Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Since 1988, it [voter turnout] has fluctuated, from a low of 52.6% of eligible voters (and 49.1% of voting age population) in 1996 to a high of 61% of eligible voters in 2004, the highest level since 1968."

About half of the eligible voters decide outcomes that will determine the nature of the Supreme Court, the collegiality of Congressmen and women, the role that our nation will play in the world, and the social, economic and physical health of our citizens. One of every two voters will vote and determine our futures.

Look at the person standing on your right.

Now look left.

Consider your neighbor.

Think about your relatives.

Can you honestly say that you are just fine, completely content to let those folks shape your future?


Then vote! Vote November 6, 2012.

Vote with all the information and intelligence you can bring to bear.

Your life, your well-being, and the future of this nation depend upon it. Vote!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bullying Beyond the Classroom: Telling Employees For Whom to Vote

Last week, I wrote about school bullies and giving your children a bit of armor to protect themselves. This week, I wish to consider intimidation as a factor in the outcome of the 2012 election, especially because employers are exercising undue influence over their employees' votes.

I grant that intimidation is a tool in our culture. The arms race is a form of intimidation. The country with the most offensive tools stays ahead of its competition. Athletes step onto the field and into arenas, fully aware that size and an icy glare may win the contest before it's begun. We even coach our kids to stand tall in the face of intimidation and to become adept at intimidation as a means to an end. We also expect college professors, especially in law schools invented in Hollywood, to intimidate their attorneys-in-waiting.

Real teachers, on the other hand, avoid intimidation. They understand that like justices on the bench, they must be impartial and fair as they wield power. What teachers know and how well they share their knowledge will affect future presidents, physicians, attorneys, and long-distance bicyclists. If teachers lack ethics and civility, then their charges learn to be unethical and incivil.

Employers also wield power. Theirs is power over the livelihood and security of their employees. The CEO, CFO, and Chairman of the Board may not become involved in day-to-day operations such as hiring, firing, and work assignments, but no one doubts their clout should they wish to become involved, especially in smaller communities where one’s loyalties, social connections, and off-the-clock activities are more easily and widely known. But in communities large and small, especially now that employers routinely search Facebook posts, an employee can be released if his political allegiance diverges from the company’s.

I repeat: it is legal to terminate a person’s employment if he supports a candidate that the boss does not. If an employee wears a t-shirt imprinted with a candidate's name to work, proselytizes for a candidate in the break room, or knocks on doors after work to hand out campaign literature, he may find himself applying for unemployment benefits

But, you sputter, we have free speech guarantees in this nation. And yes, yes, we do, but 49 (a big 98%) states are at-will employment states. In other words, you serve at the will of your employer’s need and even political whim. Only Montana requires that an employer show cause for terminating an employee (“10 Workplace Rights You Think You Have -- But Don’t” by Donna Ballman, 3 May 2011 at articles/2011/05/03/10-workplace-rights-you-think-you-have-but-don’t).

But, you sputter once more, we have federal protections, don’t we? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules, the Lily Ledbetter law, Affirmative Action guidelines, a Federal Trade Commission. Wouldn’t one of those commissions or laws protect me?

Maybe. But how long do you have? Do you have 17 years lying around to wait upon justice? That's how many years Lily Ledbetter waited upon it. She learned that she was paid less than her male counterparts in 1992. She sued later and pursued her case to the Supreme Court. It ruled against her and sided with Goodyear Tire in 2007 because Ledbetter did not sue within 180 days of becoming aware of the pay discrepancy. Two years later, in 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, nullifying the 180-mandate for any and all who follow in Ledbetter's footsteps.

Another Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, and its implementation have provided employers with the freedom to direct how employees should vote, and candidate Romney has taken full advantage of that ruling. In the now often replayed conference call to small business owners, former Governor Romney tells his listeners to advise their employees about which candidate to support and to tell their family members how to vote (http://www.slate. com/blogs/the_slatest/2012/10/18/romney_s_nfib_call_gop_hopeful_tells_employers_to_tell_ employees_who_to.html). He has that right.

But such a right calls into question the rhetoric of some GOP Attorneys General and Governors who have argued against early voting, even going so far as to claim that large groups traveling to the polls together will unduly influence voters to vote as a block? Yet those officials have not expressed concern about any undue influence if employers advise employees for whom to vote. 

Certainly, large groups traveling together to vote may affect outcomes in the same way that folks traveling to national conventions may affect outcomes. The people go because they already share interests and convictions and those undecided among them may even be so grateful for the opportunity to participate that they will allow themselves to be led in this most sacred of citizen responsibilities. Human relationships are complicated, and the reasons for supporting one candidate over another are legion, a truth that campaign strategists prey upon every day. 

Those strategists dance around ethical dilemmas and spin their candidates into the images they believe we voters want to see. They calculate whether direct mailing or robo-calls are effective. They send candidates out to shake hands and kiss babies because close human interaction is powerfully persuasive. They craft messages that will dazzle listeners even if they distort facts and invent outright lies.

I am free, however, to toss the candidates' direct mail in the trash. I can slam the phone down on the latest recorded message. I can stay away from rallies and conventions. And I can read, read, read in order to detect distortions and lies. I can discern the spin and vote according to the best interests of this nation as I understand them.

I cannot, however, easily ignore an employer’s real or implied and legal threat to eliminate my job. My well-being and my children’s well-being depend upon a job. Whatever social nets exist for the unemployed and underemployed, they are insufficient. It’s my duty to hang on to a job that provides for my family, pays my mortgage, and fuels my car.

Thus, when an employer preys upon human relationships and issues real or implied and legal threats to eliminate my job if I support the wrong candidate, he exercises undue influence, and he should be prevented from doing so. He is not different from a classroom teacher who behaves in such as way as to fail a student if the student has the naked temerity to think, write, and reason in ways antithetical to the teacher. And an employer is not different from police officers who bully citizens into confessions regardless of the evidence. We have protections in place because we believe authority figures should not unduly influence students or citizens whether they are seven, seventeen, twenty, or forty-five. We deserve protections for voters, too.

The right to vote must remain sacrosanct.

The right to the privacy of your vote is invaluable.

The right to vote your conscience must be inviolable.

So even if your employer has a legal right to tell you how to vote, that employer is unethical.

Unfortunately, right now, workers must protect themselves. They must keep their convictions to themselves.

Ain’t that a shame in a nation that holds the right to free speech as sacrosanct? Employees ought to be as free as their employers to speak their minds and argue their case.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Giving Your Child Armor Against Bullies

Public schools are microcosms, little mirror images of the society at large. Along those halls walk adults under construction, and they carry with them the attitudes and codes of their own communities. If they leave from a home where sarcasm reigns, then the chances are good that the child will be sarcastic at school. If children come from a family that laughs with each other, then they will probably have a more keenly developed sense of humor.


But all is not Nurture as parents of large families will quickly tell you. Nature has an equal claim to the child. The same genetic mingling may produce an extrovert and an introvert, a heterosexual and a homosexual, and these children must make their way in school where understanding is also under construction. Young boys and girls, adolescents, and teenagers seek their own identities and purposes day after day. They test the values and principles that their families hold dear. Often that testing involves comparing and contrasting peers.


A few peers seem destined to be picked last for everything simply because they are perceived as different. Their skin color stands out, they are shorter or taller than everyone else, their taste in clothing diverges from the current trend, their vocabularies are bigger, their imaginations boundless, their speech halting or lisping. These different kids endure teasing from the larger group; they become the bullied.


My own daughter endured verbal insults. She sprouted taller than her peers in elementary school. Of course, the others caught up and sometimes surpassed her by high school, but those interim years were rough, especially after she developed severe acne several years ahead of her peers. One young boy, who later developed the sort of acne that makes high school kids miserable, often insulted my child.


I told her that I understood how much it hurts and explained that few people stand up to hurtful words and gestures without some doubt or fear wiggling through the gut. I told her to ignore the hurtful words, not to believe them, not to give them any power over her, but I knew she would take the hurtful words to heart anyway. How many of us are so sure of ourselves that we never feel the sting of insults and judgments?


I talked to my child about her strengths and talents, about her good heart, reassuring her that character matters more than appearance, but her certainty about real beauty was years away. She needed affirmation from people besides parents. She didn’t and couldn’t trust her parents to be completely objective.


So I offered her a retort--words that she could use when that snarky, insecure boy said, “Nice pimples.”


I told her to say, “Thanks for seeing the real me.” And it worked. He never repeated his insult again. Apparently a conscience was under construction in that boy.


Probably more important, this exchange took place just as my daughter and her tormentor were rushing to science class. The teacher overheard the exchange and said to my daughter, loud enough for him to overhear, “I like what you had to say. That shows real maturity.”


I am still grateful to that teacher for paying attention and speaking up. Kids need to hear from people other than Mom and Dad. The judgment of outsiders is so important to them as they go through separation phases, and this outsider was a trusted authority figure. Her opinion mattered and made my child smile. She also felt good enough about her retort to use it again whenever the need arose.


Be assured that I don’t believe for a minute that the young tormentor was a bad child from a bad home. He was simply still growing and learning to discern. He wasn’t yet sure for what and whom to stand. He needed more time to cook as a human being, and he turned out just fine, at least through high school, post-puberty, perhaps because his own acne humbled him.


My daughter turned out better than fine. Those days of being different are still part of her character, but they have helped her learn empathy. They also made her stronger and more sure of her true self.


If I could create the world, no child would ever doubt his worth and beauty. All children would have equal opportunities to fulfill the promise that lies within them. But since many children endure insults and baseless judgments, teach them to value the “real person” in themselves and others. It’s a timeless lesson, one that must be taught, re-taught, and taught once more through each phase and stage of childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and beyond.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Won't You Please Fight the Good Fight?

“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind” (Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations). Real and fictional events support Adam Smith’s rather bleak portrait of mankind’s masters. Consider:

·      Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness wherein the narrator explains the imperialistic thrust into Africa and the systematic enslavement of men. The ivory company literally worked the men to death because men, like ivory, seemed to them an inexhaustible resource, certainly less than human.
·      The real-world legacy of such fiction was apartheid, a systematic enslavement of people of color. Nelson Mandela suffered under its yoke for decades. Bishop Tutu brought the world’s attention to the daily inequities and cruelties that prevented growth and prosperity.
·      Charles Taylor, Idi Amin, Adolph Hitler, and Slobodan Milosevic are but a few leaders who have practiced genocide in order to obtain and retain power.
·      Sarah Vowel’s Wordy Shipmates records the slaughter of Native Americans by spreading disease or worse, mass executions in the name of the holy Father above and in the belief that brown-skinned, non-Christian people were lesser beings. They were only heathens.
·      Jonathan Swift exposed the callous disregard for human lives that swore allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church in a bitter satiric essay, “A Modest Proposal.” In it, he cites the real excuses in Britain for not helping a starving, poor Irish people, and those excuses were spoken in Parliament by men who claimed to hold God in their hearts.
·      The U. S. Supreme Court found segregation, with all its legal and illegal methodologies, sound and appropriate until it did not. In between, domestic terrorism in the form of the Ku Klux Klan and economic sanctions imprisoned a race in the land of the free.

These examples tell the tale of Adam Smith’s cynical point of view. They prove that when given license to take, even the best men (or women) will take. Indeed, the practice has such a long-standing tradition in the affairs of men that it has been given a euphemistic name: social Darwinism. Moreover, social Darwinism is alive and well in this century in this, the greatest country on earth, according to conventions held at the behest of political parties.

Opposition to the Affordable (Health) Care Act (ACA), more commonly and derisively known as Obamacare, has included live film footage of well-dressed men, crisp in their laundered cotton shirts and perfectly pressed khaki pants, throwing money at a disabled man supporting the ACA. The opposing hue and cry included shouts from a crowd when Representative Ron Paul was asked if we, as a people bound together by geography and citizenship, should allow our fellow man to die if he has no health coverage. Even Mr. Paul was not inclined to accede to the hypothetical man’s death, but the crowd was. They made that clear with a loud “Yes!” in answer to the question.

More civil debaters have acknowledged the shame of not caring for our brothers in America, but, those speakers hasten to add: what can we do in such economic times? Those who work hard and can afford good health coverage should have the best; those who cannot (and here they shake their heads in a mock show of pity) will suffer.

How often have we Main Street-ers heard that we simply cannot afford to do the right thing whether the right thing is . . . ?
·      Improve our road beds
·      Make our bridges safe
·      Compete on the world stage by investing in the latest technologies to deliver power to cities, businesses, and people reliably and economically
·      Compete on the world stage to research and develop efficient, high-speed, energy-sipping transportation
·      Make wider and better use of wind energy or solar power
·      Care for the needy
·      Help our veterans back to full employment and health upon return
·      Provide for the First Responders
·      Insure that the elderly live their last years in dignity

The list above is only a short, partial exemplary one. Opponents to doing the right thing have often trotted out the same tired excuses for any number of other human issues, saying we can’t afford to do this right now, that government should be small, that private enterprise must deliver solace to those in need, and even that private enterprise can do the job better than government.

But the net effect is Social Darwinism, also known as social engineering and survival of the fittest. Representative Paul Ryan’s fondness for Ayn Rand is a perfect example. He claims that those with talent and drive should be rewarded while those who stumble should fall further. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel reportedly wrote off whole swaths of Chicago’s school children, claiming that they’ll never rise to the level where educated men and women create opportunities by learning and doing. A local Oklahoma lobbyist dismissed those same children as turds in the punch bowl. Both men were talking about poor children, and both seem willing to let them die off because they simply cannot adapt well enough or quickly enough to thrive.

The mythical and legendary Atticus Finch would ask us to do right, to be better human beings. He would fight for the rights of those most oppressed, those in need. In fact, he did. Won’t you?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Greenbacks, Ballots, and BS


Dear Justice Scalia:

In late July, 2012, C-Span released film of you, declaring that “people are intelligent and can discern the true from the false . . . when [they] know who’s speaking.” I’m not sure you’re right, Sir. After all, in 2003, intelligent people, including members of Congress, leaders of many allied nations, cable news reporters, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and ordinary citizens, failed to “discern the true from the false” when free expression persuaded the United States to smite Iraq in a preemptive strike. Before the deaf ears and blind eyes of supposedly alert, watchful, and intelligent people, the Bush administration ordered a reign of terror upon Iraq; we killed 162,000 soldiers on both sides insurgents, ordinary citizens, civilian personnel, and children because no one could “discern the true from the false.” Someone yelled “WMD,” the equivalent of shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater, and 162,000 died.

On the Piers Morgan program (CNN), also in July 2012, you, Mr. Scalia, reiterated the First Amendment privileges of this nation and assured the listening audience that Thomas Jefferson, whom you greatly admire, would agree with you in asserting that “the more speech the better.” You added in answer to Mr. Morgan’s question about the Citizens United decision that no one can “separate the speech from the money that facilitates the speech.”

I wasn’t sure about that claim until I realized that humans make manifest their thoughts in not only words but also in actions. For example, my thoughts on ice cream and frozen yogurt are well-known to anyone who knows the contents of my freezer or anything about my buying habits. So it follows that the products I consume and purchase are extensions of my inner-most thoughts, and I confess that my thoughts get me into trouble often. It’s just not healthy to be preoccupied with ice cream; it’s especially unhealthy to consume too much ice cream.

This realization led me to reflect upon what limits should be set for free expression. We already know that no one can shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater and jeopardize life, but should the Nazi party march and speak in Skokie, IL, home to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, or should historical precedent lead reasonable men and women to conclude that the Nazi party’s intentions and actions could derive from hatred? If so, then surely we should censor the Nazis. We should disallow their march, suppress their speech, and curtail any potential and probable violence stemming from hate speech.

But we didn’t. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Illinois State Supreme Court, using the First Amendment as legal precedent, upheld the Nazi party’s right to speak. Indeed, subsequent U. S. Supreme Court decisions have consistently upheld the rights to free speech regardless of potential, even probable, harm.

Here, a man can not only speak the anti-Semitic sentiments of a repressive, brutal tyranny by wearing the uniform of the Nazi party in Illinois, he can also burn Old Glory, declare that the fire is communication, and go free. He can take up arms, declare them his Constitutionally protected right, stand his ground, and go free after having expressed his thoughts about fellow men, personal space, and sharing property with at least one bullet. He can also exercise his intelligence; walk into the voting booth, proper identification in hand according to the whims of his location; and speak through the ballot. Or he can walk door to door and share his political opinions, and he can underwrite the cost of propaganda in an effort to persuade the electorate. This last exercise of free speech, the one involving money, worries me.

With the Citizens United decision, vast sums of money can be brought to bear upon political outcomes. The trouble is that those behind the monetized political speech are virtually anonymous, especially if they donate to a 501 C 4. Only the IRS knows the identities of those donors; the rest of us intelligent folk cannot “discern the true from the false” because we don’t know whose voice sends the message. We don’t know whether his thoughts are full of hate or good intentions for the nation. All we know with any degree of certainty is that millions are going hither and yon for campaign advertising in this 2012 election, and we know that money, filthy lucre, gold, silver, greenbacks--or just the promise of it--has a corrupting influence.

From a love of money sprouts evil. So says the Bible as well as tales written by Chaucer, Shakespeare, and John Lanchester in Capital. From a love of money sprout disinformation, misinformation, distortion, and lie as donors try to gain political advantages and power. Yet the authors of those messages are shadowy because Citizens United, as implemented, does not require that individual donor names become part of the message until after the election has taken place and in the case of 501 C 4s, those donor names will never be known. They can sling and spin words to their advantage, often distorting and twisting events and facts until they no longer resemble the truth. Intelligent people cannot “discern the true from the false” because there are so many versions of a truth blowing in the wind, their authors unknown.

So, Justice Scalia, if speech is money and money is speech, as you assert, and if it’s become nearly impossible to learn from whom the speech comes, then I suggest that we simplify the process of electing representatives to local, state and national offices. We should make a clear broth instead of lumpy, opaque soups, and we can: by eliminating middle men, including SuperPacs, 501 C 4s, think tanks, 24/7 cable news, and policy wonks.

Let us return to simpler times like those we lived when candidates ran for office in public schools and skipped class time on task while distributing pencils, Hershey’s kisses, and erasers. In those elections, the quantity and quality of Get Out the Vote tokens; i.e., money, determined outcomes. It’s human nature to be favorably persuaded by those who favor us with treats. But current Citizens United practices and policies run counter to such tangible, direct means of persuasion so let’s eliminate visual and verbal messages spun from anonymous agencies and agents. Just leave it to me, my hand extended to receive Get Out the Vote tokens.

Let all those aspirants to higher office continue to put their thoughts into action. Let them express themselves by making their desires for my vote real. Give me ice cream or cake--although, I warn you, according to legend, cake did not work out well for Queen Marie. Give me a job, not the promise of one if I support you, but a real one with paychecks in hand and a contract that cannot be voided if and when Bain buys out my employer. And while you’re at it, raise the minimum wage and make it a four-day work week. Pay off my mortgage so I can send my kid to college. Better yet, pay my kid’s tuition, room and board included. Make me believe that you love me, but I don’t need to be courted or schmoozed. Just dazzle me, darling candidates, because diamonds really are a girl’s best friend.

See Justice Scalia? My solution simplifies the mess we’re in because it is a system that we know; indeed, it is a system already in place in the form of government subsidies, tax breaks, tax incentives, new bridges, improved roads, or commemorative statues, plaques, and buildings. It’s just that the little guy rarely receives those incentives directly, but I assure you, I can be trusted to turn my vote to personal advantage. I will, in fact, vote with my pocketbook, not my heart, I swear.

I’ll prove your case that money is speech. I’ll go along. I’ll get on board as long as money greases my own slippery palm and not someone else’s. I promise to stop using phrases like conservative activist judges if you rule in my favor. I might even send you a chunk of the change I receive if you’ll just promise to be on the side of the little guy in need, the one trying to discern the false from the true.