, who has shown no qualms about cutting other education programs—including Head Start and Title I grants for low-income school districts.
The voucher bill, expected to pass in the House, is the latest in a string of House GOP efforts to use DC as a pawn in the culture wars. The GOP’s radical anti-choice bill, HR 3, includes a provision that would prevent DC from using its own, locally raised tax dollars to provide abortion services. And now, Rep. Jim Jordan, leader of the 176-member Republican Study Group, is pushing for a bill that would overturn the District’s law allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Just to be clear, an elected body in which DC residents have no voting representation has decided to spend its time imposing programs the city doesn’t want, overturning its laws, and deciding how it can spend its own local tax dollars. Somebody call the Tea Party – I bet they’ll be furious.
House Speaker John Boehner took a hit yesterday in, of all places, the conservative Washington Examiner, a newspaper owned by the same folks who own the conservative Weekly Standard. Columnist Harry Jaffee slammed the Speaker for his plans to impose a reinvigorated private school voucher program on the District of Columbia. Jaffe states he is neutral on the issue of private school vouchers in general, but "with one caveat: The scholarships should not be used for parochial school tuition. And that is exactly where they have been going."
The Founding Fathers must be frowning on House Speaker John Boehner; you can almost envision the furrow on Thomas Jefferson's brow.
How could this fine conservative lawmaker from Ohio, who often cloaks himself in the Constitution, go on a crusade to give federal funds to D.C.'s Catholic schools? What happened to the separation of church and state?
Why is this a church-state issue? Because the vouchers are overwhelmingly used for religious education. In fact, the Department of Education reports that about 80% of the participating students have used the voucher to attend religious schools. Although the program may not expressly favor religious schools over others, you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief to think that that's not one of the goals of the program's proponents.
Jaffe ties the program directly to Boehner's upbringing.
So let's not let Boehner kid anyone. He's a good Catholic, attended Catholic schools in Cincinnati, has raised funds for D.C.'s Catholic schools, reads to their students, invited Cardinal Donald Wuerl to the State of the Union. His bill is a subsidy, plain and simple.
Catholic schools provide a strong education, build character and give poor kids a way out. No doubt. In Chicago and other cities, Catholic congregations support vibrant school systems. The truth is that D.C.'s Catholic community can no longer finance more than a few schools, which is why Wuerl turned seven into charter schools.
When John Boehner attended Archbishop Moeller High in Cincinnati, his parents split the cost with the local parish. When his brothers attended, Boehner helped.
That's the American way, where congregations and families helped their own get religious education. That's the way Thomas Jefferson saw it, at least.
Indeed, that is the American Way. But apparently it's not John Boehner's way.
In the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes the Speaker of the House to task on his hypocrisy in supporting the slashing of vitally important programs while setting some funds aside for a pet project of his in the District of Columbia.
Let me get this straight. As far as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is concerned, the United States government is "broke," which means we can't afford to pay for key domestic priorities, even if we want to.
Boehner, however, is also convinced that we have federal funds lying around to pay for private school tuition. …
[He] wants U.S. taxpayers to spend $20 million for private school tuition in D.C. over the next five years.
Maybe this is just an extension of Boehner's deep and abiding passion for looking out for struggling children? I have a strong hunch that's not it. After all, the Speaker's budget plan calls for devastating cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, among other things.
If Boehner were motivated solely by a desire to help children and students, these cuts would be off the table. Instead, they remain near the top of the GOP to-do list.
So what's really going on here? It's simply a matter of priorities. Boehner supports brutal spending cuts for most domestic priorities, but he loves vouchers, especially those that benefit Roman Catholic private schools and undermine public education (which his party is growing increasingly hostile towards).
The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program certainly does help religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. In other words, the program funnels taxpayer money into religious organizations. In addition to the many other arguments against school vouchers, this program raises significant First Amendment concerns.
Does the Speaker support the program because he thinks it helps students achieve academically? In fact, neutral analyses of the program demonstrate clearly that it simply has not significantly improved the educational attainment of the enrolled students. The Department of Education has concluded that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same for students who applied from schools in need of improvement.
Does the Speaker think that the people of DC want this voucher program? In fact, the city’s mayor opposes it, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and numerous members of the DC Council. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.
So why support a program that the locals don’t want and that the local population’s elected officials have asked you not to impose on them?
Throughout America and within Congress, there are ideologues seeking to privatize education as part of a larger push to privatize a wide swath of core government functions. Other ideologues chafe against the restrictions on government-funded religion that the Founders wisely placed in the First Amendment. So-called “opportunity scholarships” are an opportunity for them, but not for students.
People For the American Way opposes the Speaker’s bill, H.R. 471. It has been passed by committee, and a floor vote is expected near the end of March.
Last Friday, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia was at a town hall meeting when a constituent asked him, “Who will shoot Obama?” Rather than confronting the call to violence, Broun—who has his own history of incendiary remarks— laughed it off, and answered, “The thing is, I know there’s a lot of frustration with this president… Hopefully, we’ll elect somebody that’s going to be a conservative.”
Today, after a national outcry made it impossible for him to sweep the incident under the table, Broun issued a full apology, saying, “I condemn all statements -- made in sincerity or jest -- that threaten or suggest the use of violence against the President of the United States or any other public official. Such rhetoric cannot and will not be tolerated.”
Broun was right to apologize, however belatedly. But his apology doesn’t erase what has become a troubling habit among many Republican members of Congress: choosing to ignore—and thereby tacitly embracing—lies and conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birth, religion, and love of country. Earlier this month, House Speaker John Boehner led the way when he refused to publically correct members of his base who believe that Obama is a secret Muslim who is illegally serving as president, stating, “I can’t tell Americans what to think.” Progressives called him out for his slippery response, but he ultimately got away with his convenient non-denial.
Broun himself has fed conspiracy theories about the president, saying that Democrats want to take over “all of society,” and even comparing the president to Hitler. Unfortunately, he’s hardly alone in his sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle embrace of extreme rhetoric.
Elected officials spend a lot of time talking with, and trying to be polite to, people who they may or may not agree with, and they certainly shouldn’t be held responsible for the views of every person who they happen to be in the room with. But elected officials do have the responsibility to operate honestly and responsibly—and that means correcting clear lies and confronting clear calls to violence.
Broun was rightly criticized for his failure to immediately condemn a call to assassinate the president. But when will he and his fellow members of Congress stop stoking the suspicion and fear that leads to such calls in the first place?
People For the American Way has called on Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough to resign following his handling of a censorship controversy that resulted in a work of art being removed from one of the Smithsonian’s museums. In the Huffington Post today, People For’s president, Michael Keegan, writes:
The controversy around "Hide/Seek" will not be an isolated incident. Instead, with the rise of the Tea Party and the GOP takeover of the House, the far right has found new and stronger voices in its effort to rewrite American history, redefine American values and narrow the range of the American experience. House Speaker John Boehner has already promised "tough scrutiny" of the Smithsonian's budget--and, presumably, its collections and research. Like with the right-wing campaigns against climate science and American Muslims, the campaign against the Smithsonian is likely to be loud and sensationalized. The institution, one of our greatest national resources, deserves a leader who will stand up for its integrity and fight for its future, not one who will so easily cave to the political pressures of the moment.
The Smithsonian’s board will be meeting in Washington on Monday. We’ll be joining ART+ there in a demonstration calling for Clough’s ouster. If you’re interested in joining the demonstration, details are here.
People For has also joined with a dozen other anti-censorship organizations to recommend [pdf] that the Smithsonian’s board adopt a set of policies to protect free expression when similar issues arise:
We urge you to adopt explicit policies that uphold First Amendment principles, as well as a procedure for responding to complaints, whether coming from the general public or from elected politicians. The latter entails creating an open process of careful review and discussion, which should take into account the facts that
members of the American public hold diverse beliefs and values,
that some of the most vital issues facing us are subject to controversy,
and that controversy in a museum setting, when handled well, can productively illuminate such issues and advance public dialogue.
Today, the DC Delegate has a vote in the Committee of the Whole House.
Tomorrow, this partial right to vote – the only direct representation DC has had on the House floor in its entire history – will likely be revoked by House Republicans as they approve the House Rules of the 112th Congress. Speaker-designate Boehner needs to hear from you that this is unacceptable. From DC Vote:
On January 5, in the first hours of the 112th Congress, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives will likely silence the DC Delegate's voice in the Committee of the Whole House.
Call the incoming Speaker of the House, Representative John Boehner (R-OH) TODAY at 202.225.6205 and ask him to retain this important piece of DC's participation in the House.
Sample Call Script:
My name is ______ and I'm calling to ask Congressman Boehner [BAY-ner] to retain the DC Delegate vote in the Committee of the Whole.
DC residents pay full federal taxes, fight in wars and serve on juries, but have no voting representative.
It's taxation without representation. The Committee of the Whole is the only voice DC has when all the members of the House meet.
Please tell Congressman Boehner to retain the DC Delegate vote.Once you've called, please ask friends and family (especially in Ohio) to call also.
For a historical timeline of the District Delegate position, click here.
As Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) noted following last November’s elections:
The opportunity to vote in committees, now including the Committee of the Whole, is significant to the American citizens who live in the nation's capital and pay full federal taxes annually to support our federal government.
Maintaining the DC Delegate’s vote in the Committee of the Whole House is an important part of long-standing efforts to fully enfranchise our nation’s capital. Call now. 202-225-6205
Even after successfully demanding that the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery censor part of its “Hide/Seek” exhibit, congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have continued their attacks on the Smithsonian. House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor joined right wing extremists like Bill Donohue and Glenn Beck to pressure the Smithsonian to remove a video by the late artist David Wojnarowicz in an exhibit on the ways art portrays homosexuality and AIDS.
Georgia Republican Jack Kingston, who is in the running to become chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, called for a Congressional investigation into the art at the Smithsonian with hopes to strip the museum of its funding, despite the fact that the exhibit was entirely funded by private donors. Speaking to Fox News, Kingston said that parts of the “pro-gay exhibit” are “really perverted” with “lots of really kinky and questionable kind of art.” Kingston went on to say that the Smithsonian “should be under the magnifying glass right now” and is “a waste of tax dollars, and during these hard budget times we can’t afford it.”
With the prospect of congressional investigations of art and the de-fuding of museums, critics of censorship are speaking out.
PFAW President Michael Keegan writes in his new Huffington Post Op-Ed that “the path from David Wojnarowicz's struggle with AIDS to the director of a Smithsonian museum announcing, ironically on World AIDS Day, that Wojnarowicz's artwork might spoil someone's Christmas, says a lot about American politics at the start of a new era of right-wing power.”
Blake Gopnik, the arts critic for the Washington Post, spoke out against the Right’s blatant attempts at censorship in a must-read Op-Ed for the Post. In his November 5th review of “Hide/Seek,” written well-before the Right cultivated the controversy, Gopnik in his description of a painting by Andrew Wyeth said that “it’s that censor-baiting force that clearly made it worth painting for Wyeth -- and worth looking at for all the rest of us.” Now, Gopnik is pushing back on the conservatives’ demands for censorship:
If every piece of art that offended some person or some group was removed from a museum, our museums might start looking empty - or would contain nothing more than pabulum. Goya's great nudes? Gone. The Inquisition called them porn.
Norman Rockwell would get the boot, too, if I believed in pulling everything that I'm offended by: I can't stand the view of America that he presents, which I feel insults a huge number of us non-mainstream folks. But I didn't call for the Smithsonian American Art Museum to pull the Rockwell show that runs through Jan. 2, just down the hall from "Hide/Seek." Rockwell and his admirers got to have their say, and his detractors, including me, got to rant about how much they hated his art. Censorship would have prevented that discussion, and that's why we don't allow it.
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has said that taxpayer-funded museums should uphold "common standards of decency." But such "standards" don't exist, and shouldn't, in a pluralist society. My decency is your disgust, and one point of museums, and of contemporary art in general, is to test where lines get drawn and how we might want to rethink them. A great museum is a laboratory where ideas get tested, not a mausoleum full of dead thoughts and bromides.
In America no one group - and certainly no single religion - gets to declare what the rest of us should see and hear and think about. Aren't those kinds of declarations just what extremist imams get up to, in countries with less freedom?
Of course, it's pretty clear that this has almost nothing to do with religion. Eleven seconds of an ant-covered crucifix? Come on.
The attack is on gayness, and images of it, more than on sacrilege - even though, last I checked, many states are sanctioning gay love in marriage, and none continue to ban homosexuality.
And the Portrait Gallery has given into this attack.
Artists have the right to express themselves. Curators have the right to choose the expression they think matters most. And the rest of us have the right to see that expression, and judge those choices for ourselves.
If anyone's offended by any work in any museum, they have the easiest redress: They can vote with their feet, and avoid the art they don't like.