Miscellaneous Commentary

Other things worth talking about.

The War On Drugs Is A War On People

Inmate from the documentary "The House I Live In"

The War on Drugs, a label we inherited from Richard Nixon, is a lie. It is simply a war on people, and has had the most dire effect on people of color, whether inside the borders of the U.S, or as a part of destabilizing military interventions in other countries.

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Facebook Quizzes: What Do They Know About You?

If you are on Facebook, you've undoubtedly seen the quizzes that are so popular on the site. Perhaps you or your friends have even taken some. These quizzes might be fun, but it's shocking just how much of your information quizzes can access and how little Facebook does to safeguard that information. That's why the ACLU has created their own Facebook quiz that demonstrates what could be revealed when you, or your friends, take any other quiz on Facebook.

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Fox News Wildly Distorts Religious Liberty Case

Florida's Santa Rosa County School District has a long and unrepentant history of unconstitutionally sponsoring prayers, proselytizing students, and generally promoting particular religious beliefs throughout district schools. In August 2008, no longer able to bear this infringement on their liberties, two students at Pace High School sued the district and many in the community reacted in an uproar -- the student plaintiffs were vilified in the media and threatened with rape and death, among other efforts to intimidate them, and district officials vowed to fight back.

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The Decider: Umpires vs. Judges

"Have you read Roe v. Wade?" Tim Tschida was saying to me. "It's very clear." This was three years ago. It was an unexpected moment to bring up the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a right to abortion. Mr. Tschida is a major-league umpire and we were on our way to the ballpark. I had just asked him why the strike zone, an entity seemingly well defined by the baseball rulebook, was such a bone of contention in the game. And in a flash Mr. Tschida made the instinctive comparison between an umpire's conundrum and a high court justice's.

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The Rachel Hoffman Story

ABC's 20/20 covers the tragic death of 23-year-old Florida girl, Rachel Hoffman. Caught with what the Tallahassee police chief described as "about a baggie" of marijuana, she was tricked/blackmailed/threatened/coerced into becoming a police informant, and it cost her her life.

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Path To Supreme Court: Speak Capably, Say Little

On his first day at the Justice Department in 1981, a 26-year-old lawyer named John G. Roberts Jr. was handed a high-profile assignment: to help prepare Sandra Day O'Connor, then an Arizona judge, for her Supreme Court confirmation hearings. The golden rule -- sound as if you know what you are talking about, but avoid saying anything.

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Privacy Implications In Social Networking

We are the information generation. We have the world at our fingertips. I can't take two steps outside without seeing someone on their iPhone or Blackberry, and it seems like every coffee shop, book store, telephone pole and fire hydrant broadcasts more wireless internet than Howard Stern does four-letter words. Online hangouts like MySpace and Facebook offer a great tool for reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, but for some people, the things they say or do on these social networking sites may come back to haunt them.

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Unfair Laws: Another Reason To Know Your Rights

This story from New Orleans shows how great the stakes can be during even the most routine encounter with police. Suppose a friend carelessly leaves a little pot in your car...

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Either You Work The System, Or The System Will Work YOU!

Our country is wrought with instances of professional misconduct. I can hardly turn on the television without seeing something about this surgeon doing back-alley boob jobs, that accountant who was a little too "creative" with the company's books or another police officer who beat up kids for skateboarding. What I almost never see, surprisingly enough, is reporting on those whom society often brands as the most ethically devoid -- the lawyers.

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C-SPAN Tests Public's Supreme Court IQ

C-SPAN yesterday released results of a poll aimed at determining what Americans know about the highest court in the land. While some results were surprising, and others less so, it was clear that people realize on some level how important every nomination is and how important the court is in their lives.

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Written Consent Required For NYPD

The New York City Police Department wants suspects to sign a consent form before searching their homes or cars, a move that eliminates the need for a warrant and is meant to provide police a layer of legal protection, Newsday has learned. The initiative was put in place because consent searches are often challenged at trial -- and jurors too often believe the suspect's claim that police never got permission to conduct the search, police sources said. At the same time, sources said, there has been concern within the NYPD about a handful of cases in which an officer's truthfulness was recently called into question.

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The Place Of Women On The Supreme Court

After 16 years on the Supreme Court -- the last three, since the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, as the only woman working alongside eight men -- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a unique perspective on what's at stake in Sotomayor's nomination. I sat down with the 76-year-old justice last week to talk about women on the bench and their effect on the dynamics and decisions of the Court.

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Activist-Lawyer Susan Jordan Dies In Plane Crash

Activist-lawyer Susan Jordan, 67, who pioneered the battered spouse defense died last Friday in a Utah plane crash. She has represented members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, Earth First and the Black Panthers, as well as medical marijuana growers, and is best known for having pioneered battered woman's syndrome as an affirmative defense.

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Don't Talk To The Police?

Professor James Duane has posted a terrific lecture about the Fifth Amendment's safeguard concerning self-incrimination and the risk of "waiving" that right by speaking to the police. He describes in great detail why innocent people should never talk to police. This is definitely a must see!

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Racial Profiling Continues To Shape Our Prison Population

More than two decades after President Ronald Reagan escalated the war on drugs, arrests for drug sales or, more often, drug possession are still rising. And despite public debate and limited efforts to reduce them, large disparities persist in the rate at which blacks and whites are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses, even though the two races use illegal drugs at roughly equal rates.

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The Waves Minority Judges Always Make

Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black member of the Supreme Court, ended his 24 years there bitter and frustrated. He had been unable, he said, to persuade his colleagues in many cases concerning racial equality, the cause to which he had devoted his life. But the other justices did get to know Justice Marshall, and even the more conservative ones acknowledged that his very presence exerted a gravitational pull more powerful than his single vote.

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No Warrant, No Search!

A couple weeks ago Scott and I joined the National Capitol Area ACLU for a door-to-door outreach effort in Southeast D.C. warning citizens about a "knock and talk" program the D.C. Police Department threatened to implement. This short video, which was my first behind-the-camera creation, tells the story...

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What's A 'Liberal' Justice Now?

When talking about the Supreme Court, Barack Obama has resisted the familiar ideological categories that have defined our judicial battles for the past several decades. He has made clear that despite his progressive inclinations, he is not a 1960s-style, Warren Court liberal -- someone who believes that the justices should boldly define constitutional rights in an effort to bring about social change.

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Why Would You Cooperate With Someone Who's Trying To Arrest You?

New York's marijuana decrim law requires plain view discovery, so police must actually trick citizens into displaying their marijuana in order to make an arrest. NYPD officers have become quite adept at initiating this through the typical threats and coercion that have long been the hallmark of petty drug war police practices. It's a terrific, yet disturbing, example of how police can intimidate citizens into incriminating themselves. As always, the best strategy is to ignore incriminating questions and ask if you're free to go. After all, cooperating with police who are trying to arrest you just might get you arrested!

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ACLU Prevails With Florida Legislature

Amidst the most severe financial crisis and budget shortfall the state has seen in many years, Florida legislators still found time this legislative session to try to pass several pieces of legislation that would have stripped rights from voters, made reproductive healthcare more difficult and expensive to obtain, created license plates that would have been tantamount to government-sponsored religion, and more.

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If You Don't Think Police Use Racial Profiling, Read This!

Skeptics in the debate over racial profiling will often begin by telling you that police never use racial profiling, then conclude by implying that black people are all criminals who must be stopped and searched at every opportunity. It's an absurd contradiction. As long as I can still find police chiefs publicly boasting of racial bias in the newspaper, I fail to understand how anyone could claim racial profiling isn't a serious problem.

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Kuehne Case Hanging By A Thread

The prosecution of Miami attorney Benedict P. Kuehne hasn't gone well for the federal government. In fact, it's arguably been a disaster. Kuehne vetted the money to pay legal bills for convicted drug trafficker Fabio Ochoa of Colombia. His job was to find money untainted by crime but prosecutors say he funneled $5.2 million in drug proceeds to Ochoa's defense team led by renowned Miami criminal defense attorney Roy Black.

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Bush's New HHS Rules Attack Women's Health

Despite public objections, the Bush administration last month released a controversial rule that will jeopardize women's health and access to birth control. The final rule expands the ability of health care providers to refuse to provide services and fails to include patient protections. At a time when more and more Americans are either uninsured or struggling with the soaring costs of health care, the federal government should be expanding, not hampering, access to important health services.

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9-Cent IRS Dilemma Leaves Lawyer Confused

"When I owe them a nickel, I must pay them," he said. "It's not optional. But when they owe me, I have to ask for it." Howarth said it is unclear from the letters what connection -- if any -- the 5-cent obligation has to the 4-cent refund. He said he is unsure if he now owes one penny or if there was a recalculation resulting in a 9-cent swing in his favor. "I just don't know," he said. "But I do know that if I were to walk into the IRS office with pennies taped to a piece of cardboard, they wouldn't accept it."

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Is Google's Map Imaging An Invasion Of Privacy?

A group of Japanese lawyers and professors asked on Friday that Google, Inc. stop providing detailed street-level images of Japanese cities on the Internet, saying they violated privacy rights.

Google's Street View offers ground-level, 360-degree views of streets in 12 Japanese cities and is also offered for some 50 cities in the United States and certain areas in Europe.

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Countdown: Gay Marriage

On the MSNBC program "Countdown" (November 10, 2008), Keith Olbermann issued a Special Comment on California Proposition 8 (banning gay marriage). Here is the video and transcript...

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The Middle Class Continues Its Disappearing Act

In case you haven't been keeping up with the fortunes of the fortunate, the private jet business is booming. In the first quarter of this year, shipments of private jets were up 41 percent. It seems that servicing America's elite is a thriving niche. There are so many new mega-yachts that owners can't keep them staffed, says the New York Observer. Now, back on Earth, let's look at how the rest of us are doing. Hmm. Not so well.

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Justice On A Shoestring Budget

When Florida lawmakers slashed the budget for the state court system, they should have known they were shortchanging justice. But they probably didn't expect the damage to show quite so dramatically.

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Status Check: SCOTUS

The headline Supreme Court decisions came fast and sometimes furious in June: Gitmo Detainees Get Habeas! No Death Penalty for Child Rapists! Exxon Valdez Punishment Slashed! And on its final day in session, June 26, the biggest headline yet: An Individual Right to Bear Arms! All four produced sharp splits (three were 5-4, and Exxon was 5-3 because of Justice Samuel Alito, Jr.'s recusal). Conservatives and liberals won two apiece. So was it the end of a brief era of good feelings on the Court this term?

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Fighting Terror Blindfolded

The "war on terror" owes a lot to the "war on drugs." In both, governments have failed to see the nature of the beast they're battling.

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