Friday, March 31, 2006

Looking for some laughs, a drink, and a chance to help a good cause?

Given that I've been too busy today to come up with anything particularly blog-worthy today, I thought I'd take this moment to invite you to the ACLU's Annual Defending Freedom Event. It's Thursday, May 11, and we'll be featuring a slide show from Tom Tomorrow himself. (You'll also have a chance to win a free autographed copy of his new book, Hell in a Handbasket.) We'll also be honoring the legal team from Pepper Hamilton who donated an amazing amount of time and resources to work on the Dover intelligent design case.

Tickets are $100 each and include an open bar and hors d'oeuvres. You can reserve tickets by emailing us at (Sponsorships are also available.) More information is available on our website.

This is one of our favorite Tom Tomorrow cartoons (what can I say, we're a little vain).

If you're in the area, I hope you'll think about attending. We civil libertarians need all the levity we can get these days. (And the company's not too bad, either.)

Sara in Philly

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Double Shot Tuesday

Pardon the lame classic rock radio reference.

We keep a tight eye on what's going on with Pennsylvania media, including the editorials of our state newspapers. PA editorial boards are often on the side of freedom, but it's relatively rare to see one knock out two base hits in a day. The Patriot News of Harrisburg did that on Tuesday.

First on immigration...
While polls suggest that most Americans oppose "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, the reality is that the country and these hard-working individuals who do much of the dirty work in this country would be far better off if the government's policy were directed at bringing these individuals in out of the shadows.

And then on the detainees at Guantanamo Bay...
The treatment of these detainees, who have been accorded neither the protection of the Geneva Conventions for prisoners of war nor the traditional law-based justice of American courts, represents one of the more egregious manifestations of the conduct of the war on terror. It has particularly inflamed our allies.

While the War on Terror is novel in many respects, America deeply tarnishes its own reputation as a country of laws and justice by consigning these individuals to legal limbo. The high court needs to rescue the country from the government's woefully mishandled treatment of prisoners.

No media outlet wants to be seen as favoring one side or another in the political arena, and the Patriot News at times annoys those on both the left and right, which probably means they're doing their job well. But there is one side that all newspapers should be on, and that's the side of freedom.

Andy in Harrisburg

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Son of Intelligent Design

Actually, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is more an outgrowth of intelligent design. The sons of intelligent design will be "sudden emergence" or "abrupt beginnings" or some other junk science that will be pulled over the public's eyes. If it looks like creationism, it smells like creationism, and it sounds like creationism, it must be intelligent design....or sudden emergence....or something.
Worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster - "Pastafarianism" as it is known to its adherents - began as a whimsical side dish in last year's standoff between advocates of evolution and intelligent design. FSM, as it is known to its followers, took shape in a protest letter to Kansas officials who were embroiled in a controversy about how to teach students about the origins of life. The parody religion leapt from those pages to become an Internet phenomenon, finding fans among supporters of the theory of evolution - and receiving e-mailed threats of bodily harm from evolution's opponents.

"I wrote the letter for my own amusement as much as anything. And it totally snowballed. Some people say I'm going to hell," says FSM's 25-year-old creator, Bobby Henderson, who recently moved from Oregon to Arizona, partly to escape the uproar.

It looks like the story behind the story all these months later is that proponents of intelligent design are a violent bunch. Judge Jones, the prophet Bobby Henderson...

Seriously, before anyone thinks I'm pimping for FSM, this is no disrespect to those who have faith. I'm a person of faith, for Buddha's sake. (Believe it or not, my faith is in the goodness of human beings, aka the true self, aka buddhanature. I know, read the newspaper and the goodness of human beings doesn't seem possible. Go ahead. Laugh.) It is disrespect, though, for the ID snake oil salesmen who try to claim that the "designer" could be anyone or anything. Fine, then make way for FSM. And don't forget Mike Argento's theory that cows think in spanish.

Andy in the HBG

Monday, March 27, 2006

It's Hard Out There For a Judge

Even a conservative judge...

The York Daily Record reported that Judge Jones needed U.S. Marshalls to protect him and his family when the verdict in the Dover trial was issued last December.

Pretty incredible (and scary). The YDR article also discusses the wider trend of right-wing demonization of judges and the judicial system.

Jones, a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, decided to speak publicly about the e-mails this week in light of recent reports about threats of violence against federal judges. He said statements made by "irresponsible commentators and political figures" have gotten so extreme that he fears tragedy.

"We're going to get a judge hurt," he said.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Pew Poll: gay marriage opposition drops, most oppose SD abortion ban

In a new poll released yesterday, a slim majority of Americans remain opposed to gay marriage, but that number has dropped from 63% to 51% since February 2004. Equally encouraging, those who "strongly" oppose gay marriage is down to 28%, from 42% in Feb.04.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the poll is the demographic in which strong opposition to gay marriage has seen the most significant drop. It wasn't young people. It wasn't Gen-Xers. It was the 65+ crowd. 33% of those 65 and older are "strongly" opposed. That's a 25 point drop from two years ago.

So Pennsylvania legislators can't even pick their divisive wedge issues right.

The poll touched on two other topics we care about here at the ACLU. 58% of those polled are against South Dakota's abortion ban, and Pew found an even split, 44-43, on the feds' policy of holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without charge.

(Kudos to firedoglake, which is where I first saw the story. FDL brilliantly framed it as a warning that some will dig for a new wedge issue to divide people: immigration.)

Andy in the HBG

4th Amendment: Battered but not broken

Well, it's nice to know that one branch of government still acknowledges the existence of the Fourth Amendment:
The Supreme Court narrowed police search powers yesterday, ruling that officers must have a warrant to look for evidence in a couple's home unless both of the partners present agree to let them in.

Washingt Post (by way of the Boston Globe): Supreme Court imposes new limits on police searches

Meanwhile, while on the Globe site, this headline came across:
Specter takes lead on Senate lead on eavesdropping

Being the curious type, I had to take a look. The Senate is trying to make Bush's illegal spying program retroactively legal, but, to Specter's credit, he's giving the administration a hard time.
"They want to do just as they please, for as long as they can get away with it," Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think what is going on now without congressional intervention or judicial intervention is just plain wrong."

Here's more on the two competing bills:
One bill, written by Specter, would require a secretive federal intelligence court to conduct regular reviews of the program's constitutionality. A rival approach -- drafted by Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine and three other Republicans -- would allow the government to conduct warrantless surveillance for up to 45 days before seeking court or congressional approval...
Specter's bill would require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to provide a broad constitutional review of the surveillance activities every 45 days and evaluate whether the government has followed previous authorizations that are issued.

DeWine, however, wants to give the administration as much as 45 days to operate without a court warrant. If at any point the attorney general has enough information to go to the intelligence court, he must.

Under that approach, Specter said the administration can still "roam and roam and roam, and not find anything, and keep roaming. ... I think that's wrong."

Andy in Harrisburg

Where have you gone, Bill Buckingham?

A nation turns its lonely eyes away from you.

Yesterday I talked with someone who played a role in the Dover intelligent design debacle. We were talking about another issue not related to ID, but we did share our thoughts on how much quieter things have been for this person in the last four months than they were the previous year.

As if on cue, today an article from Tuesday's York Dispatch was forwarded along about Dover's most famous theocrat, former school board member Bill Buckingham. Here are some of the juiciest tidbits:
(H)e still doesn't believe in the constitutional separation of church and state....

"He (Judge John E. Jones III) accused me of lying under oath and I didn't lie under oath," he said. "And if he's saying I lied, he's a liar. I did not lie under oath. I was a policeman for 10 years. I'm not that dumb. I did not lie under oath."

He said Jones doesn't know the law very well(.)

That last bit is just laughable. How can anyone who claims that separation of church and state is a "myth" accuse a federal judge of not knowing the law?

Mind you, B-Buck was on a school board that was pushing for the use of David Barton's book The Myth of Separation. Barton's book has been widely derided for questionable use of quotes by the Framers and maybe even flat-out inventing history that doesn't exist. For example, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty wrote this analysis of Barton's work:
Barton claims that 52 of the 55 signers of the Constitution were "orthodox" Christians and many were "evangelical Christians."

Barton does not cite any authority to support this assertion. Indeed, the weight of scholarly opinion is to the contrary...

Barton makes much from a statement attributed to John Quincy Adams to the effect that the principles of Christianity and civil government form an "indissoluble bond."

John Quincy Adams as the source of this remark is less than certain. The lack of quotation marks around Adams' supposed statement in its secondary source rendering leads one to believe that the statement is not attributable to him....

Barton says that John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States, desired that we should "select and prefer Christians" for office.

There are many problems with trying to leverage this statement into something more than it really is. While voters can choose their candidates for any reason they deem fit, the Constitution explicitly disallows any official religious test for public office (Article VI). In fact, that prohibition on a religious test is the only place that the Constitution even mentions religion.

Meanwhile, back to B-Buck, in the YD article he says, "Honestly, we thought we were doing something good for the students." Really? How is destroying the quality of their education "good for the students"?

As plaintiff Barrie Callahan said at the post-decision press conference, watch your school boards.

Andy in H-burg

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ain't Nothing But A (FOIA) Party

In response to last week's disclosure of spying on peaceful TMC activities in Pittsburgh, the FBI claimed that they were in the process of investigating individuals rather than groups. Of course, if you actually read through the released documents, it is clear the FBI's 'justification' (such as it is) is downright silly.

They gave us a good idea, though. Let's all start filing individual FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests and see what they really have on individual citizens. So we decided to host a series of individual 'File Your Own FOIA Request' trainings across Pennsylvania.

We have upcoming trainings in Philly on March 22nd and Pittsburgh on March 29th, with more to follow in other parts of the state.

I'm kind of curious to file one for myself. Not that I have an exaggerated sense of self-importance...I don't think I pose a great threat to the United State government. Then again, neither does the Thomas Merton Center.

Maybe it's kind of like your birthday. You think no one cares enough about you to get you something, and then SURPRISE!

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Friday, March 17, 2006


I think I've mentioned before that I like to reassure myself every once in awhile that other states are crazier than ours. Here's a great example. It's from Oklahoma (okay, I realize its shooting fish in a barrel to find something wacky in Oklahoma, but give me a break, it's a Friday.)

Ten Commandments bill OK'd
By John Greiner
The Oklahoman

March 13, 2006

State senators passed legislation today to help county officials who want to display the Ten Commandments on public property but fear lawsuits if they do. The purpose of the legislation is to provide financial resources so the American Civil Liberties Union does not intimidate county officials who want to erect a display of the Ten Commandments, Sen. James Williamson said.

Haskell County commissioners erected an 8-foot-tall granite slab displaying the Ten Commandments last year. The county has been sued by the ACLU on behalf of a disabled veteran.

The legislation would apply only to a display of the Ten Commandments and only if it is constitutional under U.S. Supreme Court guidelines, said Williamson, a Tulsa Republican who is running for governor. It would not apply to displays of other religions, he said.

I particularly enjoy the last part about how it doesn't apply to other religions. Yeah, that's SO constitutional.

Sara in Philly

Thursday, March 16, 2006

marriage "protection" (from what?!) moves out of committee

Yesterday, the PA House State Government Committee voted 15-13 to move HB 2381, the Marriage Protection Amendment, to the full House for a vote. A motion to table the bill so that the committee could hold hearings on the legal implications of the bill was narrowly defeated (14-14). Seems that our reps see no reason to do their homework before amending the constitution. (!)

HB 2381, as described in early posts, states that
Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this Commonwealth, and neither the Commonwealth nor any of its political subdivisions shall create or recognize a legal status identical or substantially equivalent to that of marriage for unmarried individuals.
Putting asside for a moment the fact that, in the words of Rep. Steil (R-Bucks) "the constitution is to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the governed against the government, [not] to define the rights of one individual to another individual." (i.e. this language doesn't belong in our constitution. Putting that asside, that "legal status identical or substantially equivalent" language could prove disasterous for many, many people (not just LGBT folks) who may lose health benefits, pension rights, hospital visitation privileges, etc, etc... But, we wouldn't want to find out what that language really means before it's inscribed in our constitution, would we? Guess not.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Muslims 'Rewarded' for Working for Peace and Interfaith Understanding

OK, as promised, I want to write a little more about the profiling of Muslims and Arabs in the recently released FBI investigation of the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh.

The following is included in the documents:
On November 20, 2002, SA [redacted] photographed TMC leaflet distributors at the Pavilion in Market Square, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. These photographs are being viewed by Pittsburgh IT specialists.

One female leaflet distributor, who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, inquired if SA [redacted] was an FBI agent. No other TMC participants appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent.
This situation really exemplifies the problem with racial profiling. Do they really think that would-be terrorists are going to risk leafleting in a public square? Or are all people of 'Middle Eastern descent' considered potential terrorists based on their appearance?

These documents also conclude that:
TMC advertises its activities on its webpage.
As a taxpayer, I'm pretty disturbed that someone probably got paid to figure that out. Also, the FBI notes:
On November 24, 2002, TMC coordinated the 8th Annual An-Nass (Humanity) Day at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh...The purpose of An-nass Day was 'to bring all people of Pittsburgh together in understanding and respecting each other and also to inform them about Islam and Muslims.'
It also names the Muslim contact person for the event, as well as their telephone number.
What does this teach the Muslim citizens of Pittsburgh? Is the lesson that they shouldn't hold interfaith dialogue? Or that they will be considered suspect for engaging in any political activity, regardless of its peaceful nature? How does any of this make us safer?

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

here's an idea: let's strengthen all families

by providing things like health care, social services, quality education and child care. Now, back to reality... and today's Philadelphia Inquirer article by the Pennsylvania Family Institute.
"Same-sex marriage" would not only change the definition of marriage, it would destroy it. With no real, fixed standard for the institution of marriage, legitimizing other unconventional unions, such as polygamy, could end up before the courts... By enshrining the definition of marriage in our state constitution, the very institution of marriage would be protected."

I returned to Philly today from the Rally for Equality all prepared to write an inspiring missive about the 300 activists, clergy and community leaders - from Erie to Allentown - who gathered in the Rotunda of the Capitol building today to demonstrate opposition to the "Marriage Protection Amendment." I thought I might quote Amy Sousa, of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence who commented that legislators "did get one thing right; marriage is under attack," but from violence and poverty, not "non-violent committed relationships." She was followed the Senior Law Center's Karen Buck, who was "outraged at the carelessness" of this legislation," pointing out that some of the most at risk are senior couples who can't re-marry, if they want to protect their pensions or property.

I thought I would write about the "mild mannered moms" that Dan Kohn from PFLAG says are getting up in arms at our legislators. These are the moms and grandmoms who call the PFLAG helpline to say "my daughter won't move back to PA, now" since she may lose rights and ask "how can my two sons have two different sets of rights...?" I thought I would mention a story from Harrisburg City Councilmember Dan Miller about rushing to the emergency room with his daughter, only to be barred from the examining room because he was not her legal father.

I thought I would write about watching all the activists set off from the Rotunda to meet with their legislators - in clerical collars, three-piece suits, goth black, and rainbow kepot - returning either triumphant and despondent.

and, then, as I rode my bicycle home from the Value All Families Coalition bus, I thought about the ten reps (Buxton, Josephs, Frankel, Leach, Pistella, Roebuck, Stetler, Veon and Conti [in absentia]) who showed their support for the rally. Ten representatives. And, then, I started to get pissed off. Where are the rest? Eighty-nine representatives are listed as co-sponsoring this piece of legislation. One is voting for it because his "wife told him to." Another hadn't neither read the text nor realized how it could strip residents of his county of their domestic partner benefits.

I am furious that my rights and those of my girlfriend and my community may be jeopardized because of the religious beliefs of a legislator or his/her spouse. I am angry that my girlfriend might not be entitled to health benefits because of a strategic move during an election cycle. I refuse to lose the power to foster kids because some rep went with the status quo and didn't even bother to read the text of a bill.

Today, Representative Dan Frankel asked "what is courageous about protecting the Constitution? My job is to protect the constitution ...not to amend it to discriminate against law-abiding people." Well, Representative, it seems like it is a courageous act to show up in support of LGBTQ folks and their families. I hope your colleagues can muster some up for this fight.

The folks who turned out today from across the state to speak their piece certainly mustered their courage. And, for that, in the words of ACLU-PA's own Larry Frankel: "I thank you, for fighting for what is right, what is just and what is really truely beautiful."

And, to the PA Family Institute: step away from my civil rights.

Amy Laura in Philly

A New Low: FBI Spying on 'Pacifists' in Pittsburgh

Apparently, peaceful opposition to the Iraq war poses such a threat to United States security that resources are being diverted from fighting terrorism in order to track pacifist groups.

The ACLU released new evidence today that the FBI is conducting investigations into peace groups based solely on their political views. We've seen tracking of groups before, of course, but these documents are the first to show conclusively that the rationale for FBI targeting was the group's oppostition to the war.

And where is this hotbed of 'pacifism?'

Steelers' Country, USA. Yup, none other than Pittsburgh, PA.

And who are they targeting?

The Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Justice, of all places. Check out their website...take a look around. You might agree with them, or you might roll your eyes at them. But do you REALLY think that they should be investigated under the rubric of 'Anti-Terrorism Matters?'

Sitting in the press conference this morning about these findings, which were in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, I felt myself getting a little emotional.

Maybe it's becuase I used to volunteer at the Merton Center in my student activist days. Something about seeing the people I knew and cared about under investigation for "advocation, among many political causes, pacifism" really threw me through a loop. Despite working for the ACLU (or maybe because of it), I cringe at a lot of civil liberties hysteria. For the first time, though, I can honestly say that I'm really starting to get creeped out.

Does the FBI really have nothing better to do than track Edith Bell, an 82 year-old Holocaust and concentration camp survivor?

We'll post more on this story tomorrow. I haven't even gotten into the evidence that the FBI was keeping track of how many Muslims were at Thomas Merton Center events.

In the meantime, check out some of these news links from Reuters and the AP.

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Friday, March 10, 2006

Time for a beverage-of-your choice

(Although I still don't buy the story from the guy whose dog had been enlisted by the CIA to help spy on him.)

I wonder if that guy tried to marry his dog.

But I digress.

We've had better weeks around here. The Patriot Act renewal and the Senate Intell Committee's decision to block any investigation of the NSA warrantless surveillance program are enough to make any civil libertarian run, not walk, to the nearest barstool to drink liberally.

But fear not, friends of freedom. There is plenty of work to be done. The more they push us down, the louder we become.

Rather than being a check-and-balance to the administration, it seems the Congress is more interested in getting decked-and-walloped by the White House. Thus, they've forced us to go to the third, co-equal branch of government, the judiciary. From the ACLU's press release yesterday:
Saying that the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping of Americans is flatly illegal and unconstitutional, the American Civil Liberties Union today asked a federal court in Detroit to block the program immediately.
"In America, no one is above the law, not even the president," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "The president's allies in Congress are preparing to cover up his illegal program, while others in Congress are standing on the sidelines. When the President breaks the law, Congress should not be giving him a get-out-of-jail free card."

Meanwhile, Senator Arlen Specter announced on Monday that he has introduced legislation, S2369 (pdf), to add further freedom protections to the Patriot Act, and his bill is co-sponsored by a bi-partisan group of senators. From Senator Specter's press release:
"This bill will be useful as a marker to promote further reconsideration of the provisions contained in the Senate bill passed last year," said Senator Specter. "There is always a balance to be struck between civil liberties on the one hand and sufficient power for law enforcement on the other. This legislation puts down a benchmark to provide extra protections that better comport with my sensitivity of civil rights."

Finally, the (Harrisburg) Patriot News recognized the need for full disclosure on the domestic spying program in an editorial today:
This program raises serious constitutional red flags and needs a thorough public airing to determine its legality as well as the range of its use. We urge U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who held the lone hearing as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to refocus on this issue and move forward with more hearings.

So buck up, amigos de libertad. As TJ said, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and eternity is a long, darn time.

Andy in the HBG

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Private eyes are watching you

When I first started working at the ACLU over eight years ago, I tended to roll my eyes when we got complaints about the government spying on people. Now, those complaints seem all too possible.(Although I still don't buy the story from the guy whose dog had been enlisted by the CIA to help spy on him.)

If you're interested in finding out whether or not one of those alphabet soup agencies (CIA, NSA, FBI-JTTF, DoD....) has its eye on you, you're in invited to attend one of our File a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act request) workshops. We hope to hold several of them around the state over the next few months. The first is scheduled for March 22 in Philadelphia. Check out our website announcement for more details.

Sara in Philly

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Guest Blogger: Dr. David Toub, M.D.

"A disaster waiting to happen"

This really pissed me off. Just consider what this elected official in South Dakota said, in response to a question asking for a scenario in which an exception for the life of the mother would encompass pregnancies due to rape or incest:
BILL NAPOLI: A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

Ridiculous ideas like this are not unique to South Dakota. There are movements on to declare Christianity a state religion, to ban contraception, pornography and abortion around a new Catholic University sponsored by the founder of Domino's Pizza, to ban contraception, etc.

Clearly religion is a main motivator of these efforts---I'm not seeing many calls to ban EC from people who belong to the Society for Ethical Culture. The idea that there is a defined beginning to life, namely at conception, is a religious and moral determination, not one that is scientific or medical. Medicine defines pregnancy in terms of an implanted embryo. A four-cell conceptus does not a pregnancy make, and discarding a four-cell embryo in an IVF lab is not murder nor is it abortion.

So the idea that EC and even all hormonal contraception is abortifacient is not grounded in science but rather in religious thought. The idea that a woman does not have a fundamental right to an abortion, even with certain restrictions, except when her life alone is in danger (and it's a wonder that even that exception was placed in to the SD law that was signed earlier this week) also has its roots in religion. I don't think the SD decision to ban virtually all abortion arises out of secular thought. It's certainly not something with a scientific or medical basis. Medically, we know that from a public health perspective, banning nearly all abortions is a disaster waiting to happen.

Not all religions would like to ban abortions. And even within denominations that officially are against reproductive choice, there are numerous people who are pro-choice. We need more of them to speak up, especially within SD. But perhaps the majority of people in SD really do want to ban abortion. In that case, perhaps they might have a different opinion in a few years after witnessing the consequences. And it really stinks for those women who would want to make the difficult choice to terminate their pregnancies if they also live within South Dakota.

I actually suspect that it will do nothing to reduce the number of abortions among women from SD. In fact, I'm very certain of it. We know from recent studies that parental notification laws have not led to any reductions in the abortion rate among minors. In the case of women within S. Dakota, many will either find a friend or physician to illegally terminate the pregnancy, find a way to go out of state where they can have a safe, legal abortion, or else discard the fetus once it has been born at home. All of these options are bad, especially the first and last.

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.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Tomorrow, March 8, marks the 35th anniversary of the break in of an FBI office in Media, PA, that lead to the exposure of the FBI's now-infamous COINTELPRO (counter intelligence program).

The occasion will be marked by an event in Media, PA, entitled "A Celebration of Democracy, Dissent, & Civil Liberties," at the Delaware County Courthouse, Front St. & Veterans Sq., in Media, PA, just across the street from the site of the Media FBI office 35 years ago, at 4 pm tomorrow (Wed.).

Featured speakers include Paul Hetznecker, human rights attorney in Philadelphia; Sara Mullen, Associate Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania (yours truly); and Max Obuszewski from American Friends Service Committee in Baltimore, MD, who was spied upon by the National Security Agency [NSA], and Beth Centz, co-founder of the Brandywine Peace Community, who was asked to be a FBI "informant" in the wake of the Media FBI break-in.

As you might expect, there might be just a few comparisons drawn between COINTELPRO and the current targeting by the government of anti-war groups and other critics of those in power. For a great resource about all the government spying, check out the national ACLU's website,

If you're interested in taking a look at what the FBI break-in uncovered, check out Brandywine Peace Community's website. Scroll down to check out the pdf (which is really large, I warn you) with copies of the actual stolen files.

Sara in Philly

Monday, March 06, 2006

Pittsburgh Annual Meeting with Nadine Strossen

If you live in the general Pittsburgh area (or feel like a road trip), you are invited to our Annual Meeting on March 26th at 1pm in the McConomy Auditorium (University Center) at Carnegie Mellon University.

The keynote speaker is Nadine Strossen, President of the American Civil Liberties Union and Professor of Law at New York Law School. Rumor has it that she will speak about 'current issues,' which is the formal way of referring to all the super-scary recent headline news.

So come if you can, and bring friends and family. No need to register--you can just show up. You don't even have to be an ACLU member (though we hope you will leave as one). And if that's not enticing enough, a yummy reception will follow.

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Financially responsible, retired schoolteacher TERRORIST!

When voices in the wilderness- like the ACLU, Democrats, and an increasing number of Republicans- cry out to put the brakes on the feds' abuse of power in the name of "security", we are told that this is a new kind of war and that the president can blow off "old law" to hunt the evildoers. We're told, basically, that the president can do whatever he wants in the name of protecting us and that "civil liberties don't matter if you're dead". If you're Bob Barr, Chris Matthews will say that you and your kind are "poor Republicans".

The fact that the government has spied on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Greenpeace, the Catholic Worker, and others who simply express themselves politically means little to that crowd.

Well, the Department of Homeland Security has found a new breed of danger lurking in the shadows of America:

Financially responsible retired schoolteachers.

It seems that Walter and Deana Soehnge of Rhode Island decided to do the responsible thing and paid off their JCPenney's credit card to the tune of $6522. But the payment was held up because it was higher than their usual payment, and this made Walter, a native Texan "madder than a panther with kerosene on his tail."
They were told, as they moved up the managerial ladder at the call center, that the amount they had sent in was much larger than their normal monthly payment. And if the increase hits a certain percentage higher than that normal payment, Homeland Security has to be notified. And the money doesn't move until the threat alert is lifted.

Walter called television stations, the American Civil Liberties Union and me. And he went on the Internet to see what he could learn. He learned about changes in something called the Bank Privacy Act.

"The more I'm on, the scarier it gets," he said. "It's scary how easily someone in Homeland Security can get permission to spy."

At this point, I could go off on a non-civil liberties rant about who benefits from Americans' deep debt, but we'll save that for some other blog. Just read all the dirty details from the Providence Journal.

How are the feds keeping us safe when precious resources are being wasted on this nonsense, a blatant invasion of this couple's privacy?

Andy in Harrisburg

Friday, March 03, 2006

And I thought the PA legislature was kooky...

Apparently some legislators in Missouri want to pass a resolution making Christianity the official "majority" religion.

"The resolution would recognize "a Christian god," and it would not protect minority religions, but "protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs."

The resolution also recognizes that, "a greater power exists," and only Christianity receives what the resolution calls, "justified recognition."

I always find it interesting that the same people who like to hearken back to the "original intent" of the Founding Fathers seem to miss the original intent of the Bill of Rights. (Hint: it's not to protect the rights of the majority.)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

All in the Family

Is it just me, or is this a disturbing letter? It's from our newest Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito to Focus on the Family's founder Dr. James Dobson.

Dear Dr. Dobson:

This is just a short note to express my heartfelt thanks to you and the entire staff of Focus on the Family for your help and support during the past few challenging months. I would also greatly appreciate it if you would convey my appreciation to the good people from all parts of the country who wrote to tell me that they were praying for me and for my family during this period. As I said when I spoke at my formal investiture at the White House last week, the prayers of so many people from around the country were a palpable and powerful force.

As long as I serve on the Supreme Court I will keep in mind the trust that has been placed in me. I hope that we will have the opportunity to meet personally at some point in the future. In the meantime my entire family and I hope that you and the Focus on the Family staff know how much we appreciate all that you have done.

Sincerely yours,

Samuel Alito
full article in Washington Post

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The plot thickens...

Surprise, surprise. Turns out that the Bush administration might not have been completely upfront about the extent of domestic surveillance. From today's Washington Post:

"Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales appeared to suggest yesterday that the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance operations may extend beyond the outlines that the president acknowledged in mid-December.

In a letter yesterday to senators in which he asked to clarify his Feb. 6 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales also seemed to imply that the administration's original legal justification for the program was not as clear-cut as he indicated three weeks ago." rest of article

Anyone interested in starting a pool on what unconstitutional privacy violation will be uncovered next?

Today is International Death Penalty Abolition Day

"My personal belief is that the heyday of the death penalty is over," said veteran Downtown attorney Caroline Roberto, former president of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers."

A February 27th Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article posits that while prosecuters still seek the death penalty at the same rate as years previous, the "growing number of prisoners freed by DNA testing and shifting social attitudes about the death penalty have caused juries to lose their taste for capital punishment."

Can it be that public opinion is shifting, finally questioning this system that is fundamentally flawed? The Central Pennsylvania Abolitionist shares the numbers:
"In 1994, Pennsylvania juries dispensed 21 death sentences. In 2003, six defendants in the Commonwealth got death, and in 2004, just four. Of course, there is one major problem. Pennsylvania has 225 people on death row, as of February 1. That's the fourth largest death row in the country."

So, on International Death Penalty Abolition Day, remember that we still have far to go on this one. We've been keeping you posted on the death penalty and mental retardation bills. Let's keep the pressure on.