Monday, July 31, 2006

"We have a way of doing things here, and it's not going to change to accommodate a very small minority."

From this Saturday's New York Times:

GEORGETOWN, Del. - After her family moved to this small town 30 years ago, Mona Dobrich grew up as the only Jew in school. Mrs. Dobrich, 39, married a local man, bought the house behind her parents' home and brought up her two children as Jews.

For years, she and her daughter, Samantha, listened to Christian prayers at public school potlucks, award dinners and parent-teacher group meetings, she said. But at Samantha's high school graduation in June 2004, a minister's prayer proclaiming Jesus as the only way to the truth nudged Mrs. Dobrich to act.

I'm sure you can guess what happened next. The good people of Georgetown Delaware realized that their behavior was unconstitutional (not to mention exclusionary and rude), apologized to the Dobriches, and changed their ways.


Actually, the Dobriches were threatened and her son was ridiculed for wearing his yarmulke and called "Alex the Jew." At one school board meeting, where Ms. Dobrich spoke about the need for policies that did not exclude people based on faith, another speaker said, "If you want people to stop calling him 'Jew boy,' you tell him to give his heart to Jesus."

This quote from a local resident seemed to sum up the community's attitude:

"We have a way of doing things here, and it's not going to change to accommodate a very small minority," said Kenneth R. Stevens, 41, a businessman sitting in the Georgetown Diner. "If they feel singled out, they should find another school or excuse themselves from those functions. It's our way of life."

Friday, July 28, 2006

Yes, Virginia, the ACLU Represents Christians

I'm sure those of you who have been at all public about your support of the ACLU have encountered those people who think the ACLU is anti-Christian. (I swear there are times when I've told strangers where I work that they've looked at the top of my head for horns. Thankfully my new ACLU baseball cap hides them well.) While we know all know that's false, it helps to have some facts to back it up. Here's a site put together by a volunteer ACLU attorney with a list of cases the ACLU has done that actually support Christians: ACLU Fights for Christians.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Miltary's new "Don't Act, Don't Tell" policy

Although the military's idiotic policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is anything but funny, I couldn't help but laugh at this paragraph in a NY Times article today about a decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist who was dismissed from the U.S. Army under the policy:

On Dec. 2, investigators formally interviewed Copas and asked if he understood the military's policy on homosexuals, if he had any close acquaintances who were gay, and if he was involved in community theater.

What, no questions about liking Barbara Streisand?

More on the EC controversy

The Patriot News today is all over the controversy involving a rape victim who could not get emergency contraception at a hospital in Lebanon. The paper's coverage includes a front page story (with insight from SF guest blogger Dr. David Toub), an editorial headlined Added Trauma, and a column by Nancy Eshelman. Eshelman's piece includes this:
I'm old enough to remember when birth control was scarce and legal abortion nonexistent. Trust me, we don't want to go back there.

I hope younger women realize how hard some of their moms and grandmas worked to change the rules. Do the young women who have never known a world without the pill, the patch and freedom to choose understand that there's a serious move afoot to steal what they take for granted?

Meanwhile, the editorial board nailed it about the doctor in question:
We respect his personal views, but question how physicians with such strong moral opinions on a particular issue can operate effectively in an emergency room environment where life-and-death decisions must be made quickly and other urgent steps taken that affect a patient's health, mental well-being and future circumstances. Physicians who feel their principles might be compromised in these situations should stick to a specialty or family practice.

Andy in Harrisburg

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Rape victim denied emergency contraception in ER

Guest blogger: Julie Petrella, Director, Duvall Reproductive Rights Project of the ACLU of PA

Yesterday's Harrisburg Patriot News had an appalling article about a rape victim in Lebanon County whose ER doctor refused to prescribe her emergency contraception (a higher dose of regular birth control pills) because of his religious beliefs. The victim was eventually able to obtain a prescription from her gynecologist, only to find that the local pharmacy was out of the medication. She had to travel from eastern Lebanon County to Reading to get the prescription filled.

To add insult to injury, here's what Dr. Joe Kearns, former medical director of Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon, had to say:

"People drive to Reading to buy jeans. Even if that were the case, that you had to drive to Reading to get this [prescription], to me that does not rise to a compulsion that you have to pass laws that [doctors] have to do something."

I am struggling to understand how a woman--who has just been raped!--would find a trip to Reading to get a prescription for emergency contraception (EC) similar to a road trip she might take with her girlfriends to buy a new pair of jeans.

The notion of some healthcare providers that their refusal to provide a crucial, time-sensitive medication to prevent pregnancy is merely an expression of their personally-held religious beliefs and of little consequence to their patient is false. Healthcare providers have a professional obligation to their patients-an obligation that trumps their own personally-held beliefs and requires that they act in accordance with the beliefs of their patients. Creating obstacles for women to prevent pregnancy after a sexual assault is cruel and deplorable.

A woman who has recently been raped, who has suffered physical and emotional trauma, and who is fraught with worry about being impregnated by her attacker would probably find that an extra 45 minute drive (if you have a car!) to another pharmacy is not exactly a fun road trip. I'd even be so bold to say that the woman might feel re-victimized by the systems in place designed to care for her after her trauma, as they have forced her to take additional steps to get EC. One might presume that someone in the health care profession would be in tune to this. Sadly, in Pennsylvania and across the U.S., health care providers are acting in ways that harm their patients rather than help them.

When physicians, pharmacists, and other health care professionals protest the passage of state laws that would ensure comprehensive medical care for rape patients in hospital emergency rooms-including the option to receive emergency contraception--they ignore their own hypocrisy. They don't want the government to force them to provide services they don't believe with but want to deny services to their patients that their patient believes in.

In typical Daily Show form, Jason Jones highlighted this double-standard when he interviewed an Illinois pharmacist, Ron Stevens, in an episode this past winter. Mr. Stevens felt victimized by Illinois law requiring him to fill prescriptions for the morning-after pill and stated, "I think the governor is forcing my hand on this issue." Jason Jones retorts, "How dare the government make a moral judgment over you?! You're the one supposed to be doing that to the woman!"

Until Pennsylvania passes legislation like the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies (CARE) Act, emergency room doctors will continue to be afforded the opportunity to pass moral judgment over women in their most vulnerable states.

If you'd like to find out if your local emergency room provides emergency contraception to rape victims and what you can do on this issue, click here.

Lancaster: Another welcoming city

Nice to see Lancaster on the list as a city that is open to all.
Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray said the (Hazleton) ordinance is "insensitive."

"I think Lancaster has a rich cultural heritage, and many of those who contributed to the area came here as Pennsylvania Dutch," he said.

"So Lancaster natives should be more sensitive to those who want to maintain their culture but do not yet speak English."

Gray said many legal citizens aren't fluent in English and should not be subjected to higher scrutiny.

Andy in the HBG

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Calling a spade a spade

Edit: Maybe using the "-ist" word is a little too harsh. Let's just say that Seate knows racism when he sees it.

Mike Seate of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review calls out the anti-immigration crowd for what it is today with an assist from the AG's office:
Despite census estimates of a maximum of 50,000 illegals statewide, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli claims the number of illegal Mexicans living in Pennsylvania is five times that.

"They're responsible for most of the rapes and serious crimes in this part of the state," said Morganelli, who operates an anti-immigrant Web site.

U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart's Internet site claims at least 100,000 illegals are in our midst, and the Bradford Woods Republican warns that "many are engaged in criminal activity."

If you listen to these folks, you'll have trouble opening a bag of potato chips or putting on your ball cap without first shaking out dozens of knife-wielding, crime-crazed illegal immigrants.

Worse yet, blaming immigrants for crime is one of the oldest -- and, unfortunately, most effective -- campaign tools in the political arsenal.

Seate didn't use the "R" word, but he walked up to the line.
One person speaking sense on this issue is Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for state Attorney General Tom Corbett. After declining to speculate about the number of illegals allegedly invading our state, Frederiksen said, "Whether or not a person has illegal or legal immigrant status does not really factor into whether they're a criminal."

Mike Seate, Pgh Tribune Review: Does PA need a border patrol?

Andy in H-burg

At least we won this coin toss this time

I'm beginning to wonder if Arlen Specter flips a coin every morning when he wakes up to decide whether he'll be on the side of civil liberties or against them. (On the bright side, our opponents must be just as confounded by him as I am.)

Just recently, Specter reached a "compromise" with Vice President Cheney that produced a piece of legislation that gives the president a blank check to spy on Americans without a warrant and without mandatory judicial review of his actions. (FYI, it looks like this terrible legislation will be up for a vote this week.)

But just yesterday, Specter announced that by the end of this week, he would will have a bill ready that would allow Congress to sue President George W. Bush in federal court over his signing statements.

Signing statements, at least the Bush administration's version, seem to be presidential equivalent of crossing your fingers behind your back when signing a bill into law. According to the American Bar Association (which just released a report strongly criticizing this practice), Bush has issued over 800 of these statements.

Homemade brownies for the person who can provide me a coherent explanation of Specter's actions.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Victory! Voting Rights Act renewed

How sweet it is in these often dark times to report good news. On Thursday, the Senate passed the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, a week after the House did the same, and President Bush has said that he will sign it. Attempts to amend the act failed.

Soak in some good news for once!

Andy in Harrisburg

"like spoiled rich kids..."

From the "what I missed on vacation" file, here's Bob Herbert's column from last Monday's New York Times, "The Definition of Tyranny." Unfortunately, you need Times Select to get it, but here are a few snips:
The Bush-Cheney regime believes it can do whatever outlandish things it wants, including torturing people and keeping them incarcerated for life without even the semblance of due process. And it's not giving up. The administration now wants Congress to authorize what the Supreme Court has plainly said was wrong. White House lawyers, in a torturous (pun intended) interpretation of the court's ruling, seem to be arguing that the kangaroo courts, otherwise known as military commissions, will be quite all right if only Congress will say so.

They're not all right. They're an abomination (like the secret C.I.A. prisons and the practice of extraordinary rendition) that spits in the face of the idea that the United States is a great and civilized nation.

"Can you imagine if the Hamdan decision, among others, had gone the other way?" said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been waging an extraordinary fight to secure basic legal protections for prisoners at Guantanamo. "I mean we'd be looking at a dark nightmare."
There is every reason to be alarmed about the wretched road that Bush, Cheney et al. are speeding along. It is as if they were following a route deliberately designed to undermine a great nation.

A lot of Americans are like spoiled rich kids who take their wealth for granted. Too many of us have forgotten -- or never learned -- the real value of the great American ideals. Too many are standing silently by as Mr. Bush and his cronies engage in the kind of tyrannical and uncivilized behavior that has brought so much misery -- and ultimately ruin -- to previous societies.

Andy in the HBG

Welcoming the stranger at the camp in the woods and in Scranton

So I've been spending the day catching up on all that I missed during a week's vacation. In light of all of the immigration talk, I feel moved to share a vacation experience.

Even on vaca, sometimes it's not possible to avoid ACLU-related issues. A few years ago, we were in Puerto Rico visiting the in-laws, and although my spanish is extremely weak, I knew that the local paper was talking about the death penalty when it referred to la pena de muerte.

But on this vacation, I was pleasantly surprised and moved when the immigration issue came front and center. Each year we go camping at a Lutheran camp in Adams County. My family has been going there for more than 20 years, and I worked there in high school and college.

This year the camp was hosting a day camp for children of migrant workers for the first time. If you're not familiar with Adams County, it's orchard country, and there have been migrant workers in the area for as long as I can remember. Now many are staying, which has helped make the county one of the fastest-growing counties in the state.

Unlike Hazleton, the camp staff wasn't checking anyone's papers at the gate. The camp opened its arms to its neighbors, and after hearing about this and seeing it in action, I couldn't be prouder to be affiliated with the camp.

This is the kind of light in the tunnel that gives us hope in this work.

And how about Mayor Chris Doherty of Scranton giving the thumbs down to Hazleton and the thumbs up to creating a welcoming atmosphere in his city?
Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty will not follow Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta's lead in signing a controversial ordinance that makes it harder for illegal immigrants to work and live in the Luzerne County city.

"I am totally against everything that Lou Barletta is doing," Mr. Doherty said Monday. "Mayor Barletta is a good friend of mine and a great mayor. But on the issue of immigration, I disagree.

"We, in Scranton, will never do what he's done because my philosophy is one of welcoming people and we need to help people."

The Times Tribune: Doherty "totally against" Barletta

Andy in H-burg

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Guest Blogger: "Conscience"

Dr. David Toub is a member of the board of directors of the Philadelphia chapter of ACLU-PA. Check out his blog, david's waste of bandwidth.

There are many things that physicians are called upon to do that challenge their personal morality. Some might not agree that a 21-year-old woman with five kids living on medical assistance should have an infertility work-up when she does not conceive within 12 months. Some might not agree that a woman should receive an abortion, or even contraception for that matter. Some of my colleagues will neither perform abortion nor refer to a physician who offers the procedure. Some pharmacists will not fill prescriptions for emergency contraception (EC), because of a religious, rather than scientific, belief that life begins at conception.

I have a real problem with all of this, of course. Physicians should not impose their own morality upon their patients, period. Take the case of pharmacists who refuse to fill legal prescriptions for emergency contraception. For starters, they are interfering with the doctor-patient relationship. They are also stepping in and imposing their own medical judgment, which is neither appropriate nor in keeping with their non-physician role as pharmacists. Nothing against pharmacists---I come from a long line of them---but they are not accredited to render clinical judgment. So long as the prescription is legible, properly filled out and there are no contraindications such as known allergies, their role is to professionally fill the prescription.

And given all the misconceptions (no pun intended) regarding EC, it's may also be an issue for medications that actually are part of the medical abortion regimen. Misoprostol is an antiulcer drug that is part of two standard medical abortion regimens. It may also be used, however, as an adjunct to labor induction, and also to manage spontaneous abortion (miscarriage). Imagine if a woman presents to a pharmacy to fill a misoprostol prescription due to peptic ulcer disease. A pharmacist might suspect the woman is really going to use the medication as part of a medical abortion regimen and if that is not okay with his or her morality, refuse to fill the prescription. Despite the patient's protestations that she's taking it for ulcers. Mind you, she is also coming in with a valid, legal prescription signed by her doctor.

Similarly, many hospital emergency rooms decline to offer EC to women who have been sexually assaulted, despite the fact that this is considered standard care by several professional organizations. Again, here are health care professionals, my colleagues, imposing their own world view upon their patients.

I raise this issue, having read an interesting article in the Washington Post about a "right of conscience" for health care professionals. It goes beyond the more common issue of pharmacists refusing to fill EC prescriptions, raising scenarios like a reproductive endocrinologist refusing to provide artificial insemination to a lesbian. Of particular interest, the article also brings up the issue of anesthesiologists refusing out of conscience to attend executions by lethal injection.

Now, I think there's a difference between a physician refusing to officiate at an execution and a pharmacist refusing to fill a prescription for EC or for a drug that could be used in the context of medical abortion. Physicians and other health professionals have a primary duty to their patients. They may decline to perform a procedure, but must refer the patient to a colleague who does offer the procedure (pharmacists, however, have the responsibility to fill a proper prescription and not insert their clinical interests before that of the patient and her physician). Physicians, however, have no primary duty to the state in terms of supervising and assisting in executions. We're not talking about euthanasia, but state-run execution. It actually violates most physician professional codes of ethics to assist in an execution.

Still, issues of conscience remain contentious, and not easy to solve. My personal preference is to not inject my morality into the practice of medicine. We can't expect our patients to do what we would do ourselves. When we insert ourselves into the role of parent or deity, rather than physician, we overstep our boundaries and potentially violate our patient's autonomy and even their civil liberties.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Family values and a strong economy sound like comprehensive immigration reform

When rhetoric is flying about the harms of illegal immigration, and legislation is being proposed at federal, state, and even municipal levels to curb immigration, I start thinking in binaries to keep myself more sane. So, as I see it, immigrants are people; but from an administrative / legal standpoint, immigrants may be documented or undocumented. (And of course documented immigrants may be eligible to become citizens, meaning there are citizens who were once immigrants, but that kind of boundary-crossing just confuses things, and I'm trying to keep it simple here, so...)

Documented immigrants have legal rights to live and work in the United States. Factoid: Most immigrants enter the United States legally under family sponsorship. About 500,000 family members receive permanent residency each year through this type of sponsorship. Talk about family values: how about an immigration system that helps keep families together?

Then there are undocumented immigrants. These are folks who enter the country without legal documentation. In some cases, they may be seeking asylum from persecution in their homelands or refugees fleeing war or natural disasters. Hard to get your hands on your passport when you're life is being threatened. And, yes, among those who come without papers, some are crossing borders to find work that pays enough to support themselves and family back home. (If you have a chance to see it, I recommend Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary. A little corny on the title, but the content is good for understanding what some folks beyond the southern border go through to get to the U.S. and why.)

Point is, immigrant labor is supporting the American economy. 90% of the new job growth in 1996-2000 in 16 states, including Pennsylvania, was due to immigrants. Immigrant workers also pay income taxes and their employers pay payroll taxes. And, as Kenny B. pointed out, undocumented immigrants are already barred from all major public benefit programs in Pennsylvania. They are not eligible for cash welfare, food stamps, full-scope medical assistance, disability benefits or subsidized housing. So the argument that undocumented immigrants are draining public benefits just doesn't hold up.

As our PA legislators are holding immigration hearings over the next two weeks to figure out whether PA wants to play the feds and pass its own immigration laws, let's keep up the clear message that comprehensive immigration reform, as opposed to simply beefing up enforcement, can help us keep families together and keep our economy strong, too.

Jess in Philly

Monday, July 17, 2006

Guest Blogger: "Road Trip to Hazelton"

Our guest blogger is Kenny B., a proud ACLU member from Liverpool, PA.

Hazelton City Council recently passed an ordinance that would deny licenses to businesses that employ illegal immigrants, fine landlords $1,000 for each illegal immigrant discovered renting their properties, and require city documents to be in English only.

My wife and I took a trip to Hazelton on Thursday night in an attempt to observe the City Council meeting that would involve a vote on the "English only" ordinance. Neither one of us had been to the city before and we were surprised by how big it seemed after reading Mayor Barletta's description of it being "small-town America."

The building was filled to capacity long before we arrived so we moved to the font of the building along with three hundred or so other people. It quickly became obvious to me who the opponents to the ordinance were and that the supporters were standing across the street. It also was not a difficult decision for me to stand on the side of the street where the theme was not at all hostile or confrontational. Instead, we chose to stand among peaceful, friendly people who smiled at one another when they saw them. We stood among people who held their children's hands, and who hugged other people's children before complimenting them about their pretty dress or their sharp new Boy Scout uniform.

If your readers have not guessed it yet, no, we did not stand on the side of the street along side the man who held a sign that read, "If you can read this sign, thank a Marine." Although, my only temptation to walk over to that side of the street was to engage that man by saying, "As a veteran of the US Armed Services, I would like to read something to you." I then would have summarized an information sheet, while standing at ease, that identified what government benefit programs undocumented immigrants are eligible for which included no welfare, no food stamps, no social security, no medicare, and no unemployment compensation. I then would have asked the man to explain to me, as a fellow veteran, exactly how undocumented immigrants are a drain on local resources. I would have asked him what his problem was with people who are "legal" citizens, but grew up in a household that English was not the primary language spoken, although I'm pretty sure I already knew the answer.

This temptation to walk over to that side of the street was quickly subdued however, after I observed a former, local Bishop walk over to the former Marine and his friends. It was obvious that many of them were very familiar with the Bishop. They initially greeted him with smiles and outreached hands, but from the obvious change in the affect of their expressions, they did not appreciate his message. They became volatile and combative. I do not know what he said to them, but I admired him for at least trying to calmly communicate with the.

This morning I opened up an email that contained a photo of my 8 month old niece and me taking a nap in a hammock. I thought about how innocent and beautiful she was as an uncontaminated human being. For some reason, I had a flash-back to last night and those people across the street. It occurred to me that they are products of their own influences and contaminations. I then began to look at this issue from my professional perspective as a public school teacher. My God. Those people across the street have procreated. What are they telling their children about other children who have a darker complexion than them? What are they telling their children about other children who refer to their mother as "madre," or the sun as "el sol?"

I have been involved in public education for several years in both southern California and in several counties of Pennsylvania. I constantly am reminded how fragile and insecure teenagers can be. I can even remember my own insecurities as an adolescent filtering through all of the influences I faced in a public school while trying to establish some sort of identity. I can not imagine having to face those pressures while also being told by other kids, by my principal, by the former marine across the street, and even by my mayor, that I am an inferior citizen of this small, American town because it is difficult for me to identify the correct conjugation for a sentence in English.

After thinking about the shameful products across the street, I am comforted by one thing. I am comforted by the fact that not all people are content to produce hate. Not all people raise their children to exploit the differences in others as inferior weaknesses. This was so evident last night after the announcement reached the front of the City Council building that the ordinance was approved. Not one member of the congregation on the side of the street on which we stood became hostile. In fact, they began chanting, "USA, USA, USA," in a manifestation of their love for this country and their confidence that it is just. Some of them did not speak English very well but their faces conveyed warmth. Their smiles conveyed love. They embraced one another before being dispersed by local and state police. They held their children's hands. They exchanged spiritual salutations with their clergy men and women. I was thankful for whomever participated in the production of these people.

My wife and I spent much of the evening talking to a woman who has lived in Hazelton for over thirty years. As we walked away from the front of the building, she shook the hands of some of these people who were so peacefully going home. She then turned to me and said, "These people bring class to this city."

In my opinion, so does she.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Neither vacations or summer heat can stop us

I thought I'd send you all off for the weekend with some good news for a change. As you may know, the ACLU of PA has been holding a series of town hall meetings on the abuse of power. We had three this week - Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Allentown.

We were a little worried about turn-out in the middle of the summer, but I am happy to report that we set attendance records for events in these areas! In Harrisburg, we had 100, in Philly, 200; and in Allentown, 100 dedicated souls squeezed into a room intended for a crowd of half that size. That's 400 Pennsylvanians who took time from their summer festivities and braved the humidity to find out how they can get involved in the fight to stop this Administration's blatant abuses of power. So watch out, Washington!

If you live in the Pittsburgh or Erie areas, you have a chance to catch one of these town halls next week. If you live elsewhere in the state or for some other reason weren't able to attend one of these town halls, it's not too late to get involved! Watch this space for more details next week.

Sara in Philly

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Protect the vote

We've had multiple internal conversations here at the ACLU over the last 6-12 months regarding the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Key provisions of the act expire next year. For the most part, the conversation hasn't reached a simmer in the public. Until now.
Renewal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, once a sure thing, hit another bump Thursday as House Democrats threatened to vote against it if any changes by Southern conservatives were added.

I'm having a mind blank over why we needed the VRA in the first place. There was a group of people behaving badly, blocking the right to vote, that led to the VRA. Who was it? Oh, that's right. Southern conservatives.
"By passing this rewrite of the Voting Rights Act, Congress is declaring from on high that states with voting problems 40 years ago can simply never be forgiven," said Rep. Lynne Westmoreland, R-Ga.

How ironic. The same day that Rep Westmoreland said this, a federal judge blocked a photo ID requirement in- say it with me- Georgia.
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Georgia law requiring voters to present government-issued ID cards violated the United States Constitution by discriminating against minorities, the poor and the elderly.

E.R. Shipp of the NY Daily News nailed it:
There were already longstanding - and of course, totally off-base - Internet-fueled rumors that blacks would lose their voting rights in 2007. So it does not help that Congress has failed to renew key portions of the Voting Rights Act. They've had time to vote on flag burning and gay marriage, mind you, but not on this.

Here we Americans are preaching about, and dying for, democracy in Iraq and other foreign lands. But we have shown ourselves to be hanging-chad-challenged when it comes to carrying out elections. Think Florida. Think Ohio. Think Georgia, the state of my birth, where new rules requiring state-issued photo identification are expected to make it harder for rural, elderly and minority people to vote.

During the civil rights movement, people fought for the right to vote so their children and grandchildren wouldn't have to. Unfortunately, they do.

Andy in the HBG

More brain drain: From Hazleton to Baltimore

See? Now Hazleton Latinos are getting an open invitation to move to Baltimore.
I think we should invite all immigrants who feel unwelcome in Hazleton, Pa., to move to Baltimore, reclaim abandoned rowhouses and open up small businesses or go to work for employers here. Our Irish-American Democratic mayor has been far more welcoming than Hazleton's Italian-American Republican mayor, who is playing the most cynical kind of politics -- exploiting fears and prejudices to stir up the voters and make a name for himself in the national GOP.

PA's loss would be Baltimore's gain. And I'll keep having Ensure cocktails with my seasoned-citizen neighbors.

Andy in H-burg

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Warning: Reading this may cause increased risk of outrage

Wow. That's all I can say about some of what came out at yesterday's hearings on the treatment of detainees. From today's Washington Post:

As Congress opened hearings yesterday on the treatment of terrorism detainees, the Bush administration's view was neatly summarized by Steven Bradbury, the Justice Department lawyer serving as lead witness. "The president," Bradbury said, "is always right." Rest of article.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Same sex benefits make good business sense

When working on these various civil liberties issues, it's always good to have the business community on our side.
The latest indicator of the gay community's growing economic clout came Thursday in a report that found more than half of the nation's largest corporations now extend health insurance to employees' same-sex domestic partners.

The Washington-based Human Rights Campaign Foundation found that the number of Fortune 500 companies offering this benefit had doubled in six years, even as voters and lawmakers in 45 states registered their opposition to gay marriage.

Moreover, the report found that large firms had more readily granted benefits to their workers' same-sex partners than had state and local governments. More than 250 companies are offering that benefit this year.

"They are light-years ahead because corporate leaders are making these decisions purely on a business model," said Joe Solmonese, the foundation's president. "Looking at the buying power of the lesbian and gay communities and the need to attract a diverse and talented workforce, they've concluded that a fair and inclusive workforce serves them best."

I put that last part in bold because it is especially appropriate for Pennsylvania. I was born here and have lived in the state for 26 of my 33 years. Some of my co-workers moved here from out-of-state. But we are the exception, rather than the rule. PA is dealing with the phenomenon of "brain drain." Our most talented native young people are leaving the state. PA is the second-oldest state in the country.

Short-sighted political hacks don't understand that when they are hostile to gays and immigrants, they further depress the state by making it an unattractive place for people to live. If they continue with this hostility, Pennsylvania will continue to whither on the vine.

Andy in the HBG

Thursday, July 06, 2006


NY Times: Lady Liberty trades in some trappings
As the congregation of the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church looked on and its pastor, Apostle Alton R. Williams, presided, a brown shroud much like a burqa was pulled away to reveal a giant statue of the Lady, but with the Ten Commandments under one arm and "Jehovah" inscribed on her crown.

And in place of a torch, she held aloft a large gold cross, as if to ward off the pawnshops, the car dealerships and the discount furniture outlets at the busy corner of Kirby Parkway and Winchester that is her home. A single tear graced her cheek.

It was not clear if she was crying because of her new home, her new identity as a symbol of religion or, as the pastor said, America's increasing godlessness.

Andy in H-burg

When in doubt, scare people

The summer of our discontent officially kicked off yesterday in SoCal with the House Thugs and Hoodlums hearing on immigration. The title? "Border Vulnerabilities and International Terrorism." Remind me, how many of the Sept 11 hijackers came through the Mexican border? Oh, yeah, that's right, zero. And in 2000 when plotters who wanted to blow up LAX tried to come through the Canadian border (you know, the other border), they were caught.

From today's NY Times' editorial:
This novel approach to governing - seeking public input on bills after they have passed - reflects a cynical gamble that linking immigration and terror will upend the Senate bill and give House Republicans a short-term electoral boost.

Meanwhile, back East, Senator Specter held a hearing to support comprehensive immigration reform at the Constitution Center in Philly.
Specter presided at the hearing with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D., Mass.). Taking advantage of their location near Independence Hall, both men emphasized that America's founding fathers were immigrants. They also invoked their own immigrant forefathers. Specter's father, Harry, emigrated from Russia and served in the U.S. Army during World War I.

But the Times forewarns that Specter and President Bush might back down from the comprehensive approach:
President Bush, who addressed the nation in support of the Senate's approach to immigration reform, appears to be backing away from it. Mr. Bush is now said to be open to compromising on an "enforcement-first" approach, under which any of the more complicated parts of immigration reform would wait until the border was declared sealed, which could be in a year or two, or never. Arlen Specter, a main architect of the Senate bill, has sent similar hints about caving in to this approach, though he also held a dueling hearing yesterday to counter the House Republicans' hard-line message.

Mr. Bush has long talked a good game on the need for comprehensive immigration reform and the foolishness of focusing only on border security. But he is now at the head of a conga line moving backward.

I, for one, have had about enough of Specter backing down.

Andy in Harrisburg

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Guest Blogger: Alan Kennedy-Shaffer

Alan Kennedy-Shaffer is a native of Cumberland County and a 2006 graduate of Yale University. In the fall, he will begin law school at William & Mary.

"The respect they deserve"

Defying conventional wisdom, the defeat of several top Republicans in the primaries has apparently galvanized the outgoing leaders of the state legislature in their attempts to divide Pennsylvania along racial, ethnic, and class lines. By quietly amending HB 1569 to make English the official language of the state, the anti-immigration vigilantes hope to scare normally compassionate citizens into ostracizing illegal immigrants.

Working on a local farm picking strawberries alongside Mexican workers made me understand the value of diversity in an increasingly global society. Most illegal immigrants pay the same taxes, perform the same tasks, and love America as much as anyone lucky enough to be born in the United States. Why should immigrants not be afforded the same rights as the rest of us?

God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. This means breaking down the walls that divide us and embracing those of all backgrounds and all languages. I have faith that our elected representatives will ultimately accord all who call Pennsylvania home with the respect that they deserve. Let's just hope they do it sooner rather than later.

Monday, July 03, 2006

"Woeful lack of appreciation" for the Bill of Rights

I'd like to take today's editorial by the Patriot News of Harrisburg and read it out loud on every street corner and into every radio microphone that I possibly could. Read the whole thing, but here are two pieces:
There's a woeful lack of appreciation among both contemporary officialdom and ordinary citizens for the rights and protections accorded individuals in this country. Whether it is a flag-burning amendment, which plays to our emotional attachment to the flag and all it stands for, or the Bush administration's repeated circumvention of the courts to engage in snooping and wiretapping in the name of protecting the country from terrorists, there has never been a time in American history when the Constitution itself has been under greater assault.
But make no mistake. America's freedom, which is under obvious assault from forces in the world that want to do this country harm, is no less under assault by those self-appointed patriots who seem to think the Founding Fathers didn't get it right the first time.

In other words, the Constitution is under siege.

Andy in H-burg

Booyakasha! A Victory for PA Families!!

Something to be really happy about...

The PA General Assembly has failed to pass the proposed 'Marriage Protection' amendment, House Bill 2381, prior to the summer recess. One version passed the House in early June, and the Senate passed a slightly less evil version of the amendment a few weeks later. The House and Senate couldn't agree on an identical version to pass before breaking for the summer, so the legislation has failed.

Why is this so important?

In order for a constitutional amendment to be put before Pennsylvania's voters on a ballot, the amendment must pass both the Senate and House in two consecutive legislative session and it must have identical language each time it is passed. So this year (2005-2006) won't count.

And why is that so important?

Because now it can't get on the 2008 ballot, which we suspected was the driving force behind all of this nonsense anyhow.

Also, we know that all our calls, emails, and visits made a difference. We made the price much higher for passing this sort of legislation, and the legislature did not have enough support to go through with it.

So celebrate--have a great Fourth of July!!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Whoa, our precious flag

This is the weekend that thousands and maybe millions of American flags will be desecrated:

I hope Congress does something about it.

Seriously, celebrate our independence responsibly. Defend the Constitution.

Andy in Harrisburg