Anyone out there concerned about the amount of influence Glenn “Heh” Reynolds holds over what people read out on the internets should be more worried about the links that folks don’t click on but instead assume, understandably, to say something roughly approximating what Professor Reynolds says they do.
Take the new website Save the ACLU, organized by influential members and former members who’ve had a series of increasingly nasty and public disputes with the current leadership over how well the organization is living up to its own values. The major flashpoints have been the extent of compliance expected of board members with the leadership’s public relations approach, and the extent of compliance demonstrated by the leadership with conditions imposed by public and private organizations offering funding.
As the website describes,
Over the past three years, these breaches of principle include the ACLU’s approval of grant agreements that restrict speech and associational rights; efforts by management to impose gag rules on staff and to subject staff to email surveillance; a proposal to bar ACLU board members from publicly criticizing the ACLU; and informal campaigns to purge the ACLU of its internal critics.
You’d have a hard time guessing that those were the sorts of grievances in play if you just read the link on Instapundit, which reads:
A SAVE THE ACLU CAMPAIGN from supporters who feel the organization has become excessively politicized.
Now the generous read here I suppose would be that “politicized” refers to “office politics” – that the ACLU is being accused of being too political in the sense of being too concerned with reputations and status and salaries and the like. But that’s hardly the intuitive read of that sentence. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that even the ACLU’s supporters have come to echo the contention of Reynolds and others that when the ACLU was backing free speech three decades ago it was being heroic, but when it backs privacy rights today it’s being “political” out of hatred for Bush.
The gripe of the critics, arguably, is that the ACLU isn’t being political enough – that is, that the politics of its mission haven’t sufficiently infused its methods of implementation.
Well, the Republican Majority has finally left DC for another one of those extended vacations that most of them like to impugn when French workers take them. They didn’t go home nearly soon enough though.
Wednesday night – by two votes – the House passed CAFTA, voting to accelerate the corporate-driven race to the bottom in working standards. As Mark Weisbrot reminds us:
CAFTA will increase some barriers to trade while lowering others. One of the barriers it increases is on patented pharmaceutical drugs. This is the most costly form of protectionism in the world today. The benefits from free trade in these goods are much appreciated by the millions of Americans who cross the Canadian or Mexican border to get their prescription drugs. But CAFTA will make it more difficult for countries like Guatemala to get access to affordable medicines…Over the last 30 years the typical (median) wage in the United States has hardly grown — only about 9 percent. Productivity — output per employee — has grown by 82 percent over the same period…Over the next decade, the dollar will fall further and our trade deficit will shrink. Measured in non-dollar currencies, the value of U.S. imports is expected to decline over the next decade. This means that CAFTA countries are making costly concessions for a prize that most likely won’t be there.
House Democrats did a much better job of bucking the “Washington Consensus” than their counterparts in the Senate, a quarter of whom backed the bill. That only fifteen House Democrats voted with Thomas Friedman on a “free trade” bill is a hopeful sign of how much that consensus has fractured in the past decade. Those fifteen votes, sadly, seem to have made all the difference Wednesday. David Sirota provides a helpful list of the eleven Democrats in Congress who voted not just for CAFTA but for the Bankruptcy and “Class Action Fairness” bills as well, and some much-needed skepticism about claims that they acted out of electoral necessity.
As if CAFTA wasn’t bad enough, yesterday the Senate passed up a bill protecting detainees’ human rights and passed a bill curtailing victims’ rights to a day in court against the gun industry. And an Energy Bill which, as John Podesta observes,
gives away our tax dollars to energy companies already making record profits. The challenges we face in moving to more secure and sustainable energy use are large. We need a bold energy policy for the United States. Sadly, even the modest commitment to increase the use of renewable sources for electricity or language acknowledging the danger of climate change did not survive in the final bill. We must continue to challenge the Bush administration and Congress to get serious about decreasing the oil consumption of the United States and combating global warming. The energy bill the Senate will vote on today ignores those challenges.
And the Senate voted to extend the PATRIOT Act, though in a slightly more constitution-friendly version than that passed by the House. As Lisa Graves of the ACLU said yesterday:
Although the ACLU was unable to endorse the final bill, it contains some provisions mindful of the Bill of Rights, and does not include such broad and unnecessary powers like administrative subpoenas.
While I don’t at all agree with Thomas Geoghegan’s contention in Which Side Are You On that the ACLU’s agenda, while noble, wouldn’t “cost anyone anything” to implement, he does speak to a well-justified frustration many “labor liberals” feel at the difficulty of stirring certain civil libertarians to get up in arms about the civil liberties of workers on and off the job. Not only are positive rights (like economic security) crucial to the meaningful exercise of negative rights (like free speech), positive and negative rights frequently and fundamentally intersect, perhaps nowhere moreso than the workplaces in which millons spend the majority of their waking hours. Opposition to civil liberties comes not only from those who see in others’ exercise of their rights a threat to their values but also from those who see in others’ exercise of their rights a threat to their economic interests. That’s why the right of workers to speak, assemble, and organize on and off the job has always been threatened in this country. And that’s why it’s so often fallen to unions, in Nathan Newman’s words, to “bring the first Amendment to the workplace.” It’s worth asking (as Geoghegan was trying, though through a troubling turn of phrase, to do) why the idea of deprivation of civil liberties affects many of us more viscerally than the idea of economic deprivation. But even those who only get up in arms over the former should be disturbed that, as Geoghegan has been reminding us for years, American law offers you no protection against being fired for expressing your political beliefs, and promises the weakest of responses to employers who threaten, punish, or fire workers seeking to bargain collectively.
What are the stakes? The Bush-appointed majority on the National Labor Relations Board provided a reminder last month when it upheld a security firm’s rule that bars its employees from “fraternizing” with each other on or off the job. Guardsmark insisted that its employees give up their right to associate with each other socially on their own time as a condition of employment, and the NLRB blessed the company to keep the rule in place.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania has successfully torpedoed the over forty ammendments Rep. Jerry Birmelin filed on House Bill 345, a bill to ease the process of adoption of children with special needs. All of Birmelin’s amendments were devoted to disenfranchising queer couples and single people from parenting; last Monday he withdrew all of them. How did the ACLU do it? By building a progressive alliance, the Value All Families Coalition, whose member groups include AFSCME and SEIU locals, the Clergy Leadership Network, PA churches, the Support Center for Child Advocates, Citizens for Consumer Justice, the National Association of Social Workers, Freedom to Marry, the Human Rights Campaign,the Support Center for Child Advocates, and the Log Cabin Republicans – along with several dozens more. It’s a model others should follow.
The Pennsylvania ACLU and and Center for Democracy and Technology are bringing legal challenge against a state web censorship law which has blocked over a million legal websites. A victory there could provide momentum towards overturning state laws in several nearby states which levy punishment against public institutions which fail to restrict the right of adults and children to access information on the web. Let’s hope so.
Too often lost in the debate over whether the Boy Scouts have a constitutional right to be an exclusive, discriminatory, intolerant organization is the more salient question of whether the Boy Scouts should be an exclusive, discriminatory, intolerant organization subsidized by the government. Across the country, the Boy Scouts of America cash in on their “Good House Keeping Stamp of Approval” as a wholesome, patriotic outfit to make out like bandits in tax breaks and free or low-cost renting of public facilities (the case that comes to mind for me is the rental of a marina – yes, a marina – from a local government for a few dollars). One of these preferential leases – which amount to your (if you, the reader, pay taxes in one of the localities in question, that is) money subsidizing the Boy Scouts’ exclusion of atheists and homosexuals – is about to end thanks to rebellious lawyering by the ACLU. Say goodbye to the Desert Pacific Boy Scout Council’s preferential lease on Balboa and Fiesta Island Aquatic Parks. As the local ACLU legal director observed:
San Diego has finally taken itself out of the business of endorsing the exclusion of many of its residents from their own city parks,” said Jordan Budd, Legal Director of the local ACLU. “While, it is unfortunate that it has taken an adverse court ruling to get the city on the right side of this issue, the end result is a victory for every San Diegan who cares about tolerance and equality.
And as one of the attorneys put it:
The Boy Scouts cannot have it both ways. Having gone to great lengths to establish that discrimination against gays and non-believers is essential to their mission, and therefore protected by the First Amendment, they cannot now turn around and ask the people of San Diego to foot the bill for that discrimination.
Today the ACLU announced a major lawsuit against secret service limitations on protests at Bush appearances. I saw this in person with the PA ACLU when Bush came to town this summer. The most aggregious and obvious violation is the pattern of allowing pro-Bush activists closer to Bush than anti-Bush activists. This has nothing to do with security and everything to do with imagery. At risk of sounding subversive, I have to wonder, kind reader, if you were trying to shoot the President, which crowd would you be trying to infiltrate?