Sunday, June 24, 2007

Workers Have the Right To Remain Silent: A Podcast Interview With the ACLU's Bruce Barry

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
So reads the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. However, the Constitution does not prevent employers from encroaching upon the free speech of their employees. Even so, most Americans assume their right to free speech is protected in all aspects of their life – including their jobs. The reality is quite different.

A factory worker named Lynn Gobbell was fired in 2004 when her employer, a George Bush supporter, objected to her John Kerry bumper sticker. Edward Blum, a stockbroker with Paine Webber in Houston during the 1990s was fired because he actively opposed affirmative action on his own time. A flight attendant with Delta Airlines lost her job when the airline disapproved of her personal blog. Those are but a few examples cited by Bruce Barry, the author of Speechless: The Erosion of Free Expression In the American Workplace, published by Berrett-Kohler.

Barry utilizes case law and history to illustrate how freedom of speech has diminished for Americans at their jobs. A Professor of Management and Sociology at Vanderbilt University as well as president of American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, Barry contends the legal concept known as “at will” is perversely imbalanced in favor of employers. In his introduction Barry writes,
“Work is where most adults devote significant portions of their waking lives, and where many forge the personal ties with other adults through which they construct their civic selves. Yet work in America is a place where civil liberties, including but not limited to freedom of speech, are significantly constrained, even when the exercise of those liberties poses little or no threat to the genuine interests of the employer.”
As the 21st century progresses, a whole generation entering the workforce have public personalities from the Internet and blogs. Increasingly, ordinary citizens through online access are having their opinions published in editorials and websites that employers may find objectionable or potentially damaging to their business. Meanwhile, traditional free speech issues on the job remain such as union organizing and lifestyle discrimination.

Barry respects the desire of employers to maintain efficiency and preserve the profitability of their business. He also doesn’t believe employers are conspiring to undermine the First Amendment. Rather, Barry contends that American civil society could benefit from a conversation about the imbalance that currently exists in favor of employers. He further advocates that employers themselves would benefit from not reflexively terminating employees based upon speech.

Barry agreed to a podcast interview with me about his book and the issue of free speech in the workplace. Among the topics covered during our conversation were the different protections for public and private employees, his opposition to the "at will" doctrine and how free speech in the American workplace differs with our counterparts in other democracies. I also asked him about the specific risks to bloggers and what we can do to strengthen our rights.

Please refer to the media player below.

This interview can also be accessed via Itunes by searching for Intrepid Liberal Journal.
ADDENDUM: My thanks to Cernig for linking this post in today's blogroundup at Crooks and Liars. Cernig is doing the bloground up for C&L this week while Mike is away and also linked this post at their own fine blog, Newshoggers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Words of Wisdom From JFK

I came across this on, courtesy of harvesteroftruth2. Kennedy was a flawed messenger about the perils of secrecy for democracies. Whether it was wiretapping Martin Luther King or covering up his unseemly connections to organized crime, President Kennedy was hardly a paragon of virtue about secrets. Nevertheless, his words are wise and especially pertinent today.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Henry Waxman Delivers A Stiff Dose of the Truth

In my opinion, the finest Democrat in Washington today is Congressman Henry Waxman. Waxman represents California’s 30th congressional district and is the Chairman for the committee of Oversight and Government Reform. His committee issued a statement today about the Republican National Committee’s use of White House email accounts.

Waxman is a dogged investigator and it appears there may be enough evidence to initiate impeachment proceedings against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who knowingly allowed the law to be violated while serving as White House Counsel.

Click here to read the statement at the committee’s website directly or refer to my copy and paste job below.
The Oversight Committee has been investigating whether White House officials violated the Presidential Records Act by using e-mail accounts maintained by the Republican National Committee and the Bush Cheney ‘04 campaign for official White House communications. This interim staff report provides a summary of the evidence the Committee has received to date, along with recommendations for next steps in the investigation.

The information the Committee has received in the investigation reveals:
  • The number of White House officials given RNC e-mail accounts is higher than previously disclosed. In March 2007, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said that only a “handful of officials” had RNC e-mail accounts. In later statements, her estimate rose to “50 over the course of the administration.” In fact, the Committee has learned from the RNC that at least 88 White House officials had RNC e-mail accounts. The officials with RNC e-mail accounts include Karl Rove, the President’s senior advisor; Andrew Card, the former White House Chief of Staff; Ken Mehlman, the former White House Director of Political Affairs; and many other officials in the Office of Political Affairs, the Office of Communications, and the Office of the Vice President.
  • White House officials made extensive use of their RNC e-mail accounts. The RNC has preserved 140,216 e-mails sent or received by Karl Rove. Over half of these e-mails (75,374) were sent to or received from individuals using official “.gov” e-mail accounts. Other heavy users of RNC e-mail accounts include former White House Director of Political Affairs Sara Taylor (66,018 e-mails) and Deputy Director of Political Affairs Scott Jennings (35,198 e-mails). These e-mail accounts were used by White House officials for official purposes, such as communicating with federal agencies about federal appointments and policies.
  • There has been extensive destruction of the e-mails of White House officials by the RNC. Of the 88 White House officials who received RNC e-mail accounts, the RNC has preserved no e-mails for 51 officials. In a deposition, Susan Ralston, Mr. Rove’s former executive assistant, testified that many of the White House officials for whom the RNC has no e-mail records were regular users of their RNC e-mail accounts. Although the RNC has preserved no e-mail records for Ken Mehlman, the former Director of Political Affairs, Ms. Ralston testified that Mr. Mehlman used his account “frequently, daily.” In addition, there are major gaps in the e-mail records of the 37 White House officials for whom the RNC did preserve e-mails. The RNC has preserved only 130 e-mails sent to Mr. Rove during President Bush’s first term and no e-mails sent by Mr. Rove prior to November 2003. For many other White House officials, the RNC has no e-mails from before the fall of 2006.
  • There is evidence that the Office of White House Counsel under Alberto Gonzales may have known that White House officials were using RNC e-mail accounts for official business, but took no action to preserve these presidential records. In her deposition, Ms. Ralston testified that she searched Mr. Rove’s RNC e-mail account in response to an Enron-related investigation in 2001 and the investigation of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald later in the Administration. According to Ms. Ralston, the White House Counsel’s office knew about these e-mails because “all of the documents we collected were then turned over to the White House Counsel’s office.” There is no evidence, however, that White House Counsel Gonzales initiated any action to ensure the preservation of the e-mail records that were destroyed by the RNC.

The Presidential Records Act requires the President to “take all such steps as may be necessary to assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented … and maintained as Presidential records.” To implement this legal requirement, the White House Counsel issued clear written policies in February 2001 instructing White House staff to use only the official White House e-mail system for official communications and to retain any official e-mails they received on a nongovernmental account.

The evidence obtained by the Committee indicates that White House officials used their RNC e-mail accounts in a manner that circumvented these requirements. At this point in the investigation, it is not possible to determine precisely how many presidential records may have been destroyed by the RNC. Given the heavy reliance by White House officials on RNC e-mail accounts, the high rank of the White House officials involved, and the large quantity of missing e-mails, the potential violation of the Presidential Records Act may be extensive.

There are several next steps that should be pursued in the investigation into the use of RNC e-mail accounts by White House officials. First, the records of federal agencies should be examined to assess whether they may contain some of the White House e-mails that have been destroyed by the RNC. The Committee has already written to 25 federal agencies to inquire about the e-mail records they may have retained from White House officials who used RNC and Bush Cheney ’04 e-mail accounts. Preliminary responses from the agencies indicate that they may have preserved official communications that were destroyed by the RNC.

Second, the Committee should investigate what former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales knew about the use of political e-mail accounts by White House officials. If Susan Ralston’s testimony to the Committee is accurate, there is evidence that Mr. Gonzales or counsels working in his office knew in 2001 that Karl Rove was using his RNC e-mail account to communicate about official business, but took no action to preserve Mr. Rove’s official communications.

Third, the Committee may need to issue compulsory process to obtain the cooperation of the Bush Cheney ’04 campaign. The campaign has informed the Committee that it provided e-mail accounts to 11 White House officials, but the campaign has unjustifiably refused to provide the Committee with basic information about these accounts, such as the identity of the White House officials and the number of e-mails that have been preserved.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Unholy Triangle: George Bush, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and al Qaeda

Foreign Affairs published a sobering article by Bruce Riedel in their May/June issue entitled, “al Qaeda Strikes Back.” Riedel, a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution retired last year after 29 years with the CIA.

Essentially, Riedel outlines al Qaeda’s resurgence while the Bush Administration has undermined our geopolitical position with their foolish war in Iraq. Hardly a dove, Riedel believes it is essential to our national security for al Qaeda to be “decapitated.” I agree with him. al Qaeda is a clear and present danger as a manifestation of radical Islam.

Among the failings of the Bush Administration is how their incessant fear mongering has jaded Americans about the very real dangers of terrorism that still exist. What’s required is tough minded, realistic leadership that neither exaggerates dangers for political gain nor ignores threats as President Bush did in August 2001. The last thing this country should do is hand our enemies what they want: war with Iran. Riedel issues the following warning:
“The biggest danger is that al Qaeda will deliberately provoke a war with a ‘false-flag’ operation, say, a terrorist attack carried out in a way that would make it appear as though it were Iran's doing. The United States should be extremely wary of such deception. In the event of an attack, accurately assigning blame will require very careful intelligence work. It may require months, or even years, of patient investigating to identify the plotters behind well-planned and well-executed operations, as it did for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1996 attacks on the U.S. barracks at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton were wise to be patient in both those cases; Washington would be well advised to do the same in the event of a similar attack in the future. In the meantime, it should, of course, continue do its utmost to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and from fomenting violence and terrorism in the Middle East by using tough diplomacy and targeted sanctions. And it should not consider a military operation against Iran, as doing so would only strengthen al Qaeda's hand -- much as the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq have.”
I have a different take on Riedel’s warning. To be blunt, the Bush Administration will not be “deceived” by a “false flag” from al Qaeda. Rather, Bush and Cheney are hoping for a pretext to avoid a humiliating withdrawal from Iraq. With Republicans ready to jettison the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy in September, a war with Iran would be quite timely and convenient.

Another false flag may be weapons smuggling into Iraq through Iran by operatives sympathetic to al Qaeda. Either way it is important to remember the antipathy that exists between Iran and al Qaeda. Iran has sponsored al Qaeda’s rival Hezbollah in Lebanon. After 9/11, Iran cooperated with Washington against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan out of their strategic self-interest. They view al Qaeda as a threat to their hegemony as well as potential catalysts to instability on their borders.

Tragically, the world is at the mercy of an unholy triangle as the motivations of Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Bush Administration and al Qaeda are converging. Ahmandinejad is besieged with problems. He’s terrified of dissent as domestic dissatisfaction with his regime intensifies. A war with the “Great Satan” would be a welcome distraction, as Iranians will surely rally to him if attacked.

al Qaeda of course thrives on instability, chaos and any act that reinforces America’s image as an imperialist at war with the Islamic people. They’re laying in the high weeds to capitalize on instability in Gaza and Lebanon as well as exploit vulnerabilities in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is sucking wind and hemorrhaging support. The Republican Party is poised to pull the plug on Iraq in September. Bush and Cheney are desperate to avoid withdrawal and defeat in Iraq on their watch. A war with Iran would make extricating ourselves from Iraq nearly impossible. Of course our military, stretched to their limit in Afghanistan and Iraq is in no shape to prosecute any war with Iran. But the Bush Administration may be thinking that a controlled air war can be managed and strengthen their political position.

As we’ve also seen, the Bush Administration is not overly concerned with details such as blowback, the fog of war and the heavy lifting of managing the aftermath once hostilities are initiated. Perhaps they’re also hoping war with Iran will distract from the publicity surrounding their scandals. These people are eminently capable of deluding themselves that a controlled air war is viable and just the tonic for their problems.

Ultimately what I’m wondering is this: is America stupid enough to allow it? At this point I have little faith in the Democratic Party’s congressional leadership. It also doesn’t appear that the frontrunners for their party’s 2008 presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton nor Barak Obama possess the intestinal fortitude to stand up to aggression against Iran. They’ll sit back and see which the way the wind blows.

I don’t like cynicism and believe it’s important to work for a truly progressive majority that is sensible and mature. I will not abandon my efforts as an activist to accomplish the ideals I believe in. However, as much as I prefer optimism, we’re on a collision course with calamity. It’s like watching a pile up happening in slow motion on the freeway while George Bush, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bin Laden crash their cars after binge drinking at an all night keg party.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Making Amends In Iraq: A Podcast Interview With Marine Captain Jeremy Joseph

Is there anything the American military can do at this point to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people? Personally, I, as well as many Americans and Iraqis don’t believe any reservoir of good will remains. As far as I’m concerned, this war of choice was immoral and ill conceived from the start and I don’t believe the current escalation in troops can accomplish any good.

However, I’ve never served in the military or been to Iraq. Jeremy Joseph has. He is currently a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and a student at Washington’s Georgetown University Law Center. While in Iraq he was part of the active duty force.

Joseph postulates in his article, “Winning Hearts and Minds in Iraq Through Mediated Condolence Payments,” (subscription required) that establishing a reconciliation protocol following accidental deaths of non-combatants can help dilute an insurgency’s intensity. As a model, he cites the Dalkon Shield arbitrations and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund hearings.

The International Institute For Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR) published Joseph’s article in the May 2007 issue of Alternatives. A longer version of the article shared the 2006 CPR Institute student articles’ Award for Excellence. It’s also scheduled to be published during the summer by the Harvard Law School Program in Negotiation Journal.

As Joseph notes in his article, since 2004, whenever an Iraqi non-combatant civilian is inadvertently killed in the crossfire between the American military and hostile forces, a victim’s family may apply for a condolence payment – a sum up to $2,500 when his article was first published. Yet this approach is both condescending and insulting to the victim’s families.

How can a monetary token of sympathy assuage a mother’s grief, satisfy a wife who lost her family’s breadwinner or heal the pain of a child who lost their parent from a stray bullet? Indeed, this detached approach can’t help but fuel anti-American sentiment among the Iraqi population.

As Joseph writes,
“The current condolence payment program fails to achieve its potential because it misses the opportunity for dialogue between the aggrieved Iraqi family and the United States Military (USM). This failure does not reflect callous individual soldiers or Marines, but a policy failure of too few troops to implement any meaningful process and a doctrinal failure that undervalued the winning of hearts and minds.

Consider the situation of a family whose father and sole breadwinner is killed inadvertently by a stray bullet from an insurgent-USM firefight. That family has questions to ask the U.S. soldiers:
  • Who killed our husband and father?
  • What happened and why?
  • What is the USM trying to accomplish in our town?
  • Do the USM troops actually feel sorry for the loss they have caused us? Do they even know?
  • How are we to support ourselves now that our bread-winning father is dead?”
Joseph argues that how the military responds to these individual families serves as a tipping point to Iraqi public opinion. He therefore asks if an Iraqi family who suffered a loss will continue to support U.S. troops or instead provide aid and comfort to insurgents “who look more like freedom fighters and heroes?”

Joseph further asks if the eldest children of families the American military inadvertently killed will “pick up weapons and join the insurgency in their fight – now this family’s fight – against the USM.”

My first reaction upon reading Joseph’s article was to wonder why these questions weren’t asked four years ago. I also can’t help but wonder if Joseph’s strategy of utilizing trained mediators to facilitate reconciliation between aggrieved Iraqi families and the U.S. military is too little too late.

There is also the reality that far more personnel would be required for this program to be implemented on a large enough scale to have any significant impact. Meanwhile, it appears increasingly likely a policy of withdrawal from Iraq will gain momentum with both parties in September. But even if Republicans join Democrats in pushing for a withdrawal timeline, a substantial American military presence in Iraq will likely remain at least until the early months of 2008.

Joseph believes that with the current surge, we have sufficient numbers to at least attempt a pilot condolences program in Baghdad. He makes a compelling case that doing so is both morally right and sensible.

Overall, I thought Joseph’s article was thoughtful and believe he is sincere. More troops on the ground from the beginning combined with this reconciliation approach might have helped four years ago. Perhaps it can still make a difference in Afghanistan where a growing sentiment exists to reconcile with the Taliban in order to avoid more deaths among the civilian population. It might also merit consideration for future military engagements.

Joseph agreed to a podcast interview with me and we discussed his experience with the Iraqi civilian population, the legalities behind his program and the potential strategic benefits. I also asked Joseph if private contractors such as Blackwater could be mandated to participate in a condolences payment program and whether liberal critics of the war like myself undermined the morale of our troops in Iraq.

His answers to those and other questions were compelling and thought provoking. Please refer to the media player below.

This interview can also be accessed at Itunes by searching for “Intrepid Liberal Journal.”

Monday, June 04, 2007

Democrats & Healthcare

If you missed the Democrat's presidential debate on CNN last night and are wondering what was said about healthcare, refer to the 2:13 video clip below from YouTube. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama and Dennis Kucinich had an interesting exchange. I don't think much of Kucinich as a candidate but agree with him wholeheartedly about this issue.

At least Democrats are competing with each other over who has the best ideas for reforming healthcare. Republicans can't even mention the issue without fear mongering about "socialized medicine." Mitt Romney's most important achievement while Governor of Massachusetts was mandating healthcare for everyone in his state. Yet when reading about healthcare on his website, Romney's campaign doesn't even mention what he did. Is Romney ashamed of his own record?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

No More Honeymoon

Election night 2006 was a satisfying result after the calamity of one party reactionary rule. On a personal level, I juggled my day job and after hours phone banking to help in the effort. Many other activists did the same out of patriotism and desire to establish a bulwark against the corporate theocrats in Washington. It feels like another lifetime and as The Nation duly noted in their latest edition, “The Honeymoon Is Over”:
“As Congress left town for its Memorial Day recess, the euphoria cast by the 2006 election victories was gone. Disappointed by the Democrats' inability to force a withdrawal timeline into the war-funding bill, angered by a trade deal hatched in secret, dismayed at backsliding on cleaning up Capitol Hill, progressives were faced with the unpleasant reality of the new Congress, warts and all.

The slim Democratic majority in both Houses is not a progressive majority. Just as distressing as the cave-in on war funding was the continued power of the bipartisan money party. Beyond ending the war, Democrats were elected because of popular rejection of corporate trade policies and the stench of corruption in Washington. Tom DeLay is gone, but the corporate lobbies just reloaded with Democrats. When the House leadership announced a trade accord that the Chamber of Commerce celebrated as a model for giving Bush renewed fast-track authority, hopes for a new economic course were punctured. Then, House Democrats wouldn't support even a two-year hiatus that would slow the revolving door between Congress and the lobby world. (‘That's our retirement plan,’ complained anonymous legislators.)”
I largely agree with that assessment about the Democratic majority’s corporatist leanings and sympathy for the K-Street industry. As for the war, even before Democrats assumed control, I advocated on this blog for either invoking the War Powers Act or cutting off funding. Timid and feckless, the Democrats were more concerned with implementing a political strategy of bleed and win. While the ongoing war continued to bleed Bush and the GOP, the Democrats were content to pass bills that scored political points and accomplished very little. The so-called benchmarks the Bush Administration agreed to is window dressing.

Ultimately, the plug will be pulled on this war by the GOP in September. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said his party doesn’t want another election campaign about Iraq. All that remains is for some more soldiers to “die for a mistake” as the young John Kerry once put it, while the Iraqis continue to kill each other. Bush had hoped to hand off the war to his successor so defeat would not happen on his watch. How ironic that Bush's fellow Republicans who enabled him to pursue this immoral and diastrous war of choice, will have their fingerprints on our withdrawal.

But the overall problem of combating radical Islam with a foreign policy based on international cooperation and strategic logic remains. We're losing Afghanistan and getting little value from our support of Musharaff in Pakistan. Democrats deliver platitudes about sending more troops to Afghanistan after we leave Iraq. Yet they don't explain why an escalation in Afghanistan would be any more successful than the current surge in Iraq.

Meanwhile, an economic policy guided by corporatism at the expense of working people struggling to keep up with the cost of living is not being reversed. Why don’t they pass a bill overturning the hideous Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 passed by the Republican majority? Or make a push for reforming healthcare?

Granted, President Bush remains an obstacle to enacting a progressive program and more can be accomplished if the right person is elected to the White House next year. But that is no excuse for not maximizing their majority platform today to build public support and educate the citizenry. Congressional Democrats have wasted five months. Precious time that could’ve been used to aggressively advocate for replacing this insipid era of deranged privatization and cronyism, with bold initiatives designed to lift the working poor, nurture a vibrant middle class and yes provide healthcare for all.

However, the elections of 2006 were simply a first step in a long journey. Expecting a progressive reformation after one midterm election cycle was never realistic. Progressive activists, bloggers and citizens nationwide need to put their cynicism aside and remain engaged. The Nation put it best in their editorial’s closing paragraph:
“Democratic majorities have provided us with relatively progressive leaders in both houses of Congress and several aggressive committee chairs who are beginning to unearth the hidden horrors of this rogue Administration. But we still don't have the progressive strength in Congress or the leadership in the White House that can change this country's course. The serial disappointments of recent weeks are but a reminder that we've got work to do.”
We’ve only begun to fight for what is right.