‘I Never Thought This Would Happen, and Certainly Not So Fast!’

Larry Ysunza met his partner Tim Love in 1980 and told his mother that very day that he had met the man he was going to marry. Thirty-five years later, Larry and Tim are among the plaintiffs in the marriage cases that the Supreme Court will hear today. They will be in the courtroom eagerly listening for clues from the justices about whether their long engagement will finally end in marriage vows.

“I never thought this would happen, and certainly not so fast!” That’s Larry expressing his surprise at how fast the country is moving towards the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

I hear the same sentiment — that marriage equality nationwide was once unimaginable — from so many people. And I feel it myself, every day. When I was a closeted junior high school kid on rural Long Island in the late 1970s, marriage just wasn’t a possibility. I couldn’t imagine coming out to anyone, much less a future in which I could live openly and with dignity. How surprised I would have been back then to know that there would be a man in my future that I could marry, with my family in attendance.

Even putting aside how the marriage cases come out (and we can never count on a win, although I’m hopeful), there has been a striking transformation of the country’s attitude towards our marriages. That trend has snowballed since 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down the core of the Defense of Marriage Act in the ACLU’s United States v. Windsor case.

In short, America is recognizing the common humanity of gay people.

We've gone from 13 marriage states at the end of June, 2013, to 37 today. Twenty of those new marriage states came just in the last year. On the cultural side, polls show 61 percent support for marriage equality nationwide, America’s biggest businesses are supporting us before the Supreme Court, and even Republican presidential primary candidates are wrestling with whether to attend our weddings or embrace their LGBT children.

That’s progress at a rate that genuinely makes my head spin. And it’s becoming hard to remember how difficult the struggle was just a few years ago. America today is in a very different place from 2004, when voters in 13 states amended their state constitutions to exclude us from marriage; from the summer of 2006, when we lost marriage cases in New York, Washington, and Nebraska; from 2008, when we lost Prop 8 at the polls, which took marriage away from us in California; and even from early 2011, when the U.S. Department of Justice was still defending the constitutionality of DOMA.

I know I felt different about our prospects for success back then. I was confident in our legal arguments but also thought that the cultural change was happening slowly. I didn't see the acceleration coming. The tsunami of new marriage cases filed all across the country in the wake of Windsor took me by surprise, as did the even more astounding pile of lower court decisions ruling our way again and again. Something profound has changed about how the country sees gay people.

That change comes from the cultural power of marriage. A central part of homophobia is the assumption that gay people don't have relationships the same way that straight people do. That our relationships are all about sex rather than about love, that we're interested in kids as pedophiles rather than as parents, and that any relationships we do have are short, furtive, and shameful.

Gay Rights Flag

Marriage in America means the opposite of those anti-gay stereotypes. Marriage is about love, about having kids, about a very public celebration of two people's commitment to each other.

A primary driver of the cultural change around gay people is the country’s growing realization that we're not so different from straight folks. Relationships play the same role in our lives as in theirs. And many of us are living the commitment at the core of marriage and are harmed when the law treats us as legal strangers. In short, America is recognizing the common humanity of gay people.

And today before the Supreme Court, we will be making the same argument: That the common humanity of gay people is the core reason that excluding us from marriage violates the Constitution. We are similarly situated to heterosexuals with regard to the purposes of marriage, and the Constitution’s guarantees of liberty and equality apply to us as well. Once the country and the courts appreciate our core similarity, the legal arguments in these cases just aren't very difficult. The inequality becomes quite stark and unjustifiable.

It's taken many years to get to this point, both in the courts and in the culture. Though we've gotten here more quickly than I expected, we have also waited a long time to stand with equal dignity in America. We have lost friends and partners, had children and grandchildren, loved and lost all without the legal protections that so many count on. It’s about time — for Tim and Larry, for my junior high school self, and for millions of other lesbian, gay, and bisexual people all across the country that we be recognized in our full humanity.

I’m optimistic that our wait is about to be over, but regardless of how the court rules, this is a wonderful time and place to be.

The Supreme Court today will hear arguments in cases in four states that bar marriage equality.

Many Drone Deaths, Little Information

This was originally published by USA Today.

Is it lawful for the government to use armed drones to strike at suspected terrorists and militants? Yes, in some circumstances it is. The question isn't whether, but when.

U.S. drone strikes have killed thousands, including hundreds of civilians. No one outside the government has a clear idea of who's being killed, or why. Though anonymous intelligence officials frequently leak cherry-picked facts to the news media, the government doesn't usually release information about individual drone strikes — not about the targets, and not about civilian casualties.

The government has refused to release the Justice Department memos that are effectively "the law" of the drone program. Until very recently, the CIA's position in court was that national security precluded the agency from confirming or denying that there was a drone program at all.

President Obama's remarks on Thursday make clear that even those inside the government don't always know who the drone strikes are killing. The United States killed two innocent hostages it didn't know were there; the same strike killed someone whom the government only later learned was an American. Another strike also killed an American, though again the government did not learn this until later.

The fact that the government killed people inadvertently, or without knowing who they were, doesn't itself establish that the strikes were unlawful. But it's surely reasonable to ask whether drone operators should be pulling the trigger when they know so little about who's in their sights.

The United States, like every other country, has the right to use lethal force in wartime, and it has the right, even outside the context of actual hostilities, to defend itself against imminent threats.

But Thursday's disclosures raise new and deeply concerning questions about whether the U.S. is complying with its own stated policies and its obligations under international law, including the obligation to avoid civilian casualties.

Ironically, the disclosures are also a reminder of how little we know about a program that has been responsible for so many deaths.

The tragic killing of Western hostages underscores just how many civilian deaths we don’t know about.

Why I Am Afraid of the Bathroom

As a transgender person, I don’t take small things for granted. I appreciate the store clerk who calls me “sir,” my colleagues who don’t struggle with my name or pronouns, and most important to my daily routine, I appreciate every uneventful trip to and from the bathroom.

To cisgender (non-transgender) people, going to the bathroom is a small thing, a normal and thoughtless part of their day, as routine as breathing air. To me, many other trans people, and anyone who doesn’t fit rigid norms of masculinity and femininity, just locating a bathroom  where we will be safe causes anxiety, fear, and takes a great deal of time and effort.

There is widespread fear about trans people being able to go to the bathroom like everyone else does. Fear of how we might be different. Misinformation that somehow letting us go to the bathroom will make other people unsafe. Though there is no data to support that fear, there is data to show that trans people continue to be bullied, harassed, and worse just for simply existing. 

Efforts to legalize this discrimination towards and harassment of trans people through  so-called “bathroom-bills” have taken center stage in state legislatures in places like Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, Kentucky, Missouri, Arizona, and Nevada. These bills would not only fine trans people for using the restroom (up to a $4,000 dollar fine included in a recent California ballot initiative), but also criminalize and potentially send trans people to jail. We face fear, anxiety, and violence just by existing each day and these bills encourage further harassment and violence, attempting to legislate us out of public spaces.

When something as necessary and basic as going to the bathroom becomes the subject of ballot campaigns, school board meetings, and legislative battles, the message that we get is clear:  You cannot exist, you are not people. This violent message is often amplified for trans people of color, trans people living in poverty, and trans people with disabilities. By making it so difficult for trans people to use the bathroom safely, our very existence is challenged, resisted, and suppressed.

Thankfully, even with the rise in vitriolic anti-trans campaigns, there are stories of love and resistance to counteract them. This week, NBC Nightly News is aired a special on transgender children who are loved and supported by their families.  Laverne Cox was recognized in People Magazine’s 50 most beautiful people and Janet Mock announced that she will be sitting down with Oprah to discuss her New York Times best-selling memoir, “Redefining Realness.” 

Trans people are beautiful and brilliant and deserving of love, like everyone else.  We need to send that message to the young trans people when they hear their state governments are trying to take away their rights and their abilities to live in the world.

Fortunately, many of the anti-trans bills that we saw this legislative session died in committees, or on their state legislature’s floor. But some damage was done just by the fact that they were introduced and trans people were sent the message that we don’t deserve to live safely or with dignity. 

Stand with me and other trans people and support our right to exist and help tell the next generation of young trans people that they are loveable and beautiful and brilliant.

For transgender people, the mundane often becomes menacing. And some states want to make that sense of insecurity official.

Shifting Deadlines, Shifty Numbers: The Pentagon’s Messy Process for Removing the Ban on Women in Combat

More than two years ago, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta announced on live television that he was doing away with the Pentagon's outdated ban on assigning women to combat units and jobs.

The announcement followed the 2012 lawsuit that we brought against him on behalf of four women who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. We and the Service Women's Action Network challenged the discriminatory policy, alleging that it kept women from even competing for about 238,000 positions across the military.

Panetta ordered the military branches to open all jobs to women or request and receive an "exception" for any jobs they wished to keep all-male. Hetold them that "integration of women into newly opened positions and units will occur as expeditiously as possible," and that it "must be completed no later than January 1, 2016."

As the military set about following these orders, it moved to dismiss our lawsuit. The federal district court in California, however, instead required the military to check in periodically on its efforts to remove the remaining barriers to women's service.

In other words, the brass ceiling is proving tough to crack.

Last week, the military provided some of that specific information — and what it said raises concerns about whether the military has ever been serious about integrating women into the combat jobs by January 2016. The new information demonstrates that progress has been slow, not "expeditious" as initially directed, and that the vast majority of closed jobs still exclude women from even applying.

First, the Pentagon confirmed to the court that the January 2016 deadline for integrating women won't be met. Instead, all that it plans to do by that date is announce which jobs it plans to open to women, and which it plans to reserve only for men. In other words, the Pentagon isn't going to actually allow women into the jobs by the deadline, and it isn't going to let them try out for them either – it's only going to announce whether it ever plans to admit women.

Second, this new status report suggests that women are excluded from even more jobs than we thought. Back in 2012, before we sued, the Pentagon's major general in charge of personnel said that about 238,000 positions were closed to women "across the force, all services." 

Disturbingly, the Pentagon now puts the number of positions for which women aren't allowed to compete at 240,000 — more than the 238,000 the Pentagon had originally stated. These 240,000 positions include 53 military specialties (i.e., career fields) that are entirely closed to women. The Pentagon now says the apparent increase in closed positions can be accounted for by the fact that the earlier numbers didn't include positions within the Reserves, but the fact remains that the military's numbers, like its self-imposed timeline, are all over the map.

Finally, the court mentioned that "the large bulk" of positions that women aren't allowed to do still haven't been opened, and the Pentagon has now confirmed that most positions won't be opened, if at all, until the end of the implementation process.  In other words, the brass ceiling is proving tough to crack.

If the Pentagon will not even decide which positions it will let women enter until January 1, 2016, does this mean it is possible or even likely that "the large bulk" of the closed positions will not in fact be open to women to compete for and enter until long after that date? And if so, how long after?

These are the questions that we'll be seeking answers to when we go back to court today. The questions take on a special urgency when you consider that many of the women who fought valiantly in Afghanistan and Iraq don't have forever to wait for their fair shot at combat units and occupations.

The military appears to be dragging its feet, slow-rolling the process of eliminating its discriminatory barriers until the majority of women with actual combat experience —those who, like our clients, were injured on the battlefield or led women who accompanied foot soldiers on combat missions — have left the military. A shifty strategy indeed, and one that the government should abandon in favor of a fair shot for military women.

DOD admits it won't be done integrating women into combat positions by Jan. 1, 2016. Brass ceiling 1, servicewomen 0.

‘One Thing You Can Say for the War on Drugs … Is We Gave It a Fair Shot’

It’s nearly 10:00 a.m. one Friday in late February, and I’m getting antsy. The British journalist Johann Hari was supposed to be here by now to talk about his new book, “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.” We’ve had plans to meet a few times before, but Hari had to cancel twice because of conflicts due to his U.S. book tour. My favorite via e-mail: “Alas I have been summoned to be on Bill Maher's show in LA on Friday.”

But just as I’m about to head downstairs to the lobby to see if there’s a British journalist wandering about, I hear, “Matthew?” And there’s Hari standing in my doorway, an energy drink in hand. After a bit of small chat, Hari and I dive into what he discovered in his multi-year, globe-trotting odyssey to get to the bottom of the drug war. What’s astonishing is Hari’s grasp of his material, from the beginning of the U.S. manufactured drug war in the ’30s to the growing international realization that any war on drugs is a war on humanity. It all comes rushing out of his mouth in the prose-worthy sentences that’s helped to land his book on The New York Times’ bestseller list.

Over an hour-long conversation, Hari and I discuss the racist origins of the drug war, how dehumanizing drug addicts only makes matters worse, how environment affects drug use, and whether the world is really starting to turn a corner on the drug war toward more humane, compassionate, and effective strategies to cope with drug abuse and addiction.

The following conversation has been edited for length and for clarity.

Matthew Harwood: So “Chasing the Scream,” what’s with the title?

Chasing the Scream

Johann Hari: The most influential person who no one has ever heard of is Harry Anslinger, the man who invented the modern War on Drugs —  way before Nixon, way before Reagan. He’s the guy who takes over the Federal Bureau of Prohibition just as alcohol prohibition is ending. So, he inherits this big government department with nothing to do, and he basically invents the modern drug war to give his bureaucracy a purpose. For example, he had previously said marijuana was not a problem —  he wasn’t worried about it, it wasn’t addictive —  but he suddenly announces that marijuana is the most dangerous drug in the world, literally —  worse than heroin —  and creates this huge hysteria around it. He’s the first person to use the phrase “warfare against drugs.”

But he was driven by more than just trying to keep his large bureaucracy in work. When he was a little boy, he grew up in a place called Altoona in Pennsylvania, and he had this experience that really drove him all his life. He lived near a farmer and his wife, and one day, he goes to the farmhouse, and the farmer’s wife was screaming and asking for something. The farmer sent little Harry Anslinger to the local pharmacy to buy opiates —  because of course opiates were legal. Harry Anslinger hurries back and gives the opiates to the farmer’s wife, and the farmer’s wife stops screaming. But he remembered this as this foundational moment where he realized the evils of drugs, and he becomes obsessed with eradicating drugs from the face of the earth. So I think of him as chasing this scream across the world. The tragedy is he created a lot of screams in turn.

It leads him to construct this global drug war infrastructure that we are all living with now. We are all living at end of the barrel of Harry Anslinger’s gun. He didn’t do it alone – I’m not a believer in the “Great Man Theory of History.” He could only do that because he was manipulating the fears of his time. But he played a crucial role.

MH: We here at the ACLU look at the drug war and see that it has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. You find, however, that this war was pretty racist from the beginning.

JH: If you had said to me four years ago, “Why were drugs banned?” I would have assumed it for the reasons people would give today —  because you don’t want kids to use them or you don’t want people to become addicted. What’s striking when you look at the archives from the time is that almost never comes up. Overwhelmingly the reason why drugs are banned is race hysteria, and the way I tell that story in the book is through the story of singer Billie Holiday, who was a heroin addict, and how Anslinger played a crucial role in stalking and killing her.

In 1939, Billie Holiday stands on a stage quite near here [in New York City] and sings this song “Strange Fruit” —  a song against lynching. It’s incredibly shocking at the time to have an African-American woman singing a highly political song about lynching at a time when very few songs had any political content. It’s also worth remembering she was standing in a hotel where she wasn’t even allowed to walk through the front door —  as an African-American, they made her enter through the service elevator. It was viscerally shocking to people and that night she gets a warning from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics —  Anslinger’s men —  saying, in effect, stop singing this song. She effectively said, “Fuck you: I’m going to carry on singing my song” — and that’s when the stalking that eventually leads to her death begins.  

Anslinger busts her, and she’s put on trial. She said, “The trial was called the United States v. Billie Holiday and that’s how it felt.” She goes to prison and when she gets out, she can’t perform anywhere because you needed a license to perform, a cabaret performer’s license. This is what we do to addicts all over America: We take away their capacity to work.

And she relapses and after a lot of heavy use, she collapses. The first hospital she’s taken to turns her away. The second hospital she’s admitted, but she’s convinced the narcotics agents aren’t finished with her — and she’s right. She said to one of her friends: “They’re going to kill me in there. Don’t let them. They’re going to kill me.” They handcuff her to the hospital bed, even though they know she’s got liver cancer. They don’t let her friends in to see her, and she goes into heroin withdrawal. One of her friends manages to insist she’s given methadone. She is and starts to recover. Then after ten days, because of the rules introduced by Anslinger, the doctors cut off the methadone and she dies. And to me, that story tells you so much about the dynamics of the birth of the drug war and what’s happening now. That it was driven by race. At the same time that Harry Anslinger finds out Billie Holiday is a heroin addict, he finds out Judy Garland — the actress who played Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” —  is a heroin addict. He tells her to take longer vacations and assures the studio she’s going to be fine.

The second aspect you see is how the drug war makes addiction worse. People become addicts largely because they are distressed and in terrible pain and cut off from sources of meaning. We then take them and inflict further suffering, further pain, and cut them off further from their sources of meaning. And we’re surprised that they don’t get better. Gabor Maté, an amazing doctor in Vancouver, said to me if you wanted to design a system that would make addiction worse, you would do what we do now. So I think really what you see in that story at the birth of the drug war is those two dynamics that are still the primary determinants now: race and the deepening of addiction.

So I went, for example, to a prison in Arizona. It was one of the most shocking places I’ve ever been — Tent City …

MH: To visit Sheriff Joe Arpaio …

JH: Yes, Arpaio was a personal disciple of Harry Anslinger. He employed Arpaio in 1957 as a narcotics agent. When I mentioned Harry Anslinger to Arpaio, his face lit up. And it’s easy to think Arpaio is this kind of outlier, this freak, but the American prison system is much closer to Arpaio’s model than it is to any model of reasonable and decent compassion.

I went out with a chain gang of women who were addicts and who were forced to go out wearing t-shirts saying, “I was a drug addict,” and dig graves. One of the most shocking stories I got for the book was when I interviewed Donna Leone Hamm, who’s one of the only people in Arizona who works on prisoners’ rights, and I asked her one of my standard questions: “Tell me about something that shocked you.” She goes down this long list and somewhere down the list she said something like, “There was the time they put that woman in a cage and cooked her —  that was quite bad.” And then she just carried on, and I said words to the effect of, “Sorry, Donna, can we go back a second? What was that?”

MH: Can you explain that to me?

JH: There was a woman called Marcia Powell, about whom almost nothing was known when I started doing the research, except that she kept being arrested either for having meth or prostituting herself to get meth. In 2009, she woke up in Perryville prison. She was suicidal, and the doctor refused to believe she was suicidal. To kind of shut her up, they took her and put her in a holding cage —  which is literally an exposed cage in the desert — and they left her there. She cried and she begged for help. She begged for water, and she shat herself. The guards ignored her or mocked her, depending on whose account you believe — and in the end she collapsed. By the time they called an ambulance, she had been cooked to death. No one ever was criminally punished for what happened to Marsha Powell. A few people were fired, but no one ever faced criminal prosecution.

MH: Didn’t she actually experience second or third degree burns from that?

JH: Yes. She was cooked. Her internal organs were cooked. And there are lots of things about that. I mean there’s this very effective campaign at the moment — #blacklivesmatter, which I think is hugely valuable — and I think we need to also talk about how addicts’ lives matter. The drug war is built on dehumanization. One of the things I’ve tried to do very hard in my book is to present it as a series of human stories. Because I think part of the job we have to do is to re-humanize people.

Marcia Powell was thrown out of the home when she was 13 by the mother who had adopted her. She ends up living on the beach. She almost certainly was prostituted as a child. She has this completely traumatized life, and as so many addicts are, she was trying to stun her grief and pain with intoxicants. And what do we do? We take them and we traumatize them even more. It’s barbaric.

MH: You’re very good at finding personal stories, and it’s a book with a lot of law enforcement officials. It seems you found a lot of them who have soured completely on the drug war. Why is that?

JH: If I wanted to explain why the drug war doesn’t work, and I could take any set of individuals, I would take the former cops that I met, particularly Leigh Maddox. She was a cop in Baltimore, Maryland. Leigh signed up to be a cop because her best friend was murdered by what she believed was a drug gang. Leigh could not have been a stronger believer in the war on drugs. Leigh went into the police force to destroy drug gangs. That was her driving and overriding purpose, and she spent many years busting people and felt totally righteous about it. She was like Harry Anslinger’s dream girl. But Leigh is a very honest person, and Leigh noticed two things: One is they were overwhelmingly arresting African-Americans even though African-Americans are no more likely to use or sell drugs than any other ethnic group.

To give some context to that: I quote in the book a guy called Matthew Fogg who once went to his boss one day and said something like: Hey boss, how come when we do drug raids, we only ever really go to the black neighborhoods? I’m pretty sure that white people use drugs. And his boss said something like: Well, you’re damn right they use drugs, but you know those people get lawyers and judges. They know lawyers and judges and journalists. Let’s just go for the low-hanging fruit.

So it’s very important to understand, and Leigh came to understand, that even when there’s no racist intent, there’s a racist effect. Because if you have a law that’s been broken by half of the population, you can’t put half of the population of the United States in prison  although to be fair, you are giving it a fair shot  so what can you do? You’re going to go after the most unpopular and despised minorities who can’t fight back, and we know who those are in America. So it’s partly that Leigh noticed the incredible racism of it.

To kind of shut her up, they took her and they put her in a holding cage  which is literally an exposed cage in the desert  and they left her there. She cried and she begged for help. She begged for water, and she shat herself. The guards ignored her or mocked her, depending on whose account you believe — and in the end she collapsed. By the time they called an ambulance, she had been cooked to death. 

She also noticed something more unexpected — which is if you’re a cop and you arrest a rapist, the next week, there’s less rape in your town, right? Rape goes down. If you’re a cop and you arrest a drug dealer, well, firstly no one thinks there’s less drug dealing, right? We know that because the drug price never goes up. If supply was constricted, the price would go up and that doesn’t happen. But something even more interesting happens. The rate of drug dealing never goes down, but if you bust drug dealers, the rate of murder actually goes up, the killings go up. Leigh couldn’t really understand why at first, and then she discovered that basically what happens is if you’re a drug dealer, you establish control of your patch using violence. You establish a reputation for being terrifying and awful. If someone comes along and busts you or kills you, someone else has to come along and establish a reputation for being terrifying and violent. It triggers a turf war for control of the patch where people will kill each other and establish a reputation for violence.

So, Leigh noticed all this and started to think: Well, I went into this in order to bankrupt the drug gangs. What she realizes is that the drug war actually transfers this whole industry to the drug gangs. It’s what keeps them in business; they depend on it. They’re depending on it so much that at the start of the drug war, they actually bribed the narcotics agents to introduce it, as I explain in the book.

So she said that if you genuinely want to bankrupt the drug gangs, what you have to do is go back to where we were earlier in the 20th century and where many countries have gone, like Switzerland, and take the trade out of the hands of armed criminal gangs and give it to doctors and pharmacists instead. By the way, that does not mean a crack aisle in CVS. No one wants that — legalization has a very different meaning. It’s very important to understand what the kind of legalization that people like Leigh and people in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) are in favor of actually means.

What we have at the moment is anarchy: unknown criminals selling unknown chemicals to unknown users, all in the dark. Legalization is a process for extending regulation to this currently anarchic situation. That means different things for different drugs, and we don’t have to invent anything new. We have the structures of regulation in place. I can’t just go into CVS and buy strong sleeping pills. I have to get them from the doctor. You would extend that form of regulation that has happened in Switzerland. I have seen it in practice, and it works remarkably well.

MH: One of the biggest misconceptions that I think you tease out is that most people think addiction is about the chemical hooks in the drugs. There is some evidence of that, but it’s small. There’s something else at work. And scientists are beginning to understand this, and you go into detail about one of the experiments that shows what addiction is really about. Can you talk about that?

JH: If you said to me four years ago, “What causes, say heroin addiction?” I would have looked at you like you were a little bit simple-minded. I would have said, well, heroin causes heroin addiction. We’ve been told a story about what the main cause of addiction is for a hundred years. It’s so deeply engrained, it’s like common sense. We think that if you, me, and the next 20 people in this office all used heroin together for 20 days our body would start to physically need it. And so on day 21, we would all be heroin addicts, right? We would have succumbed to the chemical hooks; we would be craving it. That’s how we think it works.

The first thing that alerted me to the fact that there may be something wrong with that story is when it was explained to me that if you or me today were to step out of this office and be hit by a car, and we break our hip, we’ll be taken to hospital, and we’ll be given loads of diamorphine. Diamorphine is heroin. It’s much better heroin than you’d score on the streets because it’s medically pure, without all the filler and contaminants drug dealers put in it. You’ll be given it for quite a long period of time. Anyone reading this anywhere in the developed world should know  in a hospital near you, lots of people are being given lots of heroin, often for quite long periods of time. If what we believe about addiction is right, what should happen? Those people should become addicts. They should leave hospital and try to score on the streets. Yet you will have noticed your grandmother was not turned into a junkie by her hip operation.

I didn’t really know what to do with that knowledge when I found it out because it seems so contrary to everything I thought. And then I began to really understand it when I interviewed a man called Bruce Alexander, who’s a professor in Vancouver. Bruce explained to me that the theory of addiction we have comes from a series of experiments that were done earlier in the 20th century. Very simple experiments: Readers can do them at home if they’re feeling a bit sadistic. You get a rat and you put it in a cage and you give it two water bottles. One is just water, and one is water laced with either heroin or cocaine. If you do that, the rat will almost always prefer the drug-water and almost always kill itself. So there is our theory of addiction.

Bruce comes along in the ’70s and says: Hang on a minute, putting the rat in an empty cage? It’s got nothing to do. So Bruce built Rat Park, which is like heaven for rats. Anything a rat could want, the rat park has. It’s got nice food; it’s got colored balls; it’s got tunnels; it’s got its friends; it can have loads of sex. Anything a rat wants, it’s got. And it’s got both the water bottles  the drug-water and the normal water  but here’s the fascinating thing: In Rat Park, the rats just don’t like the drug water. They hardly ever use it, none of them ever use it in a way that looks compulsive, none of them ever overdoses.

MH: So when they do use it, it’s kind of like they’re doing it recreationally?

JH: Yeah. It looks like recreational use. What Bruce says is it’s not immorality. It’s not your brain. It’s your cage. Addiction is largely an adaptation to your environment.

Rat Face

Human beings have an innate need to bond. And when we’re happy and healthy, we’ll bond with the people around us. If you can’t bond with the people around you because you’re traumatized or isolated or beaten down, you will bond with something that gives you a sense of relief. Now that might be gambling, that might be pornography, that might be cocaine, but it will be something. And we should think of addiction as a process of bonding rather than as a process of hijacking.

And the human example of this is the Vietnam War.

Twenty percent of American troops in Vietnam were using heroin. The vast majority of them came back and just stopped. They didn’t go to rehab. They didn’t go through some terrible withdrawal process. They just stopped. Because if you’re taken out of a hellish, pestilential jungle, where you don’t want to be, where life is miserable, and you could die at any moment, and you go back to a nice life in Wichita, Kansas, with your friends and your family and your purpose, it’s like being taken out of the first cage and going into Rat Park. You don’t want to use.

MH: Why is Rat Park actually very, very important for drug reform? Why does it matter for public policy?

JH: There are two elements. First, it’s hugely important for drug reform because the drug war is based on the idea that the problem is the chemicals, and we need to physically eradicate those chemicals from the face of the earth. If, in fact, the problem is not primarily the chemicals and if, in fact, it’s isolation and pain, then suddenly the whole policy we have is thrown into a different perspective — because what we do is inflict more pain and more isolation on addicts. In that prison in Arizona, I went to the solitary confinement area, which they call “the hole,” and saw these women shut in there. I suddenly thought:  “Fuck, this is the closest you could ever get to a literal human reenactment of the cage that guaranteed addiction.” And we’re surprised it doesn’t stop addiction.

You realize the craziness of it. We cut them off. A) We literally put them in cages, put them in prison, but then B) We make it impossible for them to get jobs when they get out. That will maximize addiction, not minimize it. So it’s partly that.

In the year 2000, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. One percent of the population was addicted to heroin, which is mind-blowing. And every year, they tried the American way more — they arrested more people, imprisoned more people, and every year the problem got worse. And one day, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition got together, and they basically said: We can’t go on like this? What are we going to do? And they agreed to set up a panel of scientists, doctors, and judges to figure out what would genuinely solve the problem. And they agreed, in advance, that they would do whatever that commission recommended, so they took it out of politics.

The panel goes away for  I think it was a year and a half  and they come back and say: Decriminalize everything, from cannabis to crack. But, and this is the crucial next step, take all the money we currently spend on arresting and trying and imprisoning drug addicts and users and spend all of it on the lessons of Rat Park. Reconnect addicts with society. So some of it was things like rehab and psychological support, but most of it was very different to what we do in North America and Britain: subsidized jobs for addicts and micro-loans so addicts could set up businesses.

So say you used to be a mechanic, when you’re ready, they’ll go to a garage and they’ll say: If you employ this guy for a year, we will pay half his wages. They just made it really easy and cheap, the exact opposite of what we do where we make it impossible for addicts to get jobs. The goal was to make sure that every addict in Portugal wakes up with something to do in the morning, with something to get out of bed for in the morning, with some dignity and some self-respect. And it’s been nearly 15 years now, and the results are in: Injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Every study shows addiction is significantly down; overdose is massively down; HIV transmission among addicts is massively down.

And one of the ways you know it’s been such a success is almost no one wants to go back in Portugal. And one of the most moving interviews I did was a guy named João Figueira, who was the top drug cop in Portugal. He led the opposition to the decriminalization. He said the things that lots of people perfectly reasonably say when they hear this is, which is: Surely if you decriminalize all drugs and you end all punishment for it, you’ll have a massive explosion of drug use. You’ll have all sorts of problems. And he said to me, I’m paraphrasing the exact quote: Everything I said would happen, didn’t happen. And everything the other side said would happen did. And he talked about how he felt ashamed that he’d spent 20 years arresting and harassing drug users, how street crime had massively fallen because addiction has fallen, how he can see now that addicts were people who needed compassion and love, and how he hoped the whole world would follow Portugal’s example. And it’s very striking to me, every country I went to that’s moved beyond the drug war, almost no one wanted to go back.

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MH: One of the really great statistics you bring up in the book is that for 90 percent of the population who do choose to use drugs, can do so fairly responsibly. What I found interesting  and I think it goes to the fact that people just don’t really understand drug use  is that in some of the clinics, you would have people who would show up, shoot up for lunchtime, and basically go back to their jobs. So there’s that idea that it isn’t this totally incapacitating thing that makes you a slave to a certain degree.

JH: That’s really interesting. I think there are two things in that. So, the figure of 90 percent does not come from the Drug Policy Alliance. It comes from the UN Office of Drug Control, which is the biggest drug war body in the whole world, whose slogan is: “A drug-free world: we can do it.” They admitted  they’ve subsequently taken down the document I noticed the other day  but they admitted that 90 percent of all drug use is non-problematic, which means that it doesn’t cause addiction, it doesn’t cause you to overdose.

In that prison in Arizona, I went to the solitary confinement area, which they call “the hole,” and saw these women shut in there. I suddenly thought:  “Fuck, this is the closest you could ever get to a literal human reenactment of the cage that guaranteed addiction.” And we’re surprised it doesn’t stop addiction.

What’s happened is the drug war creates this distorted picture of drug use, which actually then reinforces the drug war. So there’s that going on, and I think also there’s the very interesting thing about the Swiss heroin clinics. Swiss people believe in getting up early. I go to this clinic in Geneva at like 7 in the morning  you can go at any time during the day  and there’s all these people lining up. There’s just people sitting in this waiting room, and they go into this little cubicle and use their heroin that they’re given, and then they go off to work. And it was really like, “Wow.” So we have these myths. Of course there are tragedies caused by drugs, as I’ve seen in my own family. This is not to trivialize in any way for a second the people whose lives are negatively affected by drugs to point out that just, as a matter of fact, they are a relatively small minority.

The figure I talk about that’s in the book is that for every 100,000 people who use alcohol, 650 die. For every 100,000 people who use cocaine, 4 die. And again, the science has been systematically distorted about this. This is, by the way, not a pro-cocaine argument or a pro-alcohol argument. I don’t like either of those drugs. But no one would find it odd that I don’t like alcohol and I’m not in favor of alcohol prohibition. I don’t like cocaine. I’m not in favor of cocaine prohibition.

The World Health Organization conducted a massive study in the 1990s on cocaine and found that addiction is rare. The American government said, if you publish this, we will pull all our funding from the WHO, and so that report was never published. We only know what it said because one of the scientists involved leaked it. That tells you something about the distortion that’s gone on. There’s a great quote from Harry Anslinger. He said at one point, “I have made up my mind: Don’t try to confuse me with the facts.” And I think that’s the overarching motto of the drug war. You start with this theological belief that there are these evil substances that hijack people, and then you make up your mind and you don’t want to be confused with the facts.

MH: One of the things that I found really perceptive is towards the end of the book you compare ending the drug war to the gay rights movements of the late 60s. Why do you do that? What’s the comparison here?

JH: There are two stories I would tell about that: One is the gay rights one. (I’m gay, by the way.) In 1969, when the Stonewall riot happened, there’s been 2000 years of gay people being horrifically persecuted. And a bunch of drag queens start a riot, and some of those people who started that riot lived to see the introduction of gay marriage. They didn’t even ask for gay marriage at that moment. It would have seemed like me saying  “We want to live on Mars”  and they lived to see it. Things can change incredibly quickly in incredibly positive ways. A great example of that  and I think the story that moved me most in the book  is the story of what happened in Vancouver.

In the year 2000, there was a homeless street addict called Bud Osborn who was watching his friends die all around him. People would use behind dumpsters so cops wouldn’t see them. Obviously if the cops can’t see you, if you start to OD, you just die. And Bud thought: I’ve got to do something about this. I can’t just watch all my friends die. And he was conscious that he might die that way as well. But he also thought: Look, I’m a homeless junkie. What can I do? And he had this very simple idea. He got together a group of the addicts and said: When we’re not using  which is most of the time, even for quite hardcore addicts  why don’t we have a timetable. We’ll just patrol the alleyways, and when we spot someone ODing, we’ll call an ambulance. Really simple. Not any officials, not any medical professionals, just us: We’ll just do it ourselves.

And they started to do it. And it goes on for a few months, and the overdose rates started to quite significantly fall. Which was great in itself, but it also meant the addicts started to think about themselves differently. They thought: Maybe we’re not the pieces of shit everyone says we are. Maybe we can do things. So they formed an organization, and they started to turn up at public meetings to discuss the menace of the addicts, and they would sit in the back and after a while, they’d pop up their hand, and go: Oh, I think you’re talking about us. Is there anything we can do differently? And people were initially baffled.

One of the things they learned was that in Frankfurt, Germany, they’d set up safe injecting rooms, where addicts could go and use and be monitored by medical professionals, and it had almost ended overdose deaths in Frankfurt. And they thought we’ve got to do this here, but there had never been anything like that in North America since the start of the drug war. So they decided to start literally stalking the mayor of Vancouver, Philip Owen, everywhere he went  with a coffin. And the coffin said something like, “Who will die next, Philip Owen, before you open a safe injecting room?”

Philip Owen was a right-wing business man from a very rich family  think Mitt Romney  who knew nothing about addiction and had said the addicts should be taken and detained at the local military base. That was where he came from. And for two years they follow him around, and they start to get a bit disheartened because people are still dying the whole time, nothing’s been done. And one day, to his eternal credit, Philip Owen just says: Who are these people? He’s just completely baffled by it, and he goes incognito to the downtown east side and he just spent a load of time with addicts. And he was totally blown away. He just didn’t know anything about it. And he thought: My god, these people … their lives are terrible.

Then he went and met Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winning economist who is fantastic on this issue, partly because he’d grown up under alcohol prohibition in Chicago as a kid and had always seen the flaws in prohibition. And Philip Owen comes back and he holds a press conference with the chief of police and a coroner and a representative of the addicts, and he says: I’m never going to talk about addicts again without one of them being present because they know better than me. Then he announces that he’s going to open the first safe injecting room in North America and have the most compassionate drug policy in North America. And he says that things are going to change. The injecting room opened, and Philip Owen was deselected by his own right-wing party because they were so appalled by what he did. He lost his job, but he was replaced by someone who kept the room open.

When I went to the downtown east side, where they opened the injecting room, it was 10 years since it opened. Again, the results were in. Deaths from overdose were down by 80 percent, and average life expectancy in that neighborhood was up by 10 years. And Philip Owen said to me it was the proudest thing he ever did, and he would do it all again. He would sacrifice his whole career again.

But they will never go back to what they had before in Vancouver. The Canadian Supreme Court, as a direct result of his activism, ruled that addicts have a right to life and that includes a safe injecting room.

You know, if he can do it, we can do it. And you know the one thing you can say for the war on drugs, in its defense, is we gave it a fair shot. No one can say we haven’t tried. We threw a trillion dollars and a hell of a lot of people’s lives at this war. And there’s a better way waiting for us when we’re ready to choose it.

MH: Let’s finish on the United States then. How optimistic are you that things are going to change?

JH: Hugely optimistic, hugely optimistic. I’m optimistic for many reasons. I mean, it depends on how well people like us do our job now, right? Because what has to happen is a mass movement exactly like what happened with gay rights  a mass movement of ordinary citizens demanding it. This will never be delivered by the politicians. They will respond to the pressure put on them  that’s all they’ll ever do.  So, I’m optimistic for several reasons: First, because the Colorado and Washington results are so positive. But secondly, because the drug war has so demonstrably failed, and the alternatives are so obviously better. They’re better for a whole range of reasons.

So they formed an organization, and they started to turn up at public meetings to discuss the menace of the addicts, and they would sit in the back and after a while, they’d pop up their hand, and go: Oh, I think you’re talking about us. Is there anything we can do differently? And people were initially baffled.

It’s very interesting to me to think about how we persuade people to end the drug war in the United States. I think it’s very important to learn the lessons of the Swiss referenda  there were two  because Switzerland voting to legalize heroin for addicts is not like San Francisco voting to do it. It’s like Utah voting to do it. And the way they won that argument was quite different to the way that a lot of the drug reform movement has tried to win the argument up to now. And I think it’s very important we learn from them. They did not use liberty-based arguments for ending the war on drugs. What does work and is equally true  so it’s not like a rhetorical trick  is order-based arguments for ending the war on drugs. It’s explaining to people we have transferred a huge industry to armed criminal gangs. They fight a war for drugs, which is horrendously violent. They spread disease. They spread violence. They spread anarchy. Ending the drug war is a process of ending that anarchy and restoring order. It means addicts will have more ordered lives where they are much less likely to commit crime. In Liverpool, in England, when they prescribed heroin, there was a 93 percent fall in burglary. The figures were similar in Switzerland. One of the reasons it was so popular was you just saw an enormous fall in property crime. Street prostitution virtually ended.

MH: So in many ways, quality of life just drastically improved.

JH: Exactly. Crucially, not just for the addicts, that’s the crucial thing to explain. That you could not give a shit about addicts’ lives and your life will be better. We’re not wasting your money. You know we could be taking all this money and burning it in a big pile, and it would be doing as much good as it’s doing. Actually it would be better because we wouldn’t be inflicting so much misery. It saves your money, means you’re much less likely to be mugged or burgled, and gets addicts out of your line of vision. Swiss people like their nice, ordered clockwork parks, and they were being filled up with addicts and now they’re not.

So I think those conservative, order-based arguments for the drug war are super important and are the way we will unlock the constituencies who still believe in the drug war. You know, we’ve kind of got liberals on our side. There are still some concerns, and, of course, the specific mechanisms are to be debated  and should be debated  but it’s more centrist and conservative people we have to win over.  And I think we can win them over. The evidence is in. Compassionate drug policies don’t just save lives and save your money  they bring order and safety, where at the moment, the drug war brings chaos and violence.

To learn more about Johann Hari and his book, go to Chasing the Scream.com.

An interview with Johann Hari, the bestselling author of “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.”

Me and My Two Dads

My two dads taught me everything I know about love and family. And now we're ready to show the rest of America what it means because many people don't realize that marriage bans affect kids and families – not just same-sex couples.

Next week, my family will drive from Kentucky to Washington, D.C., to go before the Supreme Court. Together we're fighting to get them to recognize my parents as a married couple. This monumental trip is not just for our family, but so that couples in all 50 states can get married and have their existing marriages acknowledged and respected too. 

Tevin's Tumblr

I've teamed up with the ACLU to document my family's journey from the Supreme Court and toward marriage equality across America. Follow my Tumblr for updates

For over 20 years, my parents have built their lives together and raised me, my two brothers, and my sister. Back in 2008, they got married in Palm Springs. Although their marriage is recognized in California, it is not recognized in Kentucky, where we live.  

The first time I realized we were being treated differently was when I was six years old. We tried to sign up for a family membership at the YMCA and were turned away. So we took action. I remember handing out flyers about getting turned away at the YMCA and getting rude comments. As a child, it really confused me. I had never seen that kind of intolerance.

But the discrimination hurts us in far more important ways too.

The fact that my parents are forced to pay for different health insurance, dental insurance, car insurance, and other things costs us thousands more than other families. But it's not just about the money. Whenever I got sick as a kid, only one of my dads could come with me to the doctor because they can't both be my legal guardians. Things got really stressful whenever he couldn't take off work to take care of me.

When I was nine years old, we went to our state capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, to rally for marriage for all. I was shocked to see so many people rallying against me and my family.

I'm nervous about what will happen next week. This could be life-changing for us, or heartbreaking. Either way, our journey to D.C. will be eye opening for us – different from anything we've done together.

I'm mostly just hoping for the best.

My two dads taught me everything I know about love and family.

The Sun Must Go Down on the Patriot Act

This piece originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Not long after the Patriot Act was passed in 2001, I had dinner with the late Senator Paul Wellstone in Washington, who was a stalwart defender of civil liberties throughout his career. I asked him how he could have possibly voted for a law that so vastly expanded the government’s spying powers. He told me that he was facing a tough election, but as soon as it was over he’d invite my organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, to testify before Congress about the Patriot Act’s flaws and the threats it presented to privacy and civil liberties. “We’ll work together to get this repealed,” he promised. Unfortunately, that day never came, as the senator tragically died in a plane crash in October of 2002. 

Almost 13 years later, the most egregious part of the Patriot Act, Section 215 – which underlies the National Security Agency’s call-records program – is scheduled to expire on June 1. Some legislators want Congress to reauthorize it in its current form – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has just introduced a bill that would do exactly that, extending it for another five years. Others want to make relatively minor changes. Congress shouldn’t do either of these things. Unless Congress can coalesce around far-reaching reform, it should simply let the provision expire.

Almost 13 years later, the most egregious part of the Patriot Act, Section 215 – which underlies the NSA’s call-records program – is scheduled to expire on June 1. Unless Congress can coalesce around far-reaching reform, it should simply let the provision expire.

Congress hurriedly enacted the Patriot Act just weeks after the September 2001 attacks. Few legislators read the 321 pages of proposed legislation; many simply concluded that the political climate necessitated that they vote for the bill, even if they didn’t understand it.

Predictably, the Patriot Act has been at the root of many of the most serious abuses of government spying powers. It was the Patriot Act the FBI relied on to vastly expand its use of “national security letters,” which the FBI now issues thousands of times every year to obtain information about innocent Americans who have no connection to terrorism. It was the Patriot Act the government relied on to conduct clandestine searches in investigations having nothing to do with terrorism. It was the Patriot Act the government invoked to permit the FBI to disregard the Fourth Amendment’s usual requirements – criminal probable cause, a particularized warrant – in ordinary law enforcement investigations. And it’s the Patriot Act the government is now using to justify the NSA’s call-records program.

mass surveillance under the Patriot Act 

The NSA uses Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect information – who called whom, when, and for how long – about most phone calls made or received on U.S. telephone networks. The surveillance is staggering in its scope and many, including the legislator who wrote the Patriot Act, believe the surveillance is unlawful. The surveillance is also, apparently, ineffective. Both a review group appointed by the president as well as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded, after analysis of classified files, that there was no evidence at all that the NSA’s massive surveillance program had ever played a pivotal role in any investigation.

Allowing Section 215 to sunset is a crucial first step if we want to ensure that this unlawful and ineffective surveillance finally ends. 

The current sunset debate is our first opportunity as a society to grapple with the mass-surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden, and we can’t afford to let this opportunity pass us by. The whole point of including sunset provisions in the original Patriot Act was to force Congress – and the country – to reconsider the government’s surveillance powers once more was known about their implications for civil liberties. Now we understand at least some of these implications – and they’re chilling. If we don’t allow Section 215 to sunset, we risk making permanent a “new normal” of government surveillance and extending surveillance programs that haven’t yet been – and may never be – disclosed to the public.

The Patriot Act’s upcoming expiration date gives us a new opportunity to make good on Senator Wellstone’s promise. Letting the provisions sunset would protect Americans’ privacy without compromising security. It would also be a first step towards the kind of systemic reform we desperately need – reform that would end the government’s dragnet surveillance practices, foreclose warrantless surveillance of Americans’ communications, require a degree of transparency about programs that haven’t yet been disclosed, and subject those as-yet-undisclosed programs to judicial review. 

Equally important, letting the provisions sunset would send a broader message that, after more than a decade in which national security could be invoked to justify the unconstrained expansion of virtually any government power, Americans are committed to restoring common-sense limits on the government’s national security powers and requiring that our intelligence agencies operate without disregard for privacy and civil liberties.

On June 1, the provision that allows the NSA to collect Americans’ call records in bulk will expire. Congress must let it.

Why Do States Want to Deny Foster Children a Place to Call Home?

As a child, I spent almost a decade being shuffled through 14 different foster care placements, including two group homes. It wasn't until I was 12 years old that a family came along and gave me the permanent, loving home of my dreams.

I will forever be grateful for the incredible family I was given. When I dreamed of the perfect family for me, I wished for kind people of any gender or age who would help me achieve my goals and provide the stability I desperately needed. Sadly, across the United States over 20,000 youth age out of foster care each year without the love and support of a family or a healthy support community. These youth often become criminals, homeless, teen parents, or are victims of drugs, violence, or suicide. There is a significant shortage of foster and adoptive families willing to nurture these children.

Yet many state legislatures are proposing bills that would further diminish the pool of qualified people who want to offer permanency to children languishing in foster care. These bills would allow agencies to reject families or individuals based on "religious" grounds. By denying children a chance to have a family, the shortage of available homes will be exacerbated, and more of these youth may never find permanency. Every foster child deserves to have every chance to find a loving home.

Decisions to block adoptions based on gender, race, or sexual orientation impact more than just the forgotten children. Unattached children can have a lifelong negative impact on society. The cost of keeping youth in state care burdens taxpayers. We should be giving agencies the tools and resources to engage more families — not give them the ability to discourage or turn away suitable applicants.

Because of the stability my permanent family provided, I was able to go to college and create a life that I never could have imagined. I now have my master's degree in social work and my first memoir, "Three Little Words," is an international bestseller. I even ran for Florida's state Senate when I was 26 years old because I wanted to provide a voice to those who don't have one. My husband and I became foster and adoptive parents and have cared for over 20 children — each with their own unique story, family of origin, and hopes.

I've had the opportunity to speak with many youth who have aged out of care. Most say that they would have taken any family that would have made a commitment to them. These children are generally not blinded by stigmas and societal prejudice — they simply yearn for a place to call home and are in desperate need of advocates who will stand up for their rights and well-being.

As a child welfare professional, I have been lucky enough to work with many same-sex couples, and I find them to be among the most dedicated, passionate, and understanding parents. They themselves know what it's like to be rejected, alone, ridiculed, stigmatized, and to be treated as outsiders. Like the foster kids that come into care through no fault of their own, life hasn't always been easy for members of the LGBT community either.

I've had a lifetime's worth of exposure to the foster care system and understand the needs of these vulnerable children intimately. This is why I urge lawmakers in Florida, Alabama, Michigan, and other states considering adoption discrimination bills to do everything in their power to stop these bills before they hurt hundreds of thousands of kids in need.

Decisions to block adoptions based on gender, race, or sexual orientation impact more than just lost children.

There Is No ‘Suspected Terrorist Activity’ Exception to the Constitution

This piece originally appeared at MSNBC.com

When Frontier Airlines Flight 623 landed at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on September 11, 2011, the only thing on Shoshana Hebshi’s mind was getting home to her family in Ohio after visiting her sister in San Francisco.

But when the plane pulled into the gate, federal, local, and airport police swarmed the flight with weapons drawn and ordered her and the two gentlemen sitting in her row off the plane. During the flight, passengers became suspicious of Shoshana’s row mates – two South Asian men – because each had used the bathroom for what they believed to be an unreasonably long time. Frontier had then reported them, along with Shoshana, to law enforcement as suspicious, which is why she had guns pointed at her and armed men screaming at her to get off the plane.

Things only got worse from there. Over the course of the next four hours, Shoshana, terrified and confused, was handcuffed, strip-searched, and interrogated as a threat to national security – all because happenstance seated her next to two South Asian men who had to go to the bathroom. Afterward, all three were released without charge – all three the victims of racial and ethnic profiling.

Shoshana Hebshi, who is of Saudi Arabian and Jewish descent, wouldn’t allow this trampling of her constitutional rights to go unchallenged, though. With the help of my organization, the ACLU, she sued the federal government, Frontier Airlines, and the airport. And today, nearly four years after her humiliating ordeal, she received a settlement that gives her some peace of mind that others won’t have to go through the same degrading and unconstitutional treatment she experienced. 

Regardless of this big victory, we still have a long way to go before Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians (not to mention Latino or black people) can fly without fear that they will be singled out as suspicious. The truth is that the federal government has stubbornly refused to change the policies that enable racial and ethnic profiling on airplanes and in airports.

For one thing, the Department of Justice issued new guidance prohibiting racial profiling in law enforcement investigations, but the new guidelines still allow racial profiling when federal agents investigate national security or border integrity cases. Those are pretty glaring loopholes. It’s also a missed opportunity to send a message to law enforcement that people of color don’t forfeit their constitutional rights when they arrive at the airport.

Moreover, the Transportation Security Administration’s pseudo-scientific and absurd SPOT behavioral profiling program remains in force. This program sends TSA “behavior detection officers” to airport screening areas to suss out suspicious people based on facial “micro-expressions” that those harboring “mal-intent” supposedly make for milliseconds at a time. And, because there’s no real way to determine who is suspicious by watching facial expressions, SPOT becomes just another mechanism for racial and ethnic profiling.

You don’t have to take my word for it – TSA agents themselves have reported rampant profiling under its auspices. As one officer put it to The New York Times, “They just pull aside anyone who they don’t like the way they look – if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic.” To add insult to injury, this program has cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars without leading to the arrest of a single terrorist. 

Shoshana HebshiIn Shoshana’s case, Frontier Airlines, the TSA, and airport police kept arguing that it was reasonable to treat her the way they did because it was the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and terrorists had previously tried to attack Detroit. But the judge got it exactly right when he rejected that argument, writing that those facts cannot absolve law enforcement officers from their responsibility to conduct investigations in compliance with the Constitution. And, if the Constitution is ever to meaningfully constrain the government, that has to be true. Here we are nearly 15 years after 9/11, and heightened national security concerns are still being used to justify all kinds of violations of our rights. 

The only solution is to continue to insist, loudly and clearly, as Shoshana did, that all of us have rights, regardless of skin color or religion or national origin. As the judge put it, “There is no ‘suspected terrorist activity exception’” to the Constitution.

Let’s hope federal policy starts living up to that promise soon. 

Fear cannot absolve law enforcement from their responsibility to conduct investigations in compliance with the Constitution.

The Fighting Irish Shouldn’t Pick a Fight with Women’s Equality

You'd think the officials at Notre Dame would have their hands full with allegations of their broken sexual harassment and assault investigation protocols.  And you'd also think that they wouldn't want to alienate their female employees and students any more than they already have. 

But you'd be wrong. 

Notre Dame will be back in court this Wednesday arguing that their religious beliefs mean they should be allowed to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraception as required under the Affordable Care Act. We all know about the devastating loss in Hobby Lobby related to for-profit employers' obligation to provide contraception coverage (which the Obama administration is trying to fix). But religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations simply have to fill out a form and send it to their insurance company or the federal government stating that they have a religious objection to covering contraception. Then the insurance company takes care of everything else: communicating with the employees and paying for the coverage. 

But Notre Dame thinks that even filling out a form saying that they object to providing contraception is a violation of their religious beliefs. Their extreme position really shows what this fight is all about: taking contraception coverage away from women.

That amounts to sex discrimination. Pure and simple. Especially when you consider that contraception is crucial for women's equal participation in society. Being able to decide whether and when to have children has had a direct effect on women's ability to make their own paths in terms of their schooling, their careers, and their families.

And Notre Dame is not alone. Dozens of nonprofit organizations have filed lawsuits seeking to prevent their female employees from having contraception coverage. Luckily, all four appellate courts that have reached the merits so far have quite sensibly found that forcing these institutions to simply fill out a form saying "we object" doesn't burden religious freedom.

Religious liberty is fundamental value, and one that we fight for here at the ACLU. But religious freedom doesn't give Notre Dame the right to discriminate against its female employees any more than it gives business owners the right to turn away lesbian, gay, or transgender customers.  Our country values religious freedom, yes. But we also value equality.

I know the Fighting Irish is your logo, but come on Notre Dame, you really want to pick this fight against women?

Notre Dame doesn’t object to providing contraceptive coverage. It objects to women getting the birth control they need.