Friday, May 30, 2008

Tricky Ricky opines

There's been a lot of reaction to the Cali gay marriage decision, too much to track and comment on here. But I am moved to comment after last week's Inquirer column by former Senator Rick Santorum.

Guru Rick claims:
Look at Norway. It began allowing same-sex marriage in the 1990s. In just the last decade, its heterosexual-marriage rates have nose-dived and its out-of-wedlock birthrate skyrocketed to 80 percent for firstborn children.

Huh? How does legalizing same sex marriage lead to a drop in hetero marriage? Did all the straight guys go gay? Maybe all the straight guys became suddenly attracted to their dogs.

Then there's this nugget:
Is anyone saying same-sex couples can't love each other? I love my children. I love my friends, my brother. Heck, I even love my mother-in-law. Should we call these relationships marriage, too? Marriage is and always has been more than the acknowledgment of the love between two people.

Apples and oranges. I shouldn't even have to say this, but love for your kids or your brother or your mother-in-law is not the same as romantic love....unless Ricky's mother-in-law gives him a thrill up his leg.

But here's the real meat and the real problem with Santorum's op-ed:
There is a constitutional right that is under threat: the free exercise of religion.

Let me go out on another limb here and make another crazy prediction. Within 10 years, clergy will be sued or indicted for preaching on certain Bible passages dealing with homosexuality and churches, and church-related organizations will lose government contracts and even their tax-exempt status.

The idea that pastors will be sued or indicted for exercising their free speech and free expression rights is a straw man scare tactic. It is simply not true. Yes, faith groups' access to government funding may be, and should be, limited. But as long as the Constitution exists, preachers can say any crazy thing they please. And the ACLU will be right there to defend their right to do so.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Philadelphia is not a Constitution-free zone (oh, the irony)

This post has been on my mind for a while: My first thought after seeing the Philadelphia police beating (link includes video) a few weeks ago was, 'These are the people that some city officials want to give more power.'

Now comes the latest news. Two Philadelphia police officers are wanted on criminal charges that they beat a man after catching him in the act of spray painting the side of a building. The man spent five days in the hospital with a broken jaw and other injuries.

The reaction from the FOP was predictable:
"This is a disgrace," McNesby said yesterday. "It can't get any worse... Instead of tracking murders in Philadelphia, we should be tracking the persecution of police officers. It's open season on police officers. Not only do we have to watch out for the criminals on the street, but we have to watch out for the people we work for."

Memo to Mr. McNesby: The city in which the Constitution was crafted and signed is not a Constitution-free zone. The police do not have a right to beat people at will.

We know that most police officers work hard and do their best to maintain proper law enforcement techniques. Those who violate the citizenry's civil rights need to be held accountable.

And last week our friends at Equality Advocates released data showing an increase in anti-LGBT hate crimes in 2007 with a noticeable spike in police misconduct complaints of mistreatment of LGBT persons, especially in Philadelphia.
Most notable in Pennsylvania is the spike in reports of police misconduct. Numbers for offenders in the law enforcement officer category increased from nine reported offenders in 2006 to 48 offenders in 2007. Coupled with this information is an increase in bias incidents occurring in police precincts, jails and police vehicles. Additionally, incidents where the victim reported unjust arrest increased from one in 2006 to eleven in 2007. Over half of the reported police misconduct incidents occurred in Philadelphia.

"Equality Advocates is greatly concerned by the spike in police misconduct incidents across the state," said Jesse White, Legal Clinic Manager/Hate Crimes Victim Advocate for Equality Advocates Pennsylvania. "We are especially concerned regarding the statistics in Philadelphia. We hope that the current administration will look closely at these statistics and will work with the community to address these issues."

It's not all bad news. There are early indications that an increased police presence in southwest Philly is aiding in a drop in crime numbers. The ACLU has long advocated for community policing. When our last legislative director left, he gave me an op-ed he wrote on the issue from 1995. For community policing to be effective, officers need to walk the streets and become a part of the fabric of the community. It's not clear yet if that is happening.
(Neighborhood resident Karl Kelly), too, noticed more police cruisers, he said. But he's unimpressed with the heightened police presence, he said. It would help the community more, he said, if cops were visible - outside their police cruisers.

"Everybody got back in their cars," he said, referring to 12th District police officers, who he said used to patrol his neighborhood on foot.

This will be an ongoing story and a long-term process.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Friday, May 23, 2008

I got so much trouble on my mind. Refuse to lose.

Lots of stuff out there in the ether.
  • To borrow a phrase, America's chickens have come home to roost. Several federal agencies sponsored a summit last week with immigrant groups to recruit aid in intelligence gathering. And guess what they heard.
    "We are going to ask you to open up your communities to us," said Ronald Sanders, an assistant national intelligence director, and the son of an Egyptian immigrant mother.

    The officials got an earful in return — about immigration and hiring rules and foreign policies that make life harder in immigrants' old countries. The intelligence agencies' own practices also came under criticism: extraordinary rendition, holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, harsh interrogation practices that some say amount to torture.

    "Basically they've scared people," said Amina Khan, of the Association of Pakistani Professionals and an attorney formerly with the U.S. Energy Department.

  • ID this! Yesterday 40 people came out on a workday morning to attend a public hearing in Erie on the federal Real ID Act. The testimony from the one defender of the real nightmare of Real ID, who was from the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License, sounded something like this:
    "9/11, drug dealers, September 11, illegal aliens, terrorists, terrorists flying planes into buildings, be afraid."

    That's not an exact quote, but it was something like that. I was trying to ignore what he was saying.

  • ID this, part deux! Here we go again. Last week PA House Republicans introduced legislation to require photo identification at the voting booth. Their press conference sounded something like this:
    "The illegal alien vote, stop fraud, dead people, Chicago, illegal aliens, close the borders, 9/11."

    That's right, one rep even managed a 9/11 reference, saying, "Can you imagine if the 19 9/11 hijackers had been allowed to vote?"

    These people are mad. There is no evidence that this type of voter fraud is happening, so why put up more roadblocks to voting? Maybe they're afraid of the voters. Frankly, they should be.

    The Erie Times News, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Patriot News of Harrisburg all opined against this ridiculous idea.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

National's new blog

National ACLU has kicked off the revamp of its blog, ACLU Blog of Rights. Today's kick-off includes entries from Glenn Greenwald of and Joan McCarter of Daily Kos. Check it out!

Andy in Harrisburg

Sunday, May 18, 2008

New journalism

I've often made the argument that while blogs can be invaluable news aggregates as well as great sources for putting a story in its much-needed context, newspapers in this country still remain the primary newsgatherers.

That's why I've argued that if newspapers continue their downward spiral, what's left of the media will become nothing but a loud echo chamber. Everyone commenting on the opinions of others. But nobody doing any real investigative reporting.

Certainly, I'm not the first person to come up with this idea. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Information is the currency of democracy." But I have always embraced the notion that without the vital watchdog role of the traditional Fourth Estate, democracy will fail.

I'm not yet ready to say I was wr...that I'm wron... Let's just say that I've been tweaking my position this week.

As you know, an April 20 New York Times story revealed that the military analysts we've seen so much of on cable and network news in the past five years are actually shills for the Pentagon.

Without a doubt, reporter David Barstow and the Times deserve an incredible amount of praise for exposing these unethical relationships. The newspaper fought for two years and endured a costly court battle to get access to the documents that reveal the coziness between these supposedly neutral analysts and the government.

Now that the public documents have finally been released to the public, who's been doing the followup investigations? Who's been the real newsgatherers in the process?

Well, it sure ain't the networks who have all been remarkably quiet about the revelations about their go-to commentators. Probably because they were too shocked - Shocked, I tell you! - to respond.

No, the folks who have been keeping this story alive, in addition to The Nation magazine - which has vowed "to keep the story alive until it gets the attention it deserves" - are the bloggers and their readers. Citizen journalists.

TPM has been conducting a terribly interesting experiment. One of its writers has been asking readers to share the burden of combing through the Pentagon documents and documenting some of the worst excesses.

This is one of the little tidbits they found:

hi. jed babbin, one of our military analysts, is hosting the michael medved nationally syndicated radio show this afternoon. he would like to see if general casey would be available for a phone interview any time between 3 and 6 pm.
please feel free to contact jed directly (contact info below) if the general can/would be available for the interview. this would be a softball interview and the show is 8th or 9th in the nation.

From: Allison Barber
To: redacted
Hi. Thanks for sending this. Just fyi, probably wouldn't put "softball" interview in writing. If that got out it would compromise jed and general casey.

And how about this scary item from Firedoglake:
An ongoing exploration of the documents related to the Pentagon's "message force multipliers" program has unearthed a clip of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggesting that America, having voted the Democrats back into Congressional power, could benefit from suffering another terrorist attack, and doing so in the presence of the very same military analysts who went on to provide commentary and analysis of the Iraq War.

It remains true that it takes the deep pockets and larger resources of newspapers like the New York Times to get access to information that the government would rather keep hidden. But when it comes to sheer doggedness at digging for information, blogs and their loyal readers are proving that they also play an important role in the democratic process.

Lauri in York

Editor's note: "Lauri in York" is the author of a new book, The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America. Click here for last week's review in The Patriot News.


Friday, May 16, 2008

I'm not dead yet!

Babies are crying, mothers are wailing, a country mourns, as for the last week and a half, SF has been quiet. I swear, we're not going away. We've just been so busy doing all of the other work necessary to defend freedom that we haven't had time to post. But don't worry, dear readers, I have some things rolling around in my head that I can't wait to get up here. Tune in next week.

Andy in Harrisburg

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Marriage amendment stalled!

One day after nearly 400 people packed the state capitol rotunda with chants of "Stop this bill!", the state Senate chose not to vote on and to table Senate Bill 1250, the marriage amendment. Senate leadership made this move after learning that the bill had no chance to move in the state House.

Right here in Pennsylvania- our state that some pundits like to simplify into Philly, Pittsburgh, and Alabama- the LGBT civil rights movement achieved a significant victory. And it happened because both Democrats and Republicans stood up against the legislation.

This was a victory, but the bill is stalled, not dead. Now we need the state House to hold firm in its stance to not move the bill, if it were to pass the Senate. Anyone in Pennsylvania who is reading this needs to contact their representative with the message, "Oppose the marriage amendment. Oppose Senate Bill 1250." Only call your personal representative. Out-of-district communication is really irritating to legislators.

Find your rep at the House website. Talking points on the issue are available at our website.

Meanwhile, throughout the week, editorial boards have been coming out (so to speak) against the marriage amendment, like The Patriot News of Harrisburg:
What is sometimes referred to as a "defense of marriage" initiative is an attempt to fundamentally alter a constitution -- intended to protect the liberties of people from the power of government -- to discriminate against the state's minority gay population.

The notion that the institution of marriage is somehow put in jeopardy by the prospect of gay couples formalizing their relationship in civil union, which is illegal by statute in Pennsylvania, is preposterous.

And The Public Opinion of Chambersburg:
We agree with opponents who say this amendment would formally codify discrimination within the state's constitution. State Sen. Vincent Fumo of Philadelphia summed the issue nicely when he echoed the words of the Founding Fathers, who believed constitutions defend minorities from the tyranny of the majority.

And the most prominent conservative newspaper in the state, Richard Mellon Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune Review:
But perhaps even more onerous is the effort to ban same-sex civil unions. What, gays and lesbians, because of their sexual orientation, somehow do not have the same and fundamental right of contract as their heterosexual counterparts?

Surely legislative backers of this amendment have more pressing business in Harrisburg than to attempt to enshrine discrimination into the Pennsylvania Constitution. That they appear not to suggests voters should make a change in November.

I'm looking forward to the day when we drive the final nail into the coffin of this foolish idea.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Loving for all

As our lawmakers debate Senate Bill 1250, the marriage item, I hope they pause to consider the words of Mildred Loving.

Loving, a black woman whose challenge to Virginia's ban on interracial marriage led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling striking down such laws nationwide, has died, her daughter said Monday.

Peggy Fortune said Loving, 68, died Friday at her home in rural Milford. She did not disclose the cause of death.

"I want (people) to remember her as being strong and brave yet humble -- and believed in love," Fortune told The Associated Press.

Loving and her white husband, Richard, changed history in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their right to marry. The ruling struck down laws banning racially mixed marriages in at least 17 states.

Last June, on the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, Mildred wrote the following essay which was reposted yesterday on DailyKos:
By Mildred Loving

When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn't to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.

We didn't get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn't allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn't that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the "crime" of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed. The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile.

We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn't have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men," a "basic civil right."

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God's plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation's fears and prejudices have given way, and today's young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Lauri in York

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Senator Fumo, slavery, and our precious civil rights

Senator Vince Fumo (D-Philadelphia) has taken a lot of heat for comments he made earlier this week at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. In a heated discussion over Senate Bill 1250, the marriage amendment, Fumo suggested that- given the chance- the legislature would pass a bill to reinstate slavery, especially if it was on a secret ballot.

I was there. Obviously, Fumo was over the top. But what has been missed in the self-righteous outcry from the media and some legislators is the logic behind Fumo's comment. His logic was spot on, and only The Philadelphia Inquirer has been bold enough to say so. The bishop who testified and whom Fumo was sparring with at the time claimed that this important civil rights issue should be decided by voters, and Fumo was rebutting that point by claiming that voters don't decide what rights minorities have and don't have. To do so would place the minority in the hands of a tyrannical majority.

During the hearing, I was waiting for someone to make that point. Fumo did so but used a horrible example, slavery. But examples abound of issues on which we would not want voters making decisions. Interracial marriage, desegregation of public transportation, and desegregation of public schools- to name just a few- were important civil rights issues decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, not the voters. Would bans on interracial marriage been declared unconstitutional if left in the hands of voters, rather than the court, as it was in Loving v. Virginia in 1967? Can you imagine a majority of Americans or Arkansans voting for desegregation of schools in 1954?

The Framers were not perfect, as I've said here before, but they knew from experience that minorities of all sorts needed to be protected from the mob mentality of the majority. In their day, it was religious and political minorities. Later in our country's history, we came to our senses and protected the rights of racial and ethnic minorities. And today we fight hard for equality for our friends in the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community.

Andy in Harrisburg

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