|May 3, 2007|
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Since 1991, more than 100,000 hate crime offenses have been reported to the FBI. In 2005 alone, there were at least 1,017 crimes based on sexual orientation, yet under the current law, “the federal government is not able to help in cases where women, gay, transgender or disabled Americans are victims of bias-motivated crimes for who they are.” Today, the House is voting on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA), a bipartisan bill that would enable federal officials to work with state and local officials to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. Far right-wing groups are aggressively opposing this legislation, spreading baseless myths and shrill rhetoric. The last time the House passed this legislation in Sept. 2005, 223 lawmakers supported it, including 30 Republicans. Tell Congress to support LLEHCPA again today here.
MYTH #1 — HATE CRIMES PROTECTION IS UNNECESSARY: “There are no crimes covered by the hate crimes bill, H.R. 1592, which are not already prosecutable under existing laws,” wrote the Family Research Council (FRC) in its May 1 newsletter. Former chief counsel to President Nixon, Chuck Colson, argues, “Some say we need this law to prevent attacks on homosexuals. But we already have laws against assaults on people and property.” Despite the right wing’s rhetoric, LLEHCPA would give the federal government much-needed new authority to assist states in going after hate crimes in all categories. Under the current federal hate crime law enacted in 1969, the federal government has the authority to investigate and prosecute “attacks based on race, color, national origin and religion and because the victim was attempting to exercise a federally protected right.” LLEHCPA would give the federal government the ability to help where women, gay, transgender or disabled Americans are also the victims of bias-motivated crimes. A 2006 Harris Interactive poll found that “64 percent of gays and lesbians are concerned about being the victim of a bias-motivated crime.” While the FRC and Colson are right that physical attacks can already be prosecuted, hate crimes are especially pernicious. Eighty-five percent of law enforcement officials believe “bias motivated violence to be more serious than similar crimes not motivated by bias.”
MYTH #2 — LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS DO NOT NEED MORE RESOURCES TO COMBAT HATE: Earlier in the week, the National Review published an editorial arguing, “[T]here is no evidence that local law enforcement has a special need for federal resources to help it combat hate crimes.” But as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) notes, “Too many local jurisdictions lack the full resources necessary to prosecute hate crimes. For example, when Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998, the investigation and prosecution of the case cost the community of 28,000 residents about $150,000, forcing the sheriff’s department to lay off five deputies in order to save money.” The new legislation would allow federal officials to get involved where local law enforcement is unwilling or unable to do so. It would also make grants available to train local law officers to go after hate crimes and help combat violent crimes committed by juveniles. It is endorsed by 31 state attorneys general and leading law enforcement agencies, including the National Sheriffs’ Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Additionally, hate crimes continue to be a persistent problem. As HRC president Joe Solmonese notes, “Approximately 25 hate crimes are reported each day in our country. And more simply go unreported. One in six of these crimes is motivated by the victims sexual orientation.” According to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups — such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis — have increased 40 percent since 2000.
MYTH #3 — BILL WOULD CRIMINALIZE FREE SPEECH: “There’s a vote coming up on some insidious legislation in the United States Congress that could silence and punish Christians for their moral beliefs,” said Focus on the Family founder James Dobson on his Tuesday broadcast. “That means that as a Christian — if you read the Bible a certain way with regard to morality — you may be guilty of committing a ‘thought crime.'” The Concerned Women for America put out a statement claiming that this legislation is meant to “grant official government recognition to both homosexual and cross-dressing behaviors, and to silence opposition to those behaviors.” Colson wrote that “pastors who preach sermons giving the biblical view of homosexuality could be prosecuted.” None of these statements are true. LLEHCPA goes after criminal action, like physical assaults, not name-calling or verbal abuse. The bill clearly states that “evidence of expression or associations of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense.”
MYTH #4 — BILL IS OPPOSED BY ALL RELIGIOUS GROUPS: Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, recently said, “Liberal and homosexual extremists want to silence people of faith whose religious beliefs condemn homosexual behavior. This bill effectively adds a footnoted exception to the First Amendment of the Constitution — ‘none of these protections apply to Christians or other people of faith.'” But the bill before the House today ensures that all Americans are protected against hate crimes. Sheldon and other members of the radical right are in the minority. “According to a new poll conducted by Hart Research, large majorities of every major subgroup of the electorate — including such traditionally conservative groups as Republican men (56 percent) and evangelical Christians (63 percent) — express support for strengthening hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.” In mid-April, more than “230 religious leaders representing congregations from every state in the union gathered on Capitol Hill to talk with lawmakers” about hate violence. Additionally, more than 210 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations — including the Presbyterian Church, Parents Network on Disabilities, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — support the passage of LLEHCPA.
IRAQ — LAWMAKER COMPARES THE IRAQ WAR TO A MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL GAME: Speaking on the floor of the House yesterday, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) used a baseball analogy to describe the debate over withdrawal from Iraq. “Imagine my beloved St. Louis Cardinals are playing the much despised Chicago Cubs,” Shimkus told his colleagues before describing an imaginary baseball game that heads into extra innings, but the Cardinals leave before the game is over. “Who wins? We know it’s the team that stays on the field. Arbitrary deadlines and a date certain accept defeat before the conclusion of the contest.” Anti-war groups were quick to criticize Shimkus’ callous analogy. “Congressman Shimkus, war is not a game,” said Americans against Escalation in Iraq. “By comparing a war in Iraq to baseball, Rep. Shimkus has demonstrated he is just as out of touch with the reality of the situation in Iraq as President Bush.” The group added, “No one gets killed in a Cardinals vs. Cubs game.” Though reporters were unable to reach Shimkus for a comment on the criticisms, his spokesperson, Steve Tomaszewski, defended the congressman’s statement, calling it “just a simple analogy of a baseball game.” Jon Soltz, an Iraq war veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org, commented that “there’s no dying in baseball.” Soltz added that “being in the military, and knowing many people who have gone through West Point, I can tell you that at no point would the military ever accept a comparison to war that insults the seriousness of battle and the sacrifices that troops make.”
ETHICS — U.S. ATTORNEY WORKED TO EXEMPT HIMSELF FROM FEDERAL LAW: Yesterday, the Washington Post revealed that in Nov. 2005, the U.S. Attorney in Montana and acting Associate Attorney General William W. Mercer “asked Senate aides for new legislation that would allow him and a few others to escape” federal residency laws requiring them to reside in the districts they serve. The changes were requested and subsequently signed into law after a Montana federal judge complained to the Justice Department that Mercer was violating federal law by spending all but “three days a month” in Washington as a senior aide to Attorney General Gonzales. The Post revealed that on the same day that Mercer had requested the changes, Gonzales had assured the judge that Mercer was indeed working in “compliance” with the law. Yesterday, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) asked Mercer to resign his post in Montana saying, “Mr. Mercer was operating outside federal law, so he had the law changed. That might work in Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department, but it’s not how we do business in Montana.” A spokesman for the Justice Department said “any suggestion” that Mercer “failed to comply with the law…is flat wrong.” He added that Congress could resolve the situation by simply “approving Mercer’s nomination as associate attorney general.” Even so, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said she “would introduce legislation that would bar federal prosecutors from living outside their districts.”
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS — RICE TO APPEAL TO IRAQ’S NEIGHBORS IN EFFORT TO MITIGATE VIOLENCE: As violence in Iraq continues to escalate in spite of President Bush’s new security plan, the administration is appealing for help from some of the very Middle East neighbors it previously shunned. “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged international resistance to new financial and political support for Iraq as she began three days of diplomacy energized by the possibility of a thaw in U.S. relations with Iran and Syria.” Rice and Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “made their appeal for international solidarity in efforts to end the bloodshed at a conference in Egypt, which was overshadowed by the prospect of rare meetings between the United States and its foes Iran and Syria.”While the State Department publicly castigated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for engaging in talks with Syria last month, Rice will likely meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Egypt today, in an appeal for help in stabilizing Iraq. “The region has everything at stake here; Iraq’s neighbors have everything at stake here,” she said. The primary diplomatic issue for Rice “will be Syria’s border with Iraq…the United States has long accused Syria of allowing foreign insurgents to enter Iraq through its borders.” While there is a “prospect” of direct talks with Iran, media outlets report that Rice plans a mere “drift by” with Iran during her diplomatic trip, or “a brief exchange of pleasantries.” “A week ago, Rice said that Iran’s absence from the conference would be a ‘missed opportunity.’ But bilateral contact between the top U.S. and Iranian officials is now likely to be limited to pleasantries on the sidelines.” Despite listing Iran as the number one state sponsor of terror and increasingly likely to enrich uranium, the United States continues to brush off of diplomacy with Iran.
Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, “a widely respected prosecutor,” will testify today before the House Judiciary Committee. “His departure is now seen as a marker of a transition at the department in mid-2005, a few months after Mr. Gonzales became attorney general, as less experienced and more politically oriented officials like [Kyle] Sampson and [Monica] Goodling gained power.”
President Bush and congressional leaders have begun negotiating a second war funding bill that omits the withdrawal timeline. The second measure would step up Iraqi accountability, “transition” the U.S. military role, and show “a reasonable way to end this war.” Some conservatives are “beginning to move away from the White House to stake out a more critical position on the U.S. role in war.”
“Lawmakers of both parties are making a new effort to pass a federal shield law to protect reporters from being forced to reveal their sources.” Such protection “would give government whistle-blowers more reason to reveal corruption when they know that reporters will be shielded in most cases from prosecutors’ efforts to reveal information.”
Stuart Bowen, the inspector general “who uncovered cases of waste, fraud and abuse in the U.S.-led reconstruction effort in Iraq,” is under investigation by a presidential panel. Former employees “filed complaints last year about Bowen not showing up for work for long periods of time in 2004,” and that he “had employees work on a book that is to explain the lessons of Iraq reconstruction.”
U.S. News reports, “One of [Rep. Henry] Waxman’s next objectives will be not only to examine false claims by administration officials to justify invading Iraq but also to expose people and companies that have profited disproportionately from the war, congressional sources say. Hill Democrats think this line of inquiry will be explosive and will tarnish” war proponents.
“Members of a World Bank board committee investigating the conduct of Paul D. Wolfowitz, the bank president, are leaning toward finding that he violated the institution’s rules against conflicts of interest when he arranged a pay raise and promotion for his companion.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has introduced legislation to “shut down the GuantÃ¡namo prison and transfer the 385 or so people still held there to more conventional, and accountable, detention facilities.” The New York Times calls Feinstein’s initiative “as welcome as it is long overdue.”
27: Number of times President Bush mentioned al Qaeda during his speech on Iraq yesterday. “For America, the decision we face in Iraq is not whether we ought to take sides in a civil war, it’s whether we stay in the fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11,” Bush said.
And finally: Dana Perino’s dog tricks. When Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino arrives home each night, she has her Hungarian hunting dog, “Henry,” help her relax in an unusually political manner. “When Perino says to the dog, ‘Tell us what you think of John Kerry,’ the dog runs off and fetches flip-flops.”