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!