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GOP Leader Questions Candidate About Hate Group That Advocates Death Squads

Huffington Post News - 3 hours 39 min ago

The head of Maryland's Republican Party, Joe Cluster, has called local candidate Michael Peroutka to the woodshed for a "clarification" about his involvement with a high-­profile, white nationalist hate group. At least that's what Cluster thinks the subject of their July 25 meeting will be.

But wait until he reads this.

On July 8, as The Huffington Post reported, Peroutka wrote a letter to Michael Hill, president of the League of the South, asking the neo­-Confederate hate group to help his campaign. Peroutka wanted to thank the League, which advocates for secession and theocratic government by and for white people, for its friendship, work, and hospitality. Peroutka had just won the GOP's nomination for Anne Arundel County Council, as well as a seat on the Republican Central Committee there, and it made perfect sense that he would reach out to the no doubt many members of the organization on which he once served on the Board of Directors for their support.

'Guerilla War' and Assassinations

Perhaps Peroutka was surprised the following week, when on July 15, Hill wrote an essay for the League's website titled "A Bazooka in Every Pot," in which he outlines a program of "guerrilla war," marked by "three-­to-­five-­man" death squads which would target government leaders, journalists, and other public figures for assassination, in order to advance the League's goals.

"To oversimplify," writes Hill, "the primary targets will not be enemy soldiers; instead, they will be political leaders, members of the hostile media, cultural icons, bureaucrats, and other of the managerial elite without whom the engines of tyranny don't run."

On the other hand, Hill's views may come as no surprise to Peroutka, who routinely rails against the "tyranny" of state and federal government. He detests Maryland's laws supporting marriage equality, transgender rights, and stormwater run­off fees intended to keep the Chesapeake Bay from choking on pollution. (In demagogic style, Peroutka calls these environmental conservation fees tyrannical "rain taxes.")

In recent essays of his own, Peroutka questions whether Maryland's state legislature is "no longer a valid legislative body," and argues that the duty of the County Council and the sheriff should be to "resist" enforcement of any law that does not measure up to his notion of "God's Law." Perhaps fortuitously, Joe Delimater, an elder in Peroutka's church who shares these views, is the GOP candidate for Sheriff of Anne Arundel County. One might say they are a pair of theocratic running mates. The Maryland chapter of the League of the South features Delimater's comments on "The War Between the States."

Peroutka faces Democratic challenger Patrick Armstrong, who joined in forming a slate of candidates in the Democratic primary to call out Peroutka's Pastor, Rev. David Whitney (who serves as the chaplain of the Maryland chapter of the League of the South, and who ran in the Democratic primary for the same County Council seat that Peroutka seeks). I am the former treasurer of the slate, which shut down after achieving its goal of defeating Whitney.

Clarify about the Death Squads, Too

Peroutka, as a wealthy debt collection attorney, flies a Confederate battle flag over his multi-­million dollar estate and calls it "the American flag."

Unsurprisingly , Peroutka lamented in an article in 2005 that the wrong side won the Civil War. He wrote: "Most people in America wouldn't understand. In large measure, this is because most people in America have been led to think that America won that war.

"But the evidence is more and more clear to me that America and our American Constitution lost that war."

He then eulogized Confederate soldiers as those who "sacrificed life and limb for the cause of American Independence." Every year, to commemorate President Jefferson Davis' birthday, Peroutka donates $1,000 to preserve Confederate gravestones in Baltimore's Loudon Cemetery, and to decorate soldiers' graves with Confederate battle flags.

Peroutka took to the stage at the League's 2012 national conference to declare in his keynote address that he considers it a "great honor" to be named, along with his pastor, David Whitney, as a "hater" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Some Republican leaders have found a lot to like in Michael Peroutka. Some have publicly said that many of his views are conventional, conservative Republican views. However, his views on secession are not. And while they might be dismissed by some as a kind of genteel Southern eccentricity, Peroutka's support for the League of the South and Michael Hill go far beyond nostalgia for the bygone days of the Old South.

Michael Peroutka's neo-Confederate friend and supporter Michael Hill has advocated a program of assassination against journalists and elected officials. Voters have a right to know what Peroutka and other GOP leaders have to say about that.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

MI-Gov: Mark Schauer (D) Pledges To Protect Pregnant Workers, Require Equal Pay For Women

Daily Kos Michigan Feed - 4 hours 44 min ago

Glad to hear:

http://www.mlive.com/...

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer made a pitch for the women who "drive Michigan’s economy" by saying he'd work for such benefits as unpaid pregnancy leave and restoring the child tax credit, if elected governor.

At a press conference on Wednesday, he cited strong women in his life, such as his mother and grandmother, and said he wants to amend the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to add equal pay requirements. If elected, he would also call for stiffer penalties for wage discrimination based on gender.

He also pledged to restore the child tax credit, which was eliminated in 2011 tax reforms championed by current Gov. Rick Snyder. And he'd extend paid sick leave, establish stronger job protections for pregnant women and protect women’s access to health care by repealing the “rape insurance” law, he said.

Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor Lisa Brown said Schauer would fight for women and kids in school.

“We cannot afford another four years of Rick Snyder. Mark Schauer and I will fight for women and families, not against them,” Brown said.

He said he would require companies with 50 or more employees to allow pregnant or sick employees up to three months of unpaid leave.

“It helps keep trained productive workers with that company, and it’s the right thing to do,” Schauer said.

He said it’s already in federal law, and it’s good for business.

“It’s job security for the employee, but it’s also employee security for the business owner. - MLive, 7/24/14

Schauer's campaign revealed some more details and bashed Governor Rick Snyder's (R. MI) record on women's issues:

http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/...

"Under this governor, Michigan's women and middle class families are routinely disrespected, discounted and dismissed," says Lisa Brown, Schauer's running mate.

The candidate outlined what he would do for women if elected. Schauer says he will:

1) Cut taxes for parents raising kids
2) Fight for equal pay for equal work
3) Expand paid sick leave
4) Urge stronger job protections for pregnant women
5) Protect equal access to health care and reproductive rights

The Snyder campaign provided business woman Nancy Marr for a reaction, but when Fox 2 political analyst Tim Skubick reports when asked several times to comment on the Schauer proposals, she would only say, "We're just thrilled to pieces with what governor Snyder is doing and that's why we're thrilled to support him."

The Snyder campaign media secretary dismissed the Schauer event as a "political stunt" and "an old attack from a career politician." - My Fox Detroit, 7/23/14

Here's some more details:

http://www.cadillacnews.com/...

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer on Wednesday said Michigan's $600-per-child tax credit should be restored and businesses with more than 50 employees should provide 40 hours of paid sick leave a year.

The former congressman unveiled the proposals and others while outlining his economic priorities for women and families, which include ensuring "equal pay for equal work" and establishing stronger job protections for pregnant women such as letting them transfer to less strenuous work with a doctor's recommendation.

"Michigan women drive Michigan's economy. That's why I'm running for governor — to make Michigan's economy work for women and their families and not just the wealthy," Schauer said outside the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame in Lansing, where he was joined by running mate Lisa Brown, abortion-rights groups, nurses and female elected Democrats.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's campaign dismissed the event as a "political stunt" and said women recognize an improved economy under Snyder's watch. State Republican Party spokesman Darren Littell drew attention to Brown being accused of firing a legislative aide in 2009 because the staffer was pregnant.

Brown, a former state representative who is now Oakland County's clerk, sued Ericah Caughey for defamation last year after she appeared in TV ads and videos opposing Brown's clerk candidacy. Brown's lawsuit said Caughey "invented" the story of being discriminated against because of her pregnancy, and Schauer spokeswoman Cathy Cunningham said Wednesday that Internet videos in which Caughey appeared were taken down after Brown sued.

The suit has since been dropped.

Schauer's strategy of wooing women voters mirrors what Democrats recently have emphasized nationally — pay equity and family leave issues — in an attempt to turn out women, who are increasingly important to Democrats' election hopes.

The $600-per-child income tax deduction was eliminated in 2011 by Snyder and GOP lawmakers to help replace lost revenue from a business tax overhaul. Schauer declined to say if or how he would replenish the $57 million that state government would lose if the tax break is reinstated, saying it's not a "big cost item" in the state budget.

"It will put more money in families' pockets to spend on things like gas and groceries and school supplies and clothing and diapers for their kids," Schauer said. - Cadillac News, 7/24/14

Of course Snyder and the RGA are trying to accuse Schauer of wanting to raise taxes:

http://www.mlive.com/...

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer is crying foul over a new attack ad from the Republican Governors Association that indicates he supported higher taxes 40 times as a state lawmaker in Lansing.

"Taxes: That's his answer for everything," says Tiffany Pignataro of Battle Creek, who is featured in the ad holding a baby while her husband sits with two children in the background. "Mr. Schauer, I can't pay any more taxes. My taxes are too high already."

Schauer spokesman Zack Pohl said the ad was still "out of touch" because it featured an Ohio license plate and a Kentucky-made Toyota Camry rather than a vehicle made in Michigan. He called the commercial "the latest in a string of missteps" from the RGA, which previously released a Michigan ad criticizing Schauer for supporting a law that Snyder extended.

The family in the ad is likely paying higher taxes due to the elimination of credits under Snyder in 2011, Pohl said. Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson called the ad "the height of hypocrisy." - MLive, 7/24/14

Nice rebuttal.  If you need another reason to vote for Schauer, here's a good one:

http://www.msnbc.com/...

By any objective measure, the state of Michigan has been economically transformed under the tenure of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. City agencies and entire school districts have been outsourced or privatized; public employees have been laid off in droves; municipalities have sold off vast swaths of public land; and city employee unions have seen their contracts whittled down to nothing. All of this was accomplished in the space of three and a half years. Michigan’s Emergency Manager system is what made it possible.

Under Public Act 4, which Gov. Snyder approved shortly after taking office in 2011, the state has the authority to place cash-strapped cities and school districts under the stewardship of Emergency Managers (EMs). A city’s EM has the power of the mayor and the city council combined, and then some; they’re even allowed to unilaterally rewrite public union contracts. Essentially, placing a city under emergency management suspends the powers of its elected officials and invests all that authority in a single, un-elected figure. The system has been described as “financial martial law,” and it is the force behind Detroit’s recent bankruptcy negotiations, pension cuts and water shutoffs.

Now Snyder’s Democratic challenger, former congressman Mark Schauer, is promising to undo the EM system. Speaking on Saturday at the liberal conference Netroots Nation in Detroit, Mich., Schauer said that he planned on “restoring democracy” in Detroit if elected governor. In an interview with msnbc, he explained that he intended to scrap the EM law entirely.

“Look, it provides unlimited power to an un-elected official,” he said. “It sets aside elected officials, collective bargaining agreements, with accountability to only one person, and that’s the governor.”

Instead of EMs, Schauer says he would like financially stressed cities and school districts to receive “financial transition teams” that would work collaboratively with mayors, city councils, and superintendents. These teams would not act in a purely advisory capacity – Schauer said there would be “accountability measures” baked into the new system – but much of the city’s power would remain in the hands of elected officials, and it is not entirely clear what authority the transition teams would have to impose their will. - MSNBC, 7/21/14

By the way, this will make you laugh:

http://www.politico.com/...

Mark Schauer, the Democratic candidate for governor in Michigan, voted in the 2012 Republican primary, likely for Rick Santorum in order to embarrass Mitt Romney in his home state.

But Schauer, a former congressman, has discouraged activists from meddling in this year’s competitive GOP primaries, including a closely watched House race outside Detroit. Michigan’s primary is Aug. 5.

In 2012, with Romney marching toward the GOP nomination, some Democrats crossed over to support Santorum. They wanted to extend the Republican nominating process as a way to strengthen President Barack Obama, as Republicans had meddled in the 2008 primaries with “Operation Chaos.”

“To be clear, President Obama was running unopposed in the 2012 primary,” emailed Zack Pohl, a spokesman for Schauer, who is challenging Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. - Politico, 7/23/14

Pretty funny.  By the way, some people don't understand why Snyder's record is met with ambivalence:

http://www.businessweek.com/...

The business community adores him for overhauling the tax system and delivering many cuts for private enterprise. He also signed on-time state budgets and other commerce-friendly measures. But conservative activists are angry about his embrace of the Medicaid expansion in the health care overhaul, Common Core education standards and proposed higher gasoline taxes to improve roads.

Snyder also defied fellow Republicans by committing state money to help Detroit emerge from bankruptcy and vetoing GOP gun, abortion and voter ID bills.

"I expect someone with an 'R' by their name to promote the Republican Party's platform at the very least," said Joan Fabiano, a Lansing-area tea party leader.

Snyder has incensed voters on the left, too. Labor leaders were enraged that he made Michigan a right-to-work state and toughened a law giving the state more control over financially distressed local governments. Unions have targeted him for defeat. The Democratic Governors Association has spent more than $5 million on TV ads to help opponent Mark Schauer, a former one-term congressman.

Snyder remains the favorite, and most polls have shown him ahead of Schauer, who is still unknown to many voters. No first-term Michigan governor has lost re-election in 52 years.

But the former accountant's job-approval and favorability ratings are lagging. And an EPIC-MRA poll conducted in mid-July showed the candidates about even among 600 likely voters: Snyder with 46 percent, Schauer at 43 percent, with a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

"This is a governor who is stuck in the mid-40s" in the polls," Schauer said. "There is a combination of anger and motivation for change."

Some observers question whether independents will stay in Snyder's corner and whether the GOP base will be excited enough about a second term to vote in large numbers. - Bloomberg Businessweek, 7/24/14

Polls have showed Schauer closing the gap and gaining on Snyder.  We can win this race, we just have to get the base out.  So click here to get involved and donate to Schauer's campaign:
http://markschauer.com/

Categories: Local and Michigan Blogs

Maura Healey Returns to Talk Massachusetts Attorney General Primary Race and LGBT Issues (AUDIO)

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 11:46pm

This week I revisited Maura Healey, who's running for the office of attorney general in Massachusetts and was recently endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization. Healey, who is openly gay, is currently leading the Democratic primary polls by a narrow margin. For the last seven years she served as Assistant Attorney General under Attorney General Martha Coakley, achieving historic victories protecting consumers and homeowners and championing LGBT equality. As chief of the attorney general's civil rights division, Healey led and argued the first successful challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

I talked with Healey about her historic campaign; the U.S. Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby ruling supporting religious exemptions for corporations, which may affect the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA); and her spin on LGBT issues. When asked about her personal commitment to LGBT civil rights, she stated:

My commitment to LGBT civil rights is deeply personal, and it's deeply professional. As a gay person myself, I'm acutely aware of discrimination and how that plays out when it comes to housing, employment, education and hate crimes. We still see LGBT people victimized on a daily basis, and we read about that in the news, and so we obviously have more work to do, and certainly as Attorney General, as somebody who's going to be in charge of enforcing the laws, I'm going to fight to make sure that every LGBT person in our state feels safe, that we promote diversity and inclusiveness, and that we support and make real equality and equal treatment under the law.

LISTEN:



Maura Healey will be in Provincetown attending Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders' (GLAD) 33rd annual Summer Party on Saturday, July 26, at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. Then, on Sunday, July 27, there will be an Outer-Cape Fundraiser/Kick-Off Party hosted by comedian Kate Clinton at the Harbor Lounge (359 Commercial Street, Provincetown, Massachusetts). This is a perfect opportunity to learn how having Healey as Attorney General will be a real game changer over the next four years. If you can't make it to Provincetown this weekend, there will be another fundraising event on Friday, Aug. 29. Kick off the Labor Day holiday weekend in style with small plate samplings from some of the most celebrated epicurean masters on the East Coast, including Top Chef's Tiffani Faison and Iron Chef's Mary Dumont, at Sage Lounge (336 Commercial Street, Provincetown, Massachusetts). Kate Clinton will be hosting this event as well. Healey is seeking the Democratic nomination in the primary election on Sept. 9, 2014.

For more information on Maura Healey, visit maurahealey.com.

Listen to more interviews with LGBTQ leaders, allies, and celebrities at OUTTAKE VOICES™.

Download interviews on iTunes.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Iraq: Rise of the Gangster State -- Why We Need a Better, Bolder Response to ISIS

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 11:21pm

Iraq's a mess. President Obama has sent 300 elite troops back to Iraq, dispatched John Kerry to patch up splits in the shaky coalition supporting Iraq's government, and beefed up intelligence monitoring of ISIS, the Sunni insurgent organization building an "Islamic caliphate" in Iraq and Syria. Obama's ruled out putting U.S. forces back on the ground elsewhere, as well as drone and air strikes.

Meanwhile, ISIS continues to grow, taking the entire Iraq-Syria border, making a brief incursion into Jordan, and selling oil from captured fields to Syria for a steady source of revenue. ISIS already possesses territory as large as the state of Jordan, including most of northwest Iraq and adjoining areas of Syria. It claims universal authority over all Muslims. It is subjecting the people to authoritarian interpretations of Islam, demanding that they turn over all cigarettes and un-Islamic books and that the women veil even their faces -- policies that most Muslims say strips a believer of free will and violates God's intent that individuals be free to choose goodness or sin. ISIS has American weapons, thanks to its capture of Mosul. And it is unequivocally a terrorist organization: ISIS commandos execute people merely on suspicion of being Shi'i or Christian, a policy that led even al-Qaida to condemn the group. In response, Shi'i militias have started to reemerge, including Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. In the last six months, Iraqi civilian deaths have risen dramatically, to just under the number killed in all of last year.

Yet the administration still says U.S. involvement should be limited.

Some claim that ISIS is much less powerful than Iraq's Shi'i president, Nuri al-Maliki, asserts, and that he is using the specter of Islamic terrorism to spur us into coming back to save him, after he disbanded the Sahwa, the tribal coalition that the U.S. forces had put together to crush ISIS's predecessors in 2011. In other words, it is possible that we're being duped. If that's true, then our caution is smart.

Some claim that America has, through its actions over the last decade, sacrificed any credibility it might have had as a broker to promote democracy and stability in the region, or that we lack the leadership to "get the job done," or that our mistakes caused the war in the first place, ISIS having come into existence after and as a result of the power vacuum left by the invasion. Therefore we should stay out of this round of fighting.

Some also say that U.S. involvement will just discredit the forces fighting ISIS, allowing propagandists to depict Iraq's defenders as enemies of Islam. That's a real possibility. But doing nothing also leaves us prey to accusations of deliberate apathy and abandonment of Iraq to a chaos that we helped cause.

What we have done so far is a reasonable, cautious start: We've lent our voice to those who want to make the Iraqi government more inclusive of Sunni and Kurdish voices. We've encouraged the Kurds to apply more pressure on ISIS from the north. We are contractually obligated by our defense pact with Jordan to defend that kingdom if ISIS defeats the Jordanian forces. We might also consider a rebanding of the Sahwa tribal coalition, as that would include non-ISIS Sunni forces and avoid the impression of U.S. support for destruction of the Sunnis. As for politics, we've applauded the reform process underway in Iraq's government; acting according to their constitution, the Iraqi legislature has chosen a new speaker of the parliament, a Sunni, and two deputies, a Shi'i and a Kurd. If the same constitutional processes result in the removal of the current president, Nuri al-Maliki, we should applaud that as well: His policies are widely seen in Iraq as consolidating Shi'a sectarian power to the detriment of the Sunnis and other minorities. And if the result of government reforms is that Iraq is dissolved into ethnic/sectarian rump states (Kurdistan, a Sunni Arab state, and a Shi'i Arab state), we should accept that, and any opportunities it might provide for mending our relationship with Iran's moderate leaders. The only alternative to dissolution is for Iraqi politicians to create a nonsectarian government in which all ethnic groups and religious sects have fair representation. Until that happens, ISIS and other insurgent groups that draw their power from the disappointed and disenfranchised will always find a foothold in Iraq. Finally, we should work with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the anti-ISIS rebels in Syria to provide -- yes -- military support as they request. If we don't, Russia and Iran will.

We also need to understand and combat the economic forces that sustain ISIS and other militias. Post-war Iraq is a gangster state. As Dr. Pete Moore of Case Western Reserve University has written:

The ambient violence after the 2003 US invasion, whether resistance to occupation or sectarian infighting, has dismembered Iraq economically, creating local militia monopolies, criminal public-sector fiefdoms and regional capital havens. To say that corruption, bribery and intimidation are widespread would be an understatement; these practices are an integral part of many businesses.

Iraq's banking system has collapsed, so most business is conducted in cash. Trucking outfits that carry cash and trade goods are run by what amount to local mafias. The destruction of the Baathist state industrial complex has left Iraqi manufacturing in sad shape as well: Iraq imports most of its finished products, so private investment, such as it is, is in the black market. Oil smuggling, as opposed to legal trade, is the norm. And those who benefit from the post-war economic chaos, the new millionaires of post-war Iraq, are funding ISIS and other militias.

Maybe Iraq really doesn't need more "boots on the ground." Maybe what Iraq needs is an army of investors, bankers, truckers, and commercial developers. Maybe the U.S. should encourage the recreation of legitimate trade endeavors between Iraqi companies and their suppliers in surrounding countries, particularly Jordan, whose economy is suffering the most from the cessation of legal trade with Iraq. Maybe we should apply ourselves to helping Iraq's new government reduce the edifice of corruption on which the state currently rests. Maybe we -- even as private citizens -- can fund jobs instead of war.

To those who say the U.S. should stay out of this conflict, I say that every day provides the U.S. with a new chance to at least try to get it right.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

1 of the exotic dogs that killed Livonia man attacked woman in 2012 - Detroit Free Press

Berkley Information from Google News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 10:15pm


USA TODAY

1 of the exotic dogs that killed Livonia man attacked woman in 2012
Detroit Free Press
One of two dogs that fatally mauled a Livonia man this week as he jogged along a road in southern Lapeer County had been involved in at least one prior attack, according to a woman who said she sued the owners after being bitten two years ago.
Livonia Man Out Jogging Killed In Dog AttackCBS Local
Livonia man dies after 2 dogs attack himMyFox Detroit
Livonia man dead after dog attackHometownlife.com

all 40 news articles »

Categories: Berkley Area News

Marco Rubio: End Relief For Dreamers

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 8:30pm

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Thursday called on the Obama administration to "wind down" a policy that has helped more than 550,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, an action that would restart deportations of young people who have lived here for years.

Rubio's demand came in a statement outlining suggestions for addressing the crisis of more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have crossed the U.S. border illegally since October.

New immigrants aren't eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the Obama administration policy that allows young undocumented immigrants, often called Dreamers, who entered the country as children before June 15, 2007, to apply for temporary authorization to stay and work legally. But Rubio and other Republicans have blamed the policy in part for the current border crisis, and argued it must be disbanded.

"Because the recent wave from Central America spiked after DACA was announced, it is in our interest to wind down this program," Rubio said in the statement. "If you are not currently in it, you should not be eligible for it."

Most Republicans have opposed DACA since President Barack Obama announced the policy in 2012. But GOP rhetoric against it has intensified, and calls to end it are growing louder. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has introduced a bill that would require the president to stop granting administrative relief in the form of DACA or future actions. So far, Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) have signed on. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced a companion bill in the House.

In announcing his support for the Cruz measure on Thursday, Inhofe said DACA "is enticing families to send their young children on the dangerous journey to the U.S-Mexico border, exposing them to treacherous and often times deadly conditions.

"Without President Obama’s campaign promise of amnesty we would not have the tens of thousands of unaccompanied alien children crossing our southern border, and we would have one less crisis for the country to confront," Inhofe said in a statement.

All 24 Republican House members and both senators in the Texas congressional delegation sent a letter to Obama on Thursday that called on him to suspend efforts to expand deportation relief.

"Your Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Executive Order has shielded over half a million illegal immigrants from current law," the letter reads. "And it has sent the regrettable message that illegal immigration will not be punished in the United States."

Last month, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was joined by 32 House Republicans in calling on Obama to end DACA. Issa's letter accuses Obama of selectively enforcing the law, and says "DACA rewards families and individuals who have broken our laws, further encouraging others to seek similar benefits."

Lawmakers have been vague on what should happen to the undocumented young people who are eligible for DACA. Cruz's bill would apply to future relief. Rubio said relief should not be given out in the future, meaning current DACA recipients could keep their temporary status.

But in essence, ending DACA would mean that undocumented young people risk deportation. Even those who have reprieve under the policy would eventually have to reapply.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) explained earlier this month what he believes should happen if the administration ends DACA and similar policies that protect Dreamers from deportation.

"They should not be under a process created that the president doesn't have the authority to do, and they would be in the status that they were in prior to this program being established," Goodlatte said.

Kasey Varner contributed reporting.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

How VA Reform Fell Apart In Less Than 4 Days

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 7:57pm

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), during an interview Wednesday night, criticized President Barack Obama for naiveté in congressional relations. The White House, the senator told Larry King, routinely underestimates Republican opposition, often spinning its wheels in a fruitless effort to craft a legislative compromise.

On Thursday, Sanders told reporters he may have been similarly victimized by that opposition.

Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, announced that after weeks of trying, negotiations between him and House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) over legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs had ground to a halt.

The disagreement wasn’t only substantive -- though major details still needed to be hammered out. Rather, Sanders accused his Republican counterparts of not being honest brokers. He chastised them for valuing political theater over actual negotiation, and insisted they were demanding votes only on their proposals.

Miller’s "idea of negotiation is: ‘We have a proposal. Take it or leave it,’” Sanders said on the Senate floor. “Any sixth-grader in a school of the United States understands, this is not negotiation.”

The disintegration of VA reform negotiations, bursting into public view on Thursday, has been abrupt and dramatic. With just days remaining before Congress adjourns for August recess, it may prove irreversible.

Just one week ago, such a blowup wasn’t widely envisioned. Sanders and Miller were working on bridging the divide between Senate and House reform proposals. Talks were described as generally moving in a productive direction.

The two men spoke on Monday for an hour. Miller was in Florida and phoned the conference committee room, where Sanders and Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson sat around a table. The discussion centered on the costs of a VA reform bill. The Congressional Budget Office had scored the Senate bill at $50 billion and the House measure at $54 billion -- astronomical figures that the lawmakers disputed.

The money was mainly to allow veterans without quick or close access to VA facilities the option of going outside the system for medical treatment. But at some point, the discussion moved to a separate funding need. Gibson explained that after assessing disrepair at the VA, the department needed $17.6 billion for fixes that include refurbishing old facilities, building new ones, hiring new personnel and updating records systems.

Gibson said he would provide further detail by the next day, according to notes provided by a Republican staffer. He did, but later than promised. The staffer said that the “information was vague” and, at that point, “Chairman Miller decided he couldn’t go along with the $17.6 billion request, based on what he knew.”

Still, on Tuesday, the brewing trouble was not so evident. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) expressed worry during a press conference that VA reform wouldn’t get completed prior to the recess. But behind the scenes, he gave Sanders room to meld the differences. The calculus was that making too big a show of the growing rift would alienate Miller further.

Sanders never actually backed Gibson’s $17.6 billion request. He made clear his belief that the VA needed an infusion of cash to deal with the influx of veterans returning from combat. But he also said Gibson's request could be reduced. Moreover, Sanders said he was willing to find ways to lower the cost associated with allowing veterans to get care outside the VA system and, in another effort to find middle ground, was willing to find savings elsewhere to at least partially pay for the final bill.

But he couldn’t find a negotiating partner. While conversations continued at the staff level, Sanders and Miller did not talk again. According to both offices, the two haven’t actually spoken since that Monday phone call.

A reform effort that seemed likely to fall apart began doing just that on Wednesday. Upping the public pressure, Sanders took to the Senate floor to warn about the possibility of Congress leaving for recess without solving an issue that lawmakers themselves had deemed a must-fix crisis. He then journeyed a floor up to the Senate press gallery to brief reporters.

At 9:53 p.m. Wednesday, Jessica Eggimann, the chief clerk of Miller’s committee, sent an email to a top staffer on Sanders’ committee, asking her to forward a notice. Miller would be hosting an open conference committee meeting the next day to discuss VA reform legislation. Sanders' office took umbrage with the move, seeing it as inconsiderate at best (as the lead Senate member of the conference committee, Sanders should have been consulted in advance) and a political stunt at worst.

“Our Clerk will not be sending this notice to our members,” Dahlia Melendrez, a top Sanders’ aide, responded at 11:22 p.m. “As you know, this meeting was not coordinated with Chairman Sanders. He is very disappointed by this turn of events.”

Thursday morning, Miller held the meeting anyway. Around a conference table, House Republicans gathered, joined by one Democrat: Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona. Afterward, Miller’s office sent out a letter, outlining a new proposal that incorporated portions of the Senate bill and provided $10 billion for veterans to get outside care. But his proposal dismissed Gibson's $17.6 billion request and dramatically chopped funds the Senate bill had set aside for improving VA infrastructure. The worst offense for Democrats, however, was a line asking Sanders to join Miller in convening a conference on July 28 “for a formal vote on this proposal.”

Reid’s office, which had held off pushing the issue, quickly pounced, mocking the meeting as a pointless spectacle and noting that attending members would be skipping an actual committee hearing with Gibson that had been scheduled for the same time. The most peeved, however, was Sanders. He hastily organized a press conference with fellow Senate Democrats in which he rapped Miller for demanding a vote on a proposal that, according to an aide, did not adhere to the outlines of earlier discussions.

“You cannot talk about negotiating, you cannot talk about a conference committee, when somebody is asking you to join you ... for a formal vote on ‘this’ proposal,” said Sanders.

Amid the signs of impending wreckage, however, some Hill aides saw small reasons for optimism. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had crafted the Senate bill with Sanders, had been conscripted to help smooth relations with House Republicans. He spoke out in support of Sanders on Thursday morning and showed up at the open conference committee meeting later, where he urged the two sides to sit down. Sanders and McCain “have been talking,” Michael Briggs, a Sanders’ spokesman, told The Huffington Post.

A Senate Democratic aide, meanwhile, said that by ratcheting up the politics of VA reform, the party enhanced the possibility of passage.

“It was already on a bad path,” the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss strategy. “If we didn’t say anything or do anything, it was just going to die a quiet death before we headed out of town.”

And, by the end of Thursday, both Sanders and Miller seemed to be paving the way to restart talks. At his press conference, Sanders said he was prepared to scrap his trip home and stay in D.C. through the weekend to finalize a deal. Curt Cashour, a spokesman for Miller, said his boss was willing to do the same thing.

“The whole point here is to negotiate,” Cashour said.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

California's Death-Penalty Regime Ruled Unconstitutional: It Should Have Been Buried More Than 50 Years Ago

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 7:52pm

On July 16, 2014, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney invalidated California's death penalty.

After reviewing voluminous evidence he held that:

Inordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death have been, or even will be, executed by the State. It has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed. And it has resulted in a system that serves no penological purpose. Such a system is unconstitutional. (Jones v. Chappell, -- F. Supp. 3d --, ___ [CD. Cal. No. CV 09-02158-CJC, July 16, 2014])

Jones has been on death row for more than 19 years.

If the Jones decision holds up, it will be the beginning of the end of the death penalty in many other U.S. states in addition to California. Judge Cormac has started a process that should have been started by the U.S. Supreme Court in a notorious California case more than 50 years ago. In 1960 the Supreme Court could have kept Caryl Chessman from being executed in San Quentin's death chamber. Chessman had been convicted by the State of California of attempted rape in the course of a kidnapping in 1948. He was executed more than 11 years later, following countless state and federal post-conviction proceedings and appeals. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not seize that opportunity.

In August 2012 I wrote an article for a SCOTUSblog Symposium commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of the late Alexander M. Bickel's seminal The Least Dangerous Branch: The Supreme Court at the Bar of Politics. Bickel was a preeminent constitutional scholar who taught at Yale Law School. His book is still read and cited for his insights into how the Supreme Court and constitutional law work and his ideas about how they should work.

As I reported in my SCOTUSblog article, Bickel had condensed the lengthy memo I'd written for him on the Chessman case into a few paragraphs in the book. Bickel lamented that the Supreme Court had missed a signal opportunity to intervene in the Chessman proceedings and start moving toward prohibition of the death penalty. He asserted that the Court should have stopped Chessman's execution on the grounds that the long-government-sanctioned delay and numerous proceedings after Chessman's conviction made his execution unconstitutional.

With understandable passion, anticipating Judge Carney's conclusion in the Jones case, Bickel wrote of the Chessman case, "What the Court should have done was to declare that killing Chessman in 1960, after years in the death house, was a punishment infinitely more ghastly than killing him in 1948," setting in motion a process leading to an "ultimate broader judicial judgment, at once widely acceptable and morally elevating."

I think that Alex would be smiling about Judge Cormac's decision. He certainly would have appreciated the irony that both Chessman and Jones were sentenced to death in and by the State of California, and that a Gov. Brown was in office both when Chessman was executed and when the Jones case was decided.

Pat Brown, California's governor in 1960, was a longtime foe of the death penalty. Yet he did not commute Chessman's death sentence and issued a stay too late to keep Chessman from being executed in San Quentin's gas chamber on May 2, 1960. Pat Brown's son, Jerry Brown, now is California's governor. He also is a foe of the death penalty. In 1964 Jerry Brown graduated from Yale Law School, where Bickel taught, just two years after The Least Dangerous Branch was published.

Within the next weeks and months, Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris, California's attorney general, who also is a foe of the death penalty, must decide whether to accept or appeal Judge Carney's decision. Both refused to appeal Judge Vaughn Walker's decision invalidating California's Proposition 8, which had prohibited same-sex marriages (see Hollingsworth v. Perry, 570 U.S. ___ [2013]). One can but hope that they will do the right thing again and stand by their convictions. The time has come to bring this part of Alex Bickel's constitutional legacy to fruition and end the broken, expensive, delay-plagued death penalty in California and the rest of the United States.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Readout of the President’s Call to President Peña Nieto of Mexico

News from the White House - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 7:47pm

This evening President Obama spoke by phone with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in advance of his meeting tomorrow with the Presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. They followed up on earlier discussions on a coordinated policy addressing the influx of unaccompanied children coming from Central America, through Mexico, to the U.S.-Mexico border. The President noted President Peña Nieto’s announcement of a comprehensive strategy to improve controls and safeguards along its border with Guatemala and Belize, and exchanged views on how we can deepen cooperation.

The President noted that these unaccompanied children are vulnerable to crime and abuse, and welcomed Mexico’s efforts to help target the criminals that lure families to send children on the dangerous journey and to alert potential migrants to the perils of the journey and the likelihood that they will be returned to Central America. The President also reiterated that arriving migrants will not qualify for legalization under proposed immigration reform legislation or deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA).

The Presidents also exchanged ideas on how the United States and Mexico can work with regional partners and collaborate with Central American leaders to address the underlying causes leading to migration. They discussed the possibility of regional programs that would pool resources to improve public security and increase economic opportunities in Central America.

Categories: White House News

Mitch McConnell Urges Myanmar To Reform Constitution

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 7:32pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Mitch McConnell issued a strong call Thursday for Myanmar to amend its constitution to allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president and for the military to submit to civilian rule.

The Senate's Republican leader has for years been the most influential voice in Congress on policy toward the country also known as Burma. A longtime critic of the former ruling junta, he's become supportive of the nation's shift from military rule since 2011. But in a speech to the Senate, McConnell, R-Ky., said that reforms in the Southeast Asian nation appear to have stalled, leaving Myanmar's commitment to democracy open to question.

He said failure to amend a constitutional provision that prohibits those such as Suu Kyi with immediate family members who are foreign nationals would "cast a pall" over the legitimacy of national elections in late 2015 in the eyes of the international community and members of the Senate.

Suu Kyi's late husband was British, as are her two sons.

McConnell said such family ties have no bearing on an individual's fitness for office. He voiced concern that restriction wasn't among the changes being considered by a parliamentary committee proposing amendments to the military-era constitution.

"This provision restricts the ability of the people of Burma, through their representatives, to have a choice in who can hold their highest office. This is profoundly undemocratic. And it is profoundly undemocratic at a time when Burma's commitment to democracy is open to question," McConnell said.

While McConnell did not threaten the reintroduction of trade sanctions lifted last year, he said it was "hard to see" how remaining sanctions would be lifted unless the eligibility issue was addressed. The U.S. still bans the importation of jade and rubies from Myanmar and blacklists individuals hindering reforms.

His comments come amid growing congressional criticism of Myanmar, including concerns over ethnic conflict, restrictions on civil liberties, and anti-Muslim discrimination.

But McConnell reiterated his support for U.S. military engagement to help train and reform Myanmar's armed forces — which the Obama administration wants but many other U.S. lawmakers oppose — saying it could encourage the nation's powerful military to come under civilian control.

Facing growing international criticism, Myanmar announced Thursday it was allowing international aid organizations to return to a western region they were expelled from earlier this year after Buddhist mobs disrupted their work helping displaced Rohingya Muslims.

More than 140,000 Rohingya have been living in dirty, crowded camps after their villages were destroyed by mobs. Up to 280 people have been killed, most of them Rohingya, in sectarian violence that began in 2012.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Poll Finds Sam Brownback Trailing His Democratic Challenger

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 7:29pm

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is still trailing Democratic rival Paul Davis, a poll released Thursday finds.

A KSN News poll found Davis, a member of the state's House of Representatives, leading Brownback 48 to 40 percent, slightly up from a survey conducted by the NBC affiliate last month. KSN cited Davis' growing support among Republicans -- 29 percent said they plan to vote for the state representative versus 24 percent in the June poll -- as one reason for his gain.

Davis also has strong support from women: 51 percent of female respondents said they'd vote for the Democrat, versus 36 percent who would support Brownback.

Earlier this month, Davis picked up the endorsement of Republicans for Kansas values, a group of 104 current and former Republican officeholders.

“This election should not be about electing a Republican or a Democrat as Governor. It must be about electing a moderate, commonsense Kansan as governor,” former state Senate President Dick Bond said of the endorsement.

The KSN survey was conducted from July 17 to 22 and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.9 percent.

HuffPost Pollster's model, which tracks publicly available opinion polls, shows Davis leading Brownback:

Categories: Political News and Opinion

More Than Half Of The People Executed In The U.S. Have A Severe Mental Illness: Study

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 7:08pm

A majority of the 100 executed inmates examined in a new study by three legal researchers had “a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or psychosis.” Yet, because of an oddity in the Supreme Court’s death penalty cases, it is typically constitutional under existing precedents to execute people with these illnesses.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

White House Balances Conflicting Demands On Border Crisis

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 7:03pm

WASHINGTON -- The White House is attempting to walk a fine line on how to change a 2008 anti-trafficking law that has become a flashpoint as Congress considers how to address the ongoing border crisis.

The law requires unaccompanied minors from countries other than Canada and Mexico to go through a hearing process to determine if they are eligible to remain in the U.S. through asylum or other relief. But the 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border since October have overwhelmed the system, making the 2008 law seem unsustainable to many.

Republicans say the 2008 law must be changed as a condition of approving any funding for the crisis. Most Democrats say it should be left as is.

The White House is staking out its place in the middle. Although Republicans have skewered the administration for requesting changes and then backing away from them, White House officials are continuing to state their desire to amend the 2008 law so the Department of Homeland Security has more flexibility to speed up deportations.

At the same time, they say the changes should not be a precondition to getting funding -- like the $3.7 billion that President Barack Obama has requested -- to address the crisis. They also say that any reform must be carefully considered and not passed in haste, lest Congress be forced to grapple with unintended consequences at a later date.

On Thursday, a White House official specifically criticized a bill from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) that would change the 2008 law to speed deportations. The bill would allow minors to present a claim to remain in the U.S. within seven days of an initial screening. It would then require a judge to decide within 72 hours whether that minor should be immediately deported.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity while briefing reporters, expressed concern about the bill's time requirements.

"Because it sets some arbitrary limits on what the judicial process should be, we have concerns about whether the Cornyn-Cuellar bill actually meets these twin goals that I described," the official said, referring to the administration's stated goals of addressing humanitarian claims, but also deporting unauthorized immigrants quickly if they are deemed ineligible for relief.

"We don't think that changes in the authority are the prerequisites to being able to take action here," the official continued. "We do think, as we indicated weeks ago to [House Speaker John Boehner], that increased flexibility would be helpful."

Unaccompanied minors from Canada and Mexico can be screened by border patrol agents and then deported. However, under current law, minors from other countries are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services and receive more time to make a case, often in front of an immigration judge, for why they should be allowed to remain.

On June 30, Obama sent a letter to Congressional leaders with requests for helping the administration to address the border crisis. One was "providing the DHS Secretary additional authority to exercise discretion in processing the return and removal of unaccompanied minor children from non-contiguous countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador."

But when Obama made a request to Congress for $3.7 billion in funding to address the crisis, he did not couple it with a request for legislation that would change the 2008 law. Now, the debate over amending that law could threaten the chances of Congress compromising on funding.

Senate Democrats have proposed a $2.7 billion funding package that does not call for other legislative changes.

"We don't want radical riders that will weaken our refugee and human trafficking laws or accelerate deportation of children without due process under existing law," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said on Wednesday while announcing the details of the Democrats' bill. "We don't want a backdoor version of bad immigration reform."

House Republicans are working on a package that would allocate $1.5 billion in funding to address the border crisis, coupled with measures such as sending the National Guard to the border and changing the 2008 law meant to protect unaccompanied minors from non-contiguous countries from being quickly deported without a hearing. Rep. Boehner (R-Ohio) has been critical of the president for saying he wanted to change that law and then failing to push for it publicly.

"This is a problem of the president's own making," Boehner said at a press conference Thursday. "He says he wants to solve the problem so that we can stop this influx, but then he changes his mind. We've got a president that's AWOL. The president ought to get engaged on this if he actually wants something to happen."

Boehner sent a letter to the president Wednesday asking him to clarify his stance on changes to the 2008 law and to give "strong, public support from the White House for much-needed reforms."

Asked about Boehner's letter later Wednesday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz indicated to reporters that the administration stands by Obama's initial suggestion to amend the law.

"We want to work with Democrats and Republicans to make sure those changes are done the right way," Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One. "But first and foremost, we need the resources -- in the form of judges, prosecutors, asylum officers -- to deal with the problems."

Although most Democrats have rejected coupling the border crisis funding with a change to the 2008 law, there is the possibility that they could support amending it at a later date, if done right, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday.

"If [Republicans] want to pursue a legislative process to consider amending the law, that is a reasonable thing to do," said Hoyer. "But what is not reasonable is to do it in this supplemental with no hearing as to the consequences, no hearing as to the underlying causes and no hearing as to what [...] ramifications the legislation will have. I mean none, zero, zip hearings."

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Cost Of Wildfires Burns Through Budgets, Pushing Feds To Find Other Funds

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 7:00pm

WASHINGTON -- As a massive wildfire burned in Washington state this week and the threat of more fires looms over the West, there has been increasing pressure to fix the way the country pays to fight fires.

Fire season in the West has expanded from five months to seven months since the 1970s and fires are burning twice as many acres, the head of the U.S. Forest Service testified last year. The problem is only projected to get worse as the climate continues to change. Scientists say that higher temperatures are increasing drought conditions, which are in turn causing more frequent and intense wildfires.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a new report this week looking at how climate change and development patterns contribute to the increasing cost of wildfires. The environmental group found that the price tag for fighting fires has quadrupled since 1985, reaching $1.7 billion for the federal government last year.

In recent years, the cost of fighting fires has exceeded the amount of money appropriated for that program, forcing the Forest Service to pull money from other areas to cover the expense. In 2012, the Forest Service reported that it had to transfer $440 million from other programs to cover fire suppression costs. In 2013, it had to divert $505 million from other programs.

Often, those funds come from forest management programs aimed at preventing forest fires, said Jim Douglas, director of the Department of the Interior's Office of Wildland Fire. "That's creating enormous problems for us from the fire management standpoint," said Douglas in a call with reporters that the Union of Concerned Scientists hosted Wednesday. "It enormously disrupts our programs and ability to deliver services to the American public."

The Department of the Interior projects that wildfire suppression costs for 2014 could reach between $1.2 billion and $2 billion, which is far higher than the allocated budget. So far, the fire season has been less active than expected, but officials say it has the potential to get a lot worse in the coming weeks.

A bipartisan pair of senators, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), have been pushing for changes to the way these excess fire costs are covered. Their proposal would allow the additional money for firefighting to be drawn from the emergency funds used to cover natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, rather than pulling it from other programs within the Forest Service or the Department of the Interior.

"When an inferno breaks out, the bureaucracy raids the prevention program, and of course the problem gets worse, because the prevention fund is coming up short," said Wyden on Wednesday, deploring the current cost-shifting practice.

President Barack Obama's 2015 budget proposal endorsed the Wyden-Crapo reforms. Wyden and other 11 other Democratic senators are also requesting an additional $615 million in emergency supplemental appropriations to cover the costs of fires this year. Both those proposals await congressional approval.

Others on the call Wednesday, as well as the Union of Concerned Scientists report, argue that more should also be done to keep people and property out of harm's way. Among the suggestions is curbing the construction of new homes in high-risk areas for wildfires and requiring more safety measures for developments already in risk zones.

Dr. Ray Rasker, executive director of the Montana-based research firm Headwaters Economics, recommends finding ways to encourage local governments to institute zoning policies and building codes that would better protect homes.

"This problem is going to be many orders of magnitude worse than what it is right now, and what we're doing is inadequate in relation to the size of the problem," said Rasker.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

The Koch Brothers' Agenda and the Real War at Home

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 6:50pm

Two of the richest men in the entire world are plotting to dominate our elections this fall, from congressional races to school board seats.

Their scheming to shove America further to the far right should be a serious wake-up call for anyone who cares about our nation's soul.

As Charles and David Koch promised their billionaire buddies, they've assessed how the quarter billion dollars they helped raise and spread across the country failed spectacularly in the 2012 elections. And, they've made adjustments to their battle plans to win more this time.

Their groups make appeals to "restore the American dream," but when you peek beneath the patriotic rhetoric what you see is a growing army of operatives preaching against Social Security, guaranteed pensions, and universal public education. These core policies are viewed as socialist or collectivist evils to be privatized. Charles even calls his critics "collectivists."

Look closely and you'll see that the "American dream" their political agenda would "restore" is a pre-New Deal fantasy for the richest few:

* With fewer protections against their oil refineries, paper mills, and chemical factories polluting the water we drink and the air we breathe or obstructing efforts to do anything about the devastating climate changes underway;

* With no laws requiring CEOs to pay minimum wages or sick leave to fathers and mothers who work or to insure that their kids or parents can receive life-saving health care if they need it; and

* With huge tax cuts for corporations and CEOs, of course.

It's a path to a "third world" future for most of us but a gilded one for them.

The truth is there's a war going on at home, and it's about much more than money.

That's why the effort by some to vilify the Democracy Alliance or George Soros as some sort of tit-for-tat with the Kochs naively plays right into the hands of the far right.

I don't believe only the super-rich can save us, to borrow a phrase from Ralph Nader's book about what ails America.

But, I do know we are going to need some millionaires along with millions and millions of Americans to fight back against what the Koch Brothers want to do to our country. It would be more than foolish to take the weapon of money off the table in the fight against their devastating brand of free market fundamentalism.

I've fought for amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Five corporatist judges have unleashed the Kochs' treasury like never before. We need that amendment, but we also need people from every band of income to unite against the Kochs' faux-freedom agenda for America.

If a billionaire like Warren Buffett wants to help fight for corporations and CEOs to pay their fair share, I say yes. He should be applauded for calling out his greedy peers in the billionaire boy's club whose self-serving anti-tax agenda is crushing our schools and our future.

If George Soros wants to defend civil society in the U.S. and abroad, I say hallelujah. I'm glad he's in the fight, because the Koch agenda would lay waste to the core institutions and policies that helped make the American dream a reality for millions of Americans.

If unions and their leaders want to stand up to the Koch machine - which has sought to gut union power for decades - I say right on. Nurses, teachers, and factory workers ought to have a chance to negotiate with power for better wages and working conditions than each could negotiate with their powerful employer alone.

Thank goodness they've all stood up to the Kochs' neo-Bircher worldview, in their own ways.

Thank goodness they understand that civil society -- indeed, our very democracy -- is what's at stake.

I stand against the cult of greed peddled by the Kochs.

I'm utterly opposed to the Koch-y brand of Ayn Rand's dystopian propaganda and the updated version of this kind of every-man-for-himself economic Darwinism peddled by Rand Paul in blue jeans. I don't want America's great dream for our people to be shrunk into a members' only club, letting the richest few rule with the less lucky stuck as servants struggling to survive.

A civil society - a true democracy - recognizes that investing in our shared future makes our nation stronger.

A healthy democracy fully funds our public institutions that serve all of the American people and helps those living on the brink, as part of our social contract in recognition of our common humanity and the fact that we all face illness and aging out of work.

It's the difference between the truth that a rising tide raises all boats and the lie that tax cuts for the rich trickle down in any predictable way that makes ordinary people's lives markedly better.

It's just common sense that workers with better wages spend their money in their communities rather than socking it away in off-shore tax havens like Belize or the Cayman Islands, like so many of the wealthiest elites.

It's about the reality that the market doesn't know best or even give a damn about what's best for our future.

Just look at the terrible international trade agreements that make corporations more powerful than countries or the gambling of the greed-is-good-gang on Wall Street who crashed our economy in 2008.

Our economy is still off kilter because, as Elizabeth Warren has said, a greedy few have rigged the game, and it needs to be un-rigged.

It's about having truly public schools that provide our children with empowered teachers trained in the art and science of teaching rather than inexperienced and un-certified stand-ins trying to do it on the cheap so a corporation can pay better dividends to stock speculators.

The right-wing alternative to truly public schools that the Koch deregulation machine has helped spawn is "charter" schools paid for through our tax dollars.

We've seen too many charters run by fly-by-night operators feeding kids religious gruel or designed by corporations to enrich Wall Street through cutting what's spent on kids, teachers, and classrooms while funding a fat budget for slick ads blanketing the airwaves underwritten by taxpayers.

Charles and David Koch have spent decades trying to get rid of "government" schools, as touted in David's run for the White House in 1980. That's why it's now practically a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates to list the Department of Education among the government agencies they are in a race to eliminate.

We need all hands on deck to stop them.

That's one of the reasons why attacks on the DA or union leaders like Randi Weingarten as a false equivalent to the Koch cabal are so misplaced. They are not equivalent because the goals of the Kochs matter and investing in an alternative to the Kochs' agenda matters, a lot.

The Kochs are determined to repeal progressive policies that helped our country prosper. The DA's goal is the opposite: to foster a more progressive America.

That's also why the effort to vilify Weingarten and others for being part of the DA is so absurd, if you care about public education.

However, if you want to help kill it -- like the self-described "aerial hunting operation" against progressives deployed by Free Beacon does -- then such attacks are a useful tactic.

Without a doubt, the bacon funding the Beacon has been set on us to try to discredit critics of ALEC and the Koch Brothers' agenda in any way they can get folks to buy into.

But, as the person who launched ALECexposed with my team in Madison, I can tell you that Weingarten has been totally stalwart in standing up to ALEC and its anti-public education agenda, which is fueled by the Koch family fortune and other rich families -- along with corporations that profit from privatizing public schools, of course.

The American Federation of Teachers has been rock solid in the fight against ALEC, consistently devoting staff time week in and week out for three years to expose ALEC, due to her personal commitment. The ongoing public campaign on ALEC would not have had the success it has had without AFT's work and her leadership, and without the work of many devoted colleagues across the country, including the National Education Association and other organizations, bloggers, and concerned citizens nationwide.

Attacking groups for their electoral endorsements is outside my bailiwick. What I do know is that after the untold millions the Kochs have spent to move politicians and policies to the right on so many fronts and with so many front groups, some election contests seem like least-harm quizzes, even as there are growing numbers of progressives in this country.

I know we need a more progressive America.

And progressives need to get better at using their power to persuade each other and to win better policies.

But attacking genuine progressives for banding together to take on the Kochs or for not being pure enough is foolish sport. And the right loves it when progressives fight. It makes their effort to tear down the left so much easier.

So, let's get real.

Because there's a real-world war going on to kill our public schools, outsource our public institutions to private companies not accountable to us, and destroy key government constraints on corporate power.

If we don't recognize it and if we don't understand the difference between real enemies and the trumped up ones the right wants to equate with the billionaire brothers whose voices they're throwing, then progressives are going to lose.

Big time.

And not just one election cycle.

It's a long ground war the Kochs are playing. It's about both our present and our future, long after those old men are gone.

----
Lisa Graves previously served as the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which received a grant from the Open Society Institute in 2010 for a research project on national security and civil liberties as part of a set of OSI grants in this area that included funding for the Cato Institute. CMD is on the list of progressive organizations identified by the Democracy Alliance, but it has not received a grant from the DA.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Answers From Red States for Our Broken Criminal Justice System

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 6:44pm

Left, right or center, few dispute that our criminal justice system is broken. But two new and thrilling victories this month are giving real hope to activists who want more effective and humane crimes policies.

In a largely "red" state," Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon signed the popular and thoroughly bi-partisan "Ban the Ban" bill into law. The act, supported by Metropolitan Congregations United and MORE2, will end the food stamps ban for those jailed on drug convictions faced. During the floor vote a visibly moved state legislator said that thanks to personal visits by faith-based leaders and formerly incarcerated people, she now understood why food stamps are so important to those who are trying to stay sober.

And in an even more "red" state, officials in Fulton County Georgia voted to "Ban the Box," the infamous question on employment applications "Have you ever been convicted..." This move will dramatically help once incarcerated people to get jobs. Faith-based ABLE, and 9 to 5's coalition to pass this measure has been wildly successful: earlier this year, the City of Atlanta and Dekalb County adopted nearly identical legislation.

Let's hope Wisconsin becomes the next state to jump aboard this encouraging bandwagon.

Last week, WISDOM kicked off a "Reform Now" campaign and started a fire storm with its assertion that the Wisconsin Department of Corrections is failing to parole nearly 3,000 inmates it believes can and should be released.

According to Rev. Jerry Hancock of Madison, who heads the United Church of Christ's prison ministry, "These inmates cost the state of Wisconsin $96 million a year. If that money were invested in treatment alternatives or diversions, it would save the state of Wisconsin almost $200 million."

Once they're free and able to find work, former inmates need ways to feed their families and get back on their feet. A simple way to reduce crime (and also to help young people with college debt) would be to raise our minimum wage. Earlier today, at 10:10am, the Department of Labor hosted a social media fest to advocate for an increase in minimum wage--to $10.10 an hour. According to DOL, the minimum wage was worth 47 percent more in 1968 than it is today. It's time for a raise for all - check out the hash tag #1010now.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Disability and Discrimination in Custody Battles

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 6:31pm

Imagine you are a parent who has overcome a disability. The disability could be physical that confines you to a wheelchair; or a psychiatric disability that requires you to take medication. You are living a perfectly normal life with your disability, so much so that your disability isn't really a disability in your mind - it is just part of living. You have learned to overcome what some other people who had a similar diagnosis have not yet learned to overcome. The disability has proved that you have the ability to live a normal life.

But then imagine that you are now going through a divorce, you have children and you need to go to court to fight for custody of your children. Imagine that the judge takes one look at you or your file and sees that you have bipolar disorder like actress Catherine Zeta-Jones or former US Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy has, or you have Guillain-Barre syndrome, as President Roosevelt had.

Imagine that based on that diagnosis, a judge decides that you are unfit for custody of your child. Imagine that you have been the primary caregiver for your child or children and then someone who has never seen you interact with your children, who has never entered the home you run decides that you are not as able to take care of your children as your spouse.

This happens all across the United States and it is wrong.

No one should be discriminated against based on disability. When determining custody the issue should not be the presence or absence of a disability but the care that will be given to a child. Maybe the person with a disability is a good person who married a person without a disability who is a bad person -- a drinker, an abuser, someone who is neglectful, etc.

A judge needs to be aware and mindful that denying a parent custody based on a disability is not only not necessarily in the best interest of the child, it is discrimination.

This legislative session, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary considered a comprehensive bill that would prohibit discrimination against parents with disabilities in family law and child welfare proceedings. This legislative session, I introduced An Act Prohibiting Discrimination Against Adults with Disabilities in Family and Juvenile Court Proceedings (H1379); this bill was co-sponsored by 15 additional legislators.

H1379 is based on the National Council on Disability's "Rocking the Cradle" report and in fact mirrors the language of the model legislation in the report.

H1379 requires that, when a court uses a parent's disability as a factor in a custody or visitation determination, the court must have written findings to determine whether a parent's disability causes harm to his or her child. This law would also require courts to determine whether the harm to the child can be alleviated by "adaptive parenting equipment" or "supportive parenting services," which are both defined in the bill. Moreover, HB 1379 raises the burden of proof to preponderance of the evidence for most domestic relations matters concerning parents with disabilities and to a clear and convincing standard for child welfare proceedings where a parent has a disability.

In addition to NCD's Robyn Powell testifying at the hearing, the Committee heard from two parents who encountered discrimination. One parent ultimately had lost custody of her children because of her psychiatric disability. The other, a wheelchair user, spoke of ungrounded referrals to the Department of Children and Families. In addition, an attorney who represents parents with psychiatric disabilities described at length the significant discrimination that her clients face.

H1379 received significant cross-disability support and interest from a variety of state and national organizations, such as the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, Disability Law Center (the Massachusetts Protection and Advocacy organization), Easter Seals, Disability Policy Consortium, National Federation of the Blind, The Association for Successful Parenting, and several independent living centers.

Despite significant support by the disability community, in late June, H1379 was "sent to study," effectively killing it for the remainder of the current legislative session.

Often times, a bill lives and dies not because it was a good idea or a bad idea, but because of the amount of support the bill has. Other times it is because of a precedent that has been set in other jurisdictions, or because of a high profile case, or because the committee just does not want to take the issue up at this time. The average amount of time for a bill to become law in Massachusetts is about six years.

H1379 was an important step forward in ensuring the rights of parents with disabilities in Massachusetts, and the disability community urges the Commonwealth to swiftly pass it in the next legislative session. If passed, Massachusetts will join the ranks of other states that have enacted similar laws -- Idaho, Missouri, Kansas, Tennessee, Oregon and Washington.

Imagine that we live in a world where someone who had to overcome a disability is no longer discriminated against when fighting for custody of their child in what is an already very stressful and emotional period of life. We can live in that world.

Paul Heroux is a State Representative from Massachusetts. He is on the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, and the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Paul Holds a Bachelor's in Psychology and Neuroscience from the University of Southern California, and Master's degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, the London School of Economics, and the Harvard JFK School of Government. Paul can be reached at paulheroux.mpa@gmail.com.

Robyn Powell of the National Council on Disability substantially contributed to this article as well.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

The Silent Majority

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 6:23pm

Back in May, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published the results of a comprehensive global study of anti-Semitism. They polled 53,100 people from countries spanning the globe asking whether they endorse 11 common stereotypes about Jews. According to their findings, 26 percent of respondents endorsed six or more items, reaching the ADL's criteria for being considered anti-Semitic. Based on these findings, the ADL (rather liberally) estimated that there are 1.09 billion anti-Semitic adults worldwide.

While many viewed the results as sobering, my initial reaction was more optimistic. After all, 74 percent of participants did not cross the threshold to be considered anti-Semites. Using the same calculus as the ADL, that scales up to roughly 3.07 billion adults. Not too shabby. In the history of the world, there has never been any other time with so much Semite-tolerance. I say this with confidence as the human population only hit 3 billion people (in total) in the early 1960s, and judging by the university quotas still in effect at that time in the United States, the oppression of Soviet Jewry, and the wars in the Middle East, they certainly had their fair share of anti-Semites. Now there are 3 billion adults in the world who don't qualify as anti-Semites. So why not celebrate the 74 percent?

Fast-forward two months from the ADL study, and my "glass three-quarters full" image of unprecedented tolerance has been shattered. As Israel is embroiled in yet another conflict, the reactions from around the globe have been grim. In France, Jewish neighborhoods, businesses and synagogues have been ransacked without consequence, as though Marshal Pétain himself had risen from the grave. The chant of "Death to the Jews" once again echoes on the streets around Europe, Turkey, and beyond. The war in Gaza has provided a pretext for unbridled animosity, revealing that the world's "oldest hate" is apparently alive and well.

So, I wonder what happened to that 74 percent? For starters, it is worth noting that the ADL may have been a tad stringent in setting the standards for who can be considered anti-Semitic. Their criteria might have found better use as an entrance exam for the Gestapo. Think I am exaggerating? Here is a list of beliefs that a respondent could endorse and still not be considered anti-Semitic: Jews are responsible for most of the world's wars; Jews have too much power in international financial markets; Jews run the business world; Jews control the media; and Jews are hated because of how they behave. That's lovely. Did the ADL place Mel Gibson in charge of data analysis?

So, the ADL findings are a rough cut at best. Nevertheless, I think the results firmly suggest that there are more adults in the world who do not hate the Jews than those that do (at least outside the Middle East). So why has the response to the resurgence of anti-Semitism been so muted, save for a few hollow proclamations?

I believe the answer is two-fold. First, of course, is the war in Gaza. It is quite unpopular, particularly among liberals (according to recent polls). I think there is an illusion that denouncing the protests will unwittingly lead to the perception of supporting the Israeli operation; or worse, supporting the current Israeli regime more generally. The second reason for silence is likely fear. It takes a lot of guts to stand up to hooligans and potentially enter the crosshairs of an angry mob.

Nevertheless, time and again it has been claimed that being anti-Israel is not equivalent to being anti-Semitic. The implicit message has been that the former is legitimate while the latter is frowned upon. If this is true, then it is incumbent on citizens and governments alike to confront overt acts of anti-Semitism and to protect the safety of Jewish citizens around the globe with more than just lip service.

I'll close by noting an irony related to the ADL poll. One of the 11 stereotypes that respondents were asked to endorse was whether they believed that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the countries they live in. Yet, if the basic rights of Jews are not guaranteed in other countries, who could blame them?

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Illinois GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Used Doctored News Headlines In TV Ad

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 6:20pm

Bruce Rauner (R), an Illinois businessman and gubernatorial candidate, is being called out for running a television ad with some altered news headlines about incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn (D), according to the Chicago Tribune.

In the ad, called "Headlines," the Rauner campaign shortened and even changed headlines that it attributed to various news organizations. One headline originally read "Quinn, Rauner spar on education in 1st 2014 event," and was altered in Rauner's ad to read “Quinn education cuts lead to teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.”

Another headline said "Quinn doubles down on tax hike gamble" and was used in Rauner's ad with the word "gamble" dropped.

The Chicago Tribune says three other headlines were altered in the ad as well.

Quinn said on Thursday that the ad, which first appeared the day before, highlights what he views as Rauner's "pattern of dishonesty."

Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said in an email to The Associated Press that "the TV ad does not say everything that appears on screen was a headline."

"Due to time and space constraints, some of the phrases had to be condensed," he added.

Quinn is seen as vulnerable in his re-election bid. His anti-violence initiative is facing a federal probe due to allegations of mismanagement.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

White House: It Will Be 'Pretty Extraordinary' If Congress Goes On Recess Without Border Fix

Huffington Post News - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 6:18pm


(Adds Obama call with Mexican president, paragraph 11)

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON, July 24 (Reuters) - White House officials expressed growing alarm on Thursday that Congress may not soon approve President Barack Obama's emergency request for $3.7 billion to tackle the child migration crisis on the southern border of the United States.

The stalemate over the request comes as Obama prepares on Friday to host the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the countries that have been the source of much of the migrant surge that has strained border resources.

Congress is locked in a largely partisan fight over the money that Obama says is needed to provide humanitarian needs of the children and speed deportations for many after they get a hearing from immigration authorities.

Republicans want Congress to amend a 2008 anti-trafficking law to accelerate deportations, but Democrats are opposed out of concern the children would face the same conditions of crime and poverty when returned home. Senate Democrats have proposed cutting Obama's $3.7 billion request, while Republicans have said $1.5 billion is the most they would want to spend.

Congress is preparing to start a five-week break at the end of next week and there is no compromise in sight.

"The notion that Congress would go home for August recess without having addressed this question ... would be pretty extraordinary," a senior White House official told reporters.

While White House officials complain about Congress, they are making a case that the number of child migrants has begun to slow. Still, the surge of tens of thousands of children, many with their mothers, has turned into a political nightmare for Obama, who is considering a variety of steps.

One idea being weighed is a plan to screen thousands of youths in Honduras to see if they can qualify as refugees or on an emergency humanitarian basis without having to make the perilous journey to the United States.

The senior White House official said the plan was one of many under consideration but that it was "way premature" to say it was a serious proposal.


TO MEET WITH CENTRAL AMERICAN LEADERS

Obama's meeting with the Central American leaders gives him the opportunity to urge them to seek ways to stem the flow of people from their countries. Honduran President Juan Hernandez said on Thursday that U.S. lawmakers' inability to reach an agreement on immigration policy was at least partly to blame for the crisis.

Obama spoke by phone on Thursday with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and "discussed the possibility of regional programs that would pool resources to improve public security and increase economic opportunities in Central America," the White House said in a statement.

U.S. officials blame human smugglers for misinformation by telling parents their children will be given safe haven in the United States if they send them there.

A senior White House official said Obama would seek the leaders' help in countering that message with one that the children more than likely will be sent back home.

Part of the emergency funding request, about $300 million, would be allocated toward helping the countries create more favorable conditions at home so people are not tempted to leave.

But there has been little apparent progress in Congress toward a border funding bill that Democrats and Republicans could agree upon.

"It's time for the White House to get their act together. Do they want to change the '08 law and address the real underlying problem here or don't they," House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner told reporters. (Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Grant McCool, Peter Cooney and Eric Walsh)

Categories: Political News and Opinion