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Franklin, Jefferson, Adams“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”

That’s what we’re supposed to be celebrating today.  A lot of people will get drunk.  Lots of kids will enjoy fireworks.  Some of us will sit back and judge the country harshly, looking down on the celebration of an event that broke us free from colonialism but was the harbinger of genocide and the birth of the nation which would be the last of the western world to abandon slavery as a legal institution.

Jefferson, the author, owned slaves – we all know that.  It’s not mitigation that he wanted to ban slavery in the very document that we’re celebrating (but John Adams and others talked him out of it in order to maintain unity between the colonies).  It’s not mitigation that he treated his slaves well relatively speaking, and even loved them (literally).  In fact, that all makes it worse because he knew it was evil.  And in fact, some historians challenge the contention that he was latently abolitionist – apparently there were some early writings linking intelligence to skull shapes and such – remembering from bad memory of my college readings of Stephen Jay Gould’s Mismeasure of Man.

But even the worst of us, fascists even, sometimes tap into something beautiful.  Fascists like Ezra Pound, D’Annunzio, Dali, Wagner (proto-fascist anyway), Speer…. Ted Nugent…

The words above are beautiful.  Jefferson tapped into something vital, and I have to believe that something spoke to his soul, because these words are worth celebrating.

It  can get confusing when debating conservatives and other war-on-terror advocates about rendition, national security, differentiation between custody as being accused of a crime and as a prisoner of war (or “enemy combatant”), because if you talk to them in the abstract, they will agree with the words above.  That human beings have rights against the abuse from another just by virtue of being a human being.  They will tell you because they learned that the rights come from God and not the government.  The government only recognizes rights that already exist.

And then you point out that non-citizens (and even some citizens apparently) are being held against Constitutional rights, which they will previously have agreed are “fundamental.”  But they aren’t entitled to the rights because they aren’t American citizens.  In other words, rights originate with government, not providence or God.

You point this out to them, and the wording of the Declaration and they will respond, so much like the dogmatic Trotskyists I know with eyes glazed over when you question anything in Lenin’s State and Revolution, that “The Declaration of Independence is not a legal document.”

Well, actually it is, but that’s completely beside the point anyway.  The question is about where you believe rights originate, and whether you believe that human government has the right to abridge these rights.

Some of the smarter conservatives will come up with a more convoluted and nuanced argument and say, “You liberals agree that there are times when government interests override those rights.”   Actually, that’s not what we say and it’s a misunderstanding of the “living document” doctrine many of us libs live by, but more to the point they don’t believe it.  Until they do.

And what they won’t admit is that they are more likely to forgo an individuals rights when there is more melanin in the subject’s skin than their own.

But the words above, they can’t be allowed to just recite them like some religious text and not deal with what they really mean.  Even if Jefferson set a bad example, these words should haunt anyone supporting Gitmo, “enhanced interrogation,” and all the doctrines of convenience.  And this holiday should haunt them.  Until they’re too drunk to think about it anyway.

This kid, who protested a school prayer at the graduation ceremony, finds himself ostracized, demeaned, and shunned by his own family.

Very sad story about a very brave young man.

Addendum:  This blogger outlines why he or she thinks the young man is being a jerk.  Maybe it’s hard to understand what it’s like to have to sit through an official prayer for a religion you don’t share.  It’s oppressive actually, especially as a kid.  You’re not even sure what you’re supposed to do, and you want to avoid doing anything to attract attention to yourself, so you do what those around you are doing.  You put your head down and pretend like you’re praying, because you really don’t want to seem any more different than you already are.  The blogger obviously hasn’t been through it.  Not as a kid.

Justice Kennedy was the swing vote.  46,000 prisoners, hopefully of the victimless variety, will be released.

As I mentioned before. there’s a local connection to the prisoners’ rights legal team.

I’m not sure what’s going on here, but it does appear that a left solidarity group in Chicago is being targeted by the FBI.  Following some raids and searches of homes in September, sans arrests or charges in the short term, several activists received subpoenas to appear before the Grand Jury last month.  A few more just received similar subpoenas.

Apparently they’re being called to talk about foreign nationals in Colombia and the Middle East with whom they work, and they are concerned about providing information which could result in their friends’ imprisonment or worse.  I don’t believe anything like this has happened since the 1980s when Sanctuary Movement members refused to provide information about Central American war refugees they had sheltered.

I’ve been looking for neutralish media coverage of the events, and they’re hard to find.  Most of the organizational links suggest that some of them are fronts for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization – an organization I dealt with on occasion when I was active in SF.  They’re a neo-Maoist dogmatic group, but hardly “radical” in the sense of advocating violent protests or anything of the like.  I seriously doubt they are guilty of anything, and the failure of authorities to arrest or press charges would suggest as much.  Is this harassment aimed at intimidating dissent, or are they conducting investigations to generate intelligence for “allies” such as the Colombian regime, Israel, or other Middle Eastern countries?  Either way, they probably won’t get much cooperation from this group.  They can be held in contempt, but not indefinitely.

In either case, this is a disturbing situation for anti-war activists all around the country as solidarity work generally involves contacts with people who may simply be on foreign government s— lists.  It puts activists in a very tough spot, and whether it is government design, will discourage interaction between groups across national borders.

If anyone has any more information, please post it.

It might not have been a story, but when Justice Kennedy speaks, the world hears.  It’s about the perennial overcrowding of our prisons which has been the subject of lawsuits for years.  The State is appealing an order which would force the release or transfer of about 40,000 prisoners.

From the L.A. Times:

California’s bid to block a court order that would require the state to release or transfer more than 40,000 inmates from its prisons ran into sharp and skeptical questioning at the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

A majority of the justices said the state had failed to remedy the severe overcrowding problem, despite decades of lawsuits and promises from the governor’s office.

“How much longer do we have to wait — another 20 years?” asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was reacting to the state lawyer’s contention that it was “premature” for a three-judge panel to order the state to reduce its prison population by one-fourth in two years.

“At some point, the court [in California] has to say, ‘You have been given enough time…. It’s now time for a remedy,’ ” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who grew up in Sacramento. That “seems to me perfectly reasonable,” he said.

….

A note of local interest.  A member of the team of attorneys in Washington right now representing the inmates in the suit is Rebbecca Evenson, daughter of Judy and Michael Evenson, who attended Skyfish and other local schools as a child.

That GPS thing which doesn’t violate reasonable expectations of privacy (according to current law) and has found its way into two local DA debates is in the headlines again.  A student found one on his car and the FBI showed up afterward.

The story.

A Mississippi Judge held an ACLU attorney in contempt for failing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in court.  The judge ordered that the attorney remain in prison until he agreed to recite the pledge.  The attorney continued to refuse, and was released four hours later.

In yet another in a long string of rulings watering down Miranda and other search and seizure related rights, the conservative majority of SCOTUS has ruled that you have to speak up if you want to stay quiet.

SCOTUS had already ruled that you have to specifically request an attorney in order to invoke Sixth Amendment rights.  If you invoke your Sixth Amendment rights, they can’t just leave  you and come back to harass you later.  Therefor, if you are arrested from here on out, to cover all bases, you should say something along these lines:

I hereby invoke my Fifth and Sixth Amendment Rights to silence and legal counsel.  I will not speak to you until I have consulted an attorney.

After that, you only have to answer booking questions.  But make sure you are clear.

A Maryland teenage student refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and the teacher had her basically arrested for it.  On the first day she refused, the teacher sent her to the office (one wonders why the principal didn’t rectify the situation immediately).  On the second day the teacher called the school police to have her removed from the classroom as the teacher insulted her and allowed other class members to taunt her.

The ACLU is involved and quite frankly I don’t think they should let the district off with just an apology.  The district recognizes that she had the right, but there really should be zero tolerance for this.  Give the girl credit for her courage, but this teacher’s actions have probably made the duration of the girl’s high school time a living hell.  Quite frankly, having this teacher wag his/her finger at the kids he/she has already whipped up is a remedy which will do more to aggravate than mitigate.  And personally I think the teacher should be required to attend a high school civics class and pass it.

PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Redwood ACLU announces Patriot Award nominees

The Redwood Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is pleased to announce the nominees for the 2009 Patriot Award. The chapter gives the Patriot Award annually to the member or members of the community who, in the opinion of the chapter, have demonstrated a patriotic commitment to defending and preserving the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in our country.

The 2009 nominees are:

Betty Chin and John Shelter for their work defending the rights of people who are houseless.

The Crisis Intervention Team of the Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services Mental Health Branch, which assists people who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

Eureka Councilman Larry Glass for working with the ACLU on items of common interest, including Eureka’s “True Ward” initiative.

County Supervisor Bonnie Neely for supporting the ongoing development of a framework for citizen police review.

Tad Robinson for defending freedom of speech and the right of the people peaceably to petition the government for redress of grievances.

“It is inspiring to see so many local citizens committed to enhancing our civil liberties,” said chapter Vice-Chair Christina Allbright.

The winner will be announced and honored at the Redwood Chapter’s annual membership meeting. The meeting will be held on Monday January 25th at 6pm at the Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall in Bayside. The keynote speaker will be Northern California ACLU Executive Director Abdi Soltani. Soltani’s speech will be on the topic “Civil Liberties in the Age of Obama.” The meeting will be a pot-luck style dinner and the public is invited to attend.  Also at the meeting, the over 870 members of the Redwood ACLU will elect the chapter’s Board of Directors for 2010.

“I encourage all ACLU members, and any interested members of the public to attend our annual meeting on the 25th,” said Redwood ACLU Chair Greg Allen.  “With the Patriot Award ceremony and a keynote speech by our new regional executive director, it should certainly be a worthwhile evening.”

The Redwood Chapter of the ACLU is the local, all-volunteer presence of the ACLU. The ACLU is our nation’s guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.

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