Friday, December 28, 2007

I went back to Ohio but my rights were gone

Here's a story that's sure to get your dander up just in time for 2008.

According to the Lima News, an Ohio man must try to prove he legally earned the life's savings police took from his house, even though the man has not been charged with a crime.

In June, Luther Ricks shot and killed a would-be robber who had broken into his house and stabbed his son. When police responded to the scene, they found (I bet you can guess) a small amount of marijuana that Ricks says he uses to manage arthritis pain. The FBI stepped in and confiscated the money from the police. Now, Ricks has to prove that he earned the confiscated $400,000 before the government will return it.

The article quotes Ohio's ACLU Legal Director Jeff Gamso, who said it will be difficult for Ricks to get his money back.

"The law of forfeiture basically says you have to prove you're innocent. It's terrible, terrible law," Gamso said. The law is tilted in favor of the FBI in that Ricks need not be charged with a crime and the FBI stands a good chance at keeping the money, Gamso said.

"The law will presume it is the result of ill-gotten gains," he said.

So, the heck with the "Fifth Amendent's No person shall be...deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The burden of proof is on him.

In other news, let's stick with Ohio as we gear up for the election year. ACLU officials there are concerned that a change in Cuyahoga County's voting system could lead to many votes going uncounted. The story is here.

Ohio, as you know, was the scene of much voting strife in the 2004 presidential election, in which John Kerry conceded to President Bush after narrowly losing Ohio's 20 electoral votes. At the time, the ACLU had already filed suit, in Stewart v. Blackwell, arguing that the punch card voting system at issue here violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Lauri in York

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Anti-Defamation League releases report on extreme rhetoric in immigration debate

The Anti-Defamation League has released a new report (PDF) on the extreme rhetoric being used by groups that have been quoted in the mainstream media as "anti-illegal immigration" organizations. From the press release:
Purveyors of this extremist rhetoric use stereotypes and outright bigotry to target immigrants and hold them responsible for numerous societal ills.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL)... has become increasingly concerned about the virulent anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic rhetoric employed by a handful of groups that have positioned themselves as legitimate, mainstream advocates against illegal immigration in America.

Unlike the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, who make no attempt to hide their racism and bigotry, these anti-immigrant groups often use more subtle language to demonize immigrants and foreigners. They are frequently quoted in the media, have been called to testify before Congress, and often hold meetings with lawmakers and other public figures. However, under the guise of warning people about the impact of illegal immigration, these anti-immigrant groups often invoke the same dehumanizing, racist stereotypes as hate groups.

A closer look at the public record reveals that some of these supposedly mainstream organizations have disturbing links to, or relationships with, extremists in the anti-immigration movement. Often identified in the media or their mission statements as "anti-illegal immigration advocacy groups," they attempt to distort the debate over immigration by fomenting fear and spreading unfounded propaganda through the use of several key tactics:

* Describing immigrants as "third world invaders," who come to America to destroy our heritage, "colonize" the country and attack our "way of life." This charge is used against Hispanics, Asians and other people of color.

* Using terminology that describes immigrants as part of "hordes" that "swarm" over the border. This dehumanizing language has become common.

* Portraying immigrants as carriers of diseases like leprosy, tuberculosis, Chagas disease (a potentially fatal parasitic disease), dengue fever, polio, malaria.

* Depicting immigrants as criminals, murderers, rapists, terrorists, and a danger to children and families.

* Propagating conspiracy theories about an alleged secret "reconquista" plot by Mexican immigrants to create a "greater Mexico" by seizing seven states in the American Southwest that once belonged to Mexico.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Illegals cross desert border with anchor baby

CAIRO- Cairo police today detained three illegal aliens, including a newborn baby boy, after the family made a harrowing journey across the desert from Judea.

"We cannot accept this continuous flow of illegal aliens from our neighbor," said Cairo Mayor Loumak Barlakhom. "These illegals are destroying the fabric of our city."

Barlakhom dismissed the family's pleas for political asylum and the father's offer to assist the city in construction. The father stated that his name is Joseph, but illegals are known to use aliases. "Joseph" claimed that he has carpentry skills.

"If we allow this man from Judea to work here, he will be stealing a job from a hard-working Egyptian," Barlakhom said.

The family claimed that they feared for their lives as King Herod had sent killing squads into Bethlehem to murder newborn boys and asked the Egyptian government to grant them asylum under the Convention Against Torture. The Egyptians, however, dismissed their claim after receiving "diplomat assurances" from Herod that the family would not be harmed.

"We take Herod at his word that the family will not be harmed in any way," said Egyptian Minister of State Code Raziya.

On the streets, average Egyptians had little sympathy for the family's plight.

"What part of illegal don't they understand," asked one merchant. "They should get in line, just like everyone else."

"Today we give this illegal alien a job, and tomorrow he'll be asking for in-state tuition for his kid," added another merchant.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Documents must remain public

Pennsylvania lawmakers, before scurrying off for the holidays, almost- but not quite- approved a bill that would overhaul the state's pathetic excuse for an open-records law. So, when they return in January, they will begin the process of winnowing through 19 last-minute amendments inserted into the bill.

In what has become almost a mantra, editorial page writers support the legislation, describing the existing open-records law in Pennsylvania as "woefully ineffective." And while the revisions passed by the House are far from perfect, they say it's an improvement over existing law. See here and here. But in its Sunday editorial, The Patriot-News addressed a provision in the bill that hasn't gotten enough attention.

Under existing open-records law, coroner reports are considered to be public documents. But under the proposed bill, they would no longer be generally available to the public.

According to the editorial:
While the argument is made that open autopsy reports would lead to their misuse, the fact is that they are open under existing law and there is virtually no record of misuse. This is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

Pete Shellem, an investigative reporter with The Patriot-News, has uncovered information that over the years has freed four innocent people unjustly convicted of murder from prison. (The American Journalism Review did a great profile on him in July.) Last week, Shellem spoke to the ACLU's south-central PA chapter about the open-records bill. He says when he begins an investigation, he usually begins with the coroner's report of the murder victim. He's gotten some pretty important information from the documents - key information overlooked by both prosecutors and defense attorneys.

So, it's crucial that in the final version of any open-records law that these documents remain available to the public. Closing these records would eliminate a critical oversight the press now has into the legal system

And while the documents would be public record if introduced into evidence during a trial, Shellem pointed out that frequently cases don't go to trial. Often, the accused accepts a plea bargain, pleading guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence.

And, as Shellem pointed out, every innocent person behind bars means a guilty person out walking the streets.

Lauri in York

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Thursday, December 20, 2007


Why should phone companies get amnesty after participating in law breaking? Which part of illegal don't they understand?

Earlier this week, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut and several allies beat back a bill that would give telephone companies a "Get out of jail free" card for participating in the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program. The bill would give telephone companies immunity from lawsuits for taking part in the Shred the Fourth Amendment program and would allow the executive branch to continue to conduct surveillance on people in America without a warrant.

After Dodd used a legislative procedure known as putting a "hold" on the bill, and returned from campaigning in Iowa to do it, Democratic Leader Harry Reid withdrew the bill until January.

Glenn Greenwald, who is one of the best writers on these Safe & Free issues, has a great breakdown of the drama.

Meanwhile, remember how the warrantless surveillance program was a response to 9/11? Turns out the Bush crowd was doing it before that horrible day. According to the New York Times, the administration approached telephone companies to do surveillance without a warrant in early 2001.

Just another day here in the Twilight Zone....

Andy in Harrisburg


Monday, December 17, 2007

Inside memo leaked to blogger

TO: ACLU Membership
DATE: Dec. 17, 2007
SUBJECT: War on Xmas

My dear Comrades:

By now, you no doubt heard. We have lost.

As Bill O'Reilly wrote last week
The far-left secular progressive community is furious, furious, I tell you about losing the war on Christmas...

All over the country, the sights and signs of Christmas are on display. Few department stores are telling employees not to say a 'Merry Christmas.' And the Taliban like oppression of the holiday has largely ceased, but the SPs (secular progressives) are not happy about that.

It pains me terribly to say it, but Bill O' right. We haven't killed Christmas.

Even though, for the past two years, we had been making such great strides. Oh sure, even as we had been working cleverly behind the scenes at killing Christmas, we had been busy dabbling in protecting the rights of Christians. Remember the 2003 case in which teenagers in Massachusetts were suspended for passing out candy canes with Christian messages? And we defended them? And how about that 2001 "friend-of-the-court" brief filed on behalf of Jerry Falwell defending the right of churches to incorporate in Virginia?

Ahhh, yes, but as you know, that was merely part of the coverup - a way of distracting the proletariat from our eventual success of "Taliban-like oppression." (I'd really like to know how O'Reilly got his hands on that memo.)

So why? Why have we failed? Perhaps, for this, I must take some responsibility. My assertion that nobody takes Bill O'Reilly seriously was a tactical error on my part. But, I mean, come on. Bill O'Reilly? Who would ever have imagined that clown had such influence? Other than him, of course. Obviously, his freedom-fighters in the Wal-Mart aisles were listening. And they responded with demands that Christ's message of salvation will be delivered in Martha Stewart Collection "Trousseau" decorative pillows and Toshiba 42-inch hi-def flat-screen television sets.

As York Daily Record columnist Mike Argento, who has been an undercover agent of ours for years, wrote in his dossier
Saying 'Merry Christmas' used to be a perfectly nice way of wishing someone well. Now, it's uttered like a threat.

But now is not the time for wallowing in failure. Now, is the time to look to the future and foresee the glorious victory that yet awaits us. We must regroup. We remain only 373 shopping days away from Christmas 2008.

By now you've all gotten your information packets outlining next year's talking points. Remember, and I can't stress this enough, it's important to stay on message if we're going to win this.

The official line remains: There is no war on Christmas. The ACLU defends the rights of people of all faiths to worship according to their beliefs.

Talking point No. 1: "The free exercise clause of the First Amendment guarantees the right to practice one's religion free of government interference. The establishment clause requires the separation of church and state. Combined, they ensure religious liberty."

Talking point No. 2: "The ACLU will continue working to ensure that religious liberty is protected by keeping the government out of the religion business."

Some have complained that our tactics are somewhat dishonest in light of the fact that "separation of church and state is a myth."

Fortunately, because we're all Godless heathens, the dishonesty shouldn't be too great a problem. People, must I remind you? It's about moral relativism. The end justifies the means. If you're still confused by this, I suggest you read the Discovery Institute's famed Wedge document (PDF). It gives a great overview of the importance of setting aside one's morals for the long-term greater good.

And on that note, don't forget, Thursday is the second anniversary of Judge Jones' Dover decision in which intelligent design received such an outstanding pillorying. There remain only three more shopping days left until the holiday. For those still searching for a perfect gift for your children, may I suggest that Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto makes a great stocking stuffer?

Merry Kitzmas to all.

Lauri in York

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Friday, December 14, 2007

More NJ coverage

Blue Jersey has coverage of the press conference after the passage of the death penalty repeal bill.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

A day long remembered: NJ abolition bill off to the governor

(photo courtesy of Karl Keys and Abolish the Death Penalty)

Today the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill to abolish the death penalty by a vote of 44-36, following the passage of the same bill in the Senate earlier this week. The bill is off to the desk of Governor Corzine, a public supporter of abolition. Once Corzine signs it, New Jersey will become the first state to abolish capital punishment since 1965 when West Virginia and Iowa shut down the machinery of death.

Blog coverage can be found at Abolish and Blue Jersey.

New Jersey abolished the death penalty because they found it is expensive, risks the possible execution of the innocent, and is bad policy for victims' family members.

The same problems exist with capital punishment all over the country, including in Pennsylvania.

What happened in New Jersey is merely the institutionalization of what's going on all over the country. Death sentences have dropped significantly. Executions have dropped. At the moment, executions appear to be completely stopped until the Supreme Court hears arguments in a Kentucky case arguing the constitutionality of the lethal injection cocktail. Here in PA, we haven't executed anyone since 1999, and since that last execution, four innocent people have walked off of death row.

The Star Ledger today has a feature on Celeste Fitzgerald, the executive director of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
nstead of focusing on the usual moral and religious arguments, Fitzgerald has concentrated on what seemed at first an argument against repeal -- the failure of the state to execute anyone for more than 40 years. Her group has talked about the cost of appeals and the impact on victims' family members who must be constantly reminded of the existence of killers still very much alive on a death row that no longer delivers death.

New Jersey did the responsible thing. They examined the death penalty to properly explore all of the issues, and the state came to the conclusion that it's not worth it.

The least Pennsylvania can do is study it. To do otherwise is to merely stick our collective heads in the sand.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How do you say "whiz with" in Spanish?

On Friday a few of us will be attending a public hearing regarding the English-only policy at Geno’s Steaks. We’re not representing the ACLU (any die-hard member will see it’s a free expression issue) but rather as individuals and Philadelphians, to shake our heads in shame at Joey Vento, the once-great Philadelphia businessman turned anti-immigrant lunatic.

The hearing is at 1 PM at the Friends Meeting House at 4th and Arch streets. It’s open to the public, and we hope you’ll join us.

For those of you outside Philadelphia, Geno’s Steaks (along with arch-nemesis Pat’s, directly across the street) is a Philadelphia icon and tourist mecca. Drive by at almost any time of day and witness a small army of would-be diners queued around the neon monstrosity waiting for their greasy deliciousness, usually served with a heaping helping of Philly-style hostility from the staff.

Last year Joey added some new signs to Geno’s decor. Beside images of a bald eagle and an American flag (so you know it’s patriotic) the sign reads (and I quote):


Aside from offending (super-ironically!) those of us who appreciate grammar and punctuation, the signs also raised the dander of the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission, who say they’re discriminatory and violate the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance.

Now, those of us who enjoy a Geno’s steak now and then (of which I am one, though I use “enjoy” loosely) understand two things:

(1) Geno’s staff is mean to everybody. Unwritten Philadelphia law says that if you take more than five words to order a cheesesteak, you get yelled at. Ordering a steak is supposed to be intimidating, it’s part of the experience. That little rush of fear when it’s your turn to order heightens your senses and makes the steak taste better.

(2) There are, at any given time, about twenty thousand people in line at Geno’s. They move the line fast by necessity.

You know those Visa check card commercials where everyone is moving through the checkout in machine-like rhythm until one lady pulls out cash and everything grinds to a halt? That’s what it’s like if you create a holdup at Geno’s – except being that it’s South Philly, several people will be shot to death as a result of the holdup. So one might make a case that a politely worded sign encouraging orders in English would be in the best interests of the business and all of the customers.

Instead, Joey Vento parlayed his signs into fifteen minutes of national infamy, touring various rallies and appearing on cable news networks to slander all immigrants – not just those who offered him patronage. Now mind you, Joey Vento wasn’t always a bad guy. He’s been philanthropically active around Philadelphia. But like others before him (*cough* Lou Dobbs *cough*) he got a dose of anti-immigrant rhetoric and he lost his freakin mind.

A few of Joey Vento’s greatest hits, courtesy of the PICC:

Joey on illegal immigration and crime:
“[Illegal Hispanics] are killing, like, 25 of us a day … molesting about eight children a day … All we’re getting is drug dealers and murderers.”
(Boy, statistics sure are effective when you make them up, huh?)

Joey on the history of immigration –
“These illegal invaders … are not the kind of immigrants our grandparents were … They knew to be successful in America, you have to speak English.”
("To be successful" here apparently defined as "to receive a cheesesteak.")

Joey’s suggestion for US citizen children of immigrants –
“You come here pop a baby, pick it up and take it back to Mexico.”

So what is the ACLU doing at the hearing? Well, nothing. Joey’s exercising his rights to free speech and free expression with his signs. Those of us who will be attending will be there as individuals, expressing our rights to free expression by telling Joey Vento that we are very disappointed in him. He’s taken a great Philadelphia landmark, an icon of our city visited by hundreds of thousands (millions, maybe?) of customers a year and made it into a neon monument to racism, xenophobia, and bigotry. He’s embarrassed our city by turning from a pillar of the Philly business community into a crazy anti-immigrant demagogue.

We’ll be there on Friday with “No Hate in Our Town” signs, demanding that Joey see reason and choose to take his signs down. Rumor has it he’s busing in a bunch of his supporters to attend the meeting – and they’ll all be getting free cheesesteaks beforehand.

Me, I’ll be getting my lunch at Jim’s.

Chris (triple whiz with) in Philly

Rising Teen Birth Rates Reveal Complicated Issues

Last week the CDC reported a rise in the national teen birth rate for the first time in 14 years. The percent of births to teenagers nationally rose by 3% overall – the first increase in the teen birth rate since 1991.

Statistically, that’s pretty significant.

The US has the highest teen birth rate in the developed world. However, for more than a decade the U.S. was able to proudly tout the fact that the teenage birth rate was steadily declining. We can’t guarantee access to healthcare but we’ve been successfully working on preventing young women from becoming young mothers. Right?


So what changed?

I think it’s a fundamental lack of access that’s the problem. It’s not just the 46 million uninsured Americans that our nation should be hanging its head at - most Americans can’t go to the doctor. And most teens can’t get straight answers or medically-accurate information about contraceptives because of abstinence-only education, and access to abortion is eroding at an alarming rate with restrictive laws like the Hyde Amendment.

The problem with abstinence-only education isn't the abstinence, it's the only. A government sponsored study released earlier this year, not the first of its kind, found federally-funded abstinence-only programs are ineffective and provide teens with exaggerated failure-rate statistics if they do discuss contraceptives. Why would a young person use a condom if they think it’s not going to work? And where else are they going to get that information? I only graduated from high school six years ago and I heard more buzz about birth control and condoms in junior high than I have at any point since. Aside from seeking out specific news sources or occasionally coming across an ad in a magazine, I rarely hear about ways I can protect myself during sex. Where is the discussion? Where is the information? Has the AIDS scare died? Has it become a problem we’ve moved to other nations, neglecting to recognize that American youth are still vulnerable, are still going to have sex, and are still at risk for pregnancy and STIs, including HIV and AIDS?

I’m getting a little tangential. Condom use is on the rise. But I still worry that the CDC’s announcement will only be repeated year after year, for years to come.

There’s a stigma surrounding abortion and if teens don’t even have access to those services – clinics are closing, and teens rights are being restricted – than what are they to do if they do find themselves pregnant?

Because there’s no easy answer we need to be teaching teens how to protect themselves, we need to be providing them with easy access to all available options with regard to their reproductive health, and we need to be providing young parents with the tools they need to succeed. It’s a little overwhelming to see how multi-faceted the problem is, but hopefully with all the buzz the CDC announcement has created we will see that this is not a hopeless problem but one with many different solutions and a lot of areas and avenues for people to involve themselves and their communities in creating positive change.

Sarah, Project Coordinator of the Duvall Project

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I don't believe what I just saw!

Yesterday New Jersey took the first of three necessary steps to repeal the death penalty, and it was the most difficult of the three. The state's Senate passed an abolition bill by a vote of 21-16 (in a chamber with 40 members). Passage is expected in the House, and Governor Corzine has stated that he will sign a repeal bill.
"Today New Jersey can become a leader, an inspiration to other states," Senator Robert Martin, a Republican from Morris Plains who voted for the bill, said during Monday's debate.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Emergency contraception bill dies

I guess I was right. Maybe they are a bunch of Neanderthals.

Last Monday, Pennsylvania's House of Representatives had been scheduled to vote on a bill that would have made it a requirement for rape victims seeking treatment at hospitals to have access to emergency contraception. You know, to prevent an obviously unwanted pregnancy?

But an amendment supported by the bill sponsor would have allowed religiously affiliated hospitals to "opt out" of providing such assistance to victims. Here are my previous posts on the the topic.

Well, sadly, supporters of the originally worded bill believed that the amendment stood a very good chance of being passed. It was decided to withdraw the bill, rather than risk having the amendment make it into law.

It needs to be noted that in October, state hospital regulations were passed mandating that if a religiously affiliated hospital refuses to provide EC to victims, they must offer the women transportation to receive the medication at another medical facility.

Not exactly a victory for victim's rights.

Lauri in York

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Friday, December 07, 2007

This I believe...

From presidential candidate Mitt Romney's speech yesterday:
Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom
opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most
profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure
together, or perish alone.

Ummm, Mitt? What are you saying? That we all have to be believe in God to be free? Is that what you're saying? Because it sounds like that's what you're saying.

Granted, you were addressing the issues of your Mormon faith and you were really only speaking to your evangelical critics, who have blasted your religion because it isn't the right form of Christianity. Vote for Romney is Vote for Satan!

But, really, all pandering to the fundamentalist base aside, don't you think that's ... well...stupid? And, well, a complete misunderstanding of the principles on which this nation was founded?

And, if I might, I'd like to get some clarification on this as well:
Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests.

Sure, there's a lot of wiggle room in that sentence, but what it sounds like to me is that you're saying judges should be interpreting the Constitution based on the Christian faith. Is that what you're saying? Really? Wow. Talk about your judicial activism.

Maybe I'm wrong.

But then...maybe I'm not:
I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'

Honestly? I don't fear Romney's faith any more or less than those of other candidates of fundamentalist beliefs, or, even the faith of certain less dogmatic candidates who are nonetheless willing to sell their souls for evangelical support. Or those of a certain sitting president, who has declared his Christian faith is what has guided him into an unjust war. (OK, I'm lying there. I'm pretty much afraid of everything that guy believes.)

Because it's not faith and religious beliefs that I'm afraid of. What frightens me are those who don't get the First Amendment, those who hint that separation of church and state is a myth and only applies to specific denominations of Protestant faith.

In 1869, Catholic parents in Cincinnati asked that the Bible not be read in public school. The courts denied the request after outraged Protestants filed suit, arguing the reading of the Bible was necessary for good government. The Ohio Supreme Court overturned the lower court with these words:
When Christianity asks the aid of government beyond mere impartial protection, it denies itself. Its laws are divine, not human . . . . United with government, religion never rises above the merest superstition; united with religion, government never rises above the merest despotism; and all history shows us that the more widely and completely they are separated, the better it is for both.

I'm still not sure what you're saying Mitt, but that's what I believe.

Lauri in York

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

White privilege: Blacks incarcerated for drugs at disproportionate rates

Ok, that headline is not news. But the Justice Policy Institute has further advanced the argument that drug laws disproportionately affect African-Americans with a report (pdf) that was released on Tuesday.
Black Americans are 10 times more likely to be imprisoned for illegal drug offenses than whites, even though both groups use and sell drugs at the same rate, according to a study released on Tuesday.

Almost all large counties in the United States showed sharp disparities along racial lines in the sentencing of drug offenders, the study by the Washington-based Justice Policy Institute showed.

Pulling out the data for Pennsylvania shows some shocking numbers. Here are the ratios of blacks-to-whites in admission to state prison for drug offenses among the PA counties that were in the report:
YORK- 24
ERIE- 23

Some local officials swear they don't treat drug offenders differently on the basis of race.
Both York County First Assistant District Attorney Bill Graff and York County Chief Public Defender Bruce Blocher said many local drug cases involve minority offenders.

However, the attorneys said, they have not seen disparities in how defendants are treated.

"I can't think of a time I've ever raised the issue of race in sentencing," said Blocher, who's been the county's chief public defender since 1996.

Graff cited an example of a white drug dealer convicted of selling drugs to college students. He said he pushed for the man to serve the same amount of time as someone who sold drugs on a street corner.

"It doesn't matter who you are. If you're dealing drugs, we're going to arrest and prosecute you," Graff said.

Remember that one time!

Actually, the issue goes beyond what's going on at the sentencing level. It starts sooner. Who's coming into contact with the police? How are the police doing drug enforcement in cities? Suburbs? Rural areas? On college campuses? How are parole officers handling violators?

National ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project webpage is filled with great stats on drugs and race.

Andy in Harrisburg


ACLUTube: Freedom to Work

In October, we co-sponsored with Equality Advocates PA and the Value All Families Coalition town hall meetings in York and State College on LGBT discrimination called "The Freedom to Work." Video from the York event is now available at our YouTube channel,

The story of Dan Miller of Harrisburg City Council is particularly compelling. Dan was fired from his job as an accountant because he is an openly gay man. And then his former employer sued him because Dan had the nerve to continue working.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Resources on yesterday's habeas oral arguments

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments pertaining to the habeas corpus rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The arguments can be heard at PBS's website. (MP3s: Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

Cecillia Wang from ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project has also blogged on it at national and at the ACSblog.
[I]f the Court rules in the Boumediene petitioners' favor on narrow grounds limited to the precise facts of Guantánamo, the most pernicious effects of the D.C. Circuit's error will go unaddressed. What if U.S. officials engage in horrific abuses in places other than Guantánamo? This is no idle speculation, given what we know about "extraordinary renditions" and CIA black sites, and in light of rumors of the closing of the detention center at Guantánamo.

Finally, there is extensive commentary at SCOTUSblog.

Personally, I'm a fan of Amnesty International USA's video short on habeas and the Military Commissions Act.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Gym Class Heroes said, “We have to take our clothes off to have a good time,” but my teacher keeps pushing this abstinence thing?

While hip activists listen to WHYY traveling in their cars, my dirty little secret is that I enjoy singing along to the music of the masses on WPST. This week, my unhealthy obsession with pop music paid off, as I became inspired by the ordinarily obnoxious Gym Class Heroes…

“So here’s the thing,” apparently today, “we have to take our clothes off to have a good time,” according to the Gym Class Heroes. “Oh no,” but I thought Jermaine Stewart said that “we don't have to take our clothes off” in the mid-80s. Two decades ago, “we could dance and party all night” and “get to know each other better, slow & easily.” In the light of the AIDS epidemic, even pop artists were preaching about having sex only within the context of a committed relationship. Now, musicians (if we can even call them that) are singing about “good clean fun” in the form of one night stands at clubs.

Now, I know the Gym Class Heroes aren’t beckoning to their steady girlfriend or wife when they say, “What do you say let's exit stage left so me and you can possibly reconvene and play some naked peekaboo?” Through such songs as these, young males are learning how to sweet talk a woman out of her pants for some backroom, uncomplicated fun. But things can get pretty complicated when you don’t know how to protect yourself…

Today, millions of federal dollars are being spent on abstinence-only education annually. In public schools everywhere, kids are being taught to feel guilty about sex and to not use condoms because they “don’t work.” But I thought condoms were highly effective, even as high as 98%, if used consistently and correctly… Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle: Abstinence-only programs teach that condoms are ineffective, they don’t show kids how to properly use a condom, improper use of condoms or lack of condom use can’t protect youth, and then the abstinence-only advocates get the condom failure rates they’re looking for and come out on top (no pun intended).

Listen up: Kids are taking their clothes off and partying all night to have a good time. It is absolutely irresponsible to preach abstinence-only. Adolescents need adults to give them the tools needed to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Although AIDS is no longer the death sentence it once was, even the writers of Boston Legal know that “one time unprotected sex can kill you” and “a condom can save you.” Why isn’t every child in the world taught this?

Stephanie Chando, Duvall Project Intern

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

They're telling me to choose, but there's only lies to choose from


Before joining the ACLU of PA in 2004, I cut my activist teeth in the PA anti-death penalty movement. Hanging around that movement, shocking behavior by district attorneys becomes commonplace, but I'm not sure that I've ever gotten used to it.

Yesterday several district attorneys from Pennsylvania attended a capitol news conference to introduce legislation regarding the death penalty and persons with mental retardation. Their rhetoric took them to a new low. There was so much smoke in the room that I'm surprised the sprinkler system didn't kick on.

The fight is this: In 2002, SCOTUS declared that executing persons with mental retardation is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, but the Court left the decision on how to determine if a defendant is MR to the states. The DAs believe that the determination should be made after conviction by the jury. Disabilities advocates, the ACLU, the faith community, 90% of the state Senate, and Governor Rendell (per a 2006 interview with the Arc of PA) believe that the determination should be made before trial by the judge.

At yesterday's presser, the DAs and their legislative allies claimed that deciding if the defendant is MR before trial would cause two-to-three years of delays due to appeals by defense attorneys.

One small problem with that argument- it's a lie. Senate Bill 751, which includes a pre-trial determination by judge and passed the Senate, 45-3, on October 29, and House Bill 1370 would allow only the prosecution to appeal that decision, not the defense.
(vii) If the court enters an order under subparagraph (vi) finding that the defendant is a person with mental retardation, the Commonwealth may appeal as of right from the order under Pa.R.A.P. 311 (a)(9) (relating to interlocutory appeals as of right).

In other words, if the pre-trial procedure causes delays in the trial due to appeals, that delay will be caused by the DAs.

They threw around plenty of other misleading information and smoke screens. The DAs have been hanging their hat on this argument that homicide defendants will become "newly retarded" and there will be a massive increase in the number of defendants who claim to be MR.

Again, the pre-trial legislation shows this to be a straw man argument when it defines MR.
(3) The person's mental disability was present before 18 years of age as demonstrated by contemporaneous written records.

One central PA DA even invoked the memory of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, even though no one is claiming that the defendant in the Faulkner case is mentally retarded.

I'm all for a public policy debate. It's a healthy function of a democratic society. But when one side in a policy debate uses misinformation and smoke screens to advance their cause, democracy loses, especially when it's coming from public officials.

UPDATED, 6:15PM: One might wonder why the DAs want this so badly. This question came up in a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting last session, and the primary sponsor of the good bill in the Senate speculated that they want the death penalty for plea bargaining. I think that's possible. I also think that they want the decision to be post-trial because it allows them to eliminate 35-40% of the population from the jury pool. How? If the decision on MR- and, thus, the death penalty- is made post-trial, only people who support the death penalty could serve on the jury. That's called a death-qualified jury. These juries tend to be more pro-prosecution and less likely to question people in authority, as death penalty opponents so often do.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Here we go again....

A bit of a kerfluffle erupted last week when it came out that the Texas Education Agency's director of science was forced to resign amid accusations because she wasn't "neutral" enough on the topic of the teaching of evolution.

From today's New York Times article:
Ms. Comer, 56, of Austin, is out of a job, after forwarding an e-mail message on a talk about evolution and creationism — 'a subject on which the agency must remain neutral," according to a dismissal letter last month that accused her of various instances of 'misconduct and insubordination' and of siding against creationism and the doctrine that life is the product of 'intelligent design.'

Sigh. You'd think, perhaps, people might have learned a few things since Dover was thrust onto the international stage and Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design wasn't science.

By the way, who was giving this oh-so-controversial talk about evolution and creationism? None other than Barbara Forrest, the expert witness in the Dover trial whose damning testimony exposed intelligent design's creationist links.

Remember? Cdesign proponentists? Maybe they can't get PBS in Texas.

Lauri in York

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