June 12, 2007

Happy Loving Day

40 years ago today, The US Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Loving v. Virginia, which struck down the remaining anti-miscegenation laws in 16 US States. The decision became known as The Loving Decision, named after the Lovings, the couple who took their plight to the Supreme Court. They weren’t looking to win a civil rights battle, they weren’t looking to change the world, they simply wanted to live and love one another, to be married, and to live close to their family and friends in Virginia, from where they had been exiled in lieu of jail time for being married.

They were just in love, and wanted to be married in peace, and live with their loved ones.

Informally, June 12th has since been known as Loving Day.

There was an excellent story on NPR about the decision, and a rather depressing story about one interracial couple living in a trailer park in rural Virginia, not far from where the Lovings originally lived. It’s worth a look.

Happy Loving Day.

[ Loving Decision: 40 Years of Legal Interracial Unions ]
Source: National Public Radio

Tuvalu’s Warming War

A story on NPR’s Morning Edition caught my attention this morning, about the plight of Tuvalu; you know, the nation that owns and sells the rights to all of those .tv domain names that you see all over the place.

The island nation of Tuvalu is located in the remote south pacific, made up of a series of coral islands, and the people there live a simple, quiet life, in balance with the nature around them. The first thing, for example, that they did with all of the .tv naming rights was pave the main road, in it’s 5 mile glory. But their way of life is a simple one, and they’re happy with it. However, when the United Nations Security Council took up the issue of climate change as a matter of global security, the people of Tuvalu put the money together required to send an eight person delegation to the United Nations in New York City to testify in front of the UNSC, including a man named Afelee Pita and his wife.

Pita testified that global climate change is a very real and present threat to the security of his people and his country, and that if sea levels rise, the people of Tuvalu will be forced to abandon their sovereignty, their homes, and their way of life to move to other countries, with all of the risks and problems that may entail. He noted that they have already seen the many coral reefs off of their islands begin to die because of the increase in water temperature. They’ve seen changes in fish stocks and habits, they’ve witnessed the changes to their environment already, and they fear what may be to come if the rest of the world refuses to pull their heads from the sand, take off the blinders, and see the world beyond their front doors.

Tuvalu’s situation is not atypical to other Pacific island nations in Polynesia and Micronesia; entire nations and island chains could be swallowed up by rising sea levels while Americans, comfortable in the midwest, “debate” the science around global warming, which is really code for “the science is on the table, I’m just going to cover my eyes, plug my ears, and claim there’s a debate.” While Americans mock the efforts of their peers to educate, inform, and mobilze people to do something about global warming, the livelihoods and lives of animals, people, and now entire nations around the world hangs at a time when we have an opportunity to do something about the problem before we begin to suffer very real and very drastic effects. Sadly, I worry that we may be forced to come face to face with those effects before anyone’s awake enough to do something. So much for an ounce of prevention.

But back to the case of Tuvalu, and their admirable, honorable ambassador:

“The world has moved from a global threat once called the Cold War, to what now should be considered the Warming War,” Pita told the Security Council. “Our conflict is not with guns and missiles but with weapons from everyday lives — chimney stacks and exhaust pipes.”

Tuvalu’s fear is that ocean waters will rise, cyclones will grow more intense, people will be forced to move to other countries, and Tuvalu — along with its way of life — will disappear.

“We face many threats associated with climate change,” Pita said to the U.N. “Ocean warming is changing the very nature of our island nation. Slowly our coral reefs are dying through coral bleaching. We are witnessing changes to fish stocks. And we face the increasing threat of more severe cyclones. With the highest (land) point of four meters above sea level, the threat of more cyclones is extremely disturbing.”

The world beyond our front door. A world with whom we, as much as we fight not to, are inseparably connected. It’s time for us to realize this.

[ Tuvalu Envoy Takes Up Global Warming Fight ]
Source: National Public Radio

June 8, 2007

High Court Vs. Working Women

When I heard the word that the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that essentially immunized employers from having to pay their male and female employees equal wages for equal work and equal performance, I was, like anyone would be, understandably livid. I don’t think anyone in America would really agree that a woman should be paid less for the same work that a man sitting next to her does. It’s a radical idea called “pay equity,” the crazy notion that someone who does the same work and performs at the same level at the same time should be paid equally, not dependent on their gender. But yet, when the Supreme Court says that working women have only 180 days to find out if they’re being discriminated against and can only claim 180 days worth of damages from the discrimination, and after that their employers can do whatever they choose without fear of bring brought to justice for their discrimination, that sends a terrible message.

And while that message is being heard by working women loud and clear, the real message is that Congress should act quickly to update aging discrimination laws that can be interpreted as such by conservative judges (like the kind dominating the high court) and put in place real legal protections, with the teeth necessary, to keep the workplace fair and honest, protect workers from pay discrimination based on gender (and everything else, for that matter), level the playing field, and ward biased and predjudiced employers away from taking out their ignorance and personal misconceptions on the men and women that work for them.

Martha Burk, director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations, has her own horror story about women working at one of the world’s largest companies, General Electric:

Legal scholars are arguing about the long-term implications, but members of Congress aren’t waiting. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., is introducing a bill to give women a fairer shake by allowing a longer timeline for action.

Meanwhile, sex discrimination in corporate America marches on. In a case filed against General Electric two days after the ruling, female lawyers and senior management employees put forth damning evidence that against the company. Citing pay and promotion data on top management, the women demonstrate that GE’s claims to “diversity” and valuing female employees under lead defendant Chairman Jeffrey Immelt are, as they say in Texas, all hat and no cattle.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Immelt, along with his board members Sam Nunn and Douglas Warner (also named in the suit) stood staunchly against women a few years ago by maintaining their memberships in the biggest ol’ boys cult of all, Augusta National Golf Club. Even in the face of a national controversy over the club’s policies, they defied their own corporate statements about fairness. At the same time, Immelt was engaging in what I call the “diversity dodge,” that many companies employ to make themselves look good on race and gender issues while doing nothing, or worse, hiding outright discrimination. Immelt was saying all the right words, touting the “GE Women’s Network” as a pipeline for top jobs. But the numbers, then as now, were damning. Of the 16,000 women in the Network (not all female employees belong), only 22 had made it to officer level in 2003.

The current suit, filed by Lorene Schaefer, a senior attorney with the company, tells us nothing has changed at GE. Citing a clearly male dominated “officer’s club” in the senior ranks, the complaint shows that female representation at the officer level is still languishing at 13 percent. And while the suit does not address women at lower levels in the company, my bet is management’s attitude toward female workers is one area where the “trickle down” theory works. If women at high levels are so blatantly shut out, what are the prospects for those in the rank and file?

Someday I hope that we’ll be able to settle these differences without having to drag companies and people through court and expose their lives and work histories; but that day will only come with sufficient government protection – because market forces, as conservatives and libertarians love to pander to – won’t ever provide it for anyone, women, minorities, homosexuals or transgendered people, no one. Market forces aren’t interested in people, or their lives, or the realities of the world – they’re only interested in the bottom line and the profit margins, and if sleazy, underhanded, prejudiced behavior is what it takes, they could care less. Don’t look to the libertarians for help, and subsequently don’t look to the conservatives for help either – somehow every move towards equality for all is magically interpreted as discrimination against the empowered majority through their fantasy-land glasses. So that leaves us, the progressives, holding the torch of equality and the promise of fairness, and it’s up to use to deliver.

[ High Court Vs. Working Women ]
Source: TomPaine.com

Keep Working on Immigration

Yesterday the Senate declared the immigration bill that they’d been working on for the past month or so all but dead, despite broad bipartisan support. Being one of those people on the left who thought that the bill wasn’t particularly perfect, and gave too many concessions to folks on the right, I thought it was excellent. Seriously – you know you have a good compromise on your hands when no one gets everything they want, and everyone’s a little peeved about something. That’s how compromise works- everyone walks away from the table a little miffed, but having gotten something, at the very least, accomplished.

Now, thanks to the barrage of amendments by Senators on all sides of the debate, the bill is all but doomed to the dusty drawer for the rest of the year. That’s a shame – America does need immigration reform, badly, but not because we need a silly wall across the desert, not because we beg Mexico’s help in guarding our border against terrorists but then slap them in face by cutting off trade with airfield steel, not because America has illegal immigrants flowing across the border to work in jobs that pay little, are unsafe or otherwise dangerous while companies who manage the facilities reap in the profits of underpaid and ill-treated labor like we’re a third-world country, and not because there’s some massive imaginary problem with social services or health care like the xenophobic right would have you believe. The real reason we need comprehensive immigration reform is to give people who want to come to our great country the opportunity to do so and work and make a brighter future for themselves the same way many of our ancestors did. We need to let them come, legally, and give people a path to legal entrance so people don’t die on the way here illegally, or wind up having to be deported. If it were easier for people to come legally, they wouldn’t have to come illegally, and don’t give me that “if it were harder for them to come illegally, they’d come legally” nonsense, either.

Either way, Eliseo Medina, international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), has some choice words to get Congress back on track, and to get the job done:

The Senate’s “grand compromise” immigration bill contains many flaws, but it has the potential to begin fixing immigration as we know it and put our nation onto a stronger course. As it stands, the bill would enhance our nation’s security by helping 12 million undocumented immigrants come out from the shadows and get on a path to citizenship. It also commits to ending the notorious visa backlog—no small feat for an underfunded government agency whose delays make many immigrants patiently wait for visas that never arrive.

However, Thursday night, the Senate’s minority Republicans—including the major architect of the ‘grand bargain’ Senator Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.—stymied reform efforts with a cloture vote that effectively stalled progress again.

This is unacceptable. Yes, the immigration bill is imperfect, and it will take a lot of creativity, compromise and improvements before it will work for America. But the challenge before us does not justify sticking our heads in the sand. There are real issues to be resolved, and it is the job of our elected representatives to make it happen.

Agreed. There’s work to be done, and it needs to get done. I would tell Congressional Democrats not to shy away from this issue, and to make this compromise happen on their watch. Not only could they succeed where a Republican-dominated Congress failed, but they could push through real bipartisan legislation reflecting American values and the cooperative spirit they showed when they were elected.

[ Keep Working on Immigration ]
Source: TomPaine.com