PFAW’s 2012 report, “Predatory Privatization: Exploiting Financial Hardship, Enriching the One Percent, Undermining Democracy,” included a section titled, “The Pernicious Private Prison Industry.” We reported that across the country, private prisons were often violent, poorly run facilities that put prisoners, employees and communities at risk even while failing to deliver on promised savings to taxpayers. But state legislators, encouraged by ALEC and by private prison interests’ lobbying and campaign expenditures, continued to turn prisons over to private corporations, often with contract provisions that acted as incentives for mass incarceration.
A new story in Politico Magazine, “The Private Prison Racket” comes to the same conclusions. “Companies that manage prisons on our behalf have abysmal records,” says author Matt Stroud. “So why do we keep giving them our business?”
The Politico story slams “bed mandates” – guarantees given by states to private companies to keep prisons full. Contracts like that build in incentives for governments to lock people up – and punish states financially when they try to reduce prison populations.
Politicians are taking notice. Last month, In the Public Interest reported that reality has turned the tide against private prisons: “Coast-to-coast, governments are realizing that outsourcing corrections to for-profit corporations is a bad deal for taxpayers, and for public safety.” The dispatch cited problems with private prisons in states as diverse as Arizona, Vermont, Texas, Florida, and Idaho, where Gov. Butch Otter, a “small government” conservative, announced last month that the state would take control of the Idaho Correctional Center back from private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America due to rampant violence, understaffing, gang activity, and contract fraud.
But the huge private prison industry is not going away anytime soon. As In the Public Interest notes:
All of this momentum does not suggest the imminent death of the for-profit prison industry. Some states, including California and West Virginia, are currently gearing up to send millions more to these companies. But the past year has been a watershed moment, and we are heading in the right direction. In light of these developments, these states would be wise to look to sentencing reform to reduce populations, rather than signing reckless outsourcing contracts.
The arguments against private prisons are myriad and compelling. Promised savings end up as increased costs. Lockup quotas force taxpayers to guarantee profits for prison companies through lock up quotas hidden in contracts. They incentivize mass incarceration while discouraging sentencing reform in an era when crime rates are plummeting.
But more than anything else, the reality of the disastrous private prison experiment has turned the public against the industry.
There are an estimated 36,000 gay and lesbian binational couples in the United States. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and other discriminatory federal policies, these Americans are unable to sponsor their foreign-born same-sex spouses.
Meet Frances Herbert and Takako Ueda – they need your help! With Takako’s student visa set to expire, the threat of Takako’s deportation looms large for a couple who is legally married in Vermont and has known each other for over 30 years.
Anthony Makk and Bradford Wells are a couple in San Francisco who have been married for seven years. However, because their marriage is not recognized by the federal government, Wells, an Austrialian, faces deportation later this month.
Earlier this year, Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). It is a meaningful step toward providing equality to same-sex couples and keeping their families together. It would allow many same-sex partners to begin the immigration process more quickly, efficiently, and with fewer limitations. For many, it could very well be the only avenue available to keep their families together in the US.
Please join us in calling on President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security to keep couples like Frances and Takako and Anthony and Bradford together. Also, contact your senators and representative and urge them to cosponsor UAFA. All families deserve to stay together and have a chance at pursuing the American dream.
More and more Americans are fed up with freshman Senator Ron Johnson's single-handedly blocking the Senate from even considering the nomination of Victoria Nourse to Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Yesterday, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that:
Johnson's decision to block the judicial nomination of a University of Wisconsin law professor has drawn a pointed letter of protest from a group of legal academics around the country.
Johnson has singlehandedly held up consideration of Victoria Nourse for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviews federal cases from Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
"For a single senator from one state within the Circuit to assert a hold, months after the nomination was complete, undermines Wisconsin's merit-based selection system, blocking highly qualified nominees from a hearing and a vote," reads the letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and the panel's top Republican, Charles Grassley of Iowa. "The effect is an unbreakable one-person filibuster."
The professors say a "a nominee of sterling credentials who has served under both Republicans and Democrats" should not be subject to "unending delay." You can click here to see the letter and its 53 signatories, some of whom served under Republican presidents.
Indeed, the letter shows Nourse's support across the ideological spectrum. In addition to progressive legal scholars, signers also include conservatives like Randy Barnett (a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who has challenged the constitutionality of the healthcare reform law) and David Bernstein (author of Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform). The signers also include ten scholars from Wisconsin law schools. All agree that Nourse would make an excellent judge.
Nourse was originally nominated by President Obama more than a year ago after consultation with Wisconsin's two senators. Unfortunately, because of the unprecedented obstruction of qualified judicial nominees by Senate Republicans, Nourse was among the dozens of nominees who the Senate was prevented from considering before 2010 came to an end. President Obama renominated her in January, with the new Congress that now includes newly elected Senator Ron Johnson.
Johnson complains he should have been consulted before the renomination even though the appropriate consultation with Wisconsin's senators occurred when Nourse was originally nominated. Other states with new Republican senators have faced the same situation with the re-nominations of judicial nominees who were originally nominated last year. In every case but Wisconsin, the new Republican senator has allowed the nomination to go forward. Only Senator Johnson has refused.
A divided Supreme Court issued two business-friendly decisions today that demonstrate why, under Chief Justice Roberts, it is frequently called the Corporate Court.
In the first of these, Sorrell v. IMS Health, a 6-3 Court (the five usual suspects joined by Justice Sotomayor) struck down a common-sense medical privacy law passed by Vermont. As part of its comprehensive regulation of pharmaceuticals, the state requires pharmacies to retain certain information about prescriptions and the doctors that order them. Knowing that the drug companies would love to take advantage of this information in order to target doctors to sell more of their product, Vermont protected medical privacy by prohibiting the sale to or use of this data by drug companies without the prescribing doctor's authorization.
According to the Roberts Court, the law allows anyone else to use the data for any other purpose and therefore cannot be defended as protecting medical privacy. It therefore characterizes the law as targeting speech based on the identity of the speaker and the content of the message, thereby triggering heightened First Amendment scrutiny (which – surprise, surprise – the privacy protection law fails to meet).
Justice Breyer's dissent recognizes the Vermont law as the standard, commonplace regulation of a commercial enterprise. It doesn't prohibit or require anyone to say anything, to engage in any form of symbolic speech, or to endorse any particular point of view. It simply addresses a problematic abuse of the prescription data. As the dissenters point out, the federal and state governments routinely limit the use of information that is collected in areas subject to their regulation, as pharmaceuticals have been for over 100 years. Surely heightened First Amendment scrutiny should not be triggered by a law that, for instance, prohibits a car dealer from using credit scores it gets for one purpose (to determine if customer is credit-worthy) for another (to search for new customers).
The dissent states that the Court has never before subjected standard, everyday regulation of this sort to heightened First Amendment scrutiny. Yet this is not the first time that arch-conservative ideologues have taken everyday economic regulation and struck it down on the basis of freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights. In fact, the dissenters specifically warn of a return to
the bygone era of Lochner v. New York, in which it was common practice for this Court to strike down economic regulations adopted by a State based on the Court's own notions of the most appropriate means for the State to implement its considered policies.
With Lochner, ideologues routinely struck down consumer and worker protection laws as violating the Due Process Clause so they could impose their own policy preferences. Simply replacing Due Process with Free Speech does not suddenly make this radicalism valid.
My name is Josh Klein, and I am 14 years old. I am not a bully, and I have never been bullied, but I have seen kids get beat up and picked on, and it needs to stop. I made a movie that I hope will help create social change by changing peoples’ attitudes and behaviors regarding gay bullying. I became interested in this topic because of all the news stories lately about gay teenagers killing themselves. No one should ever feel so desperate that he takes his own life.
In the short film I wrote, a bully picks on a gay student. When the movie begins, the bully is making fun of a thirteen-year-old boy at his school. Similar to the famous story A Christmas Carol, when the bully goes to sleep that night, he is visited by a ghost who tells him that before the night is over, he will be visited by two other ghosts. The film itself will have to tell the rest of the story.
Meeting Josh and watching his film reminded me of the Make It Better Project, a safe schools action campaign organized by the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Network and endorsed by dozens of LGBT equality advocates. Make It Better Project has two new initiatives to keep everyone engaged this summer.
Make It Better Summer Camp(aign): Hold local groups or parties to participate in an online activist camp(aign) to keep youth engaged over the summer and inspire them to make it better come the fall! Students should be able to take more than the summer off from bullying. Through weekly online camp sessions, the Make It Better Summer Camp(aign) will connect LGBT and allied youth across the country and empower them to make it better when they head back to school.
Write A Letter, Make It Better: Were you ever a youth? You have the power to Make It Better. Write a letter to your high school or middle school’s current principal and describe how LGBT youth were treated when you attended. Let them know what a principal’s support or intervention would have meant for you or your LGBT classmates. Simply share your story, and you can make it better for today’s students – whether you graduated last year or 30 years ago! This is a great way to engage your community members and donors who might want to take action but don’t know how to help.
Like Josh, we all need to do our part to ensure that students feel safe and secure when they enter the schoolhouse doors. The time to act is now.
Do you pay taxes? Guess who doesn't. America's largest corporation: General Electric.
G.E. did not pay any taxes on their $14 billion in profits last year and instead got a $3 billion tax refund.1 But it doesn't end at G.E....
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont put out a Top 10 list of corporations with high profits and no taxes in recent years including Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Boeing and Carnival Cruise Lines. Over the last two years, Wells Fargo earned $37 billion in profits but got a $4 billion tax refund.2 And Hewlett-Packard reported over $9 billion in profits last year, but paid the same amount in taxes as someone earning just $30,000 a year.3
Tell members of Congress: Before gutting the budget of necessary programs that help middle-class and poor Americans, make sure corporations are paying their fair share!
This is not about business incentives, which are fine and can be valuable in helping to kick start the economy. This is about a system gone completely off the rails in which corporations are getting an unnecessary free ride at the expense of everyone else.
Congress is on the verge of shutting down over Republicans' demands for deep, draconian cuts to everything from public broadcasting and reproductive health to college loans and programs that feed poor children. So why aren't increases in revenue, beginning with basic Tax Fairness for corporations, on the table too? Conservatives seem hell-bent on slashing funding for every program under the sun that helps ordinary Americans, including Social Security and Medicaid, just so they can protect corporations' free ride.
The New York Times reported that corporate taxes made up 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s, but as of 2009 were only 6.6 percent of total revenues. It's not hard to see that closing loopholes and ending billions of dollars of giveaways in corporate welfare could solve most if not all of our budget problems. Don't let this Tea Party Congress pay for corporate welfare on the backs of poor and middle-class families. Demand Tax Fairness Now!
Call on Congress to collect corporations' fair share in taxes before forcing through cuts that will harm millions of Americans.
We need to change the conversation and now is the time. While Republicans, the media and too many conservative Democrats continue to play to the false narrative that deep cuts are necessary, including cuts to essential retirement and health care programs, everyone is ignoring the real elephant in the room: that profit-swollen corporations are shorting America and its taxpayers billions of dollars every year. Congress can show they are really serious about budgets and deficits by making corporations pay their fair share, and making it the top priority over cuts.
After taking action, please help spread the word.
Thank you for all that you do to defend the American Way.
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.
In May, People For signed on to a travel boycott of Arizona in response to the state’s new draconian immigration law. We’re pleased to note that not only other advocacy groups, but at least 20 US cities, have pledged to boycott the state until it repeals the noxious legislation.
This week another city was added to the list: Burlington, Vermont, where City Councilwoman and YEO Network member Emma Mulvaney-Stanak was instrumental in passing the resolution. A recent article in the Huffington Post noted the impact the boycott is likely to have:
Arizona would be wise to look at … South Carolina, which has lost over $500 million over the past decade due to a boycott stemming from its refusal to remove the confederate battle flag from the capitol. Phoenix estimates that the recent actions will cause the city to lose $90 million in convention business over the next four years and it likely was a factor in the GOP selecting Tampa for its 2012 convention (which could have brought in as much as $150 million to the financially strapped state).
Thanks to Councilwoman Mulvaney-Stanak and other leaders fighting against Arizona’s discriminatory law.
At a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Dawn Johnsen was set to be sent for a second time to the full Senate—this time on the one year anniversary of her original nomination. True, Washington is almost totally shut down by snow at the moment, but Senator Patrick Leahy (of Vermont, a place used to a few snowstorms) forged ahead and convened the Committee, succeeding in moving four more judicial nominations to the full Senate.
Unfortunately, not everyone is as willing to deal with a little bad weather. Republicans insisted that Johnsen's nomination be held over yet again due to the storm. After all, they wouldn’t want to pass up one more opportunity to try to paint her as “controversial.”
Sure, Johnsen has already served with distinction as acting head of the OLC under President Clinton, received bipartisan support from her home state senators and garnered endorsements from legal experts across the ideological spectrum, but that’s not going to stop the GOP from taking all the pot shots they can.
As you may know, Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire signed a marriage equality bill into law yesterday. Previously, Gov. Lynch had supported civil unions, but not not same-sex marriage. In a statement released yesterday, the governor made clear that his feelings on the matter had shifted course, thanks to the case made by activists, same-sex couples, and the general public:
"Two years ago in this room, I signed civil unions into law. That law gave same-sex couples in New Hampshire the rights and protections of marriage. And while civil unions was recognized as a step forward, many same-sex couples made compelling arguments that a separate system is not an equal system.
They argued that what might appear to be a minor difference in wording to some, lessened the dignity and legitimacy of their families."
New Hampshire joins the growing list of states that have passed laws supporting full marriage equality: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, along with Iowa.
The governor signed the bill amid cheers of praise, as he was joined in the Executive Council Chamber by lawmakers and activists who had fought so hard to make marriage equality a reality.
Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay religious leader who heads the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, spoke at a celebratory rally. He "told supporters to savor the moment so they can tell their children and grandchildren 'you were here and you made it happen.' "
Gov. Lynch didn't miss out on an opportunity to point out that same-sex couples still face unequal treatment from the federal government:
"Unfortunately, the federal government does not extend the same rights and protections that New Hampshire provides same-sex families, and that should change."
The law will take effect January 1, 2010, and by that time, hopefully, more states will have followed suit.
Today, Maine became the latest state to affirm the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont when Gov. John Baldacci signed into law LD 1020, An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom. People For the American Way applauds Gov. Baldacci for recognizing that this is about fairness and equal protection under the law for all citizens of Maine. In a public statement, Gov. Baldacci said:
“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions. I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.
“Article I in the Maine Constitution states that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against.’
“This new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of Church and State.
“It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine’s civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.”
This news comes a day after the D.C. Council voted 12-1 to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Congratulations to the Maine Legislature and all those who are working hard to make fairness and equality for same-sex couples in Maine a reality.
As we hope you’ve already heard, champagne corks are popping in Vermont where both houses of the state legislature successfully overrode the Governor’s veto of same-sex marriage legislation. And for those of us in DC, marriage equality is a step closer now that the District’s City Council enacted legislation to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
We’re exceptionally proud of the fact that the legislation granting marriage equality in Vermont was co-sponsored by a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, Representative David Zuckerman.
And he’s just one of the YEOs doing great work for LGBT rights nationwide. You can read about other members working hard for equal rights for all in the most recent YEO Newsletter.
While national Religious Right leaders have reacted with predictably apocalyptic venom to the unanimous Iowa Supreme Court ruling upholding marriage equality, there's more good news from the state's political leaders. According to the national Stonewall Democrats, the Iowa Democratic Party has long been on record supporting marriage equality, with a position clearly and unequivocally written in the state party platform.
And while state Religious Right leaders are demanding that the legislature begin the process of amending the state constitution, legislative leaders instead praised the Supreme Court's decision. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy issued a strong statement. Here's an excerpt:
Thanks to today's decision, Iowa continues to be a leader in guaranteeing all of our citizens' equal rights.
The court has ruled today that when two Iowans promise to share their lives together, state law will respect that commitment, regardless of whether the couple is gay or straight.
When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today's events will be why it took us so long. It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency.
Marriage equality is a done deal in the state for now. Even if legislative leaders were eager to amend the state constitution, it's a long and complicated process that requires action by both houses in two consecutive general assemblies to put an amendment before the voters. According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa Family Policy Center President Chuck Hurley "acknowledged that until a constitutional amendment could be placed on the ballot, there's nothing gay-marriage opponents can do to stop gay couples from marrying in Iowa. The soonest such a vote could take place would be 2012."
Congratulations and thanks, Iowa. Next up: Vermont, where marriage equality has passed both houses with large majorities in spite of a veto threat from the governor. The vote to override is expected to be a close one.
As if Ben and Jerry’s wasn’t enough reason to love Vermont, it looks like marriage equality legislation is moving forward in the state legislature:
A Vermont Senate committee voted to advance a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state.
The senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-0 on Friday to advance a bill that was the topic of an emotional public hearing on Wednesday that drew hundreds to the Statehouse.
Governor Douglas has said he opposes the bill, but hasn’t said that he’d actually veto it if it got to his desk.
Of course, even if same-sex couples in Vermont can get married, they’re still prevented from receiving the federal protections that marriage affords their heterosexual friends. Just another reason why we should Dump DOMA.