Contempt: Republican Witch-Hunt Makes History

On Thursday, President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, became the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress. The blatantly political move by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives was the culmination of a multiyear plan by right-wing activists and politicians to undermine the nation’s top law enforcement official. Let’s recall how we got here. 

Attorney General Holder has had a target on his back from day one. He has played a key role in, among other things, defending voting rights for all Americans and advancing equal rights for gays and lesbians – things that the right wing vehemently opposes. In the case of the Fast and Furious program, which Holder’s opponents used to find him in contempt, he was the person who shut it down:
The problem of gunwalking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the George W. Bush Administration, and it was this Administration’s Attorney General who ended it. Attorney General Holder has said repeatedly that fighting criminal activity along the Southwest Border – including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico – is a top priority of the Department. Eric Holder has been an excellent Attorney General and just yesterday the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee acknowledged that he had no evidence – or even the suspicion – that the Attorney General knew of the misguided tactics used in this operation.

Incredibly, the very same politicians who condemned Holder were supportive when President Bush asserted executive privilege in an unprecedented and expansive way to conceal potentially illegal activity by government employees. On the other hand, Holder and the Obama administration have gone to great lengths to accommodate the often unreasonable demands of Republicans in Congress:

Over the past fourteen months, the Justice Department accommodated Congressional investigators, producing 7,600 pages of documents, and testifying at eleven Congressional hearings. In an act of good faith, this week the Administration made an additional offer which would have resulted in the Committee getting unprecedented access to documents dispelling any notion of an intent to mislead.

Holder and the Obama administration only asserted executive privilege when Republicans demanded documents that would put the agents fighting gun violence at risk. This is yet another irony.

As Right Wing Watch reported, Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee and Holder’s chief inquisitor, has been pushing a conspiracy theory for months that Obama and Holder intentionally allowed gun-smuggling to Mexico in order to boost violence and use it as the justification for an assault weapons ban here. It’s such a completely unhinged and baseless argument that it’s hard to take seriously. But Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the NRA and even elected officials like Issa have aggressively pushed this lie and whipped their base into fever pitch.

While Holder is taking it on the chin for protecting agents working to keep us safe, the right wing is saying that the Obama administration intentionally let people, including an American border patrol agent, get killed as part of some gun control conspiracy. In reality, Mexico is awash with American guns. And the right-wing created the extremely lax gun control system that makes it possible.

In the Republican House of Representatives, where up is often down and black is white, the people working to prevent gun violence are smeared as having blood on their hands. That’s why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rightly called the contempt vote a “heinous act” and “unprincipled.” Sadly, a full 17 House Democrats were successfully pressured by the NRA to part ways with Pelosi and condemn Holder.

It’s clear now, if it wasn’t already, that we’re up against people who will say just about anything to win. We should expect more nonsense heading into the election. But ultimately the best way to beat back their lies is going to the ballot box.

 

PFAW

PFAW's Peter Montgomery: Republicans Using 'Religious Liberty' to Attack Obama, Women's Health

Attacking President Obama for his supposed “hostility” to religious liberty is the tactic du jour for congressional Republicans, according to a new piece in the Huffington Post by PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery.

After a widely-mocked hearing before the House Oversight Committee on contraceptive coverage, conservatives testifying before the Judiciary Committee continued to claim that the Obama Administration’s compromise on contraceptive coverage is not sufficient – and even if were, the Administration couldn’t be trusted to actually carry it out.

But many of their arguments relied on narrow definitions of the beginning of life that are at odds with medical standards and even with the rest of the religious community:

The arguments from Republican members and their witnesses boiled down to three main claims: the regulations requiring contraception coverage are unconstitutional burdens on religious organizations; the compromise to prevent religious organizations from having to pay for contraceptive coverage is only "an accounting gimmick" that does not resolve any of the moral or religious liberty issues; and the Obama administration has proven itself hostile to religious liberty and cannot be trusted to follow through on its promised accommodation.

...

Several Democratic members pointedly noted that Lori was not speaking for all Catholic leaders, placing into the record positive statements about the proposed compromise from the Catholic Health Association, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and other Catholic groups. Meanwhile, outside the hearing, other Catholic voices challenged the credibility of the bishops' religious liberty alarmism.

Others cited fallacious examples to attempt to bolster their claim of lacking religious accomodation.

Also on hand: more nonsensical analogies to join Bishop Lori's previous testimony that the regulations were akin to forcing a Jewish deli to serve pork. Committee Chair Lamar Smith asked whether the government could force people to drink red wine for its health benefits. (As Rep. Zoe Lofgren noted, no one is being forced to use birth control.) Religious Right favorite Rep. Steve King lamented that in the past Christians had "submitted" to Supreme Court decision on prayer in schools and the Griswold decision and the right to privacy "manufactured" by the Supreme Court.

The piece goes on to discuss how religious liberty does require some accommodation of religious beliefs, and striking an appropriate balance is a delicate task. But whatever the outcome, Montgomery notes, the courts will evaluate the regulation of competing interests, and “religious liberty in America will survive.” You can read the entire article here.

PFAW

Pew report reveals our real voting problem

The Pew Center on the States’ Election Initiatives today released Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient, detailing an astonishing voter registration crisis in this country.

“Voter registration is the gateway to participating in our democracy, but these antiquated, paper-based systems are plagued with errors and inefficiencies,” said David Becker, director of Election Initiatives at the Pew Center on the States. “These problems waste taxpayer dollars, undermine voter confidence, and fuel partisan disputes over the integrity of our elections.”

Mr. Becker makes an important point: our problems are found in a system that hasn’t kept up with the times. The solution is to modernize that system, not cause further harm by prioritizing politics over participation.

Last fall’s The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation, details just how harmful the politics can be.

“This report reveals just how the far the Right Wing is willing to go to win elections,” continued Keegan. “Eroding the achievements of the Civil Rights movement by disenfranchising voters is abhorrent. All Americans have a fundamental right to vote, and we need to be vigilant to make sure that ever eligible voter is ready and able to vote on Election Day."

The Brennan Center for Justice continues:

“Last year, a slew of states passed new laws making it harder to vote. Notably, none of those laws addressed the concerns highlighted in this study. Rather than erecting barriers between eligible American citizens and their right to vote, we should be opening pathways to a modern voting system. Voter registration modernization is a common sense reform that would cost less, register many more voters, and curb any possibility of fraud. It should be put in place without delay.”

There is no question that we have a lot of work to do to ensure that eligible Americans can exercise their right to vote. But the goal should be fair and honest enfranchisement, not the politics of distraction.

PFAW

UPDATE: Stop School Bullying this GSA Day!

As you know, PFAW recently celebrated GSA Day 2012 and the work of Gay-Straight Alliances that bring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight allied people together to stop bullying, homophobia, transphobia and hate, and we called on you to be part of the solution.
PFAW

President Obama calls for DC budget autonomy

The budget proposal that President Obama released earlier today is the first in a series of executive and congressional actions that will fund the government in the next fiscal year. Among the thousands of pages of tables and spreadsheets are two items of note to DC democracy advocates.

Appendix, Page 1317:

The District of Columbia annually receives direct Federal payments for a number of local programs in recognition of the District's unique status as the seat of the Federal Government. These General and Special Payments are separate from and in addition to the District's local budget, which is funded through local revenues. Consistent with the principle of home rule, it is the Administration's view that the District's local budget should be authorized to take effect without a separate annual Federal appropriations bill. The Administration will work with Congress and the Mayor to pass legislation to amend the D.C. Home Rule Act to provide the District with local budget autonomy.

Appendix, Page 1321:

SEC. 817. Section 446 of the Home Rule Act (D.C. Official Code sec. 1–204.46) is amended by adding the following at the end of its fourth sentence, before the period ": Provided, That, notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, effective for fiscal year 2013, and for each succeeding fiscal year, during a period in which there is an absence of a federal appropriations act authorizing the expenditure of District of Columbia local funds, the District of Columbia may obligate and expend local funds for programs and activities at the rate set forth in the Budget Request Act adopted by the Council, or a reprogramming adopted pursuant to this section." (Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2012.)

In the absence of voting rights, budget autonomy is an important step toward enfranchising our nation's capital. DC should have control over its local revenues without having to clear that spending through Congress, and those local revenues should not be held hostage in the event of a government shutdown.

As the President himself points out, the Administration must work with Congress and the Mayor to ensure that these statements move from words to actions.

Click here for more information from DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

PFAW

FINAL PUSH: Online March for Trust Women Week!

There are now over 100,000 participants in the Online March for Trust Women Week. We’re making our final push today. Please join now!

Today, as we celebrate the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive freedom and health are still under attack.

The Tea Party Congress has moved aggressively to shut down women's access to reproductive health care and deny women the basic right to choose by targeting their health insurance and key healthcare providers, most notably, Planned Parenthood. In the states, a movement is afoot to make abortions illegal by conferring the status of “personhood” on embryos, and various state legislatures have taken up bills that would erect insurmountable barriers to women exercising their right to choose.

People For the American Way is proud to be partnering with the Silver Ribbon Campaign and an extremely broad coalition of organizations to promote the Virtual March celebrating Trust Women Week.

It is imperative that we begin 2012 with a powerful event that builds solidarity and momentum for reproductive health, rights and justice.

Join the Virtual March now and send your views to Congress and other elected officials where key decisions are pending about reproductive health, rights and justice.

You'll see your actions on an online map where you can also see who else is joining you, nearby and nationwide.

Choose from messages like:
  • “I trust women and I vote”
  • “Reproductive rights are human rights”
  • “We are the 99%. Fix the economy, and stop the war on women”
  • And more.
Join the march now and then help spread the word!

You can find out more about Trust Women Week at http://oursilverribbon.org.

Thank you for standing up for women’s rights and against right-wing attacks on reproductive freedom.
PFAW

UPDATE: Online March for Trust Women Week!

PFAW has made a very strong showing among the more than 80,000 people who have already joined the Online March for Trust Women Week. If you haven’t yet, please join now!

Today, as we celebrate the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive freedom and health are still under attack.

The Tea Party Congress has moved aggressively to shut down women's access to reproductive health care and deny women the basic right to choose by targeting their health insurance and key healthcare providers, most notably, Planned Parenthood. In the states, a movement is afoot to make abortions illegal by conferring the status of “personhood” on embryos, and various state legislatures have taken up bills that would erect insurmountable barriers to women exercising their right to choose.

People For the American Way is proud to be partnering with the Silver Ribbon Campaign and an extremely broad coalition of organizations to promote the Virtual March celebrating Trust Women Week.

It is imperative that we begin 2012 with a powerful event that builds solidarity and momentum for reproductive health, rights and justice.

Join the Virtual March now and send your views to Congress and other elected officials where key decisions are pending about reproductive health, rights and justice.

You'll see your actions on an online map where you can also see who else is joining you, nearby and nationwide.

Choose from messages like:
  • “I trust women and I vote”
  • “Reproductive rights are human rights”
  • “We are the 99%. Fix the economy, and stop the war on women”
  • And more.
Join the march now and then help spread the word!

You can find out more about Trust Women Week at http://oursilverribbon.org.

Thank you for standing up for women’s rights and against right-wing attacks on reproductive freedom.
PFAW

Join the Online March for Trust Women Week!

Yesterday, I asked you to join the Online March for Trust Women Week. PFAW supporters are among the 66,000 and counting who’ve already marched. If you haven’t yet, please join now!

Today, as we celebrate the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive freedom and health are still under attack.

The Tea Party Congress has moved aggressively to shut down women's access to reproductive health care and deny women the basic right to choose by targeting their health insurance and key healthcare providers, most notably, Planned Parenthood. In the states, a movement is afoot to make abortions illegal by conferring the status of “personhood” on embryos, and various state legislatures have taken up bills that would erect insurmountable barriers to women exercising their right to choose.

People For the American Way is proud to be partnering with the Silver Ribbon Campaign and an extremely broad coalition of organizations to promote the Virtual March celebrating Trust Women Week.

It is imperative that we begin 2012 with a powerful event that builds solidarity and momentum for reproductive health, rights and justice.

Join the Virtual March now and send your views to Congress and other elected officials where key decisions are pending about reproductive health, rights and justice.

You'll see your actions on an online map where you can also see who else is joining you, nearby and nationwide.

Choose from messages like:
  • “I trust women and I vote”
  • “Reproductive rights are human rights”
  • “We are the 99%. Fix the economy, and stop the war on women”
  • And more.
Join the march now and then help spread the word!

You can find out more about Trust Women Week at http://oursilverribbon.org.

Thank you for standing up for women’s rights and against right-wing attacks on reproductive freedom.
PFAW

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover’s Story Comes to ABC

Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides last fall, PFAW took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. Last Friday, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition turned its attention to the story of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.

On April 6, 2009, 11-year-old Carl Walker took his own life after being relentlessly bullied at school. Carl's family has focused their energies on helping others. They have turned this tragic event into something positive by lobbying for new state and federal laws against bullying.

The 3rd floor of the Walker home is where Carl took his own life. As a result, the family cannot bear the sadness of being on that floor. They need a new home that would meet their current needs yet also honor Carl in a positive way. Know anyone who can help?

Ty Pennington and designers Michael Moloney, Tracy Hutson, Jillian Harris, John Littlefield and local builders N. Riley Construction, Inc., as well as community volunteers, are tasked with building a new home while the Walkers are whisked away on a dream vacation to Hollywood.

As part of the episode, ABC teamed up with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network:

GLSEN worked with the Makeover team to create Stand Together, a community of people dedicated to taking action against bullying, with Sirdeaner Walker - a leading advocate on this issue - as the driving force behind the movement. The online hub featured in the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode is designed to raise awareness about the overwhelming number of bullying incidents in our nation's schools. Those touched by her work of making schools safe for all students can get involved and make a pledge against bullying and harassment by visiting www.standtogether.tv.

Stand Together is a great new tool to show how diverse the fight against bullying has become. They are well over one hundred thousand strong and still growing.

PFAW will continue its own advocacy to make sure that lessons are learned from stories like Carl's. Just this week, we sent a letter to the Senate supporting the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

S. 555 protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Ultimately, this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing quality education. All children deserve far better than that.

Senator Franken is the sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimation Act.

On a personal note, Carl's story will remain saved in my DVR as a reminder of why I – why all of us in this fight do what we do.

PFAW

People For the American Way Foundation 30th Anniversary Celebration - Los Angeles, Dec. 5

Since 1981, People For the American Way Foundation has been a leading voice in defending constitutional freedoms and progressive values, including free speech, religious liberty, the right to a fair court, and the right to cast a vote. Now in its 30th year, PFAW Foundation is celebrating with an event in Los Angeles to honor founder Norman Lear and long-time board member Alec Baldwin.