Indigenous Democrat James Singer challenging Orrin Hatch in 2018

james singer

Indigenous activist James Singer officially launched his candidacy for the United States Senate this week. He will be challenging Senate president pro tempore Orrin Hatch as a Democrat in the 2018 Utah race.

Singer is a 34-year-old Utah native who has spent his life fighting for equality, particularly for Native Americans. He was inspired to run for office by the sickening treatment of indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock, and what that said about the American political system.

“I was moved to action as I saw my Native sisters and brothers stand against an encroachment which threatened not only their inherent sovereignty, but also their humanity,” the Navajo Mormon wrote in a campaign mission statement. “These water protectors were pummeled with rubber bullets, sprayed with powerful water cannons in freezing temperatures, attacked with dogs, and shot with pepper spray, while bulldozers cleared away sacred land and burial sites so that a pipeline could be pushed through. The love of money by a small, but powerful few, is sickening to the rest of Americans, regardless of political affiliation.”

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Singer has crafted a platform that successfully combines economic populism with equality for marginalized Americans, something the Democratic Party has struggled with, especially in the past year with the failure of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Inequality “exacerbates racism and sexism” and “has a direct effect on many of the social problems we face in healthcare, education, and the environment,” says Singer.

Though Singer is clearly running a quite progressive campaign, he, like many other liberal candidates, is trying to brand himself as an outsider who does not fall into traditional partisan categories. In his mission statement, he criticizes both Democrats and Republicans, essentially saying that they have become one and the same by embracing corporate capitalism that exploits working Americans. Like Bernie Sanders, who Singer states he was inspired by, Singer ends his mission statement describing “A Future to Believe In” – “We can move towards a socially democratic future of shared prosperity, justice, respect, greater equality, and cooperation.”

Democrats have not seriously focused on Utah for many years now. Utah has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1970. No recent Utah Senate races have even been competitive. In 2016, incumbent Republican Mike Lee crushed Democratic challenger Misty Snow by a whopping 41 points. In 2012, Hatch crushed his opponent by 35 points. And the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has already announced that it plans to focus its resources on re-electing the 10 Democrats who are running in 2018 in states won by Donald Trump. As with other Democratic Senate candidates in red states, it seems that Singer must rely on grassroots liberal enthusiasm if he is to compete with Orrin Hatch, or potentially Mitt Romney or Evan McMullin, in 2018.

So far, Singer has raised almost $3000 of his $5000 Crowdpac goal. This is nothing compared to Hatch’s $3.5 million, but it’s a start. And even if Singer doesn’t win the seat or even secure the Democratic nomination, he is still doing important work as an indigenous candidate. At his campaign launch, he told the crowd: “In 2018, there should be native people running in every contest.”

Support Singer’s grassroots progressive populism by donating to his Crowdpac here!

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AU student creates website to ship your ashes to GOP if AHCA kills you

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Zoey Salsbury, a junior at American University, recently launched MailMeToTheGOP.com, a website that helps allow Americans to get their ashes sent to Republican congressmen who voted for the AHCA if “they die from lack of access to health care.”

“People will literally die,” Salsbury told The Huffington Post. “It’s really morbid and not fun to talk about. But that’s the reality of passing a health care bill like this.”

The AHCA, the bill House Republicans and Donald Trump crafted as the fulfillment of their “repeal and replace Obamacare” promise, passed the House of Representatives yesterday by only four votes. It is a wildly unpopular and cruel piece of legislation that would strip tens of millions of Americans of healthcare.

Vox explains the awfulness of the AHCA in detail here, but the biggest and most devastating difference between the bill that was passed yesterday and the initial version, which was so disliked in the House that it was never even put to a vote, is that it legalizes discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions. What counts as a pre-existing condition? The list is endless, ranging from HIV/AIDS to mental illness to alcoholism to cancer to being LGBTQ to “pending surgery or hospitalization” to being a survivor of rape or domestic violence. Yes, you read that right – according to congressional Republicans, rape is now a pre-existing condition.

In essence, the AHCA is a massive tax cut for the wealthy that would deny affordable coverage to the millions of Americans who most need it. The Republican Party has always been cruel, but it is still unbelievable that 217 GOP congressmen would vote for a bill that would quite literally end the lives of American citizens.

And that cruelty is what Zoey Salsbury is trying to emphasize through her new website. She even has a page that lists five “reasons why we will die.” It reads:

Reason #5

My combat tour in Iraq resulted in enough disability to make me uninsurable, but not enough to get all my healthcare through the VA. You killed me, you prick.

Reason #4

Asthma. I cannot afford to be in a high-risk pool and without health insurance, I will die of an asthma attack. I will die of an easily controlled incurable lung disease that affects millions. I hope my parents put my blue-faced body on Congressman Lloyd Smucker’s doorstep.

Reason #3

because you took away my fucking insurance

Reason #2

This morning, the House vote for the AHCA sent a strong message to my family – some of which who are your loyal constituents. Today, half of Congress made it clear that American lives are meaningless. Today, this vote said that funding the wealthy is more important than my father receiving insulin, my mother purchasing antidepressants, or me finding comfort and safety through assistance following on-campus rape. You are all meant to represent and serve the people, but today it was clear that you only serve yourselves. Today, I implore you think about what an American life is worth. I beg you to think of your family, your friends, and your fellow citizens. Worry about the future of your Senate seat as well as your conscience if you choose to push AHCA forward. If you want blood on your hands, continue to fight against the basic human right to public health. If you want to lose voters through death and poverty, push this through. But if you have any sense of morality and duty to this country, stand up for what is right. Vote no to AHCA and vote yes to the continued health and wellbeing of Americans. Be better.

Reason #1

I have incurable brain cancer. And if prices skyrocket and subsidies are hard to maintain it will shorted my already shortened life and put my family in significant financial jeopardy.

The website has a “send my ashes to the GOP” form where “donors” can fill out their information and even choose which Republican congressmen they want their remains to be sent to.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score has not yet been released for the AHCA, so we do not know quite how many more this version of the bill would leave uninsured than the last. But the reality is that if congressional Republicans get their way here, people will die. I will not be covered under the AHCA, and it’s fairly likely, dear reader, that you won’t be either.

Use this tool to find the phone numbers of your senators and demand that they reject the AHCA. You can use scripts provided by Bustle here or come up with your own. But take action. This is life or death.

Can 1,000 Democratic candidates take back the House?

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The House of Representatives had 435 seats, and they’re all up for grabs in 2018. Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to retake the majority. And with 1,000 Democratic candidates running next year, it looks like they might actually be able to do it.

Democrats have not had a majority in the House since the GOP landslide of 2010, where Republicans capitalized on the anti-Obama sentiments of their base and the fact that liberal voters tend not to show up on off-years to pull off a net sweep of 63 seats. That left Democrats with only 193 of 435 seats. Today, they still only have 194, though some special elections this year like Georgia’s 6th could potentially give the party an edge before the 2018 onslaught.

Most of this energy is coming from grassroots activists, who have formed organizations like Brand New Congress to replace corporate incumbents in the House with progressive outsiders. So it is not just your typical elite who was primed for politics entering these races; it is just your average dedicated American. The campaigns too are driven by grassroots enthusiasm, with much of the money coming in through crowdfunding, as has been the case with Jon Ossoff in Georgia and Rob Quist in Montana. With the DCCC and other national party organizations endlessly failing to invest in races the people care about, liberal activists have realized that if you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself.

According to VICE News, there has been an almost 60% increase from 2014 in the number of Democrats who have announced their candidacy at this point in the race. And this is just the beginning.

Incumbent Democrats and Republicans alike should be scared about next year. A new wave of enthusiastic citizens is coming, and it’ll be unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

Anti-LGBTQ executive order coming Thursday

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Chelsea Lauren / AP

On Thursday, May 2, the National Day of Prayer, Donald Trump is set to sign the anti-LGBTQ “religious liberty” executive order Christian conservatives have been begging for even since he took office.

The order will legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination on the basis of what conservatives call “sincerely held religious beliefs.” A draft of the order was leaked to The Nation less than two weeks into Trump’s illegitimate presidency, and was immediately met with terror and anger from the LGBTQ community. The Nation‘s Sarah Posner wrote of the “sweeping” order:

The four-page draft order, a copy of which is currently circulating among federal staff and advocacy organizations, construes religious organizations so broadly that it covers “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,” and protects “religious freedom” in every walk of life: “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”

[…]

Language in the draft document specifically protects the tax-exempt status of any organization that “believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology, or genetics at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.”

The order is modeled after similar “religious freedom” bills legalizing anti-LGBTQ discrimination, including the one pushed by Vice President Mike Pence during his time as Governor of Indiana. Pence has been one of the top Christian conservatives in the White House pushing for this executive order.

The leaked draft, which the White House claimed to be “one of hundreds circulating,” was criticized by legal scholars not just for its bigotry, but for its illegality.

“This executive order would appear to require agencies to provide extensive exemptions from a staggering number of federal laws—without regard to whether such laws substantially burden religious exercise,” Georgetown University Law Center professor Marty Lederman told The Nation. “The exemptions would raise serious First Amendment questions, as well, because they would go far beyond what the Supreme Court has identified as the limits of permissive religious accommodations.”

The Nation wrote that the order would likely violate both the Establishment Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, just as a federal district court ruled last year that a similarly-worded Mississippi bill did.

The drafted order, in essence, was “religious freedom” legislation on steroids. It would allow any – yes, any – person or organization to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the United States without any interference whatsoever from the federal government. It went so far as to create a new group in the Department of Justice specifically to protect “religious freedom.” So if that provision is kept in the new order, Jeff Sessions’ already unjust Department of Justice will be tasked with enforcing discrimination across the country.

Apparently, however, following the legal critiques of the leaked draft, Pence and other Christian conservative policymakers have worked to reword the order so that it may pass muster in court. Nonetheless, its discriminatory intent cannot be erased, which is why the American Civil Liberties Union had already promised to fight the order in court. But even if a court rules against the order, as has been the case with several of Trump’s other executive orders, Trump and his colleagues could take it to the Supreme Court, where the ideological balance has been shifted right with Trump’s appointee Neil Gorsuch.

Regardless of what comes out of the executive order, this is yet another reminder of just how difficult the battle for LGBTQ and abortion rights will be under Trump and the GOP. With both Congress and the Oval Office against us, we must always be prepared to defend our humanity and our right to exist as ourselves.

Democrat hoping to replace Chaffetz raises over $600,000

kathryn allen

Democrat Kathryn Allen has already raised over half a million dollars for her campaign to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz in Utah’s 3rd congressional district.

Allen created a Crowdpac for a potential 2018 campaign on February 11 of this year, but her campaign didn’t gain momentum until March 7, when Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz – best known for his obsession with persecuting Hillary Clinton – said regarding the GOP’s then-ongoing first attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare: “Maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”

Allen, a family physician, immediately contrasted Chaffetz’s words with her experience and compassion. “More medically trained people are needed in government,” read her fundraising page. “Congress is ailing and we have a prescription.”

Within just a day of Chaffetz’s insulting remark, Allen raised $40,000, a record for a Crowdpac campaign. At the time, her goal was $50,000. She promptly raised it to $75,000. The following day, her total was over $200,000 from over 5,000 individual donors.

By April 19, the day Chaffetz announced that he would not be running for re-election to the House of Representatives in 2018, Allen had raised over half a million dollars.

Allen was prompted to run by both Chaffetz’s awful performance in the House as well as Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory. She told USA Today: “I became very angry and interested in what I could do about it.”

The 63-year-old political outsider identifies as a progressive, but is running on a populist platform that uses nonpartisan language to appeal to all voters. This is incredibly important given that Chaffetz’s seat has not been won by a Democrat since 1994 and Donald Trump won the district with a 47% plurality to Hillary Clinton’s 23%.

“Coalitions of citizens are important for effecting change,” she writes in the 24-point principles section of her fundraising page. “It is my hope to bring together moderate democrats, moderate republicans, liberals, and concerned citizens of all stripes to fight against an administration which has threatened freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press.”

Her platform includes many popular bipartisan policies such as campaign finance reform, an end to gerrymandering, equal pay for equal work, healthcare as a right, and cuts to regulations that “hamper innovation and morale.” She even frames her progressive policies in in human rather than partisan terms, writing: “Empathy and respect should guide our interactions, even with those with whom we disagree.”

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the DCCC and other national Democratic organizations will contribute to Allen’s campaign, as they tend to focus on what they consider swing districts rather than traditionally red districts, as demonstrated by their lack of interest in Jon Ossoff in Georgia and Rob Quist in Montana. As with those two campaigns, Allen will have to depend on grassroots activism if she wants to flip Utah’s 3rd congressional district blue.

Donate to Kathryn Allen’s Crowdpac here!

Bigots like Ann Coulter don’t deserve platforms

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Conservative icons Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter.

Yet again, the Berkeley College Republicans invited a Nazi-aligned, immigrant-bashing, Muslim-hating, white, blonde conservative to speak at their campus. Yet again, the bigot was met with protests. Yet again, the protests resulted in the bigot canceling their appearance. And yet again, commentators from across the political spectrum are accusing liberal students of censorship, of stamping out “free speech,” and so on, and so on.

The speaker this time was Ann Coulter, a right-wing provocateur who actively courts neo-Nazis and advocated for the mass slaughter of Muslims as revenge for 9/11, among other things. Like Milo Yiannopoulos, the recently fallen star of the alt-right, Coulter and her words are not only inflammatory, but also dangerous. And that’s what should be at this heart of this “free speech” discussion.

Political commentators – who are, unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly white – always discuss “free speech” on college campuses in vague ideological terms. The argument is that even hateful bigots should be granted platforms as college speakers because free speech is an inalienable right. Supposedly, liberal protestors are being close-minded by trying to prevent hateful bigots from speaking. This, apparently, is censorship.

The funny thing is that these discussions only pop up in very specific cases – namely, protests of a conservative speaker by liberals concerned about bigoted and hateful rhetoric. But what about Fordham preventing the formation of a Students for Justice in Palestine group on campus? What about GOP lawmakers trying to criminalize protest altogether? What about police militarization and the surveillance state silencing people, oftentimes through violent means? Those things don’t become national headlines, they don’t receive hours upon hours of debate from conservatives and liberals alike, and why? Because white America doesn’t truly care about protecting hate speech; it cares about protecting its right to say whatever it wants, whenever it wants, wherever it wants, without any consequences whatsoever.

Let’s go back to earlier this year, when Milo Yiannopoulos was invited to speak at Berkeley by the Berkeley College Republicans, who seem to have a real fetish for neo-Nazis. Peaceful protests were invaded by anti-fascist activists who ended up throwing bricks and starting fires, causing Yiannopoulos to cancel his appearance. The media immediately went into an uproar about how liberals were censoring Yiannopoulos, but they forgot to truly examine why students protested him. It is not simply because he is a bigot; it is because giving a platform to his bigotry would put marginalized students in danger.

Yiannopoulos had previously used his college tour to out trans students, putting them at risk of violence and even forcing one to leave their school entirely out of fear. He planned to use his Berkeley appearance to out undocumented students, who are in even more danger now that the Trump regime has vastly expanded the powers of ICE. But all of this, the very real and immediate threat to marginalized students posed by Yiannopoulos’ hateful rhetoric, went ignored by the media in favor of a conversation of a distorted understanding of free speech. And the same is happening with Coulter, whose appearance was canceled due to fear of violence, despite intense police militarization against protestors.

This may all be theoretical to commentators, but it’s very real to the marginalized folks living in the United States who face discrimination, violence, imprisonment, and deportation.

Furthermore, denying bigots the right to endanger marginalized folks a platform is by no means censorship. Bigots already have endless platforms through which to spew their hatred. Though “safe spaces” are an easy target for critics of campus progressivism, bigots have a safe space in society. Even if they receive backlash for their words, the media will always come to their defense with the “free speech” argument, no matter how many marginalized folks are endangered by “free speech.” And with Donald Trump, the epitome of the white backlash to marginalized folks simply wanting white folks to stop being racist, in the Oval Office, this problem has been normalized to a degree we’ve never seen before in modern American society.

So maybe before you jump to defend the right of neo-Nazis to speak at college campuses, refocus the discussion on the people whose rights are actually at stake here: the marginalized. Yes, bigots deserve to be able to spew their bigotry, but it is our right to reject their bigotry, including by preventing them from using our platforms to further hurt the most vulnerable in our society.

Free speech isn’t free when marginalized folks have to pay the price.

Arkansas Double Execution: Public Safety or Politics?

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson with executed prisoners Jack H. Jones, Jr. and Marcell W. Williams
From left to right: Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Jack H. Jones, Jr., and Marcell W. Williams.

Arkansas has made good on its promise to execute Jack H. Jones, Jr., 52, and Marcel W. Williams, 46, on April 24. Now, opponents of the death penalty are protesting once again that Arkansas’ sudden surfeit of capital punishments is far more about politics than public safety.

After lethal infections were administered, Jones was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m. and Williams at 10:33 p.m. CDT at the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ Cummins Unit in Lincoln County. The inmates’ attorneys argued to no avail in their last minute court appeals that both men’s ill health made their executions cruel and inhumane.

One of Jones’ legs was amputated while he was on death row due to diabetes. Williams was also stricken ill with diabetes. At 400-plus pounds, Williams was morbidly obese, so his attorneys were concerned that his girth would make it difficult for executioners to find a vein to administer the lethal drug cocktails.

Their attorneys’ fears may have been realized. Of Jones’ reportedly “botched” execution, Democracy Now reported: “Infirmary workers had spent more than 45 minutes unsuccessfully trying to put a central line into his neck. According to a court filing, during Jones’s execution, he was ‘moving his lips and gulping for air,’ which suggests he continued to be conscious during the lethal injection.”

Williams’ attorneys argued in their last-minute appeal that he could face a similarly botched execution and painful death, and a district court judge at first agreed and issued a temporary stay of Williams’s execution. But, late on Monday night, the judge allowed the execution to proceed.

“In practice, the factor that overwhelmingly drives the death penalty isn’t the severity of the crime or the strength of the evidence. It’s politics—the politics of the county in which the murder trial takes place, the politics of the prosecutor and the politics of the state,” argued Radley Balko in the Washington Post last Thursday after Ledell Lee became the first person executed in Arkansas since 2005.

A week ago, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, vowed to execute eight inmates in 11 days before the state’s supply of midazolam, a medication used for anesthesia, runs out, reported ABC News. No other state has tried to execute so many inmates in such a short time since the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed the use of the death penalty in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. Hutchinson’s efforts were temporarily blocked by an Arkansas judge. But, last week the United States Supreme Court ruled that Arksansas’ executions could continue.

In 1972, the Supreme Court imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in its 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia. The debate revolved around whether capital punishment violated the constitution’s Eighth Amendment protections against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

In 1976, a majority of the court ruled that, while capital punishment was not considered to be cruel and unusual, care must be taken to minimize pain and suffering in executions. While William J. Brennan, Jr. also opposed the death penalty, only Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court’s first African-American justice, stated unequivocally in his dissent to the 1976 ruling: “The death penalty, unnecessary to promote the goal of deterrence or to further any legitimate notion of retribution, is an excessive penalty forbidden by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.”

In the ensuing years, states that used lethal injection rather than the electric chair or the gas chamber, developing complicated protocols to anesthetize inmates prior to the final administering of deadly drug cocktails. But in 2014, witnesses reported that Clayton Darrell Lockett writhed and bucked horrifically while having a heart attack on the gurney after being given untested drugs not previously used for executions in the United States.

That botched execution in Oklahoma renewed anti-death penalty advocates’ alarms about the drug cocktails used to execute inmates. Some states faced depleted supplies of anesthetizing medication—the very same drugs that Arkansas Gov. Hutchinson claims are running out in Arkansas.

Only 2 percent of counties in the United States house prisoners on death row. These very same jurisdictions have a disproportionately high rate of prosecutorial misconduct and police brutality, according to Balko. For him and other opponents of the death penalty, it’s not the nature of the drugs used to kill inmates that poses the chief problem. Rather, it’s the allegedly unfair politicization of execution whereby some prosecutors and politicians use capital punishment to increase their bona fides as anti-crime crusaders.

To be sure, Jones and Williams committed heinous crimes. Jones was convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 for raping and murdering Mary Phillips, a 34-year-old bookkeeper in Bald Knob, Arkansas, and beating her 11-year-old daughter, Lacey, almost to death. Jones knocked Lacey unconscious and left the girl for dead. But, just as police photographers were taking pictures of the crime scene, Lacey revived herself, reported CNN.

“In a letter earlier this month, Jones said he was ready to be killed by the state. The letter, which his attorney read aloud at his clemency hearing, went on to say: ‘I shall not ask to be forgiven, for I haven’t the right,’” reported ABC News.

Williams was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994 for kidnapping, raping, and murdering Stacy Errickson, a 22-year-old mother of two that Williams abducted just outside of Jacksonville. The victims’ families feel that both inmates long tenure on death row denied them swift closure. Just as Jones admitted to the crime and expressed remorse, Williams also accepted full responsibility for his crimes in front of the Arkansas Parole Board last month.

“I wish I could take it back, but I can’t,” Williams told the board, according to ABC News. But, neither men’s remorse prompted their victims’ families to offer forgiveness. Nor did the families report a sense of finality and closure. On the contrary, Philips family reported being traumatized by the appeals process as Jones’ death penalty case dragged through the system for 22 years.

Laura Santhanam noted in PBS Newshour that Arkansas’ recent executions politicize the death penalty in ways that ignore the controversy surrounding whether capital punishments give the families of victims closure. Santhanam contends that families still struggle with grief after inmates are executed and recurrent appeals in death penalty cases force families to relive aspects of the crimes in ways that re-traumatize them.

Furthermore, regardless of how grisly the crime or how deep the suffering of victims and their families, criminologists have long claimed that the death penalty is an expensive and weak deterrent for crime. 88 percent of the top criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent, according to the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Moreover, it costs upwards of $90,000 each year to house a prisoner on death row. Cases without the death penalty cost, on average, $740,000, while cases where the death penalty is sought cost $1.26 million because of extended appeals.

Few of arguments against the death penalty are likely to dissuade voters from re-electing Gov. Hutchinson. “Arkansas’ lull in executions wasn’t a major issue when Hutchinson ran for governor three years ago,” reported ABC News, “But as he prepares to run for re-election, there likely will be little political fallout from Hutchinson’s aggressive push for executions.” Unless a stay is granted by the courts, the glut of executions in Arkansas will continue apace with Kenneth Williams, 38, who is scheduled to be executed on April 27.