Friday, September 26, 2008

With apologies...

Regular readers of SF know that every once in awhile we go through a dry spell where you don't hear from us much. I've taken on new duties here at ACLU-PA, and we're all busy with a variety of projects. But stay tuned. SF is still here and active. On Monday, I'd like to dig into a death row case where a man who is probably innocent was nearly executed and some of the voting issues we're working on.

Andy in Harrisburg

Amy Goodman speaks about her arrest

This video is a few weeks old, but I just stumbled across it today. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, who was arrested along with several other journalists at the RNC in St. Paul, talks about her experience and the state of free speech and free press in American with PBS's NOW.

I was amazed by the response a few weeks ago from some SF readers that the behavior of the St. Paul police was perfectly acceptable.

Last Friday the charges against the arrested journalists were dropped by the St. Paul City Attorney.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Why, Governor Rendell?

Guest Blogger: Marshall Bright

The other day, my uncle called me with some frightening information. Along with well-wishes for my next year of school and a lively update on internal medicine in Cleveland, Tennessee, he dropped this bombshell.

“I just wanted to let you know that during your entire teen years, Bush was president.”

Talk about a wasted youth.

During my teen years, my peers and I have been treated like a group of people who are physically ready to have sex, but not mentally or emotionally there. Apparently, we’re unable to hold two ideas in our heads at the same time like, “Abstinence is effective,” and “When you’re read to have sex, here’s how to be safe.” Apparently, we’ll experience system overload if confronted with that information, and if some are to be believed, throw caution to the wind and become procreating machines.

So, thanks to the Bush administration and the ilk, many of us are allowed only one narrative: “Abstinence is effective,” and “Abstinence is the only choice.”

Well, if I’m incapable of resolving ideas about sex aside from “Abstinence, Abstinence, Abstinence,” I’m going to need a lot of help understanding this doozy:

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is pro-comprehensive sex education. The same governor applies to receive funding for abstinence-only programs.

If sex ed can cause my brain to overload, resolving that last bit of information might just cause a system crash.

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. You see, the governor’s office will claim that an application for funding isn’t an endorsement of abstinence-only sex programs. The application, rather, is to make sure the government doesn’t stand in the way of these programs. Huh?

Now, I’m still trying to figure out the whole egg-and-sperm thing, but isn’t there a difference between standing in the way of programs and allowing groups that often preach intolerance backed by religion to receive tax dollars?

After all, a hallmark of abstinence-only programs is preaching to wait until marriage to have sex. Oh, and sex, just like marriage, can only happen between a man and a woman too. So what about students who are gay or have gay parents? How do they fit in?

Aside from pumping money into something that discriminates against gay youth in our schools and replaces information with fear, tax money will also go to support something that has been proven, time and time again as ineffective.

Excuse me Governor Rendell, but isn’t doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results one of the definitions of insanity?

On top of all this confusion, we must also note that abstinence-only programs are being funded in Pennsylvania, and being funded well and often. Look no further than another supposedly pro-sex ed politican Arlen Specter. Through earmarks, Specter is doling out money to groups like A+ for Abstinence and the more innocuous sounding like Partners for a Healthier Tomorrow, whose website lists ways to have fun without having sex, including starting a rock or stamp collection. Tomorrow may be healthier, but it seems pretty boring too.

So, Governor Rendell, if all these abstinence-only groups are to be believed, I’m not going to be able to figure this one out on my own. Is what you’re doing- funding groups with moral agendas that have failed to prove effective time and time again, really what’s best for teenagers? Is it best for Pennsylvania? Or is it another way to invite religion, intolerance, and misinformation into our schools? You tell me, Governor.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Voting in peril

Dealing with voting issues is a little tricky around here since they can come with partisan overtones. The ACLU is non-partisan: Both Republicans and Democrats annoy us.

When it comes to voting, we like to follow a relatively simple philosophy. Access to the ballot box should be as easy as possible.

And that's why it's hard to ignore some of the disturbing stories that have come out in the last week or so.

First comes a report from Truthout that OH election officials have sent a mailing marked "Do Not Forward" to registered voters. Federal law prohibits striking voters from the rolls within 90 days of an election, but if the mailing is returned automatically, the voter could be challenged by partisan hacks. This is the kind of thing that can happen to college students and members of the military, and it is typically targeted at minorities.

Ohio did this in March, and 600,000 voters were purged from the rolls.

This is called "caging", and we've talked about voter caging before.

Now there is this report from Greg Palast, the lone watchdog of voter caging, according to Salon, who works with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., on this issue.
In swing-state Colorado, the Republican Secretary of State conducted the biggest purge of voters in history, dumping a fifth of all registrations. Guess their color.

In swing-state Florida, the state is refusing to accept about 85,000 new registrations from voter drives – overwhelming Black voters.

In swing state New Mexico, HALF of the Democrats of Mora, a dirt poor and overwhelmingly Hispanic county, found their registrations disappeared this year, courtesy of a Republican voting contractor.

In swing states Ohio and Nevada, new federal law is knocking out tens of thousands of voters who lost their homes to foreclosure.


It’s time SOMEBODY raised the alarm about these missing voters; not to save Obama’s candidacy – journalists should stay the heck away from partisan endorsements - but raise the alarm to save our sick democracy.

And finally there is this report that voters in Michigan who face mortgage foreclosure might be challenged at the polls.

Oh, democracy, where art thou?

It's not all bad news. The Veterans Administration has reversed a previous decision and will now allow voter registration drives at VA hospitals and homeless shelters. Duh.

And in response to our letter on the voting eligibility of ex-offenders to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and the P&P offices in all 67 counties, the state is informing all of its officers to give the Department of State's fact sheet (PDF) on ex-offender voting to all parolees. Numerous PA counties have contacted us and plan to do the same.

Here's to saving democracy, one voter at a time.

Andy in Harrisburg


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

You'd make a great cop

"Got a lot of questions for me
You got a lot of questions for me
Got your finger pointing at me
Distrusted, I look for wires when I'm talking to you
You'd make a great cop."

Well, it looks like the ACLU of Minnesota is about to get some business.

For whatever reason, political conventions lead the po-lice in the host city to act like our democracy has been replaced by a totalitarian system.

In 2000, it was Philadelphia. Pennsylvania State Police infiltrated an activist group, and an activist friend of mine was beaten so badly by the Philly PD during a protest that he ended up with a permanent hip condition.

In 2004, it was New York and Boston. We chronicled the abuse of free speech rights at those conventions in the Freedom Files episode Dissent.

And now it's Denver and especially St. Paul. Last week in Denver the first checkpoints around the arena where the Democrat party held its convention were two miles away from the arena. Even worse, the Colorado National Guard was on call to deal with protestors. And we all know what can happen when the National Guard deals with protestors.

Perhaps the most egregious abuse of power by the cops has occurred in St. Paul over the last few days. In general, the police have been abusing people for exercising their free speech rights.

Specifically, America is not a country where we arrest journalists. And yet Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, AP photographer Matt Rourke, who is based out of Philadelphia, and several other journalists were arrested for simply covering the protests and the police reaction to them. It's incredible that I even have to say this, but they were carrying out the right to freedom of the press protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. One of Rourke's supervisors was none too pleased:
David Ake, an AP assistant chief of bureau in Washington, said he was concerned by the arrest of Rourke, a Philadelphia-based photographer.

"Covering news is a constitutionally protected activity, and covering a riot is part of that coverage," Ake said. "Photographers should not be detained for covering breaking news."

Here's the video of police chasing down Salazar. You can hear her screaming, "Press! Press!"

And here's the video of the arrest of Goodman, who was inquiring about what happened to her producers.

So much for "to serve and protect". The St. Paul police certainly are not serving or protecting democracy. They're protecting the thugs who have taken over our government.

National ACLU has released a statement, indicating that ACLU attorneys are on the scene. And here's DN!'s statement on the arrest of its employees.

Andy in Harrisburg

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