Monday, November 26, 2007

How NOT to Support Our Troops!

It’s all about talking the talk, but not walking the walk!

The most strident in the administration and Congress, who talk the loudest about supporting our troops, are the very same politicians who have failed to take the most important steps to support our troops and veterans.

Oh, no doubt, they all wear their lapel pins, bumper stickers, and yellow ribbons front and center. And they never fail to argue that those who question or criticize the war or the Commander in Chief are un-American and do not support the troops.

But let’s not forget. These same talkers and flag wavers sent our troops to war in Iraq without the armor and equipment they needed, skimped on veteran’s health care and buried access to benefits in a maze of bureaucracy. Disabled veterans wait months, even years, to get the disability payments due them. No walking all the "support" talk here.

These are the same vociferous folks that pay minimum base salaries to our troops, but award huge, no-bid contracts to mercenaries who then work along side our troops at 4 or 5 times the soldier’s salary and who do not have to follow any rules of engagement or conventions! How supportive is that?

The list of our talkers’ failures seems endless. Reservists and National Guard troops come home to find their guaranteed jobs not so guaranteed. An appalling new report from the Homeless Research Institute found almost half a million vets on the streets or in shelters in 2006, including 400 from the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Shocking barely describes the current CBS News report on veteran’s suicides. With data reported from 45 states, the report documented 6,256 veteran suicides in 2005. That’s 120 suicides each and every week that year and it’s twice the national average for the same age group.

So let’s just put it in perspective. The loudest talkers in support of our troops, in the administration and the Congress, have failed to walk even the first mile in support of our troops and veterans.

Worst of all, these strident supporters of our troops, in the administration and the Congress, have put in jeopardy the very rights and liberties that our troops believe they are paying the ultimate sacrifice for, fighting and dying to defend. Extraordinary rendition, waterboarding, torture, hiding detainees from international human rights groups, elimination of the writ of habeas corpus, wiretapping without warrant, disappearances in the middle of the night. These are Taliban and Saddam style offenses our troops believe they went to war to stop.

How demoralizing to find your own government engaged in the same kinds of violations of fundamental liberties you are fighting to prevent!

We need to review our civics lessons and our history. Remember the Declaration of Independence? "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

The term unalienable (or inalienable) refers to rights that are fundamental, are not awarded by human power and cannot be surrendered. They are often called human rights or natural rights. Bush, Cheney, and Congress must have skipped class the day the Declaration was discussed and the terms liberty and inalienable were defined. How else could they pass the Military Commission Act that suspends habeas corpus?

Speaking of habeas corpus, remember the Constitution? It’s a relatively short document, worth rereading every so often to keep a fresh appreciation of the brilliance of the founders who waded through all the conflicts and turmoil to construct the best democracy ever! It’s interesting to recall that the founders considered the writ of habeas corpus so important, it is the only liberty included within the text of the Constitution: Article I. Section 9. Many of our current leaders must have slept through that civics lesson as well!

Congress should reread the constitution every so often to remind themselves that they are supposed to be a co-equal branch of government, owning their loyalty to the people (of, by, and for the people) and not to a political party. They are supposed to stand their ground (for us and our posterity) when the executive grabs excessive power, not cave in along party lines.

How about the Bill of Rights? That’s some very interesting reading and only 10 sentences long! Old fashioned phrases like unreasonable searches, warrants only upon probable cause, no compelling an individual to witness against oneself, due process, speedy and public trials, informed of the charges against oneself, right to counsel, no cruel or unusual punishment seem especially passé in today’s political climate of fear and the moral cowardice it has produced in our elected leaders.

Remember Benjamin Franklin? He’s the founding father who warned,
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Did Osama Bin Laden and 9/11 wipe our civic memory clean or did he understand us all too well?

Let’s push our leaders or elect new ones to walk the talk, pay our soldiers what they are worth, fix the neglect and bureaucratic snafus for veterans, and restore the liberties our troops are sacrificing to protect.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Retaliation is "Fair Game?"

New book, Fair Game, by Valerie Plame Wilson is a must read for anyone who has experienced the malicious and insidious sting of retaliation. The book is her account of the retaliation she received after her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, wrote an op-ed piece in July 2003, challenging the Bush Administration's assertions about Iraq's efforts to buy uranium from Africa.

To strike back at Joe Wilson for challenging the administration's use (or misuse) of intelligence reports to rationalize the unilateral, preemptive invasion of Iraq, President Bush's closest adviser Karl Rove announced that Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was "fair game." Shortly afterward, her name was "leaked" and columnist Robert Novak blew her cover. Her career as a CIA covert operative vaporized instantly!

Following Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff "Scooter" Libby's trial and conviction on four counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements about this vindictive outing of Valerie Plame, the judge sentenced Libby to 30 months in prison. No worries though, within hours of sentencing, President Bush commuted his sentence!

Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson filed a civil lawsuit against administration officials and lost the first round in summary judgment. Hopefully they will be successful in their appeal of that decision. It affects all of us because it's the only way we will learn the truth about who did what, when, and why. It's the only way to teach the lessons that have to be learned and heeded in the future.

I also experienced devastating retaliation after filing a claim of job discrimination. I've described my experiences in my 2007 book, Plaintiff Blues. There is no question that my experiences pale in comparison to Valerie Plame's. However, there are many parallels in the two stories: the impact on careers, the family disruption, the horrendous legal costs, and the frustration of losing in summary judgment and being denied your day in court. I could not afford to appeal, but I'm optimistic the Wilson's will prevail in their appeal.

The most frightening similarity in the two stories is the chilling effect such retaliation has on others who might speak out or take a stand. There is no doubt that retaliation is a powerful and terribly effective weapon to use against people who chose to exercise their rights and freedoms. Retaliation is not fair game. Read Fair Game and root for the Wilson's, for all our sakes!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Real Cause of 35W Bridge Collapse in Minneapolis

Tax cut obsession is the underlying cause of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, as well as the massive and pervasive trouble with much of America's aging infrastructure. That same obsession could also be called the mother of all political sell-outs. Tax cuts are popular in both political parties. Tax cuts are effective; tax cuts get votes and win elections. However, those tax-cutting politicians never tell you about the real costs of all those popular tax cuts.

Our public schools, roads, bridges, water and sewer systems - all the infrastructure we take for granted everyday - are old and aging across the country and yet we get more talk of tax cuts. When will we learn that there's no free lunch! Unfortunately, we cannot count on our elected officials to have the vision and courage to step up and do what's necessary. Their vision extends only as far as their next election and the ear-marked, ribbon-cutting pork projects necessary to win it.

Instead of pork-built bridges to nowhere, we need to fix the bridges we have. But to invest in the unnoticeable and far less glamorous work of maintaining and repairing the infrastructure that drives our way of life, elected officials will have to raise taxes and risk losing their next elections.

Only government repairs bridges. The estimate of overdue work on our infrastructure is three trillion dollars! How can government - state or federal - hope to repair our bridges or the rest of our aging infrastructure when all we hear is no new taxes, no tax increases or promises of hefty new tax cuts?

The 35W bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis was deemed to have significant deficiencies in a 2005 inspection. It's two years later, yet no major structural repair or replacement has even been scheduled. We need to understand the bottom line behind the tax-cutting, anti-government rhetoric. There are some things only government can do.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Greatest Threat to American Way of Life

The greatest threat to our American values and way of life is not Osama Bin Laden or his terrorists. Unless they secure and deploy nuclear weapons, their threats are very limited in scope and impact. Yes, their attacks are tragic and we will never forget 9/11. However, those kinds of attacks pose no danger to our national security or our way of life.

Step back and think about it! It is not Osama that has taken away our right to privacy, our protection against warrant-less searches, our right to to counsel when accused, our right to face our accusers, our rights against self-incrimination (torture?), our rights to a trial by a jury of our peers, our protection against cruel and unusual punishment, or the writ of habeas corpus. We have taken these rights and liberties from ourselves - or allowed the administration to do it to us with hardly a wimper of protest. Don't the terrorists ultimately win the war when they produce in us such a gutless panic that we allow these fundamental rights to be eliminated?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bush's Supreme Court Says OK to Pay Women Less

All an employer has to do to get away with paying women less for the same work done by men is keep it secret for 180 days! That's the effect of the recent Supreme Court decision, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. According to the May 29 NYT, Lilly Ledbetter's salary was initially the same as the men doing the same work. Over time, she received smaller raises than the men and by the time she realized the disparity and sued, her salary fell short by 40%. However, she was past the 180 day deadline (from the time her pay was set) in Title VII for filing a complaint.

A Federal District Court and the EEOC supported Ledbetter's claim of pay discrimination, but the Bush Administration disavowed the EEOC's position and filed a brief on the side of the employer, saying Ledbetter could not bring suit because she had past the 180 day deadline. Where have we heard this before? When has a Bush ever supported a victim of discrimination or taken a stand against discrimination in general? In this case, the two 43 appointees - Roberts and Alito, and Thomas - the 41 appointee, joined Scalia and Kennedy - both Reagan appointees, for the 5 to 4 majority. Isn't there a pattern here? The last three Republican presidents created this majority!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

NCLB: A Huge Mistake

NCLB (No Child Left Behind) was passed to close the achievement gap. That goal is laudable and long overdue. However, the high-stakes testing dictated by NCLB as the way to tackle the problem is a disaster. It stifles the imagination and inspiration of teachers, narrows the curriculum, drains sparse resources of public schools, and crushes the spirits of the very students it is intended to help.

Perhaps the biggest problem with NCLB is that it ignores the growing level of poverty in this country that is the underlying cause of the achievement gap. Testing doesn't provide jobs, living wages, health insurance and other basics that are the foundations of strong families and of hope. We can't test hungry or hurting kids into achievement anymore than we can bomb totalitarian societies into democracy.

I recommend 4 books that shed light on the issues surrounding the high stakes testing approach of NCLB and its failure to address the pervasive poverty that affects the achievement of too many of our children in too many of our public schools. David Berliner's books, The Manufactured Crisis and Collateral Damage reveal the costs of our over-reliance on and over-interpretation of testing. The costs are far greater that financial. Jonathan Kozol's books Savage Inequalities and The Shame of the Nation will take you inside these impoverished neighborhood schools and leave you wondering, "How can this be in America?" How can mandated, costly, high-stakes testing do anything but exacerbate these kinds of problems?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Politicization of Federal Justice System Undermines Rule of Law

Bush 43 has exceeded all expectations. All presidents are expected to put their 'brand' on the agencies and operations of the federal government. However, 43's brand undermines the rule of law and threatens our constitution and its separation of powers. If the Congress passes a law he doesn't like, he simply issues a signing statement and does as he pleases. According to the 4/30/06 Boston Globe, while few were paying attention, 43 has stated his authority to disobey or ignore more than 750 laws passed since he took office. This is more than the last several presidents combined.

If he dislikes laws passed previously, his administration - specifically his politically hired or fired U. S. Attorneys - selectively enforce federal the laws. In 2004 an analysis of Justice Department data done by Syracuse University found that in the first years of 43's administration, prosecutions of civil rights violations fell by more than 33%, even though the number of complaints remained the same. The only other category of federal prosecutions to suffer a similar decline was environmental violations. No surprise from the president that refuses to accept the urgency of global warming.

If all else fails and a civil rights case does make it to the Federal Courts, the conservative judges are there to see to it that corporate interests prevail. Republican presidents have been appointing lower court federal judges for 18 of the past 26 years. In its two most recent civil rights cases, even the relatively conservative Supreme Court overruled the lower courts and did so unanimously. These lower courts had been requiring extremely strict thresholds of proof for plaintiffs and had failed to protect plaintiffs from retaliation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Bush Presidents 41 & 43 - No Friends of Civil Rights

In the spring of 1989, the conservative Rehnquist Supreme Court handed down 9 decisions that harshly interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and set back civil rights by decades. Title VII deals with job discrimination and harassment. Two cases in particular, Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio and Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, made it difficult for workers to win discrimination or harassment cases. Congress immediately began working on amendments to strenthen Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. When their amendments were passed in 1990, President Bush 41 vetoed the bill. The Senate failed to override his veto by one vote.

So Congress went back at it the next year. In addition to long, tough negotiating with the White House, proponents of the amendments also benefitted from the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings which occurred at the same time. In late October 1991, both the House and Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1991 by veto-proof majorities. President Bush had to give in and sign the bill in November 1991.

In the 2003 Desert Palace v. Costa decision, a unanimous Supreme Court made it significantly easier for workers to win Title VII discrimination cases against their employers. Even though not required by the civil rights laws, the conservative lower courts had been requiring workers to have direct evidence to prove discrimination or harassment. This decision is particularly interesting for two reasons. First, it was unanimous, even though the Bush 43 administration urged the court to maintain the direct evidence requirement. Ironically, it was Bush 41's appointee Clarence Thomas who wrote for the majority, "Circumstantial evidence is not only sufficient, but may be more certain, satisfying and persuasive that direct evidence."

Title VII not only prohibits job discrimination and harassment, but protects anyone who complains about it from retaliation. However, the conservative lower courts have almost always required that the retaliation had to result in dismissal for a plaintiff to qualify for that protection. In the unanimous 2006 Burlington Northern Santa Fe v. White decision, the Supreme Court said retaliation does not have to be an adverse employment action to be unlawful. It could even be actions such as unfavorable evaluations or unwelcome schedule changes or transfers. And of course, the Bush 43 administration argued on behalf of the railroad, suggesting that only those actions that affect compensation, terms and conditions of employment whould count as retaliation.

What's with those Bushes anyway? In addition to their actions above, they've had a lot to do with creating the conservative bent of those lower courts as well!