Tuesday, August 23, 2005

California Leads the Way Again - Lesbian Parental Rights/Duties

Yesterday, three extraordinary rulings were issued by the California Supreme Court, which seems to be finding its groove now that the strident voice of Janice Rogers Brown has been promoted to the level of her own dogma and moved to the DC Circuit, confirming, at least for now, that gay parents are parents even when they are no longer "married" parents.

The Court issued three decisions yesterday, in the cases of K.M. v. E.G., Elisa B. v. Superior Court and Kristine H. v. Lisa R. confirming that lesbian mothers who participate in the birth of, and rear, children born to their partners during marriage (or civil commitment or even just committed loving relationships) remain those childrens' parents - with parental rights and parental responsibilities that survive the breakup of the relationship:

California Affirms Status of Non-Custodial Lesbian Mothers as Parents

In Elisa B. the Court found that the same rules that apply to heterosexual deadbeat parents apply to deadbeat gay and lesbian parents too. Specifically, the Court found that a lesbian mother who met all the criteria for parentage under the Uniform Parentage Act ("UPA") except for the biological relationship part was indeed liable to the County of El Dorado for repayment of TANF (formerly, welfare) support payments made to the custodial mother.) The Court rejected Elisa B's arguments that because there was no formal domestic partnership or adoption of the children, she could not be held liable to pay child support to the twins that she along with her former partner purposefully conceived, breastfed together, and raised before their relationship went south. It found that a central purpose of the Uniform Parentage Act was to eliminate defenses to parental obligations based on the marital status of parents, and found that California law expressly mandated application of its tests to governing presumptive fatherhood to mothers to the extent practicable. The court made clear that Elisa B. could not hide -- now that it was convenient for her pocketbook -- behind her status as a lesbian mother with no registered domestic partnership and no biological relationship to the minor children. These meant diddly when it came to her duty to support her children. Since this is the same outcome that Elisa B. would have faced had she been Edward B., it's nice to see that the law can indeed work in a non-discriminatory fashion where gay and lesbian parents are concerned. As the Elisa B. court noted:

Declaring that Elisa cannot be the twins’ parent and, thus, has no obligation to support them because she is not biologically related to them would produce a result similar to the situation we sought to avoid. . . of leaving the child fatherless. The twins in the present case have no father because they were conceived by means of artificial insemination using an anonymous semen donor. Rebutting the presumption that Elisa is the twins' parent would leave them with only one parent and would deprive them of the support of their second parent.. . . [T]the Legislature implicitly recognized the value of having two parents, rather than one, as a source of both emotional and financial support, especially when the obligation to support the child would otherwise fall to the public.

(Just to make sure folks were clear, the Court expressly disaffirmed all its earlier precedents involving lesbian mothers, all of which had held that a non-biological mother had no parental rights over the objection of the biological mother.)

Who says that the law doesn't eventually catch up with common sense?

In the K.M. case, the question was whether a lesbian mother who had provided the ova to her registered domestic partner from which their twins were born was the child's mother under the UPA. This case was forced to confront cases involving surrogate parentage, which had routinely relied on a California statute which says that a man's contribution of sperm to an artificial insemination as a donor does not make him the legal father of the resultant child under the Uniform Parentage Act unless he is married to the mother. In this case, there was a written form IVF contract signed by K.M. prior to the birth relinquishing legal right to the children upon separation. Guess what? She changed her mind after separation, and filed a petition to establish parentage to her children. The Court held that the exception for IVF sperm donors did not apply to egg donors who otherwise met the tests for presumptive parentage any more than it applied to sperm donors; i.e. it did not apply where a lesbian parent donated eggs to a registered domestic partner. In this case, the Court treated K.M. and her former partner the same as a married couple who elected to use IVF, and vested legal parentage in each of them, again upholding the principle that a child is entitled to two legal parents if at all possible, absent unfitness.

It was this case that directly, and clearly articulated that, yes, children can have two legal mothers - at least in this state:

It is true we said in Johnson that “for any child California law recognizes only one natural mother.” But as we explain in the companion case of Elisa B. v. Superior Court, supra, this statement in Johnson must be understood in light of the issue presented in that case; “our decision in Johnson does not preclude a child from having two parents both of whom are women.”

Finally, in Kristine H., the Court was faced with a pre-birth, stipulated court order that was voluntarily sought and obtained by both mothers declaring them each to be the legal parents of the child for the purposes of the hospital's issuance of a birth certificate when it was time. Kristine's partner, Lisa, was listed as "father" on the child's birth certificate in accordance with the court order.

Naturally, as is always the case in these family law cases, the happy family broke up and the tug-o-war using the child as emotional proxy began just as it does with "straight" couples. Kristine, who had given birth, moved to set aside the court order and declare her the exclusive legal parent of the child, on the grounds that since the order was issued before the birth of the child, the court lacked the subject matter jurisdiction to issue it.

The Court gave her the same procedural dropkicking that it routinely hands out to other folks, including parents, who seek out and obtain legally binding stipulations and then change their minds when their prior decisions become emotionally inconvenient for them.

Estoppel lives.

Now, these decisions are extraordinary only because of their larger context -- the Court is expressly stating that legal parenthood can indeed rest with gays and lesbians even over the objection of their former partners and even where there is no "biological link". It is therefore expressly treating lesbian parents in the same fashion as everyone else. But for the fact that the country is currently gripped with "anti-gay backlash" to the point of complete stupidity, these would not be all that memorable. But of course they are memorable because the nation is currently so gripped.

To me, these decisions all have an unwritten subtext of common sense that perhaps someday the courts will be brave enough to write: Where children are concerned, it is irrelevant how they got here - what is relevant is that they are here, it is the job of that state to ensure a parent-child relationship with both its parents, and all the rights and responsibilities for each parent which that entails.

In our increasingly theocratic society, one has to celebrate when common sense -- and well established principles of jurisprudence -- prevail despite the facile use of legal arguments that take advantage of the societal unwillingness to hold gays and lesbians as equals (and in each of these cases, that was indeed the unspoken issue; the facile use of laws disfavoring gay parental rights to try to get out of child support in Elisa B. is particularly nasty.)

Ignore reality at your peril, when it comes to law. Despite prejudices, and a speed of change that is glacial, it does indeed usually come to grips with, and uphold, reality.

There are many things about law that are Bad. However, even as we are in the middle of a wingnut driven culture war over sexual orientation, the courts are continuing to rely on their old, stodgy methods to further old, stodgy principles. In this case, the two moldy oldie principles that have now enshrined a right for gay parents to parent that is, at least for now, co-extensive with the rights of straight parents are as follows:

Principle One: The best interests of children favor having two loving parents to provide for a child's financial, cultural, emotional and spiritual support.

Principle Two: A parent has an absolute constitutional right to rear his or her child, as child is legally defined rather than biologically defined, absent an affirmative showing of parental unfitness.

The wingnuts of course, are always bent out of shape over Principle number 2 since to them gay=presumptively unfit. Fortunately for everyone, that principle has been well-rejected in the courts, despite politicians continuing to try to bark up the anti-gay legal prejudice tree in as many ways that the human (inhumane, really) mind can devise. All of those efforts always ignore a basic inquiry, which should IMO become progressives' stock in trade: Since Jesus said zip-doo-dah about the subject of homosexuality, and since if God didn't want gay and lesbian people to be parents he'd have made them physically incapable of producing children by any means, what's the religious problem with gay people raising kids? After all, long long LONG before artificial insemination, gay and lesbian parents were having children, including the "Good Old Fashioned Way" (I myself have two friends who used this method; neither stated that they were required to close their eyes and think of England and the parts all apparently worked just fine because babies were born in short order).

While these cases do not address the question of adoptive parental rights which is now the subject of much legislative effort throughout the US, I am reminded of an old saying where law is concerned: As goes California, so goes the nation. If that is the case, then the nation has taken another dramatic step towards meaningful equality, even as the individual circumstances were, of course unhappy ones for the individuals involved (funny how that tends to work, where law is concerned.) And it bodes well, in truth, for the adoptive parental cases to come. Since despite all myth, the states *do* look to each other for how to handle new issues. This is another body of law to look towards, that will hopefully have a meaningful impact long-term.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Blast From the Past II - The Hangman's Noose

All those in the liberal and progessive world who keep insisting that racist hatred of Black folk is "in the past" need to spend more time mining the news. I wrote about the "Whites' Only" signs at Tyson Chicken in Alabama last week. Here's some more fun in the news:

Hangman's Noose at Black Man's Door

Now, this is when I come right out and say it: had this happened to me, my family would have had to come get me out of county. The excuse made ("I put it at his door just to store it") is a crock of shit, and only the most deliberately obtuse would buy it. (My gut says that if indeed the perpetrator was ignorant of the symbolism, a highly unlikely situation since this person was born in the US -- and Iowa is notorious for quietly simmering racial tension, so he grew up with this -- then someone else put him up to it, knowing full-well what the likely reaction would be.)

Store it? How about in a bag? How about on the floor? How about in his mailbox with a note asking "What do I do with this piece of shit?"

Today's Quiz: What legitimate reason does a noose have to even exist at the US government's metal shop or anywhere else in the National Park Service? Since when does someone need a noose to do anything with metal or parks?

Answers: None. You don't.

Notice what happened, though, after the perfectly human response to this symbol occurred back in June (i.e. the brother started kicking the ass of the person who did it):

1) The two persons of color involved were both put on administrative leave - the victim *and* the perpetrator - but just for one day, each. Equal punishment for equal crimes? Psychic attack on Black person vs. fighting in retaliation. I guess in a world where Black folks are supposed to just put up with meta-aggression with a smile, one that is actually human instead of super-human is just as much a problem as the person who provoked him.

2) The National Park Service has done diddly squat to address the matter in the two months since this event, even after an EEOC complaint was filed.

I await with baited breath hearing the words "Get a Rope". That's the only place you can go from somewhere like this.

Let's see, in just the past six months the following have made mainstream news:

a) Whites' Only Signs posted: Tyson's Racist Chicken

b) The Return of the Public Servant Siccing Dogs on Black folks: Black Bait for Fishing Dogs

c) The Return of the Burning Cross all over the county: Here's just one recent example Racist Cross-Burning - Yet Again

(As a bonus, the burning cross is now become an equal opportunity terrorist symbol Anti-Gay Cross-Burnings)

Reviewing these stories in light of the number of hate crimes that haven't made the MSM leaves one incapable of doing much more than putting one's head in one's hands.

I've said it before and I"ll say it again: dismissing these things as isolated events fomented by rare, deranged minds is a serious mistake. I wish it were that simple. I genuinely think that these events, which are increasing in frequency, presage a return to the honest anti-Black racism that has been the ugly, unresolved legacy of the country and its history (as opposed to the dishonest stealth kind we've all been putting up with for the last 25 years since Dr. King guilted white folks to death.) There will be more of them. Except that now, the targets aren't just Black: our very diversity makes it far too easy to engage in the Hate of One's Choice.TM

Given that our government is failing to nip in the bud the racist sentiments against Iraqis that allow most folks to continue to justify our unjustifiable war of aggression, it makes perfect sense. You can't control hate, once it's out of the box.

(And folks wonder why many Black people amongst ourselves are asserting that it is time to circle the wagons in our self-defense again. /sigh)

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

God Bless, Latoyia Figueroa and Child

Well, the waiting is over. May she rest in peace:

Latoyia Figueroa Found Murdered.

This is not a surprising denoument to her disappearance. Indeed, only someone avoiding likely realities could not assume the worst, given how long it has been. Her boyfriend Stephen Poaches, the father of the unborn child that perished with Ms. Figueroa, has been arrested - with a bulletproof vest on and a gun in his possession. Yes, this is clearly someone who we all know couldn't possibly be capable of murder.

He is, however, innocent until proven guilty. But he is not on my hitparade, as I blogged a few weeks ago, because it's clear that, at a minimum, he's a selfish SOB that thought Ms. Figueroa's disappearance meant nothing more to him than the loss of a babymama when in fact someone actually cared about what had happened to her and the baby, even if he did not. I do hope that if he is responsible, nobody will "just leave him alone" now -- as he whined on radio a few weeks ago -- but he bears the full weight the law has to bear.

Rest in Peace, Ms. Figueroa, and prayers to your unborn child who died with you and to the living daughter you left behind. Know that your disappearance and death has opened a few minds, if nothing else, about the fact that women of color do have value in this world. And that folks do care.

(Thanks again to everyone in the blogosphere, starting with Richard Cranium, whose demand that Latoyia Figueroa's story be told no doubt aided in reaching a relatively quick resolution, even if a grim one.)

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The Personal Is Political - Stories in America

I learned of this extraordinary project about 2 months ago, from my participation on DailyKOS, and kept forgetting to post about it.

While most political pundits -- professional and non-- were still hand-wringing over, negatively stereotyping, dismissing and trying to psychoanalyze those "Red States" that went overwhelming for Dubbya despite the clear evidence of his failings (from megalomania to stupidity), Rose Aguilar, a journalist from here in the Bay Area, obviously remembered one of the basic rules of all understanding:

The personal is political.

So she decided that rather than pontificate, rather than speculate, rather than assume, she'd ask. She is currently on a six-month journey through Red State America, and so far, the stories that she has reported have been nothing less than extraordinary:

Stories in America

This is a site worth checking out by everyone, regardless of partisan politics. Many, including myself, have lamented the Great DivideTM that appears to have split America in two since the Bush Administration ascended into power. But those laments are worthless. It is only by hearing (a word well known in progressive politics those that seem least like ourselves that we will both get to the bottom of what motivates those who live in states that are "Red" and understand our commonalities with most of them. That dialogue is the only way to develop "political empathy", which I believe is the only way to make some progress going forward.

So check this site out and, if you can, donate a tank of gas or a motel room so Ms. Aguilar can keep up her extraordinary work.

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Monday, August 15, 2005

Send a Sign that You Care about Darfur Genocide

Africa Action is circulating a petition about the ongoing genocide in Darfur, which seems to know no end. The goal is to obtain 400,000 US signatures -- one for each known fatality from the genocide to date -- to present to President Bush (who is presently "going on with his life" with such dedication that he doesn't have time to chat while on vacation to the grieving mother of a fallen American soldier, but that's a discussion for another time)

I've blogged about Darfur before (see below) and will continue to do so, as have others. The wrong is clear, the need for action is clear, but genocide goes on since our leaders appear to consider Darfur a low priority. so instead of writing about it at length now, I'll just simply plead, to those of conscience, that you take a moment and add your name. People are still dying.

Here is the link to the petition:

Petition about Darfur Genocide

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Making of a Martyr: Ms. Bunnatine Greenhouse

Let’s talk about Halliburton, no-bid contracting and a kick-ass public servant named Bunnatine Greenhouse who needs liberals who say they care to make some noise on her behalf. Her picture is right here:

Bunnatine Greenhouse

Mrs. Greenhouse (it seems she likes to be called Bunny, but since I was raised right and she’s old enough to be my mama, Ms. Bunny will have to do) has a big, big problem.

Ms. Bunny's problem is that, despite having been the highest ranking civilian member of the Army Corps of Engineers; one of highest ranking woman in federal government service; and despite having had a distinguished and untarnished career as one of this country’s highest ranked procurement officers; she is about to be ignonimously shitcanned “for cause”. Apparently, Ms. Bunny’s personal Waterloo is coming in late September, when her “performance plan” runs out.

Besides, in this case, if Ms. Bunny is not canned, Ms. Bunny’s hell raising over KBR’s no-bid contracts in Iraq will never stop being a thorn in the side of the Department of Defense, Dick Cheney…or President Bush.

A little history of the problem for those not in the know despite the avalanche of articles written about Halliburton and KBR right around last year’s presidential election:

In early 2003, Kellogg Brown & Root aka KBR (a fully owned subsidiary of Halliburton Corporation, and the former stomping grounds of Vice President Richard aka “Dick” Cheney) was awarded several contracts in anticipation of the invasion of Iraq. Anyhow, one of those pre-war KBR contracts was for restoration of Iraqi oilfields, which our brilliant strategists just assumed would be set on fire by Saddam and his minions as they were going down to defeat. It was called the “Restore Iraqi Oil” (RIO) Contract. What was notable about these contracts is that they were no-bid. A no-bid contract is one where a company just gets picked for the job. Just Because. With no competitive bidding process. With no preceding Request for Proposals/Requests for Quotation (the central process for all government contracting; since government contracts are paid with your and my tax money, that money is supposed to be freely available for all qualified businesses to compete for – publicly.)

KBR got billions of dollars ($7bn, in the case of the RIO contract that has become Ms. Bunny's downfall) in “sole source” contracts in this fashion during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion. (Last election cycle, folks tried to make an issue of Dick Cheney’s relationship/involvement in that process. It got drowned out in the noise machine. Go figure – but part of it may be that because, if you believe Ms. Bunny’s story, folks were focusing on trying to find the smoking gun in the hand of the wrong neocon). I’m not going to spend a lot of time rehashing the details of either KBR or RIO because frankly, the details have been blogged to death by folks far better than I, and can be found with the most straightforward google search – or search on DailyKOS, Atrios, or a number of other prominent sites. I will just link this Waxman Letter to Condi just so that folks can get an example of the type of stuff that went on in Iraq in the name of KBR contracting, most of which is seeing the light of day only through the steadfast commitment of Representative Henry Waxman, and most of which is still being completely ignored by the media and by the American People – who have the audacity and the nerve to vote for corporate criminals like Bush and Cheney and against honest Democrats because we purportedly are irresponsible with the public fisc!

According to Ms. Bunny, the negotiation and preparation of the RIO contract was unique, in her 20 years of procurement work, for several reasons: (a) it had been assigned to the Army Corps, which has no experience in procurement of this type; (b) despite that assignment actual control over the process of negotiating and agreeing to contract terms remained with the Army and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (last time I checked he was named Donald Rumsfeld.); (c) KBR was an integral part of internal Army Corps discussions about the contract, something that is anathema to the process of objectively selecting a government contractor; and (d) the contract was written so that any contractor who wanted to bid for the work going forward after the minimum term had to submit a bid that conformed to KBR’s already existing plan/proposal – a requirement that could never be met because KBR’s proposal had not been disseminated to any of its competitors, and KBR had not authorized it to be shared with anyone.

Apparently, Ms. Bunny had expressed some disquiet with each of these issues as things were progressing. But, in the end, the country was on the brink of war, and Ms. Bunny is a good American. So, Ms. Bunny (who I really wish I could meet – how she worked this was so wonderfully Sapphire; and yes as the name of my blog tries to reflect, being Sapphire can be a *good* Black woman thang at times, when it comes to calling it as we see it, and to hell with what people think) decided to object to the only thing she could object to at the time: – the contemplated 5 year term of this sole-source, no-bid contract, divided into 2 mandatory years and 3 1-year renewals. Ms. Bunny did something to ensure that it would never be said that she hadn’t objected, should that ever be said. (This is just me with my lay psychology on, but I suspect at the time Ms. Bunny was also concerned about making sure later that nobody could say she didn’t do her job; I’ve been there when it comes to needing to CYA.) She did something extraordinary.

Instead of sending a memo, which Ms. Bunny says have a tendency to come up missing, Ms. wrote her objection on the original, document-number controlled, fully executed copy of the KBR RIO contract itself. Just so that as the contract documents continued up the chain of authority, her superiors in DoD would know that she had at least tried.

Here’s Ms. Bunny’s opinion about the RIO contract, in her own words:

I caution that extending this sole source contract beyond a one-year period could convey an invalid perception that there is not strong intent for a limited competition.

And, just to make sure that it would not be overlooked in subsequent compliance checking, she neatly wrote it right next to her (required) signature on the contract. Just in case.

You Go, Ms. Bunny.

This is when the right-wing Republican hubris part of the story kicks in. I suspect in retrospect that her superiors wish they’d just shredded that version, reprinted it, and gotten it resigned.
Except they didn’t. They first instead tried to persuade (pressure) her to withdraw her objection.

She said no.

That’s when the powers-that-be over Ms. Bunny’s head at the Army Corps made a serious tactical error.

They tried to stand on her neck and demote her, after giving her the first negative performance evaluation she’d ever had working for government. The jist of it? Not that Ms. Bunny was lousy at procurement, not that Ms. Bunny was no longer a workhorse fully committed to the mission of maximizing public benefit from federal government procurement, but instead that Ms. Bunny “was hard to get along with” and “nobody liked her.”

I can see why not, given that they’d been riding herd on her for speaking her conscience in connection with Kirkuk Oil Fields contract and she’d made clear that her job was to honestly and prudently manage public funds, not to get in bed with KBR just because some pretty powerful people -- including those in the Vice President's office -- wanted her to.

Ms. Bunny’s demotion was going to be to a desk job in which she no longer had the responsibilities or staff or budget she’d been managing to nothing less than stellar reviews for the preceding 15 years.

(Yes I know, all lovers of ABW’s out there: MIS-take. Someone obviously didn’t tell these folks about going after Black women whose backs are up and trying to pressure them to do anything. Free copy of ABW's Guide to Life courtesy of me to the Army Corps of Engineers; and an extra, autographed copy to Dick Cheney).

So, since it was clear how things were going to be, Ms. Bunny -- dedicated, public servant -- got a lawyer. And the Army Corps backed off - at least for a while.

However, on June 27, 2005, as part of the ongoing investigation into KBR’s contracts and what appears to be $1,000,000,000 (yes that’s billion with a “B”) in KBR bills that Pentagon auditors admit are extremely shaky (you can read about it here, Ms. Bunny testified before the Democratic Policy Committee looking into the Halliburton/KBR feeding at the public trough.

Three days before this, Ms. Bunny had been warned by the General Counsel's office at the Army Corps that testifying “would not be in her best interest.”

But she didn’t care. As Ms. Bunny told the Democratic Policy Committee:

I have been involved with government contracting for over twenty years. . . .I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career.

You can read all her testimony by taking this link and then clicking on the adobe acrobat link called Bunnatine Greenhouse’s Testimony

One thing you have to give the Army Corps credit for - they keep their promises. Ms. Bunny's testimony indeed was not "in her her best interest." Personal interest, that is. However, with a lawyer in tow and a stellar performance record with the Pentagon, yet having a situation where Ms. Bunny had defied her superiors' commaand that she not testify in a public hearing, the Army Corps was left few options with which to go after her for what was now a highly public assertion about the cronyism that was favoring Dick Cheney's favorite company.

They took the only one they had, it seems -- because it appears that shortly after her June testimony, Ms. Bunny was placed on a 90-day "performance plan". As anyone who has ever worked at a large company or government agency knows, "performance plans" mean only one thing in Human Resources lingo: you have 90 days to "shape up or ship out." At least officially. Unofficially in Ms. Bunny's case, since there has never been any discussion, debate or even hint by the Army Corps that Ms. Bunny's work was inferior and needed improvement (and lots of written evidence suggesting otherwise), it means that Ms. Bunny's stellar career with the Pentagon is coming to an end.

They put Ms. Bunny on a performance plan immediately after her testimony, in anticipation of firing her for cause. How do we know she will be fired “for cause”? Because I have never seen an employee who was “performance planned” who wasn’t. “Performance planning” as any truly honest employer will tell you, is generally done for one reason and one reason only – so that there is a written record of “cause for termination” and the employer’s attempts to “correct” presumptively inadequate (I’ll go over that presumption in a minute) employee performance. It is most often used when you have a situation with a protected employee (and, as a civil servant, Ms. Bunny is indeed one of those; she is also Black and female, two suspect classifications when it comes to employment discrimination) whose previous written performance evaluation records do not support a finding that the person is doing their job badly. Or, in the case of Ms. Bunny by all accounts before October, 2004, when the written record proves that they were doing an exemplary job.)

So, almost without a doubt, Ms. Bunny is soon going to be going to court.

The trouble with going to court, however, is that it is notoriously unsympathetic to whistleblower claims despite federal whistleblower laws, which are intended to protect federal workers who come forward to protect us all. I by no means am an expert on these laws -- this is not my area of practice. But it seems to me that the biggest trouble with the whistleblower law as it is written is this: it essentially requires the employee under fire to prove the wrongdoing.

This might be tough in Ms. Bunny's case, since unbeknownst to her (she was out that day; she reports they knew she would never sign it; something that given her position would have been required) the Army Corps issued a waiver to KBR relieving it from the cost reporting requirements that otherwise governed the RIO contract, after the Pentagon auditing arm confirmed that KBR and Hallburton was overcharging and underperforming. Given this waiver, Ms. Bunny's objection to the contract based on its time provisions might not be enough. In theory, the decision to enter into the RIO sole source contract was an act of discretion, in this case one that was taken in what will no doubt be referred to as the exigency of war. It does not appear, standing alone, to be per se illegal. Again, I am not an expert in this area, but the whistleblower laws do not appear to protect workers objecting to merely foolish or theoretically improper acts - only to clearly illegal ones.

At a minimum, Ms. Bunny's case is likely to involve not just her proving that she was retaliated against for complaining but also that she -- legally -- had something to complain about, especially after the waiver was done.

So Ms. Bunny needs our help. Right now, only Representative Waxman appears to be on the case. More in Congress need to intervene and demand that the circumstances of the waiver be examined, that KBR be required to come forward despite the waiver by the Army Corps. Recognizing that a Republithug congress is not likely to do this, we should at least make enough noise to keep this issue front and center. Not just because Halliburton/KBR is growing fat off the public teat (all while feeding our soldiers rotten food!). But also because those few who are brave enough to stand up -- like Ms. Bunny -- are being hung out to dry.

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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about The Minutemen Project

Can be summed up in these photographs right here:

Just in case these are not enough to convince you why all right-thinking folks no matter how they personally feel about the subject of illegal immigration have real concerns that many of the vigilante clowns out there supposedly "patrolling" our borders in Arizona, Southern California and Texas are racist sickos, here's the entire Live Journal describing the events in Laguna Beach, California a couple of weeks ago (I'm late to the party, admittedly.)

Live Journal of Laguna Beach Day Laborer Protest

Read/view it and weep.

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Saturday, August 13, 2005

A Blast from the Past - Whites Only

Despite my deep well of racial cynicism, I was until today convinced that never again would we experience certain particularly ugly aspects of our country's racist past again, except in the hallowed halls of a museum.

I was soooooooo wrong.

Today's news, fresh off the....well fresh outta Alabama, my favorite state in the entire union when it comes to reminding folks that America was originally intended to be a White Nation and that there are folks who are going to die trying to preserve that original intent:

Whites Only

According to this article, two Black folks have sued their employer, Tyson Foods, because they  were disciplined by management when they (rightfully) complained about workplace discrimination, including about a sign reading "Whites Only" that was posted on the bathroom.

It also said "Out of Order" at convenient times, apparently.

For those who would be inclined to dismiss this as yet another instance of people being "oversensitive", I would highlight that the suit is being brought in the name of the EEOC - Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  You know that organization - the one that hasn't actually gone out of its way to protect workers since Clarence Thomas was put in charge under the watch of President Ronald Wilson Reagan? You know that agency - the one that practically requires photos of hooded KKK members in order to meet the high standard of proof required under Title VII for an employment discrimination claim?

It says a lot about how bad things must have been at Tyson Foods if the EEOC is the charging plaintiff.  

I realize that it's been a long time since I reminded folks about why you just gotta love 'Bama.  Allow me to wax poetic:

Reason #1: 'Bama Gets Rid of Anti-Miscegenation Parts of its Constitution - in the Year 2000

Most everyone knows the famous case of Loving v. Virginia.  The Loving Case was decided in 1971 and held that the right to marry was a fundamental human right, such that a state could not criminalize it in the case of interracial couples.  As a result of that case, the criminal convictions of an interracial couple (leave and never return to Virginia or face 25 years in jail) was overturned.  

What many people know is that there were a number of states that had anti-miscegenation requirements written into their state constitutions.  Many quietly dealt with these over the years.  Alabama, my mother's home state and the commonly-accepted birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, with its Montgomery Bus Boycott, still had one too, written into its state constitution in 1901.  

But what most folks don't know is that until 4 1/2 years ago, that constitutional provision still remained in the constitution of the state of Alabama.  Every other state had managed in 30 years to get rid of theirs, but not 'Bama.  Some enterprising folks whose emotions had actually moved into the 20th century decided that the state constitution sent the wrong message about how Alabamans felt about their segregationist past, so they qualified an an initiative on the ballot to have it removed.

It passed, but only by a 59-41% margin.  This means that in the year 2000, 2/5 of Alabamans believed that there was absolutely nothing wrong with having racial hatred still enshrined in the language of their  state constitution, no matter what those liberal activist judges at the US Supreme Court thought about interracial marriage.

You just gotta love 'Bama.

Reason #2:  Alabama Beats back the Boogeyman of Activist Judges to Retain the Mandate for Segregated Schools in its Constitution - in the Year 2004.

Just this past November, Alabama got another opportunity to remind everyone how committed it is to retaining its glorious past.  This last election, an "Amendment Two" appeared on the Alabama ballot.  The purpose of "Amendment Two" was to repeal moribund language still in the Alabama constitution which expressly prohibits integrated education in Alabama.  Now, the language is what we lawyers call "moribund", in the sense that it is unenforceable and was found unconstitutional decades ago by the Supreme Court.  Nonetheless the language remained there, and in the spirit of moving forward, someone put a proposition on the ballot that it be removed.  

It lost.  Even after a recount.  

(Do not believe any of the right-wing hype about public finance and tax increases being the reason that Amendment Two lost at the ballot.  That's utter BS, for two reasons.  First, and most directly, the disputed finance language, which denies that there is a constitutional right to a publicly funded education in Alabama, is moribund.  The law is clear - the state of Alabama has the same absolute duty to provide a public education as every other state.  Second, this particular language was part and parcel of the same legislation that added the provisions about segregated education.  In other words, the finance provision was put there to further, and guarantee, ongoing segregation.  It is existed for one reason, and one reason only -- as a financial means of depriving Black children of a public education following Brown v. Board of Education even if the direct segregationist provisions failed.)

If I've said it once I've said it a million times, you just gotta love 'Bama.

Reason #3:  Be a Boy, Shut Up and Dance (And Piss Outside) or Get Shitcanned

Then we have today's story, about Tyson Foods' chicken processing plant.  This is not a small employer, permitting a rogue thing.  There are 1,100 people working at that plant; 130,000 worldwide.

The Official EEOC Press Release on the Suit

Of course, Tyson says the entire thing is made up - it "found no evidence" that the Whites' Only signs ever existed:

Tyson's Official Response

(Notice they don't mention the segregated break rooms).

Now, you can believe that if you want to.  But if you do, then ask yourself this question:  why would a government watchdog agency that has been rendered almost completely useless over the past 20 years through a deliberate presidential policy of EEOC neglect first put in place by Ronald Reagan with his appointment of his HNIC, Clarence Thomas and then  continued by Dubbya with a vengeance decide to actually step up as the named plaintiff when it has more than 50,000 cases that are backlogged and it is contracting in size even as we speak due to budget starvation?

The thing about 'Bama is that racial issues are crystal clear in that state.  There is no statistically significant racial or ethnic population other than two:  white people, and Black people. However, in stark relief in this particular case is the Latino population of Ashland, which is where many of Alabama's few undocumented live and work - most notably at the Tyson chicken plant, which has been raided by the INS and for which Tyson has become one of the rare employers actually charged with conspiring to hire undocumented workers in violation of law.  Thus, in some ways racial conflict in 'Bama is a petri dish from which we can glean important lessons about how far this country has come in terms of anti-Black hatred -- and how far it hasn't come -- and what choices are being made by whites to address the 200% legitimate hell-raising that Black working folks do when they aren't treated fairly.  And who they look to when they need workers to shut up and dance because their 'Bama niggas no longer will, having already done 400 years of free duty.

So far, the petri dish is looking a little bubbly, green and I'm wondering if it's going rancid.  

One of the possible lessons is this:  if we are again seeing "Whites Only" and direct segregation in places like Alabama and corporate officers are spending more time publicly carping about being sued than about why the signs and locked bathroom could actually exist in 2005 without a complete worker shutdown of the plant and massive terminations of anyone and everyone who was responsible for it, we are seeing the future, which looks a lot like the past.  

For the record, this is not quite displaced paranoia on my part.  The bulk of my relatives on my mother's side still live in Alabama.  The stories they tell in their letters and phone calls suggest that things are getting worse, not better, when it comes to these things.  Folks have been getting bolder.  I don't think that's an accident.  One can make some strong arguments that the only difference between 'Bama and many other places in the country is that folks are a lot more ornery - and therefore a lot more honest when it comes to the ugliness of anti-Black hatred.

That should be of concern to everyone.

I'll be following this suit as it wends its way through, and hopefully can get the pleadings.

(Just for the record, I don't eat Tyson chicken.  But for those of you who do, perhaps you might want to check out someone else's for a while?)

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Friday, August 05, 2005

Free Market Starvation in Niger

The next time you are in the local park watching children play, spend some time on their smiles, their energy, their zest for life.  Drink it in as many of us who have children do, as a joy of life.

Then count down the line, and mentally disappear 1 out of every 5 of them.

Those children that went "poof" in your mind are a metaphorical representation of the dead and dying children in Niger at this time.

In today's New York Times, a desperately sad assessment of the hunger crisis currently ravaging Niger, reported to be the second poorest nation on earth:

Niger's Anguish is Reflected in its Dying Children

The situation is grim.  If you believe the press, then 3.6 million folks, nearly 1 million of them children, will die in the next year if something is not done, soon.

I was enraged to read that the government of Niger decided to use a "free market stabilization" approach to solve the problem, choosing to reject a free food approach and deciding instead to play market maker.  According to this article, it decided to sell its own surplus grain in an effort to drive down the price of millet by flooding the market.  According to the article, this resulted in a market backlash, the price of millet skyrocketed, and families were forced into the choice of selling what little they possessed to pay for food or starving.

You gotta love trickle down economic theory.

The part that that truly caused me to gasp in horror (although not surpised horror; I am never surprised anymore) was this:

Among others, the United Nations World Food Program and Doctors Without Borders sounded alarms, and Niger's government, with World Food Program approval, quickly asked donors to give Niger 71,000 tons of food aid and $3 million for the 400,000 most vulnerable farmers and herders.

By May, it had received fewer than 7,000 tons of food and one $323,000 donation, from Luxembourg.

I subscribe to a theory, not well developed, that people have a better grasp of dollar figures exceeding $1,000,000 when you break it down for them in terms of things they can see every day.  Let's test theory in this context.

Setting aside the pounds of food, the missing $2.7 million dollars could have been sent to Niger to feed 400,000 of the worst off farmers/herders if:

1.35% of the 100 million households in the United States had bought one less loaf of bread in the past eight months since Doctors without Borders and others began their cry for humanitarian aid.  (Bread averages $2/loaf in the US - unless you're where I live then it's ugly).  If we're talking only about married/partner households, that contribution would skyrocket - it would take 2.2% of all households to have done it, since there are only 58 million of those.

On the other hand, if just 1/10 of the 25,000,000 Americans who visit Starbucks each week for their fix (myself included) had just skipped a cup of their least expensive beverage (tea, at $1.30 if I recall what my sister paid yesterday), there would have been enough.

Since it is totally unfair to expect the US to shoulder the burden of helping the ancestral homeland of all those slaves it profited from for 400 years, the world as a whole (other than Luxembourg, it has clearly stepped up) should share in the responsibility.  That shouldn't be too difficult, right?

It seems that if each of the world's estimated 2.1 billion Christians had sent in a penny, we'd have been OK. (If only stated adherents to Islam had been stuck with the entire bill, they'd have had to dig deep and pay two cents).

Had each nation on earth with a lottery system salted away 2/1000th of a cent of their 1998 revenue from lottery sales (126 billion), the bill would have been covered without anyone breaking a sweat.

On the other hand, Robert Johnson -- former head of Johnson Publishing, Black darling of the right-wing business establishment and beloved (not) to us progressive Black folks as the reason we are stuck with that booty shaking, rump breaking embarassment to a people known as Black Entertainment Television today as our sole television voice -- could have just written a fucking check.  It wouldn't even have hurt much.  After all, it would have been only 1% of the price Johnson sold BET to Viacom for in 2000 ($3 billion).  And just 2% % of the rumored size of his personal holdings (less than the savings his family will receive from the permanent repeal of the estate tax when that "I got mine get yours" self-hating idiot finally keels over.

Fuck him.  I'm going to put him on my "you should be ashamed of yourself you greedy SOB" political letter writing list.  Just as soon as I write what will be the 10th check I can't really afford this year (it's been a bad financial year, as is often the case for lawyers who don't have mega corporation clients who always pay their bills on time) to Doctors without Borders.


In my most cynical moments, I sometimes put on my tin foil hat and speculate that the reason most of the leadership of the Free World does so little about Africa's suffering -- a suffering in which the West played no small part in creating -- is that it is far cheaper to take back the West's former colonies by letting everybody in them die than to negotiate fairly for access to what is indisputably the vast untapped wealth of that continent.  I know that at G8, Tony Blair tried to make Africa a priority -- for privitization, free market solutions and the like.  Conditional aid to human suffering -- the condition being that Africa needs to become hospitable to "investment."

Right.  Investment is clearly the way to save a child hours from death from starvation.  Everybody knows this.

I'm going to stop now because I'm too depressed to write any more.

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