Sunday, September 09, 2007

All the Protection that the Law Allows

In 1994 the Congress passed the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA); it was updated in 1996 and 1998. The purpose of the act is:
Ҥ 4301. Purposes; sense of Congress
(a) The purposes of this chapter are--
(1) to encourage noncareer service in the uniformed services by eliminating or minimizing the disadvantages to civilian careers and employment which can result from such service;
(2) to minimize the disruption to the lives of persons performing service in the uniformed services as well as to their employers, their fellow employees, and their communities, by providing for the prompt reemployment of such persons upon their completion of such service; and
(3) to prohibit discrimination against persons because of their service in the uniformed services.“
In 2003 Congress passed the “Servicemembers Civil Relief Act” (SSCRA), a restatement and updating of the old Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act”. The intent of Congress is stated in Section 2:
‘‘(1) to provide for, strengthen, and expedite the national defense through protection extended by this Act to servicemembers of the United States to enable such persons to devote their entire energy to the defense needs of the Nation; and
‘‘(2) to provide for the temporary suspension of judicial and administrative proceedings and transactions that may adversely affect the civil rights of servicemembers during their military service.”
Good, brief explanations of the details are available for USERRA and SSCRA. In the broadest sense:
· USERRA protects your employment and protects you from discrimination because you are in the service – any component
· SSCRA makes it possible for you to serve without ;losing leases, eases the burden of installment contacts, and can even, in some cases, give relief from judicial proceedings.
So why aren’t these laws working for many veterans (see related stories later in this issue)?

A law does not work if it cannot work on a human scale. Years of waiting for resolution doesn’t help if you need a paycheck this Friday.
Statistics are not people. The government touting reduced response time (whether true or false) by 10% doesn’t help the veteran who is at the wrong end of the distribution. People are not “means and medians”.
No matter how much a free-marketer you are, business concerns must not trump human concerns, and the law should apply equally to all.

Finally – the veteran does deserve special treatment. By virtue of his or her honorable service, his or her needs are more important than the needs of those who stayed home and sacrificed nothing.
Unfortunately, neither the Department of Labor nor the Department of Justice see it that way. They give more credence to an employer’s unsupported claim of irreparable harm to his business than they do to the veteran’s legitimate claim under the law.
Back from Iraq? Want your job back? The USERRA protects you, doesn’t it?

Wait just one minute, buster! That law apparently only applies to you if your former employer says that it does.

Don’t worry. We have set up appropriate alternatives. You lost your job as a $25/hour tradesman because your former employer didn’t want to give it back? We have a job for you providing in-home care of the elderly at $9/hour. Or another as a management trainee at McDonalds.

Don’t like that? Then appeal to the Department of Labor. Oh, wait a minute. Sorry. Your former employer sent in a fax saying that rehiring you would destroy his business (Did he prove it? He isn’t required to.) Since he sent us the fax we have to turn this over to the Department of Justice. They’ll get back to you in 30 months.

And don’t forget, that relief of your mortgage and your credit debt under the SSCRA while you were activated has expired, so pay that mortgage you qualified for under your previous employment or we’ll take your house; you don’t expect us to let a mortgage company lose money do you? What kind of an American are you?
So, thanks for your service, and have a nice day.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Cosmic Crimes

I¹ve been thinking a lot lately about crimes for which there is no parallel,
and thereby no adequate punishment. How do you punish someone for genocide?
What is the punishment to fit the crime of the Holocaust?

But in truth, the punishment was really only an afterthought. What I¹m
stewing over is the cosmic nature of our current crimes themselves. I¹ll
address only three: the crime of governments that refuse to properly address
global warming; the crime of George W. Bush in invading a country, Iraq,
which had done nothing to the U.S.; and the crime of U.S. agribusiness in
not just poisoning the soil, but also in imposing its several other
practices which assault the very basis of life.

Let¹s look at agribusiness first. Since roughly the end of World War II,
chemical companies have promoted industrial-scale farming with horrific
consequences for the food supply, and for the topsoil upon which all life
depends. Huge machinery that requires special breeds of vegetables (like
tomatoes with hard skins and delayed ripening schedules) that can survive
the assault of automatic picking machines is only the beginning. Allied
with these monsters are the pesticides that have been piled in increasing
tonnages onto crops to combat the ever-evolving bugs and molds and fungi
that feed upon them (about 400 gallons of gasoline per year per citizen--17%
of our national energy use‹goes to agriculture, with more than 1/4 of all
farming energy going into synthetic fertilizers [see Barbara Kingsolver,
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, p. 5]) The problem is that these poisons are
lethal not just to the bugs, but to us as well. And though the chemical
companies and our FDA have assured us that these poisons are benign, the
truth is that our rivers, our groundwater, our oceans, and our soil are all
becoming more and more lethal to life. The worst part may be the latest
chapter in this war. Now, seed companies like Monsanto and DuPont have
produced genetically modified varieties of crops whose chief advantage
inheres in a gene that makes them "Roundup-ready." Corn, soybeans and canola
with the new gene implanted can withstand what would otherwise be lethal
doses of the pesticide Roundup. Mostly hybrids, these plants do not
reproduce from their own seed. And so dependent upon pesticides have farmers
become that most cannot survive without buying new GM seed each year from
Monsanto (those who try to use seed from Monsanto crops are sued).

Manipulating life in this way, making seed a patented commodity rather
than the basic mechanism of life itself (six companies now control 98% of
all seeds), is a cosmic crime. Alarmingly, it is matched in the farm-animal
world as well. Farm animals no longer reproduce on their own. Artificial
insemination does the job. As Barbara Kingsolver points out in Animal,
Vegetable, Miracle, the ability to reproduce has been bred out of most farm
animals, particularly fowl. So, when she tried to get even her
heritage-breed turkey hens to lay eggs, and then sit on them to incubate
them, the hens were mystified and had no idea what to do. "Normal" turkeys,
of course, never even get the chance to breed; for one thing, they¹re so
top-heavy from big-breast genes that they can hardly stand up. Kingsolver
sums it up this way:

"The longer I think about a food industry organized around an animal that
cannot reproduce itself without technical assistance, the more I mistrust
it." (p. 322)

To my mind, this is putting it mildly. The corporate way of breeding farm
animals‹the cruelty involved in raising chickens, cattle, and other animals,
the arrogance involved in seizing animal reproduction and molding it to the
lust for profit‹amounts to a cosmic crime. In a real way, this arrogance
regarding the most fundamental acts of any form of life, eating and
reproducing, leads inevitably to all other cosmic crimes.

The next crime is easily stated. The nation of Iraq had nothing whatever
to do with the assault on the Twin Towers on 9/11. No Iraqis were among the
hijackers. No link between the hijackers and Iraq has ever been found. And
yet, the Bush administration consistently tries to link Iraq with this event
in order to justify its war of aggression. Attacking a defenseless nation is
an international crime, but it¹s not quite cosmic. What makes the fiasco in
Iraq cosmic in its criminality are the catastrophic impacts upon the Iraqi
people. Even before the U.S. invasion in March 2003, Iraq was a nation
reeling from a dozen years of brutal sanctions that even Madelyn Albright,
the U.S. Secretary of State under Clinton, admitted had resulted in the
deaths of upwards of 500,000 Iraqi children. These child deaths directly
followed the embargo on hospital equipment and all other materials that
would allow Iraq to repair its infrastructure devastated by American bombing
in 1992. Water treatment plants could not be repaired. The result, in a
country that prior to 1992 had boasted of the highest standard of living and
education levels in all the Middle East, was a reversion to Stone-Age
conditions. Then in 2003 the U.S. invaded again. The death toll since then
has been estimated at upwards of 600,000 Iraqis, with over 2 million Iraqis
fleeing their country and another 2 to 3 million displaced within the
country. This in a population of only 26 million. To call this anything but
a war crime is pure propaganda. Add to it the devastation that will follow
forever from the uranium-tipped munitions our forces have spread throughout
that sorry country, not to mention the destruction of a wealth of art and
artifacts testifying to the very birth of civilization, and you have a
cosmic crime. It should be borne in mind, incidentally, that the United
States is the only nation ever to drop a nuclear weapon on civilians, its
sanctimonious hectoring of nations like Iran and Iraq for even considering
the development of such weapons notwithstanding. U.S. hypocrisy is itself

Cosmic crime number three: global warming. It has taken me a long time
to view Al Gore¹s An Inconvenient Truth. Even after all that has been
written and said about it, however, its effect is still shattering. While
the whole world and each one of us shares responsibility for the carbon
released into the atmosphere, the criminality enters only when a nation not
only refuses to do anything about it, but works night and day to confuse the
public by ridiculing and undermining the scientific evidence. What more
needs to be said? The Bush Administration chiefly, but every single member
of the U.S. Congress which collectively colluded in refusing to sign the
Kyoto Treaty as well, is guilty of a cosmic crime. This is not simply a
crime against an individual committed by a criminal looking to feed a drug
habit. This is not "mere" murder, or even the murder of 3,000 innocent
civilians in the 9/11 attack. This is the murder of an entire planet, of
that planet¹s life-support system. The data visually attested to by Gore¹s
film was shocking, infuriating, conclusive. The planet¹s ice is melting. The
water upon which billions depend is in jeopardy. The climate upon which life
itself depends is changing, has changed in clearly measurable ways. To
fiddle while the planet burns is a crime. It is the ultimate cosmic crime.

And yet. We tolerate an administration which concerns itself more with
the sex habits of teenagers than with the melting of the planet. We tolerate
an administration which the record shows has consistently lied about this
issue, has consistently suppressed and distorted the information upon which
the public depends to make a decision. We tolerate world leaders who refuse
to address the greatest challenge to life humans have ever faced. The cosmic
crime is theirs. But, in the end, it is also ours. For we sit in our
comfortable living rooms allowing ourselves to be "entertained" by cosmic
crap on our flat-screen TVs, our ever more powerful
music-and-video-downloading computers, our Ipod-delivered "personal" music,
rather than attend to the crisis threatening our very existence as a

How else to describe such crimes other than to say they are cosmic, they
are terminal, and as such may be the last ones we will ever be allowed to

Lawrence DiStasi

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Your Choice: Sex or Sense

Men’s room tapping action
A curious distraction
From the bloody war
That eats away our core
We know sex will sell
But who will end this hell?

Senator Larry Craig of Idaho is only the most recent of a long series of conservative “family values” Republicans to titillate the nation over the past two years. Why is it that we can’t look away from a train wreck like Duke Cunningham or Mark Foley but we cannot focus of a war that has challenged our core values as Americans? We have stood fascinated by the parade of Senator David Vitter, Senator Ted Stevens, Scooter Libby, Jeff Gannon (male prostitute and frequent White House guest), evangelist Ted Haggard, Jack Abramoff and Democrat “cold cash” Jefferson, but we have looked away from the flag draped coffins of our returning soldiers. I don’t mean to make light of the crimes or even the hypocrisy they uncovered, but is it right to dwell on the speck in the nation’s eye or the log of a pointless war and its impact on our people?

As Americans, we consider ourselves guardians of liberty and yet we have watched President Bush wiretap without court orders and state “The Constitution is just a goddam piece of paper.” We have heard the nation’s former top cop AG Alberto Gonzales call the Geneva Conventions “quaint.” We have long considered ourselves leaders in fair play, but don’t have to go back to the Sacco Venzetti case to find grossly unfair legal prosecution. Although torture policy was pushed from the very highest levels of the administration, nobody above the grade of Lieutenant Colonel has been tried for crimes up to and including murder of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. We prosecuted the little people and then collectively washed our hands. Have we forgotten our pivotal role in the war crimes trials at Nuremberg? How can we hold other nations to a standard that we are not meeting? What would happen if our leaders were led to war crime trials by some other nation? Perhaps a better question is: do we have the courage to do it ourselves?

I am suggesting that we have created a double standard where we preach the ideals of the far right, but allow unlawful official action by our elected government and the far right. We are fascinated with the ideals of our nation and with sex. We simply do not associate our departure from our ideals with the reality of crime and, yes, sin executed in our name as a nation. We appear to have bought into the notion that the president can do no wrong. We are endorsing the “unitary executive” and all the baggage that goes with it. Conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh described the sexual aberrations at Abu Ghraib as college fraternity pranks. They were crimes and spinning them as trivial is a serious injustice to the victims and to us as Americans. We “code-word” an unnecessary war in Iraq as “protecting democracy and our way of life,” while simultaneously removing our own cherished rights such as the 1st and 4th Amendments by executive fiat. Where is the courage of the right or of the left to challenge this perversion of our rightful national image? The left has decried the hypocrisy of the right and the right retorts that Clinton did it first. We all get distracted and the war bleeds on. Soldiers bleed on. Our nation bleeds on.

Our response must be to stop the bleeding, just as we would in performing first aid. The argument that we cannot remove our troops from Iraq because chaos will result is irrelevant because we are only timing our withdrawal so that we minimize our participation in the chaos. In the past year, the number of Iraqi civilians being killed has doubled. Shiites are killing Shiites and Sunnis are killing Sunnis. Local Muslims killed over 500 Yazidis in Kurdish Iraq only a few weeks ago. They are all killing each other and our soldiers. And at least 95% are Iraqi killers, not outsiders. If we leave tomorrow there will be chaos. If we leave next year, there will be chaos. If we leave next decade, there will be chaos. The only significant variable is whether we permit slaughter of Americans to continue. Iraq was a horrible mistake, but there are mistakes that cannot be undone and Iraq is one. As I write this, the president is out selling more death and is searching for a way to whitewash the dreadful lack of political progress despite the GAO report that Iraq has met only 3 of 18 political goals. The Petreaus Report is now the Bush report. Bush of the “You’re doing a heck of a job Brownie” fame. Bush of “Mission Accomplished” fame. Bush of the “one last chance surge” fame. Withdraw from bases now, one by one, before we need the troops for another Katrina or, worse yet, a 21st Century Pearl Harbor beyond the Twin Towers of 2001.

Unfortunately, the current political progress in Washington is not much better than that in Baghdad. A razor thin plurality in the House and essentially parity in the Senate guarantees that the war will continue because most Republican politicians support it and most Democrats are afraid of being called soft if they bring it to the people. Democrats do not have the votes to do this unilaterally and Republicans do not have the desire to fight the White House. We need to encourage Republicans on the floors of Congress, not in the closet or from the closet.
George Giacoppe
29 August 2007