Archive | August, 2008

Action Alert! Protect Birth Control and Emergency Contraception!

26 Aug

Reproductive Rights
On August 21, 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released proposed regulations that could seriously undermine access to basic reproductive health services, including birth control and abortion.

The rule leaves open the possibility that based on religious beliefs institutions and individuals can deny women access to birth control and individuals can refuse to provide information and counseling about basic heath care services. Moreover, they expand existing laws by permitting a wider range of health care professionals to refuse to provide even referrals for abortion services.

For years, federal law has carefully balanced protections for individual religious liberty and patients’ access to reproductive health care. The proposed regulations appear to take patients’ health needs out of the equation.

There is a 30 day comment period, ending September 20, 2008. This is the time to make your voice heard and to help protect access to birth control.

Send your comment to DHS today!

Madison’s police cameras, terror watch list failures, DNC/RNC protests and more

25 Aug

News roundup!

Domestic Spying
More evidence that casting a wider net to spy on or track Americans doesn’t work – the terror watch list has become so big and poorly maintained that it is rife with search problems. Check out this editorial from the NYT on why the watch list is failing both our privacy and our security. Whether the databases work or not, the watch list frenzy will snag all kinds of people, even would-be gun owners.

In related news, here’s a good story about evolving technology use and ethics with police work. It looks at Madison/Dane County cameras and microphones in squad cars and how they can be both a benefit to protecting both officers and civilians from abuse (when they are actually turned on) and also underscores the need for everyone to know that you don’t have to be read your Miranda rights for anything you say to be possibly used against you in court.

Protest Rights
An article in The Nation illustrates the motivations behind many of the protesters who are demonstrating at the DNC and at the RNC. Check back with CapCityLiberty for updates on our legal observation support at the RNC next week.

Reproductive Rights
A St. Petersburg Times opinion writer who was also a former head of two ACLU affiliates wrote a good editorial about what is at stake for Roe v. Wade in the next election.

Voting Rights
A recent New York Times article details the slowdown on federal certification for electronic voting machines and includes information on how the national trend impacts Wisconsin.

If you haven’t heard the news already, Air America radio talk show host Rachel Maddow will make a big move to MSNBC. She’s slated to be the featured guest at the ACLU of Wisconsin’s annual Bill of Rights dinner event in February 2009.p

Big Brother, Oh Brother!

22 Aug

Lots of news in the domestic spying world…

The US Justice Department has issued a proposal for new rules on domestic spying that would roll back privacy and oversight provisions put in place after Watergate. This “track ‘em all – just in case” system includes data fusion centers in which intelligence about citizens would be stored in databases shared among law enforcement agencies across jurisdiction lines.

According to <a href="”>this McClatchy release on the proposed regs, “Michael German, a former veteran FBI agent who is now policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said if Mukasey moves ahead with the new rules as he describes them, he’ll be weakening restrictions originally put in place after the Watergate scandal to rein in the FBI’s domestic Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO. At the time, the FBI spied on American political leaders and organizations deemed to be subversive throughout the late 1950s and into the 1960s.”

The concerns about data fusion centers are at the heart of the treatment of protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Denver where peaceful protesters can be lumped together with “terrorists.” In a recent column, Amy Goodman writes about the overbroad definitions of suspicious activity which can land non-violent protesters in federal databases.

Goodman’s column also expressed concern with the literal “caging of dissent” in which arrestees will be taken to a large, temporary detainment facility without bathrooms or running water. The ACLU of Colorado is involved in talks with city law enforcement about attorney access and conditions of detainees.

CapCityLiberty has been sharing information about searches of electronics at the border, but now with the advent of the passport-light card with the radio frequency chip, citizens crossing back and forth into Canada or Mexico will have their travels recorded in a database for up to 15 years.

These data fusion centers are worse than watch lists – and event the watch lists are snagging children now. Here’s a recent action alert from the national ACLU:

Why is 7-year-old John Anderson from Minneapolis on the national Terrorist Watch List?

1. He pushed Tommy too hard on the playground.

2. His July 4th birthday means he distracts other Americans from celebrating their country.

3. John didn’t pick up the blocks during playtime.

The truth is that we don’t know how he got on the Terrorist Watch List. Or if he can get off it. It took an Act of Congress to get Nelson Mandela, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, off the list.

This ever-growing and ineffective Watch List demonstrates what’s wrong with the U.S. government’s current approach to security: it’s unfair and a waste of resources. And when our government wastes time and money like this, we are all put in more danger — not less.

Take our national security quiz to learn about other frightening national security “tools.”

The questions above might be light hearted, but the problems Americans face everyday due to overzealous security measures are real.

According to USA Today:
John Anderson of Minneapolis, [now 7] was first stopped at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in 2004, when his family took him for his first airplane ride to Disney World. “We checked in at the ticket counter, and the woman said in a stern voice, ‘Who is John Anderson?’ ” says his mother, Christine Anderson. “I pointed to my stroller.”

Her son is allowed to fly. But because his name is flagged, his family cannot print out a boarding pass for him online and he must check in at the ticket counter so an airline official can see that he’s a child.

Take Action!
To find out more about how to fight the “bigger monster with weaker chains” of government surveillance, come to the statewide ACLU of Wisconsin 2008 Activist Conference (Saturday, September 27, Monona Terrace in Madison) where we will feature the ACLU’s national expert on domestic spying, Barry Steinhardt. Registration is $30 for members, $10 for students and NEW members can get in the conference and get a new membership for $50. For more information, contact the Madison Area Office at (608) 469-5540.

Fake voter registration hoopla, will vets vote? and more…

13 Aug

News roundup!

Religious Liberty
Here’s a story on a UW professor who just wrote a book on the complicated issue of religious healings and medical neglect. The interview with the author addresses the clash between religious liberty and state law in Wisconsin.

Voting Rights
Here is an article summarizing some of the recent controversies about non-partisan groups submitting invalid voter registration forms. Read on for the story about what ACORN did to fix their side of the problem. There is a lot here about partisan bickering over who would benefit from what voting reform laws, but ultimately it must be pointed out that eliminating election-day registration or requiring photo ID to vote creates more barriers to legitimate voting than it would stop this continued myth of widespread, in-person voter fraud. Think about it: what would requiring an ID at the polls do to fix the fact that paid canvassers, motivated by making earning money easier, faked registrations? It’s not like they then convince their friends to show up at the polls under those fake names. We don’t buy the conspiracy. We need fewer barriers to voting, not more.

According to this AlterNet story, the first large block of voters to be disenfranchised in 2008 are the wounded warriors from recent wars and homeless veterans living at hundreds of Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country, according to veterans and voting rights activists. While Wisconsin’s valuable election-day registration practice may make our vets able to avoid this controversy, what does our state Vets Administration think about this issue?

Issue of ex-felon voting rights was recently covered in the Washington Post – the article looks at some of the myths and assumptions of partisanship in the effort ot restore the vote to the formerly incarcerated and highlights the work of the ACLU nationally on voting rights.

And this is cool: because free speech isn’t always “free,” TDS just donated a chunk of change to the Lussier Community Ed Center for a studio where youth can record music.

Tell Congress to rein in DHS travel abuses; action on books to prisoners

8 Aug

Action Alert from the ACLU:
Tell Congress: it’s time to rein in travel abuses by the Department of Homeland Security

If you travel outside the United States, you can kiss your right to privacy, and perhaps your laptop, digital camera and cell phone, goodbye.

With no suspicion and no explanation, the U.S. government can seize your laptop, cell phone, or PDA as you enter the United States and download all your private information — including your personal and business documents, emails, phone calls, and web history. The Department of Homeland Security confirms that this is the official policy.

Tell Congress: it’s time to rein in travel abuses by the Department of Homeland Security.

What happens if you refuse to let the agents download your personal photos? Or if you have encrypted your private information? Then Border Patrol — which is now an agency of the Department of Homeland Security — can simply copy your entire hard drive or even take your device and hang on to it indefinitely.

Unfortunately, seizing laptops and cameras at the border isn’t the only travel security measure that infringes on our civil liberties.

Just last month, the U.S. government’s “terrorist watch list” surpassed one million names and is growing by over twenty-thousand names per month. The watch list includes the names of prominent people, like Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), plus hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans — many of them with common names like Robert Johnson and James Robinson. Your name might be on the list, but there’s no way to know for sure until you are delayed — or even detained for hours in a back room. If you discover your name is on the list, it’s nearly impossible to get off. It actually took an Act of Congress to get Nelson Mandela off the list. No joke. An Act of Congress.

These abuses have something in common: They make all of us into suspects, with no rule of law and no accountability.

It’s hard to know what surveillance-state bureaucrats will come up with next. For instance, many airports are using scanners that are so invasive that
they are like a virtual strip search! See-through body scanning machines are capable of showing an image of a passenger’s naked body. Security measures
like this are extremely intrusive — and should only be used when there is good cause to suspect that an individual is a security risk.

And recently, the TSA expressed interest in having every traveler wear an “electro-muscular disruption” bracelet that airline personnel or marshals could use to shock passengers into submission. Unless something is done, this plan may not be as far-fetched as one would think.

Traveling shouldn’t mean checking your rights when you’re checking your luggage. It’s time for some sanity when it comes to security. Please, speak out now.

Caroline Fredrickson, Director
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
P.S. Many Americans don’t know about these travel abuses. Please forward this link on to anyone you know who travels and ask them to take action, too.

Action Alert from the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice:
Tell the DOC to allow “Books to Prisoners”
After recent news articles about the challenges Wisconsin Books to Prisoners are having in getting the Department of Corrections to allow their commercial agent, Rainbow Books, to be recognized as an approved vendor of books, there is a call out to the public to phone in their concerns about the ban.

Those concerned with the denial of books to Wisconsin inmates are encouraged by the WNPJ to call Governor Jim Doyle (608-266-1212) and John Bett, the DOC administrator (608-240-5104) to express their concern and objection to this ban. This appeal is about protecting the First Amendment rights of prisoners; freedom to speak includes the right to read.

Sexism leads to broken bones, what’s wrong with data fusion centers

7 Aug

Women’s Rights
Discrimination against female football player? Check out this story about a student crying foul about treatment by her football coach. What would you do if your kid wanted to play but was locked out of her locker room where her safety equipment was stored, only to break her clavicle during the practice? Seems like at Evansville High, the only thing behind the athletic glass ceiling are shoulder pads and a fair chance to play. And much like this recent editorial in the Cap Times on updates to federal Fair Pay rules, the best evidence of the state of sexism in America is not in the news but in the forum postings. If we ever needed fair pay or Title IX, it apparently is now.

ACLU reports: Fusion Centers Part of Incipient Domestic Intelligence System

Read the report here!

The nation’s growing network of “fusion centers” is part of an incipient domestic intelligence system, according to the ACLU. The ACLU released a report detailing spying on Maryland peace demonstrators, a mysterious domestic-spying scandal at a California military base and other recent incidents, confirming that its warnings about fusion centers were coming true.

In November 2007, the ACLU released a report, “What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers,” warning about the potential dangers of these new institutions, including ambiguous lines of authority, excessive secrecy, troubling private-sector and military roles, and an apparent bend toward collection of information about innocent activities and data mining. Our recent addendum to the report explains how new developments have only confirmed the urgency of these warnings.

“Congress and state officials need to learn more about fusion centers, engage in some very pointed inquiry about the effectiveness and the precise role of these centers, and at a minimum put in place strong checks and balances,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Too often, we’ve given our government new powers to fight terrorists, only to have them used against peace activists and other innocent Americans. This can’t be the future of law enforcement. Congress needs to end private-sector participation and military involvement in law enforcement. We need to learn from our mistakes, not repeat them.”

No used books to inmates, birth control=abortion?, register for primaries

6 Aug

Prisoners’ Rights
Think a used book is a subversive tool to dismantle the prison industrial complex? Maybe the Department of Corrections does. Or at least they are saying that a used book can contain contraband and that’s why a local bookstore is being denied the right to send books to Wisconsin inmates. The Wisconsin State Journal has this story which seems sympathetic to the DOC. The Cap Times offers this version of the issue.

*** update: if you’d like to hear more about this topic, tune in to WORT on Friday, August 8 at noon for A Public Affair as Diane Farsetta interviews volunteers from Wisconsin Books To Prisoners and Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News. Go to to stream it live or to catch the archive later.

Reproductive Rights
Under the guise of protecting medical professionals from job discrimination, Bush wants to create a new rule that would define birth control as abortion. Congressional approval isn’t required to put the rule into effect, but around 100 legislators have signed onto a letter of protest against this sexist denial of patients’ rights. It isn’t a surprise that this effort delights anti-abortion figureheads in the state. The leg affairs director quoted in the article is the same guy who thinks that condoms are immoral too. Be sure to watch the McCain clip. Ask yourself, who’s out of touch on this issue?

Voting Rights
Did you know you can pre-register to vote (now through August 20) to get ready for the state’s primary election? This is great for anyone who has moved recently (ahem… students!). Registration is setting record numbers as people look ahead for the November general election.