Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Kiersten Marek:

Wow and holy cow. It looks like there are some issues at the Treasury Office here in Rhode Island.

Originally posted on On Politics:

The office of State Treasurer Gina Raimondo has released the following response to claims by Providence City Councilor David Salvatore that he was fired, in violation of his free speech rights:

David Salvatore’s allegation is absolutely untrue.

Treasurer Raimondo continues to encourage all stakeholders – including Councilman Salvatore – to engage in the process of overhauling Rhode Island’s ailing municipal pension systems. The engagement of all Rhode Island leaders, stakeholders and citizens was vital to the successful passage of the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act of 2011.

Treasury remains focused on delivering results for the people of Rhode Island. During the past 14 months, Treasury has undergone a comprehensive assessment to achieve better Treasury-wide performance. Treasury has been making a number of organizational and structural changes with its at-will employee positions in order to streamline work, create efficiencies and align the office to better achieve Treasury goals. As one example, Treasury…

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Internet Censorship and SOPA

by Elaine Hirsch

What is the future of SOPA?

In October of 2011, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with its Senate counterpart, Protect Internet Providers Act (PIPA). Ostensibly designed to strengthen legal responses against the illegal distribution of copyrighted material, these bills caused a firestorm in the internet community. Opposition to the bill focused on two points: the dramatic expansion of power that would allow the US government to take action against internet service providers for material posted by individuals using those providers, and the expansion of government power that would allow the US to take action against “online service providers, Internet search engines, payment network providers, and Internet advertising services” in other countries accused of engaging in illegal activities.

Supporters of the bills touted them as the next step in strengthening legal protections for copyright holders (for example film studios and software manufacturers) against the pirating of their material. Some criminology experts and opponents said that the bills are overgeneralized, and allowed draconian measures such as blocking an entire domain for the actions of one individual using that domain. In noting that the phrase “enables or facilitates” in the bill is so broad in scope that even email falls under the category of enablement, Techdirt analyst Mike Masnick makes an effective point: the entire internet—an interconnected network—by definition enables piracy.

Are SOPA and PIPA needed?
On January 19, 2011, as sites such as Wikipedia initiated a blackout in protest of the bills, the U.S. Department of Justice was engaged in shutting down Megaupload, one of the world’s largest file-sharing services of copyrighted material. Two years earlier, in November 2009, the Pirate Bay, another site famous for file-sharing of copyrighted material, was the subject of blocking by a number of countries in Europe and Asia, and the owners taken to court. These famous cases strongly suggest that existing measures are fully adequate in providing authorities all the power needed to take action against sites engaged in illegal activity.

While the bill has been withdrawn for revision, it is by no means dead. A number of companies such as YouTube and Google support alternative legislation such as Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN), legislation designed to protect “Fair Use” policies while targeting more specifically those individuals engaged in illegal activities, without the sweeping new powers contained in SOPA. It is possible that free speech advocates and those interested in providing the government additional powers to shut down illegal sites may come to a consensus and come up with more effective legislation. One thing is clear, the two sides are far from finding that consensus at present.

Elaine Hirsch, Kmareka’s West Coast correspondent, blogs as a labor of love.

Kmareka Supporting Blackout Tomorrow to Protest SOPA and PIPA

To support Blackout Wednesday and in congruence with, Kmareka will be unavailable tomorrow for regular viewing. The settings will be turned to private so that it can’t be viewed. We will return on Thursday. To learn more about SOPA and PIPA and the threats they pose to internet communication and free speech, please see this article.

Banned Books Week

Thanks to friend Nomi for a reminder that once again, it’s Banned Books Week!

There’s a cool map of censorship actions, with blue balloons marking the locations. I thought Rhode Island was a beacon of freedom, and, with the exception of some school officials who got cranky in Cumberland, we are.

Here’s the top ten banned books for 2010–

2010: 1) And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; 2) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; 3) Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley; 4) Crank, by Ellen Hopkins; 5) The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins; 6) Lush, by Natasha Friend; 7) What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones; 8) Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich; 9) Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie; 10) Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

Are any of your favorites on this list? I vote for ‘Nickel and Dimed’ as most dangerous, because it frankly exposes what goes on at work. Talk about too much knowledge to lay on high-school, or even college kids. Better a nice, diverting vampire fantasy like Twilight.

Some of my favorite books these days are graphic novels. Art Speigelman has just published a book on the making of ‘Maus’, his classic story of his parent’s survival and escape from Nazi Germany. That’s next on my list. I also plan to buy Pope Benedict’s book, ‘My Life in Hitler Youth’ as soon as he writes it.

Just Wanted to Keep You Abreast

Who doesn’t love boobies? They’re adorable! So exotic and graceful. They’re especially enchanting during courtship, the way they seem to puff themselves up. You just want to give them a squeeze.

Kids love boobies, too. In fact, some have taken to wearing bracelets to declare that very sentiment. Unfortunately, some school administrators have quickly put the kibosh on such accessorizing. This happened in South Dakota earlier this week, which seems rather strange given how far inland the state is. Do they even have boobies in that part of the country? Isn’t it too cold for them? Regardless, it seems silly to stifle the free expression of students simply because a Principal or two has got a thing against boobies. Maybe these fellows would feel differently if they could just see one up close, perhaps even hold one. Nah, it’ll never happen.

UPDATE: I’ve been busted. It appears I was misinformed. I had heard of the aforementioned booby ban in passing and did not adequately investigate the story. The boobies in question were not the blue-footed seabirds known for hunting fish by diving into the sea and pursuing their prey underwater. They were…umm…you know…the other kind. Now, I feel like a boob.

Anyway, here’s the original news article from the Associated Press:

Rubber bracelets aimed at raising awareness about breast cancer and emblazoned with “I love boobies” are raising eyebrows among school officials in South Dakota.

This week, Baltic High School joined several schools nationwide to ban the popular bracelets with a message some say is in poor taste.

“I do think there are more proper ways to bring this plight to the attention of people, and I don’t think this is a proper way,” Principal Jim Aisenbrey told the Argus Leader.

Officials at O’Gorman High School in Sioux Falls have also told students not to wear the bracelets in school.

“Our concern is that the issue the wristbands are meant to address is a serious one, but the language used on the bracelets trivializes the issue,” said Principal Kyle Groos.

The bracelets that sell for about $4 in stores were created by the nonprofit Keep A Breast Foundation of Carlsbad, Calif. Proceeds go to the foundation’s programs.

Schools from Florida to California have banned the bracelets following objections from some students and parents.

Baltic resident Ann Aberson said cancer has affected several of her relatives, and she doesn’t have a problem with her two teenage daughters wearing the bracelets. “I guess I never thought of them as offensive,” she said. [full story]

For more information about the Keep A Breast Foundation, visit their website.

Is Privacy, Like, So Twentieth Century?

It has been many years since I read George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, 1984. My curiosity about perusing the book anew is offset by my uneasiness about its prescience. I fear that the world occupied by Winston Smith, the novel’s protagonist, will eerily resemble America in 2010. Not entirely, but increasingly so. Big Brother is out there, observing, gathering data, infiltrating our lives in ways both overt and covert. The technology that we so eagerly embrace today, often with nary a second thought, may later bite us in the hindquarters. Sure, there are great benefits to cell phones, computers, wifi, the Internet, GPS, and the like. The whole world is immediately accessible. No longer do we have to await a call at home, seek information at the library, fumble with a map for directions, hunt for merchandise at local stores, wonder where our friends and family members are at any given moment. We have been freed from such burdens! But at what cost?

I worry that today’s liberators may become tomorrow’s oppressors. I worry that the technology we possess today may come to possess us tomorrow. I worry that the interests of big government and big corporations (often one and the same) will subvert and subsume our interests. I worry that we are not spiders on the worldwide web but prey. I worry that, as a people, we are growing ever more blithe about privacy and civil liberties—and ever less vigilant and perceptive. I worry about the future.

Do I appear paranoid? A little paranoia in this day and age may be healthy (assuming it’s reality-based). Was Julie Matlin paranoid when, after visiting a retail website and admiring a pair of shoes, she found that advertisements for “the shoes started to follow her everywhere she went online”? Was Louise paranoid when she encountered a stranger at a bar who “knew a lot about her personal interests” and then “pulled out his phone and showed her a photo…of [her] that he found online”? Was Juan Pineda-Moreno paranoid when, after being arrested on marijuana charges, he discovered that DEA agents “snuck onto his property in the middle of the night and…attached a GPS tracking device to [his] vehicle’s underside” and the “U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit…decided the government can monitor you in this way virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant”? Was Blake Robbins, a Philadelphia-area high school student, paranoid when he discovered that school personnel “activated the remote tracking system” on his laptop computer and “photographed him 400 times in a 15-day period last fall, sometimes as he slept in his bedroom or was half-dressed”?

Another twentieth century author, Joseph Heller, once wrote, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” Do you know who’s watching you?

Starhawk in the Washington Post

This was posted by Kladner on Buzzflash— Starhawk, a writer, activist and prominent voice in Pagan spirituality comments on the political hysteria around plans to build an Islamic community center a few blocks away from the World Trade Center Site.

Paganism has been growing in the US since the 1970’s and Pagans have experienced misunderstanding and persecution by some of the same people who are making news by burning copies of the Koran– an act that only disgraces themselves.

Pagans know that when politics and public discourse descend to a hate-fest of blame and condemnation, we could be next. And as someone born Jewish just six years after the defeat of the Nazis, when you start burning books and demonizing religions, I start asking, “When will you be coming for me?”

Read the rest here, it’s brief and to the point.

I’m so glad to see Starhawk in the Washington Post. She opened my eyes to my own spirituality with her book, ‘Dreaming the Dark.’ She has a long career as an activist for human rights and environmental justice. I only wish that some of the religous and political leaders in the Christian faith would speak out as clearly for religious freedom and mutual respect. One Catholic bishop, one Evangelical minister, one Rabbi, one brave politician could do a great deal to bring us back to the angels of our better nature.

Persecuting Christians

Via Democratic Underground a judge has found a town zoning board guilty of discrimination against a Pentecostal church.

The church wants to buy some land and build a bigger church. The town is not happy with a tax-exempt entity expanding its footprint. They say they have enough churches.

With all the talk about finding reasons to deny a Muslim congregation the right to build a community center– one that was approved by the zoning board months ago, it’s important to remember that what goes around comes around.

Our Founders instituted freedom of religion. They didn’t promise it would be comfortable. Gotta go now, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are ringing my doorbell.

Link to the church zoning case here.

Striking Out

If politicians were only politicians—if all they created were bombast, spin, and strange bedfellows—they might be moderately tolerable. The way any varmint is tolerable. You begrudgingly accept their existence, with the understanding that they will be a nuisance but do limited harm. Sort of like cockroaches, only less attractive. And harder to squash.

Anyway, politicians are not simply politicians; they are also legislators. They create laws. In most, if not all, cases, these laws are crafted in a way that gives undue weight to political interests. The interests of you and me take a backseat. And we all know what happens in the backseat. People get screwed.

Those who are less fortunate—who lack the economic, social, or even psychological resources to gain access to the driver’s seat—tend to get screwed the most by laws borne of political expedience. Consider the various three-strikes laws that were enacted in the 1990’s to address criminal recidivism. Perpetrators who committed a third offense were subject to lengthy mandatory sentences, up to and including life in prison. The supposed bad guys got put away, and the politicians got to demonstrate that they were tough on crime and possessed cojones as large as their egos. A win/win situation, right?

Wrong. Judges lost the latitude to judge, correctional costs skyrocketed, and many petty criminals were treated like the second coming of Al Capone. One such offender was Norman Williams of California:

Williams, who is 46, was a homeless drug addict in 1997 when he was convicted of petty theft, for stealing a floor jack from a tow truck. It was the last step on his path to serving life. In 1982, Williams burglarized an apartment that was being fumigated: he was hapless enough to be robbed at gunpoint on his way out, and later he helped the police recover the stolen property. In 1992, he stole two hand drills and some other tools from an art studio attached to a house; the owner confronted him, and he dropped everything and fled. Still, for the theft of the floor jack, Williams was sentenced to life in prison under California’s repeat-offender law: three strikes and you’re out. [link]

Williams’ story is detailed in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. Like many caught up in the legal system, he stumbled out of the starting gate. “The 8th of 12 children, Williams grew up with a mother who was a binge drinker. She pimped out Williams and his brothers to men she knew. A social worker wrote, ‘These men paid the boys money to perform anal intercourse on the boys and they . . . gave the money to their mother for wine.’ As an adult, Williams became a cocaine addict and lived on the streets of Long Beach.” In short, he never had much of a chance. He was first exploited by his mother and later exploited by politicians, who made hay by making him (and others like him) pay.

In 2003, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court effectively upheld California’s three-strikes law, ruling that it did not violate the 8th amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Despite the high court’s imprimatur, some in the business of enforcing the law recognized it’s inherent unfairness. Interestingly, as the New York Times reports, this included Steve Cooley, the district attorney for Los Angeles County and a Republican career prosecutor:

After three strikes became law, Cooley watched one of his colleagues in the D.A.’s office prosecute Gregory Taylor, a homeless man who at dawn one morning in 1997 went to a church where he’d often gotten meals and pried open the door to its food pantry. The priest later testified on his behalf. Taylor’s first crime was a purse-snatching; his second was attempting to steal a wallet. He didn’t hurt anyone. Taylor was sentenced to life. “It was almost one-upmanship, almost a game — bye-bye for life,” Cooley says, remembering the attitude in the office.

Three years later, Cooley ran for D.A. on a platform of restrained three-strikes enforcement, calling the law “a necessary weapon, one that must be used with precision and not in a scatter-gun fashion.” In office, he turned his critique into policy. The L.A. district attorney’s office no longer seeks life sentences for offenders like Norman Williams or Gregory Taylor. The presumption is that prosecutors ask for a life sentence only if a third-strike crime is violent or serious. Petty thieves and most drug offenders are presumed to merit a double sentence, the penalty for a second strike, unless their previous record includes a hard-core crime like murder, armed robbery, sexual assault or possession of large quantities of drugs. During Cooley’s first year in office, three-strikes convictions in Los Angeles County triggering life sentences dropped 39 percent. No other prosecutor’s office in California has a written policy like Cooley’s, though a couple of D.A.’s informally exercise similar discretion.

It’s a mistake, though, to cast Cooley as a full-tilt reformer. He opposed Prop 66 for ignoring a defendant’s criminal history. Instead, in 2006, he offered up his own bill, which tracked his policy as D.A., taking minor drug crimes and petty theft off the list of three-strikes offenses unless one of the first two strikes involved a crime that Cooley considers hard-core. For staking out even this middle ground, Cooley became prosecutor non grata among his fellow D.A.’s. No district attorney, not even the most liberal, supported his bill, and it died in Senate committee.

Cooley could once again pay a price for his three-strikes record. This spring, he announced his candidacy for California attorney general. His Republican rivals have hammered him for his moderate stance. “He’s acting as an enabler for habitual offenders,” State Senator Tom Harman told me. “I think that’s wrong. I want to put them in prison.” The race has developed into a litmus test: for 15 years, no serious candidate for major statewide office has dared to criticize three strikes. If Cooley makes it through his party’s primary on June 8 — and especially if he goes on to win in November — the law will no longer seem untouchable. If he loses, three strikes will be all the more difficult to dislodge. [link]

The political gamesmanship playing out in California is playing out nationwide. Reactionary elements seeking to gain or maintain power and influence are dueling with more moderate and progressive elements, which similarly hope to gain or maintain power and influence but also seek the restoration of fairness and common sense. It’s anyone’s guess which side will prevail. The tea (party) leaves are difficult to read.

For now, those of us who yearn and strive for a more just and equitable society, where sensible governance takes the wheel and politics takes its rightful place in the backseat, can only hope for the best and keep fighting the good fight. Perhaps, one day, we will strike out on the right road, in the right direction.

‘Happy Holidays’ is Fightin’ Words

WARNING–DON’T CLICK ON JESUS’ GENERAL IF YOU ARE AT WORK OR AT YOUR MOM’S HOUSE UNLESS YOUR MOM IS AN OLD HIPPY, THEN SHE WOULD JUST LAUGH. Jesus’ General has more on the controversy caused by a holiday greeting. Best Buy put a tiny ‘Happy Eid’ in a corner of a page of one of its advertising inserts and that made some people seriously unhappy. I had not been aware, until reading Jesus’ General, that the Muslim holiday caused a rush on a facility that was used both for slaughtering goats and dressing deer.

Well, you know how it is around this time of year. Tempers get short with the waiting in line and congestion. You can’t always get what you want, as a great American once said. But sometimes, if you try, you can get what you need.

We are just past Thanksgiving. Being chronically late I want to give tardy thanks to Roger Williams, who built our foundation right. Religious freedom is not always convenient, and sometimes uncomfortable, but we owe a lot to the founders who knew that a free conscience is a good worth sacrificing for.


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