Get ready. There’s more Republican obstruction on the way.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on 11th Circuit nominee Robin S. Rosenbaum for this Thursday, which is an important step forward in the fight to address our judicial vacancy crisis. Fully a third of the 11th Circuit’s twelve active judgeships are currently vacant, and all four of its empty slots have been declared judicial emergencies by the Administrative Offices of U.S. Courts.
The vacancy crisis in the 11th Circuit is so bad that the court’s chief judge, Edward Carnes, issued an order in December temporarily suspending the standard rule that at least two judges on a three-judge 11th Circuit panel must be members of that court. That means that going forward, two of three judges on these panels could be visiting from someplace else, potentially outvoting the one 11th Circuit judge. It is vital that Judge Rosenbaum be confirmed in a timely manner. And that starts with a timely committee vote.
But it’s unlikely that’s enough reason for GOP Senators to drop their campaign of endless delays for judicial nominations.
That is, unless Sen. Marco Rubio or Sen. Jeff Sessions steps in.
Rosenbaum is from Florida, which gives Rubio a special responsibility to urge Republican senators on the committee not to delay the vote. It is a chance for him to prioritize his constituents over politics. Similarly, Sessions, who represents a state (Alabama) covered by the 11th Circuit, also has a unique responsibility, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, to avoid such needless delay.
Will either Rubio or Sessions step up and help move the process in a more functional direction? We’ll learn on Thursday, but if past events are a predictor of future behavior, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
PFAW’s 2012 report, “Predatory Privatization: Exploiting Financial Hardship, Enriching the One Percent, Undermining Democracy,” included a section titled, “The Pernicious Private Prison Industry.” We reported that across the country, private prisons were often violent, poorly run facilities that put prisoners, employees and communities at risk even while failing to deliver on promised savings to taxpayers. But state legislators, encouraged by ALEC and by private prison interests’ lobbying and campaign expenditures, continued to turn prisons over to private corporations, often with contract provisions that acted as incentives for mass incarceration.
A new story in Politico Magazine, “The Private Prison Racket” comes to the same conclusions. “Companies that manage prisons on our behalf have abysmal records,” says author Matt Stroud. “So why do we keep giving them our business?”
The Politico story slams “bed mandates” – guarantees given by states to private companies to keep prisons full. Contracts like that build in incentives for governments to lock people up – and punish states financially when they try to reduce prison populations.
Politicians are taking notice. Last month, In the Public Interest reported that reality has turned the tide against private prisons: “Coast-to-coast, governments are realizing that outsourcing corrections to for-profit corporations is a bad deal for taxpayers, and for public safety.” The dispatch cited problems with private prisons in states as diverse as Arizona, Vermont, Texas, Florida, and Idaho, where Gov. Butch Otter, a “small government” conservative, announced last month that the state would take control of the Idaho Correctional Center back from private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America due to rampant violence, understaffing, gang activity, and contract fraud.
But the huge private prison industry is not going away anytime soon. As In the Public Interest notes:
All of this momentum does not suggest the imminent death of the for-profit prison industry. Some states, including California and West Virginia, are currently gearing up to send millions more to these companies. But the past year has been a watershed moment, and we are heading in the right direction. In light of these developments, these states would be wise to look to sentencing reform to reduce populations, rather than signing reckless outsourcing contracts.
The arguments against private prisons are myriad and compelling. Promised savings end up as increased costs. Lockup quotas force taxpayers to guarantee profits for prison companies through lock up quotas hidden in contracts. They incentivize mass incarceration while discouraging sentencing reform in an era when crime rates are plummeting.
But more than anything else, the reality of the disastrous private prison experiment has turned the public against the industry.
This week, President Obama nominated five people to federal judgeships in Florida and New Jersey. Three of these nominees are already judges; two are accomplished attorneys. But what is more relevant to the right-wing Liberty Counsel is that, according to the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow, “among the nominees are four African Americans, one of them homosexual.” (That's not actually true: one of the nominees is African American, one is Latino, and three are white).
Liberty Counsel head Mat Staver told OneNewsNow today that these judicial picks show “ideological bankruptcy” on the part of a president who is “destroying the judiciary.”
"So he gets a black man, who is a practicing homosexual, and now he wants to put this individual in an appointment for life on the federal bench," Staver lamented, referring apparently to Darrin P. Gayes, a state circuit judge in Florida who Obama nominated to a federal district court.
At no point in the article does Staver or OneNewsNow touch on the nominee’s qualifications, other than to note vaguely that “all five nominees are considered liberals.”
Among the nominees are four African Americans, one of them homosexual, and the final one is white.
Mat Staver, who heads Liberty Counsel, tells OneNewsNow the president is reaching out to two communities.
"So he gets a black man, who is a practicing homosexual, and now he wants to put this individual in an appointment for life on the federal bench," Staver advises.
He refers to the situation as "ideological bankruptcy."
President Obama is "destroying the judiciary because, when he leaves office in 2016, these judges will be around for 20 to 40 years," says the Liberty Counsel attorney. "That is going to be a bad legacy that Obama will leave behind that we'll all have to deal with in the aftermath."
Earlier this year, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio succeeded in torpedoing the nomination of William Thomas, a Florida state judge who was also openly gay and African-American. Rubio also blocked another African-American nominee, Brian Davis, for months before local activists pressured him to let the nomination go forward.
Joshua Black, a Republican politician who hopes that President Obama will be hanged for treason, said in an interview with Renew America’s Sher Zieve today that all Democratic politicians should be prepared for such a fate after the second American Revolution.
Black said that Democrats hope to “make us their slaves” and “eagerly sought the death penalty for George W. Bush.”
He added that a bill backed by eight Democratic congressmen to end the death penalty in treason cases is proof that “they know that they could face these charges themselves – if there is a full revolution in America – and they want to leave an opening for them to return to power after people have forgotten their atrocities, ala Nelson Mandela.”
1) The president, when he was a candidate, fought hard for foreigners suspected of terrorism to have their day in court. But, when suspicions arose about the activities of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen living in Yemen at the time, the President merely authorized two separate drone strikes against him and his teenage son, a direct violation of the 14th Amendment.
2) When civil war began to engulf Libya, the President – along with the international community – sent arms and air strikes to assist the rebels on the ground. Little did the American people know that these rebels were flying the flag of al-Qaeda, our enemy in the War on Terror. This is exactly the definition of Treason that the Constitution describes in Article III, the penalty for which, as you well noted and every single politician knows, has been hanging since the Act of Congress, in accordance with the authority given in that same Article, established said penalty.
3) The president has supplied drug gangs with weapons, through Operation Fast and Furious, another direct act of treason (aren't we fighting a "War on Drugs"?) That resulted in the death of at least one American border patrol agent.
There are many more, but those should suffice.
As for the Democrats, their move to lessen the penalty for treason is hypocritical, considering they have eagerly sought the death penalty for George W. Bush for war crimes, Bradley Manning for aiding the enemy, and Eric Snowden for espionage. I think that they know that they could face these charges themselves – if there is a full revolution in America – and they want to leave an opening for them to return to power after people have forgotten their atrocities, ala Nelson Mandela.
In fact, our founding fathers learned from history and the Bible, because they put into place ways of removing unjust officials and bringing them to justice with minimal blood shed [sic]. Impeachment (for the President and all unelected federal officials) and expulsion (for congress) allows us to correct errors and mitigate deceit and wrongdoing in government. Ultimately, though, the People are still in charge. This nation will only be as conservative, free, or just as its People want to be. That's why we all need to be more vigilant to protect ourselves from criminal politicians who would make us their slaves. We do not exist to make them comfortable. They exist to do the jobs that We the People created for them in the Constitution, nothing more, nothing less.
Zieve, for her part, commended Black and claimed he is being persecuted:
However, as the penalty for treason in the USA is still death by hanging for this highest of crimes against the US Republic, Joshua logically agreed with him. However, logic and its conclusions no longer appear to play much of a part – if any – in the now 'brave new world' of dumbed-down-by-the-media-and-government-school-system people who inhabit the United States of America. In November 2014, we shall see whether or not these individuals constitute a majority and whether or not conservatives opt – again – not to vote and, instead, hand our country lock, stock and barrel over to those who are salivating at the prospect of using brute force and violence to subjugate the American people as the Obama/New World Order Police State begins to grow exponentially.
In the meantime, after interviewing him, I found Joshua Black to be one of those intelligent and articulate Constitutional conservatives who made up the majority of our founders and one whom We-the-People need in order to wrest our country back from those who are leading us to abject ruin. I trust you will find him as capable and interesting as do I.
Earlier this month, the White House returned to the Senate 54 federal judicial nominees who Senate Republicans had refused to vote on in the previous year. But one nominee was conspicuously absent from that list: Judge William Thomas, a Florida state judge who had been nominated to sit on a federal trial court.
At first, Thomas’ nomination seemed like a slam dunk: He is an experienced, respected judge who was nominated in 2012 with the support of both of Florida’s senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio. He also would have been the first openly gay black man to sit on the federal bench.
Then, mysteriously, Rubio changed his mind. Taking advantage of a Senate Judiciary Committee policy that allows any senator to block a committee hearing on any nominee from his or her home state, Rubio unilaterally refused to allow a hearing on Thomas. For months, the senator refused to explain why he was blocking Thomas’ nomination, until finally this summer a spokesperson cited “questions about [the nominee’s] judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences.”
Rubio’s office provided two examples of instances in which they believed that Thomas didn’t impose “appropriate criminal sentences.” In both cases, Thomas imposed the highest sentence sought by the prosecution; in both cases, prosecutors praised his handling of the trials. Rubio's staff also claimed that in one of those cases, a grisly murder trial, Thomas “broke down in tears” when sentencing the defendant to death; news reports make clear that the judge's tears came when he was describing the brutal crime. As Chris Hayes put it, none of these complaints “pass the smell test.”
Now, finally, Rubio himself has gone on the record for the first time about why he blocked Thomas’ nomination. In an interview with Michael Putney, political reporter for the Miami-area Local 10 news, Rubio, looking visibly uncomfortable, repeats his office’s talking points about the two criminal cases they allege Judge Thomas imposed insufficiently harsh sentences in. “We are looking for judges that can accurately apply the law, particularly at the federal level,” Rubio said, never quite explaining how Thomas failed to do that.
This isn’t the first time that Rubio has blocked a Florida judicial nominee for less than convincing reasons. Rubio similarly changed his mind about Florida nominee Brian Davis – who is also African-American – at the behest of Sen. Chuck Grassley . Under pressure from local activists, Rubio eventually changed his mind again and allowed Davis’ nomination to go forward.
As Hayes said, it seems like the most likely explanation is that Judge Thomas was merely an “innocent bystander” in Rubio’s desperate race to win back the right-wing support he lost during his short-lived advocacy for immigration reform – an effort that so far isn’t panning out so well.
Allen West appeared on Jesse Lee Peterson's radio program yesterday where he vowed that he will "definitely" make another run for public office.
Claiming that he lost his re-election bid in 2012 because Democrats and Republicans conspired to remove him from office because they knew he was "a threat to us and our business as usual way of ruining this great country," West took pride in being a target and declared that he was not going away.
When Peterson asked West if he had any plans to run for office again in the future, West responded that "oh yeah, I will definitely come back ... In the 2016 cycle, we'll look to getting back in and running myself. Whatever God would have me do":
WASHINGTON – President Obama today re-nominated 54 federal judicial nominees whose nominations had been sent back to the White House at the end of last year due to Republican obstruction. At the end of last year, Senate Republicans refused to hold over the president’s nominees, sending all but one – D.C. Circuit nominee Robert Wilkins – back to the White House.
Disappointingly, one nominee who had been stalled by GOP obstruction was not renominated: William Thomas of Florida, whom Sen. Marco Rubio singlehandedly blocked from a hearing for over a year.
Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:
It is encouraging that the White House has taken the earliest possible opportunity to put these 54 nominees back on the path to Senate confirmation. This is an especially urgent matter given that 22 of these nominees would fill officially-designated judicial emergencies.
It is stunning that this many nominees were been sent back to the president at the end of the year. Most of those who are now starting the confirmation process all over again could have easily received confirmation votes last year if not for Republican obstruction. Nine were waiting for Senate votes when their nominations were sent back and 24 were stalled in the Judiciary Committee by Republican senators abusing the committee’s rules and practices.
While we are pleased that the White House is working for the expeditious confirmation of these 54 nominees, it is disappointing that Judge William Thomas of Florida has been left off the list. Judge Thomas is an eminently qualified nominee and would make history as the first openly gay African-American man to become a federal judge. Yet a campaign of obstruction from Sen. Marco Rubio has kept Judge Thomas from even receiving a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, and has now succeeded in torpedoing his nomination entirely.
The president has also renominated a controversial slate of nominees from Georgia. In a state that is nearly one-third African American, just one of the president’s six nominees is a person of color, and questions have been raised about some of the nominees’ records on voting and civil rights.
Republicans have indicated that they will fight the president’s nominees whoever they are; that makes it all the more important that the best possible nominees are put forward.
The following is a guest post from Elder Jabari Paul, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action, following last week’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on Stand Your Ground laws.
My perspective on Stand Your Ground laws (SYG) is shaped by my experience and calling as a young African American clergyman and as a native of Florida, the first state to pass this type of legislation. I believe that these laws raise important questions about the moral values of our country.
The debate around SYG comes during challenging times in America – times when the political landscape is starkly divided and mass slayings in public settings are much too frequent. These laws have been divisive policies since the first one passed in October 2005 in Florida. Public contentiousness surrounding SYG can be traced back to the choices of many politicians to ignore the will of the majority on SYG laws and to push the agendas of powerful and moneyed interest groups, like the National Rifle Association. SYG has been a wedge issue because politicians, particularly conservatives, have supported such laws to placate their base in spite of a lack of need for these laws.
Stand Your Ground has been championed by its supporters as a type of law that is necessary to prevent crime in urban areas and to protect citizens from the violence of “thugs.” These arguments have clear racial undertones. Words like “urban” and “thug” have been used since America’s post-Reconstruction days to speak in coded language about African Americans and other minorities. SYG tramples upon the civil rights of those perceived to be a threat. The tragedy of these laws is compounded when the person attacked is killed and only their attacker has an opportunity to tell what happened.
As a Christian, minister and an African American male under 35, my views on SYG are shaped by my culture and my religious beliefs. I believe that SYG perpetuates violence in a society that already knows violence too well. Jesus Christ taught the opposite of violence – love. In His renowned “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” In these verses, Jesus is stressing that violence should be the last form of recourse in any situation. SYG, on the other hand, justifies and can even facilitate violence.
Our country deserves better than this. The United States of America is called, and no doubt is, the greatest nation in world. It’s time for our elected officials to drastically amend or repeal Stand Your Ground laws.
The following is a guest post by Rev. Dorothy Chaney, a licensed Baptist minister in Miami and a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action.
I have lived in Florida all my life, but here’s something I didn’t always know: in my state, you can be fired for being gay.
It’s true – although most of us don’t realize it. Here in Florida, we lack both a state and federal law protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) employees from workplace discrimination. That means that even if you are the most dedicated employee – always on time, always going that extra mile – you can still be fired because of who you are or who you love.
That’s not right.
Why? First of all, because ensuring that all of us have the opportunity to provide for our families is a core American value. Passing a bill in Congress called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would help make sure that LGBT workers across the country are protected from workplace mistreatment. It’s simple – if you work hard, you shouldn’t be fired because of attributes that have nothing to do with your work performance.
Second, my religious beliefs mean I am dedicated to supporting those in need. As Bishop Gene Robinson pointed out in 2011, “The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are filled with admonitions that we will be judged by the way we treat our most vulnerable members.” He wrote that we are “morally bound” to take care of those who are marginalized, such as LGBT Americans.
He’s right. As a Christian minister, I have worked for many years to lift up those most vulnerable in our communities, from counseling women facing unplanned pregnancies to speaking out in support of those needing access to health care. I have come to see that in order to continue my work for justice, I also need to speak out in support of employment protections for LGBT members of my community. Though faith traditions and leaders may have differing beliefs about sexuality, surely we can agree that every person should be treated with dignity in their place of work. Every person should be able to be open about who they are without fearing for their job.
Finally, not only is passing ENDA the moral thing to do, it’s also the popular thing to do. That’s true here in Florida and also across the country. New polling estimates that more than 60% of Floridians support ENDA.
Unfortunately, those who don’t support these protections are using dishonest arguments to try to mislead the public about the legislation. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, for example, has claimed that if ENDA is passed, “Our freedom of religion will be destroyed.” This is certainly not true. The ENDA bill even carves out a specific exemption so it will not apply to religious corporations, societies, associations, and schools. The fact is, it goes the extra mile to protect religious liberty, and it is supported by a broad array of religious groups. The bottom line is that ENDA is in no way an attack on religious liberty any more than existing anti-discrimination laws are.
Others are using repugnant arguments in an attempt not just to defeat the bill, but to attack and malign LGBT members of my community. Last year, Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition went as far as using the Newtown tragedy in a misguided attempt to turn public opinion against ENDA. Referencing a school district anti-discrimination policy in nearby Orange County, Florida, Lafferty argued that while parents are concerned about “protecting our children” in the wake of the Newtown shooting, they should be worried about ENDA’s “devastating effects” as “people with some real issues [play] out their personal problems in the classroom.” These kinds of lies about our LGBT neighbors underscore why the discrimination protections are needed in the first place.
It is my hope that all of our elected officials will choose to stand on the side of pro-equality majorities rather than with those pushing hurtful lies about LGBT Americans. I was heartened to see that Sen. Nelson has signed on as a cosponsor. Now it’s time for Sen. Rubio to step up to the plate, as well.
Because at the end of the day, discrimination is discrimination. It has no place in our hearts and no place in our workplaces.
Somehow, it seems that Florida’s Allen West managed to serve two years in the U.S. Congress without ever quite grasping how our government works. In an interview with NewsMax’s Steve Malzberg last week, West claimed that in refusing to cave to Tea Party demands to defund Obamacare, President Obama was acting like a “spoiled brat child” because Americans gave him “everything he has wanted” by electing him president. Speaking with Malzberg again yesterday, West declared that actually “King Obama” has established a “monarchy” in the United States because the Affordable Care Act “is not the law of the land, it’s an edict.”
West added that Congress’ passage of a clean continuing resolution and debt ceiling hike in order to reopen the government and avoid default was actually “a large leap toward losing the great republic” of the United States.
“Shame on us as an American people to fall into this, in letting this usurper and this petty charlatan take this great country away from us,” he lamented.
When I look at the fact that Obamacare is not the law of the land, it’s an edict, I see this as King Obama, not President Obama, who is making rules that apply to certain people that kowtow or appeal to his vision of destruction of this great constitutional republic. So, I think that we have gone beyond an imperial presidency. We almost have a monarchy that has been established in the United States of America.
This is not a constitutional republic anymore, and I think people need to understand that, and with the passage of this CR and this debt limit extension, we have definitely take a large leap toward losing the great republic that men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, John Adams gave us as an inheritance. And shame on us as an American people to fall into this, in letting this usurper and this petty charlatan take this great country away from us.
It’s all been quiet on the election-rigging front for a while—so quiet that you might have thought the Republicans’ plan to rig the electoral college had been quietly dropped. Sadly, that’s not the case.
Florida state Rep. Ray Pilon introduced a bill last week to change how the state apportions its electoral college votes. Under his plan, the state would award its electoral college votes by congressional district. If this plan had been in place in 2012, Florida would have awarded an extra 15 electoral college votes Mitt Romney. Indeed, as Think Progress points out, if every state used this plan, Romney would have won the election.
That massive hypothetical shift is partly due to another plank of the Republicans’ plan to rig elections in their favor: gerrymandering congressional districts. If states like Florida award their votes by congressional district, then the Republican party in those states can create a huge advantage for themselves by gerrymandering their congressional district maps. This part of the plan is already complete in many states, where we won’t have an opportunity to try and reverse some of this gerrymandering for nearly 10 years (and two presidential elections). Florida’s GOP would certainly benefit from such a plan, where the last round of redistricting created a map that will, in the words of the Washington Post, help “cement their overwhelming majority in the state’s delegation for a decade to come.”
Just look at the red the congressional district maps in Pennsylvania, where Obama won the popular vote by more than five percent but would have lost the majority of electoral college votes under a plan like Pilon’s. Indeed, congressional district maps throughout the country are so gerrymandered that while Democrats won the 2012 popular vote for House seats, we ended up with the second biggest GOP majority in 60 years.
It’s clear that this bill is another sad attempt to rig the game in the Republicans’ favor. It has nothing to do with fairness and democracy, and everything to do with partisan games. But just being sick of losing doesn’t give you the right to change the rules. Most people learned that as children on the playground, but it seems like the Republican party never got that lesson. The only way they’ll ever get these bills passed is if we let them get away with it, so it’s up to us to let them know that we’re paying attention. That’s how we’ve kept these bills from being passed in every other state that they’ve been proposed in over the past year, and that’s what we’ll do with this bill.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has for months been single-handedly holding up the nomination of William Thomas, an openly gay African American Miami judge, to a federal district court.
Rubio’s indefinite hold on Thomas’ nomination is one of the most egregious examples yet of Senate Republicans using the obscure “blue slip” procedure to prevent home-state judicial nominees from even having a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Under a Senate custom that has varied over time Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy will not advance a nominees’ consideration -- won’t even hold a hearing, let alone take a vote -- until both of that nominee’s home-state senators return a “blue slip” giving their permission for a nomination to go forward. The blue slip doesn’t indicate a senator’s approval of the nominee – the senator is still free to vote against the nominee and to lobby their fellow senators to do the same. It just means that the nominee can be considered by the Judiciary Committee and then the full Senate. But if just one senator doesn’t return a blue slip, the nomination won’t see the light of day.
Republican senators have been routinely using this tactic of withholding blue slips in order to slow-walk President Obama’s judicial nominees. Currently, five nominees are being held back because one or both senators have refused to return blue slips. And all are women or people of color.
Because the blue slip process is secretive and little-known, senators are often able to get away with holding nominees this way with little public pressure and no public explanation.
Rubio, however, faced pressure from the Florida legal community in recent weeks for his failure to return blue slips for Thomas and another Florida nominee, Brian Davis. The senator finally gave in under pressure and allowed Davis’ nomination to go forward, but is digging in his heels on his blockade of Thomas.
Rubio’s stated reasons for blocking Thomas’ nomination are exceptionally flimsy. He has cited two cases where he claims Thomas gave insufficiently harsh sentences in criminal trials; in one case, even the prosecutor has defended Thomas’ judgment and a local judge has written to Rubio to correct the record. In the other case the senator cites, Judge Thomas sentenced the defendant to death, which Rubio seems to think was insufficiently harsh. It is clear that there is no merit to the senator’s claims. Holding hearings on this nominee would help clarify that, if they were allowed to take place.
The real reason for Rubio’s blockade and his smear of Judge Thomas’ character, writes Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm, is plain and simple “crass Tea Party politics.”
Rubio has stated no compelling reason why Thomas should not have a hearing before the Judiciary Committee, where he can answer any of Rubio’s alleged concerns in the public record.
At a town hall meeting earlier this month, after he announced he would back birther legislation and accused Obamacare of being racist against white people, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) went after gay marriage, immigration reform and food stamp funding. “I think it’s a sad state of affairs in America today that we as a society are so confused that we have to redefine what marriage is,” Yoho lamented. “It’s an institution that’s been around for thousands years and I feel like it’s ordained by God; are we that confused as a country that we have to start redefining these things?”
The congressman then moved on to food stamp funding, which the House GOP recently severed from the Farm Bill. Yolo said he doubted that around 50 million Americans face food insecurity, joking: “I think there’s 330 million people starving, at least three times a day, we call it breakfast, lunch and dinner.” He added that huge proposed cuts to food aid won’t impact anyone, telling the audience that “not one person would lose a calorie or crumb that deserves it.”
Yoho revealed that his family had used food stamps for about two months, but claimed that the cuts are necessary because it has become a “lifestyle” and that it is too easy to qualify for the program.
Yoho also expressed skepticism about new immigration reform efforts because he believes the Lebanese group Hezbollah is smuggling potential terrorists over the border: “I talked to a guy that works with Hezbollah, they call him the 007 of Hezbollah, they call him and find out he’s brought over 1,500 people here illegally that don’t like us, they want to blow us up.”
UPDATE: More of Yoho's far-right comments here.
Speaking at a town hall meeting earlier this month, Florida Republican congressman Ted Yoho promised that he would support possible birther legislation floated by Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), telling the audience that after learning about a potential birther bill from Stockman while attending a Tea Party meeting, he called the congressman and agreed to back it.
In audio recorded by an audience member and posted on YouTube, Yoho can be heard telling the crowd that the issue of President Obama’s birth certificate was a “distraction” from topics like the national debt, he said he was hopeful that a birther investigation could bring down the whole government: “They said if it is true, it’s illegal, he shouldn’t be there and we can get rid of everything he’s done, and I said I agree with that.”
Yoho also seemed to embrace the right-wing claim that Obamacare is “racist” because it taxes tanning beds, explaining that if he goes tanning then he will be “disenfranchised because I got taxed because of the color of my skin.”
I had a little fun with [John] Boehner and told him about the sun tanning tax. He goes, ‘I didn’t know it was in there,’ and I said, ‘Yes, it’s a ten percent tax.’ He goes, ‘Well, that’s not that big of a deal.’ I said, ‘It’s a racist tax.’ He goes, ‘You know what, it is.’ I had an Indian doctor in our office the other day, very dark skin, with two non-dark skin people, and I asked this to him, I said, ‘Have you ever been to a tanning booth?’ and he goes, ‘No, no need.’ So therefore it’s a racist tax and I thought I might need to get to a sun tanning booth so I can come out and say I’ve been disenfranchised because I got taxed because of the color of my skin. As crazy as that sounds, that’s what the left does right. By God, if it works for them, it’ll work for us [inaudible].
On the very same day that the Washington Post reported on Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul’s call for more school vouchers and expanded charter programs, the Associated Press exposed a frantic behind-the-scenes operation in Indiana to raise the grade given to a charter school run by a major Republican donor. As Rick Perry might say, “oops.”
Paul’s call to expand vouchers and other “school choice” programs is not surprising. Right-wing political strategists have invested huge sums in recent decades to undermine public support for public schools as a means of outsourcing public education dollars into private hands. Privatizing public education is practically an article of faith in today’s Republican Party and it has been a major project of the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
What should be more surprising, but isn’t, is Paul’s seeming lack of concern for accountability in the use of tax dollars. The Post reports that Paul “shrugged off” documented quality control problems in DC’s voucher system and “dismissed” recent research showing that charters, while improving, are still not outperforming traditional public schools. Pushing for expansion in the face of dubious evidence is standard operating procedure for education privatizers.
Many advocates for expanded voucher and charter programs say the problem is that public schools aren’t held accountable for their results, but they resist applying the same kind of accountability to “choice” schools. In Indiana, as the Associated Press reports, former state school superintendent Tony Bennett and his staff “frantically” overhauled his much-ballyhooed “A-F” grading system last year when it turned out that Christel House, a charter school run by a major GOP donor, would receive a “C.”
"They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist.
The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan's grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive….
Though Indiana had had a school ranking system since 1999, Bennett switched to the A-F system and made it a signature item of his education agenda, raising the stakes for schools statewide.
Bennett consistently cited Christel House as a top-performing school as he secured support for the measure from business groups and lawmakers, including House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long.
But trouble loomed when Indiana's then-grading director, Jon Gubera, alerted Bennett on Sept 13 that the Christel House Academy had scored a 2.9, or a "C."
"This will be a HUGE problem for us," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012 email to Neal.
Neal fired back a few minutes later, "Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved."
A weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued among Bennett, assistant superintendent Dale Chu, Gubera, Neal and other top staff at the Indiana Department of Education. They examined ways to lift Christel House from a "C'' to an "A," including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high "B'' look like an "A'' and changing the grade just for Christel House.
It's not clear from the emails exactly how Gubera changed the grading formula, but they do show DeHaan's grade jumping twice….
"I am more than a little miffed about this," Bennett wrote. "I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months."
Bennett told AP that his frustration was with a flawed grading formula and denied that the staff’s frantic changes were designed to give DeHaan’s school an A. But, the AP report says, “the emails clearly show Bennett's staff was intensely focused on Christel House, whose founder has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders.”
UPDATE: In the wake of news coverage of the school-grading scandal in Indiana, Bennett resigned as Florida's education commissioner on August 1, just a day after Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Bennett was doing a "great job."
In what the Miami Herald is calling the “longest sit-in demonstration in recent memory,” a group of more than sixty young people called the Dream Defenders came to Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office last Tuesday and have not left.
Arriving at the Florida Capitol just a few days after George Zimmerman was acquitted, the group is pushing for a special legislative session to take up a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act which would repeal the state’s Stand Your Ground law and address racial profiling, the school-to prison pipeline, and more. Among the many young people in Gov. Scott’s office is Dream Defenders leader Phil Agnew, a 2005 graduate of PFAW Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) leadership development program, as well as eight to ten other current or former YP4 Fellows.
Agnew told the Miami Herald that the work is broader than their specific demands:
“It’s also about a paradigm shift,” Agnew said. “It’s about empowering the next generation.”
PFAW Foundation has been helping support the courageous young people at the Capitol in any way we can, from providing administrative and financial support – including meals – to sending video cameras to help document their experiences. Young People For Director Joy Lawson highlighted the sit-in in a Huffington Post op-ed and is leading a powerful photo campaign collecting statements of support for the Dream Defenders.
Together, we are showing the Dream Defenders, and the country, that young people are standing with them in this fight.