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Biden Disavows More Lockdowns -- So Fox News Straight Up Lies About It

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

President Joe Biden spoke to reporters on Monday, saying that the new omicron variant of COVID-19 was “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” and that the public response would be done “not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more.” Fox News quickly began spreading false claims that Biden was about to impose more lockdowns — in a disinformation campaign that has spread across the network’s purported “straight news” side and even to its financial news channel.

CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter noted in his daily newsletter that Fox’s coverage presents a significant obstacle for the Biden administration, expressly because it presents viewers with a diametrically opposite version of what Biden has actually said.

“The words ‘not with shutdowns or lockdowns’ have been baked into [Biden’s] public appearances. He could not be any more clear,” Stelter pointed out. “And yet Tucker Carlson told his fan base on Wednesday that ‘the Biden administration is once again locking down the country’ in response to the new variant. One of Carlson's banners said ‘POWER-HUNGRY DEMS WILL ONLY INTENSIFY LOCKDOWNS.’ So the president said A, but Fox says the president is doing Z. Is there any remedy for disinformation like that?”

It turns out that Stelter has actually understated the extent of the problem at Fox.

Here is Carlson’s entire Wednesday night monologue, with the comment about Biden “once again locking down the country” almost halfway through, and the chyron about Democrats being set to “intensify” lockdowns toward the end, mixed in with Carlson’s other pronouncements of an impending police state and his various denials about the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

Earlier, on the Wednesday afternoon edition of Fox Business’ Kudlow, the former Trump economic adviser and current TV host Larry Kudlow hosted former Florida Attorney General and Trump impeachment attorney Pam Bondi, for a conversation claiming that Biden was indeed going to pursue lockdowns. In addition, Bondi continued to rehash conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, while tying them to the supposedly imminent shutdown of the economy. (Ironically enough, the segment accused the White House and public health officials of “trying to create fear.”)

On the Wednesday night edition of Fox News Primetime, rotating host Pete Hegseth claimed that “Democrats are already using [the omicron variant] to jam through their pro-lockdown, anti-freedom agenda.”

And on Hannity, guest Donald Trump Jr. claimed that Democrats “want to implement more ridiculous lockdowns,” also attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci: “And as long as we keep giving that clown his 15 minutes of fame, the TV that he so desperately craves, we're going to be in these lockdown situations forever until we say enough is enough.”

Ivanka And Jared Lead Trumpsters In New 'Policy Institute' Grift

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

On April 13, Axios reported the launch of America First Policy Institute, a nonprofit self-described "research institute" with a $20 million budget and a roster of staffers drawn from among figures involved in scandal after scandal during Donald Trump's one term in the White House.

Axios said that the organization's mission is to continue and spread Trump's policies.

The list of former Trump administration figures involved with the institute is long as it begins its work, according to its website, to "conduct research and develop policies that put the American people first." The site also says, "Our guiding principles are liberty, free enterprise, national greatness, American military superiority, foreign-policy engagement in the American interest, and the primacy of American workers, families, and communities in all we do."

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump

Although they are not officially listed on the group's list of staffers, Axios' Mike Allen reports that Trump and her husband, Kushner, will serve as "informal advisers" to the organization. Both served in her father's administration as senior White House officials.

Like her father, Ivanka Trump during her time in the White House made millions of dollars in personal profit through business dealings involving the Trump Organization.

Among the highlights of her tenure as official adviser to her father were her hosting of an event on human trafficking that was boycotted by advocates who called them "a photo op"; her response to a question about her father's separation of immigrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border that the policy was "not part of my portfolio"; and her advice to people who'd lost their jobs during the pandemic to "find something new."

When her father was sued by New York Attorney General Letitia James for misusing funds raised by the Donald J. Trump Foundation to pay off business debts and promote his presidential campaign and was forced to pay a $2 million settlement, the attorney general's office announced, "Another stipulation ensures that Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump received training on the duties of officers and directors of charities so that they cannot allow the illegal activity they oversaw at the Trump Foundation to take place again."

Donald Trump tasked Kushner with coordinating the states' response to the coronavirus pandemic, a haphazard and poorly organized process that resultedin shortages of vital equipment as thousands of Americans were dying. Yet even as the death toll passed 58,000 on its way to more than 562,000 to date, Kushner appeared on Fox News and described his work as a "great success story."

Trump also put Kushner in charge of negotiating a Middle East peace plan, which resulted in an 80-page proposal and a map that was almost immediately rejected by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who called it "nonsense."

Brooke Rollins

Rollins, the president and CEO of America First Policy Institute, served as acting director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. In that role, she helped develop Trump's response to protests against racist police brutality: an orderthat referred to "instances in which some officers have misused their authority" and did nothing to address the systemic nature of police violence against Black people and other people of color.

Paula White-Cain

White-Cain is listed, on a page of America First Policy Institute's website that features Maya Angelou's advice "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time," as chair of the institute's Center for American Values.

White-Cain is a preacher of the Christian "prosperity gospel," the belief that God rewards believers with wealth, who served as Trump's spiritual adviser during his time in the White House. Among her speeches during that time were her prayer for Trump in 2019:

Lord, we ask you to deliver our president from any snare, any setup of the enemy ... Any persons [or] entities that are aligned against the president will be exposed and dealt with and overturned by the superior blood of Jesus. ... we come against the strongmen, especially Jezebel, that which would operate in sorcery and witchcraft, that which would operate in hidden things, veiled things, that which would operate in deception.

Linda McMahon

Linda McMahon, who led the Small Business Administration under Trump, is the chair of the board of America First Policy Institute.

Emails released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request showed that the Small Business Administration under McMahon held an event in 2017 at Trump's hotel in Washington, D.C., and instructed staffers to avoid letting on where the event was being held.

Larry Kudlow

Kudlow is vice chair of America First Policy Institute's board and chair of its Center for American Prosperity. He served as director of the National Economic Council in the Trump administration.

Kudlow is notorious for, among other things, his declaration in Feb. 2020 that the COVID-19 outbreak had been "contained" in the United States and that the situation was "pretty close to airtight." A month later, he advised Americans to "stay at work," despite the extremely dangerous risk of viral transmission in offices.

Pam Bondi

Bondi serves as chair of America First Policy Institute's Center for Law and Justice. A former Florida attorney general, Bondi was part of the defense team in Trump's first impeachment trial.

Bondi declined to prosecute Trump's for-profit university for fraud in 2013 despite dozens of complaints from Florida residents. At the same time, she received a donation from Trump for her reelection campaign. Trump eventually paid out $25 million in a settlement with students who said he had duped them.

As an adviser to Trump's 2020 reelection campaign, Bondi promoted lies about election fraud as it became clear that Trump was going to lose. She claimed without any evidence that "fake ballots" were cast for Joe Biden in Pennsylvania and that there was "evidence of cheating."

Jack Brewer

Brewer, a former member of the organization Black Voices for Trump, serves as chair of the institute's Center for Opportunity Now.

In August 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed insider trading charges against Brewer, alleging that he sold stock shares after receiving information that their value would drop.

In a speech that same month at the Republican National Convention, Brewer falsely claimed that Trump hadn't called white supremacists who rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 "very fine people."

Keith Kellogg

Kellogg served as acting national security adviser to both Trump and Mike Pence. He is the co-chair of the institute's Center for American Security.

In November 2019, Kellogg said of his involvement in a phone call during which Trump pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce an investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, "I heard nothing wrong or improper on the call. I had and have no concerns."

Rick Perry

Former Texas Gov. Perry, who served as Trump's secretary of energy, is listed as the chair of the institute's Center for Energy Independence.

As secretary of energy, Perry pressured the Ukrainian gas company Naftogaz to install one of his former political donors on its board of directors.

After Texas suffered dangerous blackouts during a major winter storm earlier this year, Perry said residents of the state would rather "be without electricity" than allow the federal government to impose more regulations on energy delivery.

John Ratcliffe

Ratcliffe, the co-chair of the institute's Center for American Security, represented Texas' 4th Congressional District in the House and was a staunch defender of Trump, later serving as his director of national intelligence.

Ratcliffe withdrew his first nomination for the position in 2019 after it emergedthat he had inflated his resume and lied about his role in convicting terror suspects when he was a federal prosecutor.

As director, Ratcliffe strategically released portions of intelligence assessments with the intent of harming Democrats.

The New York Times reported in 2020 that then-CIA director Gina Haspel opposed Ratcliffe's declassification of material out of concern that it "could jeopardize spies' ability to gather intelligence and endanger their sources."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Pam Bondi’s Convention Performance Reached New Level Of Absurdity

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

WATCH: Pam Bondi's speech during the Republican National Convention

You might have thought it would be hard to outdo the absurdity of Kimberly Guilfoyle screaming at the top of her lungs to an empty auditorium on the opening night of the Republican National Convention. But on Tuesday, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi reached new heights of absurdity in the second night of the event in a speech filled with unfettered hypocrisy.

Bondi returned to a theme of the Trump campaign that has largely been absent from the convention thus far: Joe Biden's supposed corruption. As one of Trump's lawyers during the impeachment trial, she tried to press the case against Biden at the center of the president's high crimes. Trump tried to get Ukraine to investigate allegations that Biden, as vice president, corruptly sought to have a Ukrainian prosecutor fired to protect his son, who was working on the board of the energy company Burisma in the region.

The allegations against the Bidens have been repeatedly debunked. It was Trump's demand that Ukraine investigate the matter that was deemed impeachable by the Democratic-led House of Representatives. Even one Senate Republican, Mitt Romney, agreed.

Nevertheless, Bondi had the gall to stand up at the RNC and deliver attacks on Biden that have been thoroughly debunked and scrutinized during the impeachment trial. Much of the information used to attack Biden was false Russian propaganda.

It's even worse than that, though. While she accused the Bidens of corruption, she stands credibly accused of a stark act of corruption herself — one that happens to involve Trump.

Here's what we know: In 2013, Trump donated $25,000 to Bondi's campaign as attorney general. Subsequently, she decided not to join a lawsuit filed by multiple states against Trump University, despite the fact that Florida residents had brought complaints to her office. It also turned out that the donation was illegal because the Trump Foundation cannot donate to political candidates; Trump said he paid $2,500 to the IRS to make up for the error. Trump would later settle that case brought by other states for $25 million.

It is, at the very best, a clear case of the appearance of corruption. It was certainly illegal. It may, in fact, have been the pure pay-for-play, quid pro quo, that it appears to have been. But regardless, the confirmed facts of the matter should be enough to make Bondi ashamed to associate with Trump ever again, and vice versa. Yet both have proved shameless.

But Bondi's performance is worse still. Because while she was railing against Biden for supposedly acting improperly with foreign governments, she has recently registered as a foreign agent of Qatar, a government that has been caught in its own corruption scandals. Under normal circumstances, a foreign agent working so closely for the president would be treated as a major scandal.

"I fought corruption and I know what it looks like, whether it's done by people wearing pinstripe suits or orange jumpsuits," she said, without a sense of irony. "But, when you look at Biden's 47-year career in politics, the people who benefited are his family members, not the American people."

This line was particularly egregious, given the fact that Trump's family members have been deeply involved in his administration. His daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner have high-ranking White House jobs, despite not having any qualifications for the roles. They have made millions on the side while serving in the administration. And while Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump were supposedly going to run the Trump Organization separately so as to avoid any conflicts of interest for the president, they have become prominent spokespeople for the Trump campaign. Both have had speaking roles at the RNC; Eric appeared shortly after Bondi.

And on top of all that, the president has been widely denounced for his use of federal government lands and buildings in service of the convention, blurring the lines between the administration and his campaign in a way that likely violates the Hatch Act.

So for Bondi to stand before the GOP and American people and attack Biden with charges of corruption, exploiting his government position, foreign entanglements, and nepotism, while ignoring much more egregious evidence implicating herself and the Trumps, was a startling act chutzpah.

Danziger: Reasonable Doubts

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at

The Trump Files: How His Huge Election Con Went Down

How did a vulgar, ignorant, racist, sexist blowhard come to be adored by tens of millions of Americans, many of whom believe he will save America, which he promises to do by overriding our Constitution?

The answer lies in the art of the con and the general failure of my peers in national journalism — with a few notable exceptions — to vet the candidate.

Donald Trump has done a masterful job of selling an image of himself that is contradicted by the public record including court and regulatory documents, his books and speeches and other verifiable evidence.

So as an antidote, here are some solid facts — a sort of quick tour of my book The Making of Donald Trump, which comes with 44 pages of source notes.

Overseas my book is getting more attention — and far more serious attention — than at home, which speaks volumes about the decline of serious journalism in America. The German language edition is titled Die Akte Trump, which translates as The Trump File.

From my Trump files:

Trump launched his campaign with fraud, as the Trump Tower crowd that interrupted him 43 times with applause on June 16, 2015, consisted of actors paid fifty bucks each;

For his whole life Trump has cheated workers, shortchanged small business owners and ripped off investors, as courts have determined in some of the 4,500 Trump lawsuits;

Trump put the life of a sickly infant, his grandnephew, in jeopardy for money, but sought mercy for a major cocaine trafficker who supplied him with his helicopters;

Trump and one of his sons asserted that the Trumps are genetically superior, so much so that they do not need to study, and Trump says he can learn everything a president needs to know about nuclear missiles in 90 minutes;

Under oath, Trump acknowledged committing sales tax fraud on $65,000 of Bulgari jewelry — and offense for which Ed Koch, then mayor of New York City, said Trump should have done 15 days in jail;

Under oath Trump couldn’t explain a basic financial concept that one my students can explain at the snap of a finger;

There is zero verifiable evidence Trump has ever been worth even $1 billion;

While claiming to be worth billions in 1990, Trump could not pay his bills;

Within a few days, Trump’s public statements of his net worth have varied by billions of dollars;

Trump testified that his net worth fluctuates depending on his emotional state, his feelings — a statement that if uttered by a random patron at a bar would be regarded by many people as indicative of delusions;

While stiffing more than a hundred small businesses serving his Atlantic City casinos who were owed money for goods and services through four bankruptcy filings, Trump collected $82 million for himself;

Trump obtained about $400 million of government welfare for the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, a $102 million project in which he did not invest a penny;

In The Art of the Deal, Trump boasted of deceiving his partners — the Holiday Inn company — in building the Trump Plaza casino in Atlantic City;

Trump wildly overpaid two mob hitmen known as The Young Executioners for a tiny plot of Atlantic City land;

Trump planted news articles in the New York Post publicly humiliating the mother of his three oldest children, not once but repeatedly;

In middle age, Trump planted news stories about his imaginary celebrity lovers (Madonna, Kim Basinger, Carla Bruni);

When offered the opportunity by Howard Stern to set the record straight 17 years later, Trump doubled down on his childish fantasies about his imaginary lovers;

Trump — for broadcast – talked of his older daughter Ivanka as “a piece of ass” and said he would be dating her but for the fact that she is his daughter;

Trump posed for a photo with daughter Ivanka, then 15, his hands on her hips as they sat atop a statute of parrots engaged in sex;

By his own account, Trump walked in on naked girls as young as 15 at a beauty pageant he owned (remember all the outrage this year over transgender use of bathrooms?);

By the accounts of numerous contestants in other pageants, Trump also walked in on them naked or half naked;

Trump bragged on tape of sexually assaulting women, including the felony of grabbing them by their genitals, but after the first 11 women came forward to tell of such experiences with him, he accused them of being part of a conspiracy and vowed to sue each of them after the election;

Trump said one of the women, now age 74, was not attractive enough to molest;

Trump falsely claimed a degree from the Wharton School (a superb graduate business school) when he actually attended undergrad economics classes for two years; his bachelor’s diploma makes no mention of Wharton, only Penn;

Trump is in debt to the Bank of China, owned by the communist government in Beijing, through one of his business entities (he does everything through companies to avoid personal liability). Just ponder the volume and tone of news coverage if a Clinton or an Obama had a communist bank credit card;

Trump lawyer and accountant Jack Mitnick disowned Trump’s 1984 tax return, saying under oath that while his signature was on it, neither he nor his firm prepared that return, meaning that document is strong evidence of tax fraud;

That same return showed $0 business consulting income and more than $600,000 of expenses for which no receipts were produced, also strong evidence of tax fraud;

Trump appealed the 1984 state and city audits complaining of double taxation, while tax appeals judge Gregory Tilman, who ruled against Trump, wrote that he had sought zero taxation;

Trump is a material witness in a quarter billion tax fraud case currently in state court in Manhattan in which the main defendant is Felix Sater, a violent convicted felon;

Trump says he hardly knows Sater, even though Sater had an office in the Trump Organization, the two men traveled together for years, and were videotaped and photographed together repeatedly;

Trump refuses to release his tax returns because he says they are under audit, but will not even release the form letter proving an audit;

In a promotional video Trump said Trump University would provide a better education than the best business schools;

Trump broke laws of New York and other states that only allow authorized institutions to claim the status of a university;

Trump promised that he would personally pick faculty for Trump University to ensure that they were the best of the best, yet later under oath Trump had no idea who any of those faculty were — among them were a fast food manager, but not a single real estate expert;

His “faculty” stood over students helping them take on all the credit card debt banks would give them to pay tuition and other fees to Trump U., leaving them with no capacity to invest in real estate;

Trump charged $35,000 for a Trump University “education” that the Texas attorney general’s investigation found was worthless and taught illegal acts;

Trump promised to reveal his borrowing secrets, while I found the same “secrets” available for free on the Internet;

The Texas attorney general’s lawyers concluded that if sued by the state, Trump would have no legal defenses to civil fraud charges; Greg Abbott, then the attorney general and now governor, declined to sue and later got a $35,000 campaign donation from Trump;

Trump illegally gave $25,000 from his charitable foundation to the re-election campaign of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (charities may not donate to political campaigns);

At least nine times, Trump made illegal use of Trump Foundation money including paying personal debts, legal obligations and buying two paintings of himself; he also illegally solicited money (he recently stopped) and did not provide audited financial statements as required by state law;

Vendors who make Trump’s ties in China, air his television show, and maintain other business relationships with him are the source of most of the money in the tiny Trump Foundation ($1.3 million of assets in 2014);

Assuming Trump is worth $10 billion, the Clintons donate to charity at almost 1,000 times Trump’s rate when measured as a share of wealth. By the most generous measure of Trump’s statements, the Clinton donate to charity at 37 times his rate.

Former President George H. W. Bush and many other leading Republicans say they will not vote for Trump;

Trump promises to force the American military to torture suspected terrorists and kill their families, which would be war crimes;

“I love war,” Trump told a rally.

Trump claims “no one reads the Bible more” than he does, yet cannot cite accurately a single passage;

Trump calls himself a Christian, but in numerous forums rejects the teachings of Jesus Christ. He denigrates the communion host as “my little cracker.”

He calls those who turn the other cheek (Matthew 5) fools, idiots, and schmucks and said that his philosophy is revenge;

Trump says that ruining the lives of others makes him happy and he goes out of the way to make some people miserable;

Trump’s campaign statements show he does not know the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims, nor does he know that Sikhs are not Muslims;

Before he decided to run, Trump repeatedly praised Hillary Clinton as someone who would make a great president.

There are so many more examples of Trump’s outlaw conduct and outrageous behavior — and many of them can be found in my book, which could have been titled Everything Trump Wants to Hide From Voters.

IMAGE: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Fort Myers, Florida, U.S. September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, is the author of The Making of Donald Trump.

Florida AG Decided Not To Investigate Trump U. Days After Receiving A Solicited Donation From The Trump Foundation

This has the look of a good ol’ bribe.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi decided not to look into dozens of fraud allegations against the “Trump University” wealth seminar program after receiving a donation — which she solicited — from the Trump Foundation.

According to an Associated Press report from June, Bondi “personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates in 2013.”

Then, four days after Bondi’s office announced that she was looking into joining an investigation into the Trump University scam, “And Justice for All,” a group supporting her campaign for re-election, received $25,000 from the Trump Foundation.

Needless to say, Bondi never opened an investigation into Donald Trump’s failed seminar course. She endorsed the presumptive Republican nominee two years later, a day before Florida’s Republican primary. Bondi has denied any wrongdoing, calling the AP report “false and misleading.”

Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray told CNN that “While there was never an investigation, staff, doing due diligence, reviewed the complaints and the New York litigation and made the proper determination that the New York litigation would provide relief to aggrieved consumers nationwide.”

But trouble for Bondi is far from over. On Wednesday, watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), filed two complaints against her with the Florida Inspector General’s office and with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

The editorial boards of the Orlando Sentinel, the Miami Herald, and the Tampa Bay Times have all asked for an independent investigation into Trump’s donation to Bondi, and Boston attorney J. Whitfield Larrabee filed three ethics complaints against Bondi with the Florida Commission on Ethics, Florida Elections Commission, and Florida Bar. Larrabee is also pursuing a federal criminal bribery charge against Bondi, alleging that the donation was payment for not pursuing an investigation against Trump.

As is usually the case with Trump affairs, the water gets even murkier: The Trump Foundation is a tax-exempt charity, and tax-exempt charities are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign” under federal law. The Trump Foundation did not list the donation in its IRS filings, according to the Washington Post.

The Trump campaign called the donation a “mistake” and blamed clerical errors for not reporting it to the IRS.

Florida Among Nation’s Toughest States To Have Voting Rights Restored

By Dan Sweeney and Lisa J. Huriash, Sun Sentinel (TNS)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Commit any felony in Florida and you lose your right to vote for life — unless the governor and the clemency board agree to give that right back to you.

The result: More than 1.6 million Floridians — about 9 percent — cannot vote, hold office or serve on a jury, according to The Sentencing Project, a prison reform group. In most states, the percentage is less than 2.

Only two other states have that tough a policy.

Getting back those rights has become far tougher in the past four years. Under Gov. Rick Scott, 1,534 nonviolent felons had their rights restored. More than 11,000 others applied but are still waiting for an answer.

Under former Gov. Charlie Crist, the clemency board automatically restored the rights of nonviolent offenders who served their time — and a total of 155,315 got them back during his four-year term.

Now, some members of the Florida Legislature, as well as voting rights groups, are pushing a state constitutional amendment that would return the vote to convicted felons — except those found guilty of murder or sexual offenses — after they have served their time and completed parole and probation.

“After someone has served their sentence, they shouldn’t keep being punished for the rest of their life,” said Jessica Chiappone, a Boca Raton lawyer who chairs the political committee Floridians for a Fair Democracy.

Laws nationwide on whether convicted felons can vote vary widely. In Vermont and Maine, the currently incarcerated can vote by absentee ballot, while Florida, Kentucky and Iowa are at the harshest end of the spectrum, mandating that all ex-felons lose their civil rights until they petition to have them back. In other states, ex-felons generally get their rights back when they get out of prison or off probation.

Among Florida’s black population, one in four can’t vote, even though just 17 percent of the state’s population is black.

“The law has a disproportional effect on African-Americans,” said Erika Wood, a professor at New York School of Law who ran the Brennan Center for Justice’s right-to-vote project. “There are just dramatic numbers of people who are not eligible to vote because of this rule. It’s anathema to what our democracy is all about.”

But state Attorney General Pam Bondi, who rewrote the guidelines in 2011 to make them more stringent, does not see voting rights in the same light.

“This issue is about felons proving they have been rehabilitated before having their civil rights restored,” said Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray.

Rosalind Osgood had her rights returned in 2010. Today, she is a Broward School Board member and head of the Mount Olive Development Corporation, which provides assistance to needy locals.

But back in the late 1980s, she was a drug addict living on the streets, twice convicted for cocaine possession. “The more I started using drugs, the more I started needing more drugs,” she said.

Finally, after coming before a judge while pregnant, Osgood turned her life around. She started hitting 12-step programs and finished college. But she said she felt apart from society, unable to vote despite all the gains she had made.

“Our system is supposed to rehabilitate, to hold you accountable when you go against the law, but to rehabilitate you so you can come back into society,” she said. “I don’t understand why people’s rights aren’t restored. As CEO of the Mount Olive Development Corporation, it’s very hard for me to help people rebuild their lives when they run into these barriers.”

Civil rights can be restored only by the governor and Cabinet, who act as the clemency board and meet four times a year. The application process requires a five-year wait for less-serious felonies and seven years for others, along with an application form and, for each felony count, certified copies of the charging document, judgment and sentencing from the clerk of the county where the felony occurred.

“It’s time-consuming for people that are trying to make a difference and get back on the right track,” Chiappone said. “The system in place makes it easier not to fight that fight.”

It wasn’t always so difficult. In 2007, under Crist, Florida relaxed its rules as part of a nationwide trend. Before that, under Gov. Jeb Bush, sentencing forms were not required of people trying to get their rights back, and there was no wait period for the less-serious felonies.

But once Gov. Rick Scott and Bondi were elected in 2010, Bondi tightened the rules so they were tougher than under Bush.

“The proposed changes are intended to emphasize public safety and ensure that all applicants desire clemency, deserve clemency, and demonstrate they are unlikely to reoffend,” Scott said at the time.

Because Florida’s Constitution mandates that all felons lose their civil rights until the clemency board acts, the constitution would need to be amended for any change.

Floridians for a Fair Democracy plans a petition drive to make that happen.

Chiappone, the group’s chairwoman, served seven months in a federal prison in the 1990s on drug charges. But by 2008, she was in law school and hoping to pass the Florida Bar exam, which requires test-takers to have civil rights.

Chiappone said that she waited five years to have her rights restored. She said that the clemency board lost her paperwork, then the new guidelines came in, and the new rules applied retroactively.

“It’s incredible, the difficulties you face,” Chiappone said. “And if it’s about integrating people into society, it should be easier, not harder. It’s illogical.”

State Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) and state Rep. Clovis Watson (D-Alachua) agree. They have filed bills asking the legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2016 that would return the vote to nonviolent felons who have served their time and completed parole and probation.

Bondi’s office does not support these efforts, though the attorney general is open to some reforms. She supported a 2011 law that said state agencies can’t deny applications for licenses, permits or employment based on civil rights status. But private groups, such as the Florida Bar, can still require it.

That irks Chiappone and Osgood.

“If we want felons to be functional members of society, we can’t talk out both sides of our mouth,” Osgood said. “On one side, we want people to get jobs, and work and go to school, and earn their way and make a valuable contribution. But over here, we hold their purse strings, literally, when we don’t restore their rights.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Lawyers, Activists: Florida Law Firm Wrong In Advising Clerks Not To Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

By Steve Rothaus, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI – Leading LGBT activists and attorneys on Monday blasted a top Miami-based law firm for “an exaggerated warning” to county clerks that they could be fined or prosecuted for issuing marriage licenses Jan. 6 to same-sex couples.

“A law firm memo does not override a federal judge’s order and the actions of the 11th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, a major LGBT-rights lobbying group. “They’re actually exaggerating the risk on one hand and ignoring the extraordinary risk clerks will face in lawsuits and damages for violating the constitutional rights of every couple they turn away.”

Same-sex marriage is set to begin Jan. 6 in Florida, after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday evening denied Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s request to Justice Clarence Thomas that he extend a stay preventing the state from recognizing the marriages of eight gay and lesbian couples.

On Aug. 21, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee overturned Florida’s 2008 constitutional gay-marriage ban and stayed his ruling through Jan. 5, to give Bondi time to take the case to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The appeal still hasn’t been heard by that court, but on Dec. 3 three 11th Circuit judges told Bondi it would not extend Hinkle’s stay.

After the Supreme Court announcement Friday night, Bondi conceded in a statement that “the Supreme Court has now spoken, and the stay will end on Jan. 5.”

The hitch: Top law firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents the Florida Association of Court Clerks, has advised them that only the clerk in Washington County, in rural North Florida — named in Florida’s federal gay-marriage lawsuit — would be bound by Hinkle’s ruling. All other Florida clerks who are not parties in the lawsuit could face “a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment of not more than one year and a fine of not more than $1,000” if they went ahead and married same-sex couples, according to Greenberg Traurig.

At least one clerk, Linda Doggett of Lee County, said her office would abide by the Greenberg Traurig recommendation and not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Jan. 6.

“Per an opinion recently issued by the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers legal counsel, the Florida constitutional ban still applies in most counties including Lee County making the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses illegal for our office. The recent decision only affects the Clerk’s office named as a party in the law suit. Until a binding order is issued by a court of proper jurisdiction, the law is not changed,” Doggett wrote in news release Monday.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said Monday that Doggett is wrong, that Hinkle’s order “is worded not just to the named defendants but to anyone acting in concert or in participation with them. That applies to all state and local officials who have any role in enforcing Florida’s marriage laws.”

Minter says the Greenberg Traurig recommendation “doesn’t make sense.”

“The memo to the clerks is incorrect,” Minter said. “It’s a classic case of missing the forest from the trees. In light of the overwhelming weight of national authority, the federal district court’s ruling by Judge Hinkle and the 11th Circuit/Supreme Court denials of a stay, it is clear that clerks across the state and all state and local officials are legally bound to no longer enforce the discriminatory marriage ban once the stay expires at the end of Jan. 5.”

Minter co-represents Equality Florida Institute and six same-sex couples who in January 2014 sued Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin to issue them marriage licenses. He says the Greenberg Traurig memo has “sowed needless confusion.”

“The Greenberg memo focus on the entirely implausible threat of criminal prosecution. What it misses is the far greater likelihood, if not certainty, that clerks who fail to comply will be sued. Then they will be at risk for having to pay damages and attorney fees,” Minter said. “Those will come at taxpayer expense.”

Hilarie Bass, the firm’s Miami-based co-president, said in a statement Friday that “Greenberg Traurig is not advising the clerks as to the constitutionality of the Florida ban on same-sex marriage.”

Bass told the Miami Herald Friday that Greenberg Traurig actually supports same-sex couples’ right to marry and on Monday would file a friend-of-the-court brief in Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal “in support of two circuit court orders declaring unconstitutional Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage,” Bass said.

The friend-of-the-court brief will be filed on behalf of gay adoptive father Martin Gill, Bass said.

Bass and Greenberg Traurig, along with the ACLU of Florida, helped represent Gill in his quest to overturn a 1977 Florida law that prohibited gays and lesbians from adopting. Gill adopted his foster sons in 2010.

Photo: “orangejack” via Flickr