Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Guest Blogger: Tommy Fitzgerald

Editor's note: When Tommy sent me this submission, I had to think about how this relates to ACLU issues. Eventually, the conclusion was reached that it's good for the public to see the day-to-day function of the criminal justice system. It's important for people to know what their government does in their names in order to reach a judgment on whether or not this is how we want government agencies spending their time. In a functioning democracy, it's probably best to err on the side of too much information rather than too little. --Andy in Harrisburg

Twas the Wednesday before Christmas!

Not all was quiet in my apartment! I was vigorously attacking the pile of unwrapped Christmas presents armed with rolls of wrapping paper and defiant scotch tape dispensers. The 48 day stint in County Jail, coupled with the 90 day house arrest, had propelled me into a frenzy of internet purchases. There I sat on the living room floor (cursing the defiant dispenser) when there was a loud insistent knock at my door. Much to my surprise, there stood (in all their finest) six members of the local Law Enforcement community. I was graced (?) with the presence of 2 Probation Officers, 1 County Detective, 1 Springettsbury Police Officer, and last but not least, 2 County Sheriffs.

The first emphatic comment (from the Police guy) was, that they couldn't read my apartment number because of the red Christmas Bow on the door. I pointed out that since apartments C2 and C3 were on the same floor, it would be obvious that C1 would be the door with the bow. Well, that started every thing off on a positive note! With badges dangling from around their necks on chains (looked like NYPD Blue on TV), they filed into the doorway like you would imagine Santa's helpers did on their way to work. The lady Probation Officer then questioned if there was any alcohol in the house and that she wanted to look into the refrigerator. I acquiesced politely, and turned my attention to the other men standing in the doorway like Easter Island statues. Unable to contain my derision, I simply stated, "could you close the door, and if you're not going to search the apartment, start wrapping gifts" (that helped a lot). The Probation lady then announced that she must administer a breath test, which I passed, considering I haven't drank alcohol for almost a year. Then, with a flurry of inane comments, they turned and marched out of the building on their merry way. They were off to protect society from the masses on house arrest for DUI.

To put this in perspective - I understand that Probation/Parole "sweeps" have become a common phenomenon in this country. But let's look at this particular incident - it was 8:00 pm on Wednesday night, and someone felt it was my turn to be checked. I have no problem with the check thing, but I do have a problem with the utilizing of 6 individuals (most likely on overtime) to check on an individual on a DUI related house arrest. Did they think that a show of overwhelming force would be necessary? Had they "pumped" themselves up prior to "storming" the apartment building nestled in a quiet York County suburb? Or, was this just another example of perpetrating the mystic of spending tax funds in order to protect the public?

House arrest individuals sign away all their Constitutional Rights pertaining to Probable Cause, Illegal Search and Seizure and any other right the Probation Department wishes to ignore. In a headlong rush to escape incarceration, we agree to pay a fee of $8.00 a day for this "privilege", and then further, find ourselves contributing to the statistics that become the basis for increasing the budgets of the various "criminal related" industries. This, my friends, is a perfect example of your tax dollars at work!

Thomas J. Fitzgerald, Jr. is a private citizen residing in York, Pa. His claim to infamy is that in 1991 he went to State Prison for five to ten years and became a Paralegal. As a byproduct of that incarceration, he metamorphosed into an active Jailhouse Lawyer.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Immigration: A New Hope

The groundwork is being laid for comprehensive immigration reform.
Counting on the support of the new Democratic majority in Congress, Democratic lawmakers and their Republican allies are working on measures that could place millions of illegal immigrants on a more direct path to citizenship than would a bill that the Senate passed in the spring.

The lawmakers are considering abandoning a requirement in the Senate bill that would compel several million illegal immigrants to leave the United States before becoming eligible to apply for citizenship.

The lawmakers are also considering denying financing for 700 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico(.)

For those of us who believe in public policy driven by the desire to lift people up and not driven by nativism, xenophobia, and racism, this is great news. Of course, we know that what finally comes out won't look quite like us, but setting the bar high now makes it possible for something reasonable to come out in the end. To his credit, President Bush supports comprehensive reform.

The lack of reform is supposedly what drove cities like Hazleton and Escondido, CA, to impose their own regressive immigration ordinances. If Congress can get this done, it takes that excuse away. (As an aside, it is worth noting that Escondido- which was like the West Coast version of Hazleton- decided not to enforce its ordinance.)

I gave a talk to a small group of young people a few months ago, and someone asked me what one issue we're working on really drives me. I said immigration because I'm troubled by the shape of the debate. Afterwards, one of the adult volunteers asked how I could reconcile our position on immigration with the fact that undocumented immigrants have broken the law. I told her that the Constitution does not exclusively protect citizens but also protects "persons."

I can't remember what else we said, but there was one thing I left out. This is not a debate on letting people get away with breaking the law but is instead a debate on just how severe a violation of law this is. I could have said to this woman, "Millions of people break the law every day in their cars when they speed. How can we reconcile allowing them to continue to drive when they are putting millions of other drivers at risk?"

Good people who come here for a better life, who have strong family values and a good work ethic and whose only crime is the way they entered the country, deserve the opportunity to enjoy the full benefits of our country. It's what has made this country great.

On a side note, I found this to be hilarious:
After the dismal showing (at the polls), House Republicans denied F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, the departing chairman of the Judiciary Committee and an architect of the House immigration approach, a senior position on any major committee in the new Congress.

It's a little shameful to take pleasure in another person's misery, but if there is anyone who deserves it, it's Sensenbrenner. He has been a thorn in the side of civil rights and freedom on immigration, Real ID, and the PATRIOT Act. The only positive thing that can be said about the guy is that he was a strong supporter of the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, but otherwise, he deserves a demotion.

Andy in H-burg

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Santa comes early at the Harrisburg office

Here are a few gifts to hand out as we head out the door for the long weekend:

Bill O'Reilly: A copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Donald Rumsfeld: A one-way plane ticket to somewhere. Europe? Asia? It's a secret, but Rummy will find out once he lands.

Senator Arlen Specter: Courage

Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta: A copy of The Words of Cesar Chavez

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County): 2 free tickets to Central PA Pridefest

Governor Rendell: A paper shredder (for death warrants)

There are surely more I'm not thinking of at the moment, but in the words of our legal assistant, I'm peacin'. Have a great holiday! We'll chat next week. And to all a good night...

Andy in the HBG

More on Ellison

Yesterday it was off to Philly for a few meetings, and the trip on the train always provides an opportunity to contemplate while staring out the window at the farmlands of Lancaster County and the industrial lands of Chester County. During yesterday's trip, I thought a little more about this controversy surrounding U.S. Rep.-elect Keith Ellison.

The opponents of religious liberty are really showing their true colors with this one. Often when we deal with Establishment Clause issues, opponents are able to cloak their hostility using the argument that their freedom is being encroached, and to the non-discriminating listener, this might sound sensible.

But Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) is quite clear: He hates Muslims and immigrants and doesn't think they should be a part of the political process. That's wrong and it's un-American. Clearly, the Rep is hostile to the basic principles of religious freedom and citizen participation in the government. There is a word for that. Tyranny.

Andy in H-burg

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Congressmen Against Religious Freedom

Or CARF, as its known in the halls of Congress.

It seems this controversy over Rep.-elect Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first ever Muslim in Congress, and his desire to take the oath of office (not the actual oath, by the way, more on this in a minute) by placing his hand on the Koran won't die. This is one of those controversies where you just want to say, "Oh, people, please, grow up."

The latest to spin the Wheel of Nonsense is Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA), who has a form letter going out to constituents who supposedly have been contacting him with "a flood of e-mails" about this issue. You can read the entire letter at Glenn Greenwald's blog, but here is a snip. Try to follow this winding trail, if you can:
The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.

We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country.

Did you follow that? The Rep. went from the wishes of the people of Ellison's district to immigration to Muslims being elected to office back to illegal immigration to President Clinton to the Middle East.

And the best part is that Ellison is African-American, or so I gather by watching him on television.

Greenwald had this to say:
I was particularly moved by the way Rep. Goode stood up to the inquiring, treasonous "Muslim student." That was very brave, powerful and resolute of Rep. Goode to stand his ground. Maybe he is the Churchill we've all been hungrily craving.

Meanwhile, over at the Lede at the New York Times, it is pointed out that the ceremony in question is not official. It is merely a photo-op, and the actual oath is taken without holy books, which prompted a Lutheran pastor from New Jersey to ask this:
The reality is that pictures of Congressional representatives where they are placing their hand on the Bible while raising their other hands is just for publicity. It is a photo-op... The Bible is a prop in the pictures.

Why aren't people upset that God's Word is being used as a prop - how many of those taking those photo-op pictures with their hands on the Bible actually live their public lives according to it?

Love those Lutherans! Martin Luther said something that is appropriate here. As a Christian, Luther said, "I'd rather be ruled by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian."

The sudden re-emergence of this controversy is a reminder of last month's dust-up when Glenn Beck of CNN asked Ellison to convince him that he's not working with our enemies, which prompted a classic response from Jon Stewart (Warning: TV-M):

Andy in the HBG

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Merry Kitzmas!

Do you know where you were this time last year? It's the one year anniversary of the release of Judge Jones's wonderful opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (a.k.a. the intelligent design challenge). In honor of the occasion, the York Dispatch has an article about the writer working on adapting the trial into a screenplay for Paramount Pictures. (Be warned - it's actually a movie "inspired" by the events in Dover.)

In a nice bit of timing, the Cobb County (Georgia) School Board announced yesterday that it will not be placing anti-evolution stickers in high school biology textbooks. The case began in 2002, when the school board decided to place stickers inside the biology textbooks that questioned the validity of evolution. "School officials also agreed not to take other actions that would undermine the teaching of evolution in biology classes," according to the Americans United for Separation of Church and State press release. Several of the same attorneys from the Dover case were involved in the Cobb County effort, including Richard Katskee, assistant legal director of Americans United, and Eric Rothschild of Pepper Hamilton. (No word yet if there will be a movie on of this one.)

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday reading

Last month, my housemate handed me a book she said I must read. One of those books you wished had been around when you were in high school so you'd know other people have emotionally unavailable fathers, sexual identity issues, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies, too. But later, they can turn them into highly imaginative and entertaining reading material and make a lot of money.

It was comforting to me even at the age of 30 as I curled up with Alison Bechdel's graphic novel, Fun Home, consuming the pages of cartoon-like illustrations and sophisticated literary references that frame an extremely personal autobiography of Bechdel's relationship with her father.

Bechdel's "tragicomic" also deals with her coming out as a lesbian while in college, and - as a graphic novel - contains some graphic illustrations (just a few images on its 240 pages) that made my housemate and I a little uncomfortable when we arrived at that page while riding the rush hour subway.

Now the Washington Post reports that a Missouri library is the target of complaints and a challenge to its acquisition of two graphic novels - Bechdel's Fun Home, and Blankets, by Craig Thompson. Marshall Public Library has responded by removing the books from circulation until it develops a library policy about collecting such materials.

"My concern does not lie with the content of the novels. Rather my concern is with the illustrations and their availability to children and the community," said resident Louise Mills, during a recent public hearing. "Does this community want our public library to continue to use tax dollars to purchase pornography?"

The Post reports that the American Library Association has heard of at least 14 challenges to graphic novels in libraries over the past 2-3 years. The organization has joined with the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to issues guidelines for librarians that want to collect these books but also avoid controversy.

In the same spirit, I've developed a guideline for the literate public (admittedly a limited pool at this point): Open your wallet, flip past that plastic money, and get out your (hopefully) well-worn library card. You don't have to pay to play. Kick back and enjoy a graphic novel; and thank your local librarian for keeping the shelves well-stocked with exciting and provocative new narrative forms.

Jess in Philly

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An Overdue Visit

From our clever colleagues in the national ACLU office (you can send your own e-card from their website here.)

An Overdue Visit

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the nation
Friends of Freedom knew it was a special occasion.
Lady Liberty stood taller just off the shore
Her torch shining brighter than a few weeks before

But it wasn't the flame turning her cheeks all rosy
It was thoughts of Snowe, Feingold and Nancy Pelosi
And leaders from every side of the aisle
Who would soon bring the Bill of Rights back into style.

The Amendments had all hurried out of their beds -
Which was no easy task, they were nearly in shreds -
And they rushed to the window on papery feet
As a jolly old man flew right over their street.

"Could it be!?" they inquired as the roof shook and trembled
And they crept toward the mantle, peaceably assembled,
Just as someone emerged from the chimney with flair
In a shiny red suit, with a shock of white hair

And a top hat, and pants all in red, white and blue -
"Wait a minute," the Amendments exclaimed, "Who are you?"
"Don't be frightened my children," he said, "it's no scam.
"You can't have forgotten your old Uncle Sam!"

"Holy crap!" said Free Speech. "Stop right there!" yelled Bear Arms
And Privacy cried "Who shut off the alarms?!"
The Fifth remained silent, but Uncle Sam said
"We've been having some trouble, but Freedom's not dead."

The Amendments were cautious. "It's just been so long
"We've seen Liberty lost, we've seen so much go wrong.
"The President's trying to mangle and warp us,
"The Fourth is in tatters, so's Habeas Corpus!"

The old man sat down - he had had quite a ride -
But he told them "Don't worry, the Law's on our side,
"'Cause the nation's fed up and more people are crying
"For Justice and an end to illegal spying,

"And secret abductions by the CIA,
"And laws that would take women's choices away,
"And Gitmo tribunals and secret detention,
"And other intrusions too numerous to mention - "

"Not so fast," said a grinchity voice from above
And Don Rumsfeld pushed past the Fourteenth with a shove.
He was covered in soot and he looked kind of scary.
It seemed like his Christmas had not been so merry.

The Amendments said they weren't happy to see him:
"You tried to throw all of us in the museum!
"You've done so much the Constitution forbids!"
"And I would have gone on, but for you meddling kids!"
Uncle Sam told him "Rummy, your plans just won't do,
"So we've got a brand new timetable for you!"
And as Rumsfeld retired and crept into the night
The Amendments cried out "Have a good secret flight!"

From the distance they heard him reply with a snort.
"Bye-bye, Rummy!" they answered, "we'll see you in court!"
Uncle Sam rode the chimney up out of the room
And, like Frosty, he said "I'll be back again soon."

But they heard him exclaim "Oh, and just one more thing!
"This year, when the holiday bells start to ring,
"Try to honor religion. Honest faith can't be wrong.
"It's America, can't we all just get along?

"So, on Christian," he cried, "Muslim, Hindu, and Jew!
"On Quaker! On Shaker! And Atheist too!
"On Buddhist! On Taoist! And to show we're not chickens
"We'll file a few lawsuits defending the Wiccans!

"Your belief is your right, so get out there and savor it.
"Uncle Sam's not a preacher, and he doesn't play favorites!"
So this holiday season, whatever you do,
Warmest wishes for Freedom, from the ACLU.

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War on Christmas 2007, more like a Skirmish on Christmas

Or maybe it's more like shadow boxing. Nevertheless, it does seem a bit quieter this year on this front. It probably helps that no Fox News anchor has a book to push on the topic, and certain television personalities realized that squawking over the alleged War on Christmas led certain media outlets to do some actual investigating reporting on the issue. Some people whither when exposed to the light.

This article was on the cover of The Patriot News on Sunday: "Greetings" issue cools but only a little bit

How fascinating that a Republican president, who was a retired general, changed the White House Christmas card to say "Season's Greetings," and in the midst of McCarthyism, no less.

This particularly caught my eye:
"But at work, we had a big, big discussion, all the supervisors, about what to put on our Christmas, er, holiday cards. And I was very persistent in 'happy holidays' because we have a lot of international clients," she said.

As has been discussed here before in reference to same sex partnerships, the business community tends to be out in front of the politicos and the squawking heads on these issues of embracing diversity.

Andy in H-burg

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

The slow death of capital punishment

Abolishing the death penalty is not something that is going to help in one fell swoop. It will happen slowly, incrementally, over the course of years. In fact, we may be in that process right now.

According to The Death Penalty Information Center's end of year report, all indications are that capital punishment is whithering on the vine in the United States.
For the first time in two decades, the Gallup Poll this year revealed that more Americans support the alternative sentence of life without parole over the death penalty as the proper punishment for murder. This result is in-step with the Death Penalty Information Center's (DPIC) 2006 Year End Report detailing a continuing trend away from capital punishment in the United States. In its report, DPIC notes that U.S. death sentences are now at an historic 30-year low, executions have sharply declined, and the size of death row has been dropping since 2000. (my bold)

You can read the full press release at the blog of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Andy in the HBG


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ah! It's the Sudden (Re-)Emergence of the Discovery Institute

I thought for sure that by now the crew at the Discovery Institute had found new careers at Starbucks. But I was wrong.
A federal judge who barred a Pennsylvania school district from teaching "intelligent design" virtually copied findings suggested by the winning side in a key section of the landmark ruling, according to a think tank that promotes the concept and has criticized the decision.

Alas, now we learn that not only are the DI boys not experts in science but law is also not their area of expertise.
But legal experts say it is common for judges in civil cases to rely heavily on findings proposed by lawyers when they write their opinions - and there is nothing wrong with copying those findings if the legal briefs have been well-prepared.

The DI properly got the smack down from our own Vic Walczak...
"They're getting no traction in the scientific world so they're trying to do something ... as a PR stunt to get attention," said Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the ACLU's lead attorney on the case.

"That's not how scientists work," he said. "Discovery Institute is trying to litigate a year-old case in the media."

Walczak said the Discovery Institute staff is not, as it claims, interested in finding scientific truths; it is more interested in a "cultural war," pushing for intelligent design and publicly criticizing a judge.

"Why don't these guys go back to their 'labs,' and do something meaningful?" Walczak asked. "Oh, wait. They don't have labs. Silly me."

...and the York Dispatch:
Well, they're back. Why is anybody's guess, but their latest public relations stunt, claiming that Judge Jones in his final ruling copied text from motions filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on the behalf of the plaintiffs, smacks of more goofiness.

Further -- and this is the silliest part -- a spokesman for the institute claimed that the use of that text in the ruling undercuts its credibility.

Note to Seattle: That's not how it works, folks. At least not in the last 200 years of American jurisprudence. Judge Jones' credibility remains intact, Discovery Institute's claims flop.

I wonder where the DI is getting its funding these days.

Any day now we'll probably hear again from Constitutional Expert Bill Buckingham.

Andy in H-burg

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Monday, December 11, 2006

On bake sales and nativism...

I have to admit, I miss the Young Conservatives of Texas. The ACLU nativity scene brought back memories from when I was a student at the University of Texas, where occasionally I had the dubious honor of debating YCT members on campus and on local television. Like the time they held the affirmative action bakesales. Or the time when one of their members, at an event, tried to punch someone in the audience with whom he disagreed. Or maybe I just feel nostalgia for my student days because the high in Austin today is 70 degrees.

In other news, li'l old Altoona (PA) got its 15 minutes of fame in the New York Times last week (with a novel headline to boot): Altoona, With No Immigrant Program, Decides to Solve It
"If you were to look for the area for the fewest immigrant settlements in the country, you would look to south central Pennsylvania," said Steven A. Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, a research organization in Washington that favors tougher immigration policies. "There just aren't many immigrants - legal or illegal - around Altoona because there aren't many jobs."

If Hazleton, where the immigrant population grew sharply in just a few years, started the current trend for dealing with a surge in illegal immigrants, Altoona may be the beginning of the next wave: trying to prevent a situation from developing in the first place.

"We don't have a problem here with immigrants," said Joe Rieker, 40, one of five members of the Altoona City Council who voted in favor of the new ordinance. "But we want to stay ahead of the curve."

And from our own Vic Walczak:
"When you have towns like Altoona enacting a solution in search of a problem, you worry if there's a nativist impulse there," Mr. Walczak said. "There's a fair bit of politics involved here, and illegal immigrants are an easy and effective scapegoat for a small town's problems."

Lisa in Pittsburgh

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Friday, December 08, 2006

'Tis the season...

I had to share this. Apparently, a group of University of Texas students have set up an "ACLU nativity scene" on their campus. What, exactly, does an ACLU nativity scene look like? According to the group's release:

"We've got Gary and Joseph instead of Mary and Joseph in order to symbolize ACLU support for homosexual marriage, and of course there isn't a Jesus in the manger," said [Young Conservatives of Texas] Chair Tony McDonald.

"The three Wise Men are Lenin, Marx, and Stalin because the founders of the ACLU were strident supporters of Soviet style Communism. The whole scene is a tongue-in-cheek way of showing the many ways that the ACLU and the far left are out of touch with the values of mainstream America."

The display includes a terrorist shepherd and an angel in the form of Nancy Pelosi.

I must say I prefer things like this that are at least amusing to the routine "you are all going to hell!!" emails. At least this involved some construction skills.

Sara in Philly

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Guest Blogger: Ellery Schempp

It's always nice to hear from Ellery Schempp. As a 16-year-old, Ellery kick-started what would become Abington v. Schempp, which ultimately outlawed mandatory reading of the Bible in public schools. November 26 marked the 50th anniversary of the complaint that Ellery sent to the ACLU in Philadelphia. Here are his recollections.
My letter to the ACLU in 1956 that resulted in the Abington v. Schempp decision in 1963 was found by Professor Steven Solomon at NYU in the National Archives, apparently because all the documents in the District Court were sent there.

My letter would have been totally forgotten, but it was put in evidence in a contention about whether the Schempps had standing and whether the ACLU had put us up to it (the ACLU was accused of instigating, which, of course, was false).

I have personal memory of when I typed this out on my Dad's typewriter in our garage-office using two fingers to type it. I was just past my 16th birthday then. Addressed to the ACLU of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
November 26, 1956
As a student in my junior year at Abington Senior High School, I would very greatly appreciate any information that you might send regarding possible Union action and/or aid in testing the constitutionality of Pennsylvania law which arbitrarily (and seemingly unrighteously and unconstitutionally) compels the Bible to be read in our public school system. I thank you for any help you might offer in freeing American youth in Pennsylvania from this gross violation of their religious rights as guaranteed in the first and foremost Amendment in our United States' Constitution.
Sincerely yours,
Ellery F. Schempp

It does not mention that I enclosed a $10 bill (1956 money). This turned out to be highly significant. That is another story.

I am embarrassed to note that my letter was turgid and pretentious. I was 16 years old then. I have since learned to write shorter sentences---much to the credit of my high school English teacher, Allan Glatthorn, who unknowingly encouraged me by making thinking respectable.

Of course, it was vital that I had parents who knew about the ACLU and were supportive and essential that our family had my younger brother Roger and sister Donna to maintain standing.

I think that the results of the recent elections significantly strengthen separation of church and state and secular science education.

The new leadership in the House and Senate promises to focus on running the government instead of having a faith-based agenda of faux issues promoted by aspiring theocrats. We can look toward refreshing political dialogs in terms of what makes for good policies for our society without having "true believers" who insist that they have God's email address and "know for certain" about "righteousness".

Of the many sins of the past leadership, perhaps their greatest one was to proselytize in wrapping themselves in the cloak of "godliness"--- to give them claim to own patriotism. "Faith-belief" is no longer accepted as excusing incompetence in public affairs. This is a very significant shift in public opinion.

It is very encouraging that a goodly number of "intelligent design" (ID) proponents lost handsomely. These include DeVos for governor in Michigan; Blackwell for governor in Ohio; Santorum for Senator in Pennsylvania; Katherine Harris for Senator in Florida (who infamously stated that "only Christians can be trusted to be in government"); Steele for Senator in Maryland. In Kansas, the Board of Education was reclaimed from creationists by reality-based members to make a 6-4 majority (although two of the worst creationists won); in Ohio, in elections for the Board of Education creationists and IDiots lost.

In our past, we have had three eras of religious and moralistic fervor, called by historians the "Great Awakenings". These were times of religious demagoguery when priests and pastors attempted to capture the power of government to promote their views (and not incidentally, their prerogatives). We have been in a period of a "fourth awakening" of religiosity, which I call the "Great Darkening", since about 1995. The election shows that the pendulum always swings, and the evangelico-politico darkening is waning.

I think the climate is noticeably better for preservation of separation of church and state after the elections. This does not mean that we can give up on vigilance. The temptation to equate personal faith and public display of piety remains. The temptation to equate a faith in a god with the good of the country remains. Democrats are not immune from this.

We are seeing the end of the Great Darkening. The seduction of public display of piety remains. The emerging political leadership have to be encouraged to affirm First Amendment clauses and sound science.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

At dinner for 1st amendment, Newt trashes the 1st amendment

This passed me by last week.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday in Manchester said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.

Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a "different set of rules" may be needed to reduce terrorists' ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

In response, Cenk Uygur at Huffington Post said it best:
This is the white flag of surrender. Gingrich is saying that we cannot defeat the terrorists with our rules. In case, you think that's an exaggeration, he literally said we need a "different set of rules" to limit speech and the internet. He is saying the American system that was good enough to win World War I, World War II and the Cold War is not good enough to beat Al Qaeda.
In order to be truly American, don't you have to believe in America?

It's the "stop the terrorists from destroying America by destroying America" mentality.
Andy in H-burg

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We are shocked, shocked to find data-mining going on!

Guest Blogger: ACLU Member & Volunteer Herb Kestenbaum

Well, the feds are at it again, raking in billions of pieces of information on anyone entering or leaving the U.S. and somehow - we don't know precisely - deciding who among them could be today's or tomorrow's terrorists. And that data, about millions of American citizens as well as foreigners, will be kept for 40 years. It does not matter whether the data concerns those the government finds to be "innocent" or whether the information is accurate. And that mass of raw information held by Big Brother will be available - from our Department of Homeland Security - to other branches of government.

This is the Automated Targeting System. It was initially used to scan cargo. Now, it's being used on people, lumping people and products together as possible threats to national security.

So, when did this change happen? In 2002. When were we told? Last month. Can the data, if you could even get access to it, be checked for accuracy and be changed? No. Hell, you can check your financial credit rating, which affects part of your life, but you can't check your terrorist rating, which can affect your individual liberties and freedoms granted by the U.S. Constitution. Under the Bush regime, you have no right to review what may be inaccurate information, false accusations, discrimination based on race or religion or political beliefs or sexual preference. Nor can you limit who can use that information or to what purpose.

The feds just don't stop snooping, regardless of the cost to citizens. They tried to data-mine consumer and banking records to find patterns they said made people terrorist suspects. That was in 2002, and that program, the infamous Total Information Awareness, was killed. Undeterred, Big Brother - in that same year - just shifted its focus and created the latest outrage.

Where does this stop? When does the government start treating its citizens as private individuals, with the right to live their lives free of concern that the government not only is monitoring them but rating their loyalty and character as well?

More on the issue: ACLU press release; AP Story

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Guest Blogger: Tommy Fitzgerald

Thomas J. Fitzgerald, Jr. is a private citizen residing in York, Pa. His claim to infamy is that in 1991 he went to State Prison for five to ten years and became a Paralegal. As a byproduct of that incarceration, he metamorphosed into an active Jailhouse Lawyer.

I'm back!
Look, a nitwit with a keyboard.

When Andy approached me about writing a guest Blogger piece, he asked me to explain the signature on my e-mail. I have a simple sentence downloaded off the ACLU site: "I'm a card-carrying member of the ACLU and encourage you to join! Get informed, get active and become a member."

As far as my signature, I always was a big fan of the ACLU, and I felt that it was important for the people that know me, or who were going to get to know me, to understand right from the beginning that I'm not backing down anymore, and that I'm willing to publicize my values and beliefs. I have always admired those same traits surrounding the mystic of ACLU card-carrying members!

When I "graduated" from the State Penitentiary in 1996, I tended to "forget"- well, I never really forgot- but unconsciously put aside those fires of activism stoked in prison to rejoin society on society's (State Parole Board) terms. Basically, I ran scared of losing the nice conservative lifestyle I had so vigorously pursued upon my release to parole. Then ten years later fate struck again. I had run afoul of the law (proceeded to curse them out for it too - sure that helped!) by racking up two DUI for the first and second time in my life. Consequently, I was sentenced to a 48-day stint in York County Prison. Guess what, I'm back!

In my personal opinion, the overcrowded conditions were horrendous! I feel that it is unconscionable, that a cognizant Prison Administration (that's an oxymoron) routinely houses inmates on thin plastic mattresses on the concrete floors of the day rooms for days at a time. I spent 23 of my 48 days in "Pre-Class" witnessing Administration behavior bordering on insanity. Ranging from what I perceived as HIPPA violations- the public examinations in the day room for TB and the subsequent verbal pronouncement of positive or negative- to refusal of access to the Law Library. (That really irritated me!) I filed a total of six formal grievances, and I promise you, that is just the beginning. (If Andy lets me, I'll keep you informed.)

Back to the signature. I know there are plenty of individuals out there just like me. We've all gotten older (54 for me) and simply lost the fire born from being personally wronged, or worse yet, have mellowed into a lifestyle fraught with conservatism. Sooooo, "I'm a card-carrying member of the ACLU and encourage you to join! Get informed, get active and become a member."

Andy's note: It is worth noting that in the early 1900s ex-prisoners could be returned to prison if they participated in political activity. In many states today, ex-prisoners still do not have the right to vote. Visit the ACLU's National Prison Project and Voting Rights Project for more info about these important issues.

It's been said that a society is judged not by the way it treats its elites but by the way it treats its prisoners. One does not need to spend time in prison or do much digging to know that we still have a long way to go.

peace, Andy in Harrisburg

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Monday, December 04, 2006

When in Doubt, Pass the Blame

It would seem from Mayor Barletta's accounts that Hazleton would be virtually free of crime, were it not for illegal immigrants.

Mr. Barletta wore a bulletproof vest to the July meeting at which the city council approved his immigration ordinance on a 4-1 vote. Detractors say he was being melodramatic, but the mayor contends emotions were running high. He also says it was a crime wave that motivated him to push through the immigration law.

For him, the turning point was May 10, when two men shot and killed 29-year-old Derek Kichline on a Hazleton street. Both suspects are illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mr. Barletta said.

"This is a town where a murder might happen every seven years," he said. "It's unusual to have violence here. Then we had the shooting of Derek Kichline in broad daylight."

Police records differ with the mayor's account, placing the time of the killing at 11:40 p.m. Prosecutors have said the crime was not random, but have not discussed a motive.

Mr. Barletta said the killing marked the beginning of a crime spree, much of it by people who should not have been in Hazleton to begin with.

Not surprisingly, the facts don't seem to support Mr. Barletta. In fact, just last week in Hazleton there was a tragic shooting that resulted in the wounding of two police officers and the death of one man.

And unless George Thomas Deeb is an illegal immigrant from Western Europe, there would seem to be no way that even Mayor Barletta could blame the incident on illegal immigration (though you never know).

Of course, Mayor Barletta also keeps claiming that he doesn't have enough police officers. Is it possible that any observed spike of violence may actually be caused by not having enough officers on the streets? In any event, Hazleton is having some budgetary issues.
Critics, such as environmentalist Phil Kaufman of West Hazleton, say Mr. Barletta has seized on the immigration issue to lessen scrutiny of his performance.

"The so-called illegal aliens are not the problem," Mr. Kaufman said. "But the mayor likes to talk about illegal immigration because it removes the focus from how poorly managed city government is."

Hazleton likely will have a budget deficit this year, Mr. Barletta concedes. The $7.5 million general operating budget has been flat for years, despite his contention that growth has seized the town and created more businesses.

For a mayor, having enough police officers is a growth and a fiscal challenge--though maybe it's easier to blame your administrative shortcomings on illegal immigrants.

In fact, contrary to popular opinion, it seems that an influx of immigrants (including illegal immigrants) into an area actually may cause crime rates to fall.

Lisa in Pittsburgh

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Yeah, but how will it play in Peoria?

An abuse of power update:

Here's the Militarism Commissioned Act at work. A non-citizen named Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri gets picked up in Peoria, Illinois. He's charged with credit card fraud and making false statements to the FBI. One month before his trial, the trial is suddenly postponed. Why? Since al-Marri refused to cooperate with the FBI, the administration designated him as an "enemy combatant." In other words, the administration forced him to choose between cooperating or losing his due process rights, not to mention the presumption of innocence. His new trial date is right around never.

Former AG Ashcroft talks about the case in his new book:
Ashcroft observes that under the laws of war, an enemy combatant can even be killed on the spot. The government held its fire in Peoria. But it is intent on holding al-Marri "without charge or trial until the end of the war," as Ashcroft puts it. And the government thinks it has a new tool for doing so: the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

This is the law that Congress rushed to pass in the fall to strip the Guantanamo detainees of their rights to challenge their detentions by bringing habeas corpus petitions in federal court. The MCA could have been limited to people picked up outside the United States. But its language is broader: It bars habeas claims by any noncitizen determined by the government to be an enemy combatant (or "awaiting such determination"). This, the government argues, means that it could pick up al-Marri in Peoria one day and the next day stick him in a military brig indefinitely, with no chance of redress in court.

And the end of the so-called war, of course, is sometime between now and never.

So, what's the problem? Here's the problem:
The government's handling of al-Marri is an utter departure from historical practice. Noncitizens in the United States have constitutional rights, including the right to due process if they face criminal charges. When they're convicted, they routinely file habeas petitions, as they have for centuries. The Supreme Court explained all of this in a 2001 case, INS v. St. Cyr, in which the government wanted to deport an immigrant convicted of a crime without any judicial review. The court forbade that, saying that the constitution protects the rights of "all persons in the United States."

Then again, what am I thinking? Of course you can trust the government. Just ask Brandon Mayfield. You may remember Mayfield. He is the Oregon attorney who was held for two weeks in connection with the Madrid bombing only for the government to later realize, uh, whoops, didn't quite get that one right. Abusive provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act were used to investigate Mayfield, including the expansion of the sneak-and-peek warrants, which allowed agents to bust into Mayfield's home, take things, and never tell him they were there.

This week Mayfield, his wife, and his kids got what they deserve: A $2 million apology from the government.
"You almost never see something like this," said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, a legal clinic in New York City. "It's extraordinary, but the harm caused him was extraordinary. What I really think it speaks to is just how clearly the U.S. government crossed the line when it went after Mayfield."

And the best part?
The settlement includes an unusual condition that frees the government from future liability except in one important area: Mr. Mayfield is allowed to continue a lawsuit seeking to overturn parts of the Patriot Act as a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

That's right. Go get 'em, bro.

Finally this week, the Justice Department announced that it will do some investigating into the NSA's warrantless surveillance program. The Albany Times Union is wary:
According to a Washington Post report, Mr. Fine intends to examine only how the Justice Department has used information obtained by the National Security Agency under the surveillance program, and whether department lawyers complied with its "legal requirements." But the larger issue the one that matters most is whether the program is legal at all, and Mr. Fine's investigation won't even touch on that.
If he issues a report claiming the material obtained under the program hasn't been abused, and that there are safe guards in place to protect the privacy of Americans, the White House will be able to argue that the Democrats' investigations aren't necessary.

But they are. This controversy involves nothing less than the basic constitutional liberties. No hastily arranged Justice Depart ment probe should whitewash that fact away.

Andy in H-burg

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