Tag Archives: mike pence

The Foilies 2017: Recognizing the worst in government transparency

A thick fog is rolling in over Sunshine Week, the annual event when government transparency advocates raise awareness about the importance of access to public records.

We are entering an age when officials at the highest levels seek to discredit critical reporting with “alternative facts,” “fake news” slurs and selective access to press conferences — while making their own claims without providing much in the way to substantiate them.

But no matter how much the pundits claim we’re entering a “post-truth” era, it is crucial we defend the idea of proof. Proof is in the bureaucratic paper trails.

Proof is in the accounting ledgers, the legal memos, the audits, and the police reports.

Proof is in the data.

When it comes to government actions, that proof is often obtained by leveraging laws like the Freedom of Information Act and state-level public records laws —except when government officials seek to ignore the rules to suppress evidence.

At the same time, this is also par for the course.

As award-winning investigative reporter Shane Bauer recently posted on Twitter: “I’ve been stonewalled by the government throughout my journalistic career. I’m seriously baffled by people acting like this is brand-new.”

For the third year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation presents “The Foilies,” our anti-awards identifying the times when access to information has been stymied or when government agencies have responded in the most absurd ways to records requests.

Think of it as the Golden Raspberries but for government transparency, where the bad actors are actually going off script to deny the public the right to understand what business is being conducted on their behalf.

To compile these awards, EFF solicited nominations from around the country and scoured through news stories and the #FOIAFriday Twitter threads to find the worst, the silliest, and the most ridiculous responses to request for public information.

 

The Make America Opaque Again Award: President Donald Trump

A commitment to public transparency should start at the top.

But from the beginning of his campaign, Trump has instead committed to opacity by refusing to release his tax returns, citing concerns about an ongoing IRS audit.

Now that he’s been elected, Trump’s critics, ethics experts, and even some allies have called on him to release his tax returns and prove that he has eliminated potential conflicts of interest and sufficiently distanced himself from the businesses in his name that stand to make more money now that he’s in office.

But the Trump administration has not changed its stance. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, the American public should be outraged that we now have the first sitting president since the 1970s to avoid such a baseline transparency tradition.

The Hypocrisy Award: Vice President Mike Pence

Pence cared a lot about transparency and accountability in 2016, especially when it came to email. A campaign appearance couldn’t go by without Pence or his running mate criticizing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for using a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. In fact, the Foilies honored Clinton last year for her homebrewed email approach.

But Pence seemed much less bothered by those transparency and accountability concerns when he used a private AOL email address to conduct official business as Indiana’s governor.

The Indiana Star reported in February that Pence used the account to communicate “with top advisors on topics ranging from security gates at the governor’s residence to the state’s response to terror attacks across the globe.”

That means that critical homeland security information was kept in an account likely less secure than government accounts (his account was reportedly hacked too), and Pence’s communications were shielded from government records requirements.

 

The Frogmarch Award: Town of White Castle, Louisiana

The only thing that could’ve made reporter Chris Nakamoto’s public records request in the small town of White Castle, Louisiana, a more absurd misadventure is if he’d brought Harold and Kumar along with him.

As chief investigator for WBRZ in Baton Rouge, Nakamoto filed records requests regarding the White Castle mayor’s salary. But when he turned up with a camera crew at city hall in March 2016 to demand missing documents, he was escorted out in handcuffs, locked in a holding cell for an hour and charged with a misdemeanor for “remaining after being forbidden.”

What’s worse is Nakamoto was summoned to appear before the “Mayor’s Court,” a judicial proceeding conducted by the very same mayor Nakamoto was investigating. Nakamoto lawyered up and the charges were dropped two months later.

“If anything, my arrest showed that if they’ll do that to me, and I have the medium to broadcast and let people know what’s happening to me, think about how they’re treating any citizen in that town,” Nakamoto says.

 

The Arts and Crafts Award: Public Health Agency of Canada

Journalists are used to receiving documents covered with cross-outs and huge black boxes. But in May 2016, The Associated Press reporters encountered a unique form of redaction from Public Health Agency of Canada when seeking records related to the Ebola outbreak.

As journalist Raphael Satter wrote in a letter complaining to the agency: “It appears that PHAC staff botched their attempt to redact the documents, using bits of tape and loose pieces of paper to cover information which they tried to withhold. By the time it came into my hands much of the tape had worn off and the taped pieces had been torn.

Even the wryest transparency advocates were amused when Satter wrote about the redaction art project on Twitter, but the incident did have more serious implications. At least three Sierra Leonean medical patients had their personal information exposed. Lifting up the tape also revealed how the agency redacted information that the reporters believed should’ve been public, such as email signatures.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said it would investigate, but Satter says he hasn’t heard anything back for 10 months.

 

The Whoa There, Cowboy Award: Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke

Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke rose to prominence in 2016 as one of then-candidate Donald Trump’s top surrogates, prone to making inflammatory remarks about the Black Lives Matter movement, such as calling them a hate group and linking them to ISIS. But the press has also been a regular target.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political watchdog columnist Daniel Bice filed a series of records requests with the sheriff’s office, demanding everything from calendars, to details about an NRA-funded trip to Israel, to records related to a series of jail deaths.

So far, Clarke has been extremely slow to release this information, while being extremely quick to smear the reporter on the sheriff’s official Facebook page.

Clarke frequently refers to the publication as the “Urinal Sentinel” and has diagnosed Bice with “Sheriff Clarke Derangement Syndrome.”

“I deal with open records requests with local governments and police departments, I do it at the city, county, and state level,” Bice says. “He’s by far the worst for responding to public records.”

In May 2016, Clarke published a short essay on Facebook titled, “When Journalism Becomes an Obsession.” Clarke claimed that after he rejected Bice’s request for an interview, Bice retaliated with a series of public records requests, ignoring the fact that these requests are both routine and are often reporter’s only recourse when an official refuses to answer questions.

“This lazy man’s way of putting together newspaper columns uses tax-paid, government employees as pseudo-interns to help him gather information to write stories,” Clarke wrote.

Memo to Clarke: requesting and reviewing public records is tedious and time-consuming, and certainly not the way to score an easy scoop. If anything, ranting on Facebook, then issuing one-sentence news releases about those Facebook posts, are the lazy man’s way of being accountable to your constituents.

 

The Longhand Award: Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz

A local citizen in Portland, Oregon, filed a records request to find out everyone that City Commissioner Amanda Fritz had blocked or muted from her Twitter account. This should’ve been easy. However, Fritz decided to go the long way, scribbling down each and every handle on a sheet of paper. She then rescanned that list in, and sent it back to the requester.

The records did show that Fritz had decided to hush accounts that were trying to affect public policy, such as @DoBetterPDX, which focuses on local efforts to help homeless people, and anonymous self-described urban activist @jegjehPDX. Here’s a tip for officials who receive similar requests: all you need to do is go to your “Settings and Privacy” page, select the “Muted accounts” or “Blocked accounts” tab, and then click “export your list.”

 

The Wrong Address Award: U.S. Department of Justice

America Rising PAC, a conservative opposition research committee, has been filing FOIA requests on a number of issues, usually targeting Democrats.

Following Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the PAC sent a FOIA to the attorney general seeking emails referencing the death.

But America Rising never received a response acknowledging the DOJ received the request.

That’s because the DOJ sent it to a random federal inmate serving time on child pornography charges. The offender, however, was nice enough to forward the message to the PAC with a note railing against the “malicious incompetence” of the Obama administration.

 

The Redaction of Interest Award: General Services Administration

One of the threads that reporters have tried to unravel through the Trump campaign is how the prolific businessman would separate himself from his financial interests, especially regarding his 30-year contract with the federal government to build a Trump International Hotel at the location of the federally owned Old Post Office in D.C., a paper airplane’s flight from the White House.

BuzzFeed filed a FOIA request with the General Services Administration for a copy of the contract. What they received was a highly redacted document that raised more questions than it answered, including what role Trump’s family plays in the project.

“The American taxpayer would have no clue who was getting the lease to the building,” says reporter Aram Roston, who was investigating how Trump failed to uphold promises made when he put in a proposal for the project. “You wouldn’t know who owned this project.”

After pushing back, BuzzFeed was able to get certain sections unredacted, including evidence that Trump’s three children—Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric—all received a 7.425 percent stake through their LLCs, seemingly without injecting any money of their own.

 

The Fake News Award: Santa Maria Police Department

In 2015, the Santa Maria Police Department in California joined many other agencies in using the online service Nixle to distribute public information in lieu of press releases. The agency told citizens to sign up for “trustworthy information.”

Less than a year later, police broke that trust. The Santa Maria Police posted to its Nixle account a report that two individuals had been arrested and deported, which was promptly picked up the local press. Months later, court documents revealed that it had all been a lie to ostensibly help the individuals — who had been targeted for murder by a rival gang — escape the city.

Police were fiercely unapologetic. The agency has yet to remove the offending alert from Nixle or offer any kind of addendum, a direct violation of Nixle’s terms of service, which prohibits the transmission of “fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading communications” through the service.

 

The Stupid Meter Award: Elster Solutions, Landis+Gyr, Ericsson

In May 2016, several smart meter companies sued transparency website MuckRock and one of its users, Phil Mocek, in a failed attempt to permanently remove documents from the website that they claimed contained trade secrets. Some of the companies initially obtained a court order requiring MuckRock to take down public records posted to the site that the city of Seattle had already released to the requester.

But in their rush to censor MuckRock and its user, the companies overlooked one small detail: the First Amendment. The Constitution plainly protected MuckRock’s ability to publish public records one of its users lawfully obtained from the city of Seattle, regardless of whether they contained trade secrets. A judge quickly agreed, ruling that the initial order was unconstitutional and allowing the documents to be reposted on MuckRock. The case and several others filed against MuckRock and its user later settled or were dismissed outright. The documents continue to be hosted on MuckRock for all to see. But, uh, great job guys!

 

The Least Productive Beta Testing Award: Federal Bureau of Investigation

The FBI spent most of 2016 doing what might be charitably described as beta testing a proprietary online FOIA portal that went live in March. But beta testing is probably a misnomer because it implies that the site actually improved after its initial rollout.

The FBI’s year of “beta testing” included initially proposing a requirement that requesters submit a copy of their photo ID before submitting a request via the portal and also imposed “operating hours” and limited the number of requests an individual could file per day.

Yet even after the FBI walked back from those proposals, the site appears designed to frustrate the public’s ability to make the premiere federal law enforcement agency more transparent. The portal limits the types of requests that can be filed digitally to people seeking information about themselves or others. Requesters cannot use the site to request information about FBI operations or activities, otherwise known as the bread and butter of FOIA requests. Oh, and the portal’s webform is capped at 3,000 characters, so brevity is very much appreciated!

Worse, now that the portal is online, the FBI has stopped accepting FOIA requests via email, meaning fax and snail mail are now supposed to be the primary (and frustratingly slow) means of sending requests to the FBI. It almost seems like the FBI is affirmatively trying to make it hard to submit FOIA requests.

 

The Undermining Openness Award: U.S. Department of Justice

Documents released in 2016 in response to a FOIA lawsuit by the Freedom of the Press Foundation show that the U.S. Department of Justice secretly lobbied Congress in 2014 to kill a FOIA reform bill that had unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives 410-0.

But the secret axing of an overwhelmingly popular transparency bill wasn’t even the most odious aspect of DOJ’s behavior. In talking points disclosed via the lawsuit, DOJ strongly opposed codifying a “presumption of openness,” a provision that would assume by default that every government record should be disclosed to the public unless an agency could show that its release could result in foreseeable harm.

DOJ’s argument: “The proposed amendment is unacceptably damaging to the proper administration of FOIA and of the government as a whole,” which is bureaucratese for something like “What unhinged transparency nut came up with this crazy presumption of openness idea anyway?”

That would be Obama, whose FOIA guidance on his first day in office back in 2009 was the blueprint for the presumption of openness language included in the bill. Perhaps DOJ thought it had to save Obama from himself?

DOJ’s fearmongering won out and the bill died. Two years later, Congress eventually passed a much weaker FOIA reform bill, but it did include the presumption of openness DOJ had previously fought against. We’re still waiting for the “government as a whole” to collapse.

 

The Outrageous Fee Award: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services

When public agencies get requests for digital data, officials can usually simply submit a query straight to the relevant database. But not in Missouri apparently, where officials must use handcrafted, shade-grown database queries by public records artisans.
At least, that’s the only explanation we can come up with for why the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services estimated that it would take roughly 35,000 hours and $1.5 million to respond to an exceedingly simple request for state birth and death data.

Nonprofit Reclaim the Records, whose name pretty eloquently sums up its mission, believed that a simple database query combined with copy and paste was all that was needed to fulfill its request. Missouri officials begged to differ, estimating that it would take them the equivalent of a person working around the clock for more than four years to compile the list by hand.

Although the fee estimate is not the highest the Foilies has ever seen — that honor goes to the Pentagon for its $660 million estimate in response to a MuckRock user’s FOIA request last year — Missouri’s estimate was outrageous. Stranger still, the agency later revised their estimated costs down to $5,000 without any real explanation. Reclaim the Records tried negotiating further with officials, but to no avail, as officials ultimately said they could not fulfill the request. Reclaim the Records has since filed a lawsuit for the data.

 

The Dehumanization Award: New Orleans City Marshall

Public officials often dehumanize the news media to score cheap points, but can the same ploy work when fighting public records requests? That’s the issue in a very strange case between the IND, a New Orleans media outlet, and a city marshal. After the marshal lost his bid to keep records secret in the trial court, he appealed on the grounds that IND had no right to bring the lawsuit in the first place.

The marshal, who faced fines, community service and house arrest for failing to turn over records, argues that Louisiana’s public records law requires that a living, breathing human make a request, not a corporate entity such as IND.

Make no mistake: there is no dispute that an actual human filed the request, which sought records relating to a bizarre news conference in which the marshal allegedly used his public office to make baseless allegations against a political opponent, Instead, the dispute centers on a legal formalism of whether IND can sue on its own behalf, rather than suing under the name of the reporter. The marshal’s seemingly ridiculous argument does have some basis in the text of the statute, which defines a requester as a person who is at least 18 years old.

That said, it’s an incredibly cynical argument, putting the letter well over the spirit of the law in what appears to be a well-documented effort by the marshal to violate the law and block public access. We hope the learned Louisiana appellate judges see through this blatant attempt to short-circuit the public records law.

 

The Lethal Redaction Award: States of Texas and Arizona

BuzzFeed Reporters Chris McDaniel and Tasneem Nashrulla have been on a quest to find out where states like Texas and Arizona are obtaining drugs used in lethal injection, as some pharmaceutical suppliers have decided not to participate in the capital punishment machine. But these states are fighting to keep the names of their new suppliers secret, refusing to release anything identifying the companies in response to BuzzFeed’s FOIA requests.
At the crux of the investigation is whether the states attempted to obtain the drugs illegally from India. At least one shipment is currently being detained by the FDA. The reason for transparency is obvious if one looks only at one previously botched purchase the reporters uncovered: Texas had tried to source pentobarbital from an Indian company called Provizer Pharma, run by five 20-year-olds. Indian authorities raided their offices for allegedly selling psychotropic drugs and opioids before the order could be fulfilled.

 

The Poor Note-taker Award: Secretary of the Massachusetts Commonwealth

Updates to Massachusetts’ public records laws were set to take effect in January 2016, with Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin tasked with promulgating new regulations to clear up the vague language of the law. But Galvin didn’t exactly take his duty seriously. Instead he crafted a regulation allowing his office to dodge requirements that public records appeals be handled in a timely fashion. But no regulation could take affect without public hearing. So he went through the motions and dispatched an underling to sit at a table and wait out the public comment — but didn’t keep any kind of record of what was said. A close-up captured by a Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism reporter showed a pen lying on a blank pad of paper. Asked by a reporter about the lack of notes, the underling said, “I was just here to conduct this hearing. That’s all I can say.”

 

The Foilies were compiled by EFF Investigative Researcher Dave Maass, Frank Stanton Legal Fellow Aaron Mackey, and policy analyst Kate Tummarello. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a San Francisco-based nonprofit that defends civil liberties at the crossroads of technology and the law. Read more about EFF and how to support our work at eff.org.

 

This report was republished under a Creative Commons license.

AG Sessions likely to prioritize Christian right’s agenda

When President Donald Trump spoke to the National Prayer Breakfast this month, he underscored his vow to advance the interests of conservative Christians who helped propel him to power.

Now, those voters expect the Justice Department under new Attorney General Jeff Sessions will reposition itself as a champion of what they see as religious freedom but progressives see as a license for faith-based institutions to discriminate.

Exactly how Sessions will approach the issue remains to be seen, but he has given them plenty of reasons to be hopeful.

As a Republican senator from Alabama, Sessions, a devout Methodist, argued the separation of church and state is unconstitutional, and that the First Amendment’s bar on an establishment of religion has been interpreted too strictly, while its right to free exercise of religion has been diminished.

Asked at his confirmation hearing whether a “secular person” has “just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious,” Sessions replied, “Well. I’m not sure.”

That backdrop suggests Sessions’ Justice Department could more eagerly insert itself into religion-oriented cases such as that of the bakery fined for refusing to make a gay wedding cake or the high-school football coach fired for praying on the field after games, who Trump repeatedly mentioned during his campaign.

Sessions could bring major changes throughout the Justice Department.

But the department’s civil rights division traditionally is subject to the most radical shift in agendas with each change in presidential administration.

Where the Obama Justice Department wanted to leave its mark on reforming troubled police departments, Sessions will likely use its resources differently.

On his first full day on the job, Sessions signaled a shift away from Obama priorities when the Justice Department changed its legal position in a case involving transgender rights.

The department is no longer asking a judge to limit an injunction restricting the federal government from telling schools that students should be able to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity.

Transgender rights were a focus of the department under former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who sued the state of North Carolina over a bathroom bill that the government said discriminated against transgender people.

It’s unclear exactly what priorities Sessions will pursue when it comes to the civil rights division. The Justice Department declined to comment on his plans for enforcement of religious freedom. He has faced intense criticism of his record on civil rights with regard to race.

A renewed focus on religious causes would be “especially troubling in light of the fact that increasing numbers of Americans are not religious,” said Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University legal expert on religious liberty. “This landscape is radically different.”

But it would help satisfy Trump’s campaign promise to his Christian political base.

While the appointment of Sessions is a promise fulfilled, some religious conservatives remain concerned that Trump won’t deliver. When he was Indiana’s governor, Vice President Mike Pence signed a religious freedom law intended to allow discriminate against LGBT people.

Trump has not signed an executive order to boost protections for those with religious objections to gay marriage and create a working group within the Justice Department to protect “the religious freedom of persons and religious organizations.”

Groups ranging from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to Sasser’s First Liberty Institute have launched campaigns urging Trump to enact “protections” for religious objectors to laws such as gay marriage and abortion.

Sessions’ civil rights division could bear a close resemblance to that of the Bush administration, which took a keen interest in matters of religious freedom.

The department could insert itself in federal lawsuits on behalf of faith-based groups, among other actions. For example, it could aggressively enforce the provision of the Civil Rights Act that bans workplace bias based on religion and also a law designed to let churches and other religious institutions skirt zoning restrictions, which the Obama administration used to sued several cities that refused to allow the construction of mosques.

Said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the anti-LGBT Liberty Counsel: “You’re going to see a big effort to protect religious freedom. It’s a welcome change.”

Play of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ coming to Broadway

A new British stage adaptation of George Orwell’s chilling dystopic novel 1984 is coming to an America where issues of “newspeak” and surveillance are quite relevant.

Producers Sonia Friedman and Scott Rudin said the play will open in June at the Hudson Theatre. Nominated for an Olivier Award, it was created by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. No casting was revealed.

First published in 1949, Orwell’s classic tale of a society run by Big Brother in which facts are distorted and suppressed in a cloud of “newspeak” has topped the Amazon.com best-seller lists.

The renewed interest comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s unfounded allegation that millions of illegal votes were cast against him last fall and an adviser coining the phrase “alternative facts.”

The creative team for 1984 includes Chloe Lamford (Scenic & Costume Design), Natasha Chivers (Lighting Design), Tom Gibbons (Sound Design) and Tim Reid (Video Design).

As opposition builds, Pence says his vote will confirm DeVos

 Vice President Mike Pence said he fully expects billionaire GOP donor Betsy DeVos to be confirmed as education secretary with his tie-breaking vote.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Pence said the Trump administration is “very confident” DeVos will take up her Cabinet post soon.

At least two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, say they will vote against DeVos’ nomination, citing concerns from parents and teachers.

This means opposition is at a 50-50 tie in the Senate if all Democrats vote against her and no other Republicans dissent.

Pence would be the tie-breaker.

DeVos has faced fierce criticism from labor unions for her promotion of school choice. Democrats and teachers’ organizations also accuse her of seeking to dismantle public education.

The Senate vote is Tuesday and Democrats are set to challenge the nomination and question DeVos’ credentials throughout Monday night.

In Wisconsin, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin issued a statement in January saying she will not support the nomination.

Baldwin said, “Wisconsin has a long and proud tradition of supporting quality public education for every student. In fact, from our beginning in 1848, the state constitution provided for a free education for all children in the state. This is a tradition I have a deep respect for and have worked to move forward. It is very important to me that our next Secretary of Education respects this tradition and is committed to it, but after meeting with Betsy DeVos, and participating in the hearing as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, I don’t believe she does.

“Nor do I believe she is qualified to lead America’s efforts to give more students access to a higher education. We have a student loan debt crisis in our country and this nominee did not earn my trust that she is prepared to act and make higher education more affordable for students and families.

“In addition, it is deeply troubling this nominee for Secretary of Education failed to complete her ethics homework and address in a transparent and timely way over 100 potential conflicts of interest prior to last week’s committee hearing. Important questions and concerns remain for Betsy DeVos, which is why I have joined my colleagues in calling for a second committee hearing that would ensure that these and other important issues receive the scrutiny that they deserve.

“Betsy DeVos lacks the public education experience and qualifications for this job and she would not rule out defunding public schools. For all these reasons and more, I will not support Betsy DeVos’ confirmation to be our next Secretary of Education.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, however, is a likely vote for DeVos — his campaigns have received $49,000 from her family, according to End Citizens United.

Multiple petitions and call-in drives are underway urging Johnson to vote against confirmation or to recuse himself from the vote.

Walker says White House interested in Wisconsin anti-union law

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said this week that he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence about how the White House can implement on a federal level parts of the Republican governor’s contentious measure that all-but eliminated collective bargaining for public sector unions in the state.

Pence, when he was governor of Indiana, frequently sparred with public employee unions and only awarded pay increases to state workers who received positive performance reviews.

And President Donald Trump has talked about wanting to weaken collective bargaining protections for federal workers.

Walker’s claim to conservative fame is he severely restricted union power in the state.

The Wisconsin law passed in 2011 barred collective bargaining over working conditions or pay increases greater than inflation, for most public workers while requiring them to pay more for health care and pension benefits.

The fight over its passage led to protests as large as 100,000 people and Walker’s recall election in 2012, which he won. Walker was the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall attempt.

Now the governor is talking with those in the Trump administration about “how they may take bits and pieces of what we did” with the union law and civil service reform and “apply it at the national level.”

“It’s something the vice president has brought up before,” Walker told reporters following a speech in Wauwatosa.

The AP reports that union membership in Wisconsin has dropped 40 percent since the law passed. In 2016, 8 percent of Wisconsin’s public and private-sector workers were in a union, below the national average of 10.7 percent.

“I don’t think that the model that Scott Walker has put forward is a model for success,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. “That’s the model that the Koch Brothers have tried to spread everywhere.”

Charles and his brother David Koch operate one of the most powerful conservative groups in the nation and have supported efforts across the country to curtail union rights.

Trumka said collective bargaining is the best way to ensure workers get fair wages.

“If you’re going to get workers a raise you have to give them the right to collective bargaining unless you’re willing to impose a straightjacketed minimum wage on everybody,” Trumka said.

 

Draft order exposes White House plan to license anti-LGBT discrimination

The White House this week said it would not roll-back Obama administration protections for LGBTQ people employed by the federal government or its contractors. However, the statement from the Trump administration provided no comfort in the wake of a rash of discriminatory executive orders signed by the president in his first weeks in the Oval Office.

More orders may come, as hundreds of draft documents are circulating at the White House, including one reported the week of Jan. 30 that would allow people to discriminate based on religious beliefs and values.

Such an executive order “is a charter for widespread and divisive discrimination, against LGBTQ people and frankly against everyone. It is designed to destroy lives and roll-back fundamental rights,” the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Force said in a statement Feb. 1.

The White House, on Jan. 31 said Donald Trump would keep Barack Obama’s directive protecting LGBTQ employees of federal contractors. “President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election,” the statement read.

The statement runs contrary to Trump’s actions. He chose for his vice president Mike Pence, whose political record against LGBT equality goes back years and who, as governor of Indiana, signed legislation to sanction faith-based discrimination.

Trump’s cabinet picks include a mix of right-wing conservatives with anti-gay records and positions, including Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos, as does his nominee for Supreme Court.

Also, says Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin, the administration has not answered whether it will rebuff requests from the Christian right for an order sanctioning their discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Griffin was referring to media reports of a draft “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom” order that would allow an unprecedented expansion of tax-payer funded discrimination.

“The leaked draft of Donald Trump’s License to Discriminate order is sweeping and dangerous,” Griffin said. “It reads like a wishlist from some of the most radical anti-equality activists. If true, it seems this White House is poised to wildly expand anti-LGBTQ discrimination across all facets of the government — even if he does maintain the Obama executive order.”

Griffin added, “If Donald Trump goes through with even a fraction of this order, he’ll reveal himself as a true enemy to LGBTQ people. We’ve already seen that the Trump administration is willing to go after women, immigrants, people of color and most frighteningly, people who disagree with him. If this version is true this could represent another chilling attempt to go after LGBTQ people, federal employees, employees of federal contractors and people served by federal programs funded with taxpayer dollars.”

ABC News obtained a copy of the four-page draft order and reported that it also would allow companies to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage as part of employee health plans and allow tax-exempt entities — such as churches — to engage “on moral or political issues from a religious perspective” without fear of losing their tax status.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said such an order would go against the Constitution.

“It has long been established that our Constitution protects the free exercise of religion, but those protections do not create the right to cause harm to others,” Nadler said on Feb. 1. “Protections for religious freedom must be shields to protect the practice of religion, not swords to enable one person to force his or her religious beliefs on others. No matter how sincerely held a religious belief may be, employers — including the federal government — must not be permitted to wield them as a means of discriminating against their employees or against those they serve.

Unprecedented number of LGBT youth crisis calls reported after election

Contacts to The Trevor Project’s crisis services programs — by phone, chat and text — reached unprecedented levels in the days following the election.

At the Trevor Project, the nation’s only accredited suicide prevention program for LGBTQ youth under 25, young people are heard from every day.

But the volume surged 116 percent in the two days after election and the organization heard from person after person about fears and anxieties about the election results, which are sending Donald Trump to the Oval Office and Indiana’s Mike Pence, famous nationally for his anti-gay beliefs and policies, to the vice president’s office.

Among the topics raised by LGBTQ youth are worries that:

• Their rights will be taken away.

• They might be forced into conversion therapy.

• They could lose their health care, and more.

Several youth reported concerns about their safety and new reluctance about coming out.

Anxieties like these have been shown to contribute towards increased thoughts about suicide.

“The Trevor Project was prepared for an increase in crisis contacts following the election, but the amount we received was unprecedented.  The level of anxiety young people are expressing since the election is at an all-time high,” said Abbe Land, executive director and CEO of the organization.  “But knowing that we are here 24/7, to listen to and save the lives of LGBTQ youth, many of whom have no other place to turn, reminds us of the importance and necessity of The Trevor Project.”

Land continued, “The Trevor Project is determined to work diligently to lead the new Administration and Congress towards policies and laws that are supportive of LGBTQ people and their mental health.  We will be at the table with our LGBTQ peer organizations and our partners fighting violence, deportations, police profiling, and other intersecting issues, providing guidance and support to lawmakers and agencies so that the youth of our great nation will be safe and will continue to thrive.

 

On the web …

For more information, visit www.TheTrevorProject.org.