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Many of us are old enough to remember when red-baiter and former CIA Chief, George HW Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in part by saying in spooky tones that Dukakis was a "card-carrying member of the ACLU," as if that made him a Communist agent of the USSR or something.

Quite the contrary, it is no accident that the first word in the name of the organization is "American." The ACLU is a fundamentally American organization that fights to protect basic rights enunciated in the Bill of Rights and the post-Civil War amendments and sustained and expanded in landmark Supreme Court decisions. (Click here to read about the ACLU in their own words, and here to read about the "Key Issues" they are working on.) Join me after the fold for some highlights from their latest report, which shows just how wide a variety of issues they pursue, without any thought of any political compromises, and regardless of who is in office - and how they frame them.

If you are not a card-carrying member of the ACLU yet, please consider joining or signing up for their emails at

The ACLU. They have defended the rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, privacy, due process, and equal protection of the law of Nazis as well as Communists; members of the Religious Right as well as atheists; businessmen as well as workers; straight men as well as gay men, women, and transgendered people; and whites as well as people of color. They stand for the age-old precept that America should be governed by laws, not by men (or, they would quickly add, women). They were founded in 1920 and fought to protect the rights of World War I protectors who were languishing in prison. And they are still here today, doing everything possible to protect and expand the respect for rights we can never take for granted.

Take a walk through their latest email report to members on their activities and the issues they are working on:

Congress Reauthorizes Overbroad Patriot Act Provisions with No Privacy or Civil Liberties Safeguards

Yesterday, the House passed a one-year extension of three expiring Patriot Act provisions without making much-needed changes to the overly broad surveillance bill.[...]

"Though the debate over reauthorizing the Patriot Act may be over this year, Congress still has the power to narrow the use of NSL powers and help avoid such abuses in the future," said Michelle Richardson, ACLU Legislative Counsel. "It's time to rein in the overbroad power of the NSL and bring the statute back in line with the Constitution."

Although the outcome is not what we had hoped, we made progress. In the House, 97 representatives, 10 of which were Republicans, voted against extending the Patriot Act. Some members of Congress justified this extension by promising that the next year would provide time for real reform. You can bet we're going to hold them to their promise. And we'll be turning to you to help keep the pressure on.

Click here to learn more about the Patriot Act and the ACLU's work to reform it.

What I like about the ACLU's focus on the Patriot Act is that they take the long view, as an organization that was dedicated to fighting for our rights yesterday, is fighting for our rights today, and will continue to fight for our rights for as long as they continue to exist. Therefore, they see the reauthorization of the Patriot Act not as a defeat, but as part of a struggle they are engaged in.

New National Security Distraction: Arabic Language Students  

[...]"Nick George was handcuffed, locked in a cell for hours and questioned about 9/11 simply because he has chosen to study Arabic, a language that is spoken by hundreds of millions of people around the world," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "This sort of harassment of innocent travelers is a waste of time and a violation of the Constitution."

The lawsuit charges that the TSA officials, the Philadelphia police and the FBI violated George's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure and his First Amendment right to free speech.

Click here to learn more about Nick George's case.

Note that the ACLU, uncompromising as it is on basic civil liberties, will always find the time to also make practical arguments, such as this one:

The unnecessary arrest, detention and questioning of someone who poses no threat to flight safety makes everyone less safe by diverting resources away from real threats.

We Agree with Ashcroft

We can now count former Attorney General John Ashcroft, one of the ACLU's frequent adversaries, among our allies on the issue of using our regular civilian courts to handle terrorism prosecutions.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., Ashcroft was asked about trying terrorism cases in civilian courts, and responded that such a venue "has use and utility."[...]

Click here to send an email to President Obama, telling him that you support federal court trials for the accused 9/11 planners.

This is very clever, and shows how the ACLU is happy to take any ally on an issue of civil liberties. They have happily collaborated with all kinds of right-wing individuals and organizations, whenever they've supported civil liberties in any instance. Their collaboration is only on principle and never spills over into anything partisan or parochial.

Tell Google: No Deal with the NSA

[...]As reported by the Washington Post, Google — the world's largest search engine company with access to intimate details of our lives — is negotiating an information security agreement with the National Security Agency (NSA) — the world's largest spying network.

The implications of this deal are very troubling.[...]

Take action: Tell Google CEO Eric Schmidt that you don't want the NSA anywhere close to your personal information.

This is a really important issue for all of us who use computers! I really can't emphasize enough how important it is to participate in this campaign. If you haven't already written Eric Schmidt, click that link!

The Justification of Bush Torture Program? New Report Reveals the Details

[...]The report[...]concludes that John Yoo and Jay Bybee exercised "poor judgement" when they wrote the legal authorizations for the use of abusive interrogation techniques on detainees in U.S. custody overseas.[...]

The ACLU is calling on the Justice Department to expand its criminal investigation of the torture program.

Take action: Tell the Attorney General to expand the criminal investigation.

Again: See how the ACLU never takes "Give up!" for an answer. They will keep calling on the Justice Department forever, if necessary, to take its legal responsibility to criminally investigate torture.

Momentum Building to Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Efforts to finally repeal the discriminatory and ineffective "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy are gathering momentum by the day.[...]

However, some figures at the Pentagon have expressed concern about moving too swiftly in repealing DADT.[...]

In an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, added: "This is not the time to perturb the force that is, at the moment, stretched by demands in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere without careful deliberation."

The timely repeal of this discriminatory policy is critical to our national security. In the last five years, the military has discharged almost 800 mission-critical troops and at least 59 Arabic and nine Farsi linguists under DADT. Doesn't firing 800 mission-critical troops diminish our military readiness when we are "fully engaged in two wars?" And does it not "perturb" our forces to eliminate the invaluable language skills of 59 Arabic and nine Farsi linguists?

Take action: Tell Congress to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Again: See the practical argument about safety and security used in the service of civil liberties.

Florida Judge to School Officials: Stop Promoting Religious

Beliefs in Schools

An ACLU victory for religious freedom stands. Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge M. Casey Rodgers blocked the Christian Educators Association from trying to overturn a consent decree requiring public school officials in Santa Rosa, Florida to stop promoting their personal religious beliefs in the public schools.[...]

And here, they demonstrate how they are able to succeed in protecting rights.

Another highlight of the report is:

ACLU's Adam Wolf Named California Attorney of the Year

Wolf is being recognized for his historic work representing ACLU client Savana Redding, who at age 13 was strip-searched by school authorities looking for ibuprofen. Adam's win before the US Supreme Court set new limits on school searches and is the biggest victory for students' rights in 40 years.

Even in the era of the Unitary Executive, Congressional surrender on pervasive domestic spying, and a radical right-wing near-majority on the Supreme Court, the ACLU is still relevant and still achieving victories. Let's help them continue to fight and win, for us.

Originally posted to MichaelNY on Fri Feb 26, 2010 at 07:20 PM PST.

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