Specter threatens to block surveillance funding

It will be interesting to see how far Sen. Arlen Specter goes with his threat to withhold funding for Pres. Bush’s domestic spying program unless Bush provides more information on NSA surveillance activities to Congress.

Yesterday Specter filed an amendment to a spending bill, according to the AP, would “enact a ‘prohibition on use of funds for domestic electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes unless Congress is kept fully and currently informed.'”

Of course Specter said he’s stand firm for meaningful reform to the Patriot Act, and we all know how that turned out.

Family values: How Sensenbrenner-King immigration bill hurts families

Why are some politicians anti-family? Sojourners, a progressive Christian publication, illustrates how the Sensenbrenner-King crack-the-stick immigration reform bill can hurt families.

Diana Villanueva-Hoeckley is a 19-year-old college student in California. Her mother came to the United States legally and then brought Diana here illegally when she was 7 because her visa request was turned down. Ms. Villanueva died while Diana was in high school, leaving her and her American-born younger sister alone. An American family who knew Diana’s little sister adopted the girls.

If only the story could move on from there to focus on the life experiences that all families look to create. But most families do not face criminal prosecution. Yet, Diana may one day soon be charged as a felon for illegally immigrating to this country 13 years ago. And her adoptive parents also could be criminally charged for aiding and abetting an illegal immigrant.

Legislation currently being debated in the U.S. House of Representatives actually contains these provisions. Diana cannot believe this is happening in a country she has come to love. “I’m shocked that people don’t see me as someone who belongs here; this is my home,” she told me sadly. Though Diana was legally adopted by the Hoeckleys, in many renditions of the legislation she would not be protected. And now that she is 19, she would be prosecuted as an adult.

“I look around and see so many immigrants here who are working so hard to make a good life,” Diana said. “Why can’t people see the big picture?”

Indeed, the big picture tells a different story to the political fear-mongering on immigration. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants are living in the U.S. A number of studies demonstrate that they are anything but a “drain” on the U.S. economy as is widely feared. Douglass S. Massey, a Princeton University professor, has documented the contributions of undocumented workers to the government: 62% have taxes withheld from their paychecks, and 66% pay Social Security. Their payments to Social Security totalled $7 billion in 2004, and in the same year they paid $1.5 billion to Medicare. Ironically, Massey found these workers usually don’t take advantage of these programs, fearing the INS will be alerted to their presence in this country, Forbes reported.

Sojourners: The Christian face of immigration

Andy in Harrisburg

I spy… Two very bad bills

We got word late this afternoon that the Judiciary Committee will likely be voting tomorrow on Arlen Specter’s bad bill to address the NSA’s illegal spying program.

Specter claims that his bill, S. 2453, would restore judicial review of wiretaps, but the law already requires judicial review and the president has ignored it. Senator Specter’s bill would allow the courts to approve programs of surveillance, diminishing the Constitution’s requirement there be probable cause that an American is doing something wrong before their communications can be seized.

Of course there’s also a competing bill (S. 2455) written by Senator Mike DeWine (R-PA), which would also attempt to rewrite probable cause to allow warrantless surveillance of Americans’ calls and emails without evidence that they are conspiring with suspect terrorists. It would make judicial review of wiretaps optional and would reduce the amount of information the president is required to give Congress about the program.

There has been a definite lack of media attention on these bills, so please do all you can to inform people about them and why they’re so bad. And of course, you know the drill – call Specter! Tell him to withdraw his legislation until Congress learns the facts about the NSA spying program.

Specter’s offices
In Philadelphia: (215) 597-7200
In Pittsburgh: (412) 644-3400
In Washington, DC: (202) 224-4254

What’s the matter with this Kansan?

Well, we may have Rick Santorum, but at least he’s out of our state much of the time. Poor Kansas has their Attorney General, Phill Kline, around full time.

You may remember Mr. Kline from his demand last year that abortion clinics turn over the complete medical records of nearly 90 women and girls, saying he needed the material for an investigation into underage sex and illegal late-term abortions. (Of course he didn’t ask for information from hospitals about live births from underage women.) Thankfully, one of his other schemes in his anti-abortion crusade was stopped by a federal judge last week.

The case stemmed from Kline’s interpretation of a state anti-child abuse law that would make it mandatory for doctors, school counselors and therapists, among others, to report all sexual activity between and by people under 16 — and he did mean all, from kissing to sexual intercourse. (Slate has a great article on the issue called Smells Like Teen Snogging.)

Last week the federal judge, Thomas Marten, held that Mr. Kline’s opinion violated the actual language of the underlying state statute, which gives those treating adolescents discretion to decide whether illegal sexual activity amounts to actual child abuse. Kansas law prohibits intercourse, oral sex and lewd touching by anyone under 16. (I definitely need to check out the filings in this case, because according to an editorial, “Kline … asserted that any sexual activity, including petting, was harmful to teens.” Wow. Makes me glad I grew up in the oh-so-progressive state of Indiana.)

By the way, for all you Dover junkies, Mr. Kline also happens to be a supporter of teaching intelligent design (surprise!) and last year told the Kansas Board of Education that it was constitutional to put a sticker on textbooks saying evolution is a theory, not a fact. According to the Washington Post, he said “‘Yeah, it’s constitutional. It is theory. I know the difference between scientific law, scientific theory, scientific hypothesis,’ Kline said.” He certainly seems to have strange ideas about laws, whether they be scientific or otherwise.

Sara in Philly

Jose Rivera meets Joe Stoltzenfuss

Think the PA economy doesn’t need immigrant labor? Think immigrants should be thrown in York County Prison by the thousands? Think we don’t need comprehensive immigrant reform?

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and The Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce & Industry readily acknowledged that immigrant workers are vital to the state and local economy. Without a “legal and viable agricultural worker program,” Pennsylvania’s agricultural economy “can expect to see a loss of $97 [million] to $175 million per year,” said Farm Bureau spokesman Mark O’Neill.

In Lancaster County, the impact from harsh penalties on guest workers “would be much broader than just ag workers in the ag industry,” said Don Ranck, owner of Verdant View dairy farm in Paradise and political advocate for the Lancaster Farm Bureau.

“The ripple effect,” he said, “could be crippling.”

Lancaster Sunday News: Depending on immigrant labor

Gay Marriage and Falconry

Great column in yesterday’s Tribune-Review on Metcalfe’s Marriage Protection Amendment. Some excerpts…

Metcalfe is determined to ensure that marriage stays an uplifting, spiritual union between a man and a woman that only occasionally results in bitter unhappiness, clinical depression, mid-afternoon binge drinking, chronic infidelity, noisy late-night arguments, broken furniture, protection-from-abuse orders and violent, premature death.

Regardless of your opinion on same-sex marriage, know this about Metcalfe’s anti-brokeback bill: It is entirely unnecessary, as superfluous and manipulative a piece of legislation as you currently will find making its way through the Capitol’s semi-corrupt corridors.

The columnist imagines future Metcalfe initiatives.

Metcalfe calls for a constitutional amendment restricting state falconry permits to those16 and older. Current law requires falconry permit applicants to be at least a year younger than 17.

“You don’t want some activist judge to come along and rule that everyone should be able to hunt with the assistance of birds of prey, regardless of age,” he says. “Before you know it, every pony leaguer, Cub Scout and preschooler would be walking around with a darn falcon perched on his shoulder.”

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Profile on ACLU’s executive director

The Daily Princetonian has a nice profile of Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU. Here’s my favorite quote:

“What I love most is making a difference, waking up in the morning, getting pissed off at something in the newspaper and getting to the office and doing something about it. That is a pretty spectacular privilege of my job,” Romero said.

Glad to see it’s not just the Harrisburg office that appreciates making a difference and waking up in the morning….and getting pissed off while reading the paper.

Andy in H-burg

Proceed with caution

The National ACLU has launched a new online tool that allows individuals to send Letters-to-the-Editor directly to your local newspapers. It’s a handy, clickable system that lets you select your newspaper, write a letter online and email it quickly. National is encouraging folks to use this tool to write letters about domestic surveillance and abuse of power and provides talking points on two bills now before the Senate, S.2453, the “National Security Surveillance Act” and the S.2455 the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Act.”

So, go forth and write, but remember that “letters to the editor can be dangerous.”

So says Bruce Schimmel, in this week’s Philadelphia City Paper article “Letter Rip.” Bruce tells the story of Laura Berg, “a nurse from Albuquerque” who wrote a letter to the editor “to denounce our government’s belligerence abroad and its indifference at home.”

“Berg’s letter… caught the eye of the FBI, who suspected her of sedition. The feds feared that the middle-aged nurse was beating the drums for violent revolution.

Berg’s computer was seized. Put on the watch list of the Patriot Act, she could be tailed and her phone tapped. Convicted of sedition-however unlikely-Berg could face time behind bars.

So when does the nurse get off the offical list of evildoers? Earlier this year, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information request on Berg’s behalf, which may provide a hint. “

So, go write your letters. And, if needs be, you can come back and file your FOIA

Amy Laura in Philadelphia

Update- Sunday, 4:40pm: Here’s more on this story:
Albuquerque Tribune: VA apologizes to nurse who wrote letter
The Albuquerque Tribune columnist Kate Nelson
AP via Free New Mexican: NM ACLU wants apology to employee investigated on ‘sedition’
Democracy Now: VA nurse accused of sedition (audio, video, and transcript of interview with Berg available)

Putting the "F" (and a "U") in FBI

Good to see someone is stickin’ it to The Man. The family of late newspaper columnist Jack Anderson Scalia’ed the FBI when it came knocking and asking for Anderson’s files, dating back 50 years.

The family of the late newspaper columnist Jack Anderson yesterday rejected a request by the FBI to turn over 50 years of files to agents who want to look for evidence in the prosecution of two pro-Israel lobbyists, as well as any classified documents Anderson had collected.

Kevin P. Anderson, son of the storied Washington-based writer, said the family is outraged at what it calls government overreaching and “a dangerous departure” from First Amendment press protections, a stance joined by academic and legal experts.

Fighting back and resisting are strategies for ending government abuse of power. Kudos to the Anderson’s for not caving. Here’s more:

First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams noted “a disturbing logic” to government efforts first to target the receipt of information that journalists have historically discussed without any threat of sanction, and then to track down documents “which even the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover would not have taken steps to obtain from Anderson.”

Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said the executive branch’s increasingly aggressive effort to control publication even after documents have been disclosed “is a profoundly dangerous step.”

“It is both ironic and somehow fitting that Jack Anderson should again be at the center of a controversy like this,” Aftergood added. “What the FBI couldn’t do during his lifetime, they’re now seeking to do after his death, and I think many Americans will find that offensive.”

Washington Post: FBI Rebuffed on Reporter’s Files

Andy in H-burg

Editorials on gay marriage

So it’s not a clever title. Anyway, two great op-eds/editorials on the Marriage “Protection” Amendment appeared today in PA newspapers. The first is written by Rep. Babette Josephs (okay, it’s really not a surprise she’d see thing our way, as she’s on the ACLU Philadelphia Chapter board) and other, by Kathleen Daugherty, former director of the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania, appeared in the Harrisburg Patriot-News.