Friday, September 28, 2012

Part Three - Enactment of Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

[Lilly M. Ledbetter]

Part Three: Why I Plan to Vote Democratic

This is the third in a series of blogs on my intent to vote not only for President Obama, but a straight Democratic ticket at the national, state, and local levels. I plan to look at issues that are important to me and I believe important to the American people.

I welcome your responses, whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or something else. I will publish whatever comments you have unless they are mean-spirited or do not speak directly to the issue addressed in this particular blog.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first piece of legislation signed into law President Barack Obama on January 30, 2009. If you don’t recall the circumstances that brought this legislation into being, take a look at this brief summary:
Lilly M. Ledbetter discovered when she was nearing retirement that her male colleagues were earning much more than she was. A jury found her employer, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant in Gadsden, Ala., guilty of pay discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court threw out the case, ruling that she should have filed her suit within 180 days of the date that Goodyear first paid her less than her peers. The narrow majority rejected the argument that each subsequent discriminatory paycheck was a new violation of the law.
Courts around the country cited the decision hundreds of times as a reason for rejecting lawsuits claiming discrimination based on race, sex, age and disability, without regard to the underlying merits of the individual cases.
On Jan. 29, 2009, President Barack Obama affixed his signature to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, his first official bill as president. The legislation expanded workers’ rights to sue in this kind of case, and relaxed the statute of limitations, restarting the six-month clock every time the worker receives a paycheck.
In view of all the “large” issues at stake in this election, is this expansion of workers’ right to sue worthy of inclusion. Without getting into women’s health issues (that I will get to in a later piece in this series), I think this is a critical issue that lays bare differences between Republicans and Democrats.

When he signed the bill, President Obama made clear its significance:
“It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — we are upholding one of this nation’s first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness,” the president said.
There is no way this is a “small” or inconsequential issue, but Republicans treated it so. Before Obama was elected, Congress tried to pass a similar law that would have overturned the Supreme Court ruling while President George W. Bush was still in office. He opposed it as did Republicans in Congress, arguing that such a bill would encourage lawsuits. In 2009, President Obama and Congressional Democrats with a handful of Republicans got the bill passed.

That’s not all. In June of 2012, a bill that would have built on the 2009 Ledbetter legislation failed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate, as Republicans united against the measure. The new bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, barred companies from retaliating against workers who inquire about pay disparities and open pathways for female employees to sue for punitive damages in cases of paycheck discrimination.  The same bill failed a procedure vote in the Senate when no Republican supported it.

I have to ask this question again. Did Republicans oppose these legislative attempts because President Obama supported them or because they were opposed to women having the means to oppose wage discrimination? Since Republicans opposed the bill in 2007 before Obama was elected, I assume it was because they didn’t believe in the legislation. Do they seriously wonder why women’s support for Obama is in the double digits?

 If I hadn't supported the two bills (the one that passed in 2009 and the one that hasn’t passed yet) I couldn't look my wife and daughters in the eye. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is change I can believe in, and it is one of the reasons I plan to vote Democratic. What do you think?

- Milo

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Part Two: Repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell

Why I Plan to Vote Democratic: Part Two

This is the second in a series of blogs on my intent to vote not only for President Obama, but a straight Democratic ticket at the national, state, and local levels. I plan to look at issues that are important to me and I believe important to the American people.

I welcome your responses, whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or something else. I will publish whatever comments you have unless they are mean-spirited or do not speak directly to the issue addressed in that particular blog.

I am grateful to Susan who told her own story in a Comment, and to all those who sent their stories to me by email. One of those stories, in which a friend told about his families roots in creating the Underground Railroad but how subsequent generations forgot that with some even joining the KKK. I thought the most important thing he said was this:

“For me, the question is not what did you inherit but what in that inheritance did you learn not to take for granted and what must be handed on with intentionality.” 

One of the reasons I plan to vote Democratic is the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell": 
"Don't ask, don't tell" was the official United States policy on homosexuals serving in the military from December 21, 1993 to September 20, 2011. The policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service. The restrictions were mandated by United States federal law.
While the policy, passed under President Clinton, was intended to protect gays and lesbians in the Armed Services, it avoided the fundamental issue of why gays and lesbians needed to hide their sexual orientation. The law itself was a form of discrimination. Gays and bisexuals were allowed to serve openly in the armies of all our NATO allies, except for the U.S. and Turkey. 

During his campaign for the presidency, Obama pledged to end the law. I would like for him to have issued an executive order on the day he became President but it had become federal law. The legislation had to be changed. 

The resistance in Congress was overwhelmingly Republican. Whether it was because they bought into homophobic fears or whether they opposed it because President Obama supported its repeal, I don't know. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said that of the Republican agenda, 
"The single most imortant thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
 On every piece of legislation put before Congress, I suppose the reason for Republican opposition and obstruction must be qualified by McConnell's statement. What important legislation has been opposed and thwarted simply because Republicans want to defeat Obama? 

In my view, whatever the reasons for Republican obstruction on the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Thanks to Obama who carefully shepherded this effort through the Pentagon and Congress, the Democratic members of both chambers, a handful of Republicans, and no thanks to the Republican Party, on September 20, 2011 the shameful policy was ended. 

Change didn't come as fast as I wanted, but I think the President, who I sometimes gratefully consider our "Community Organizer in Chief," got the policy repealed in the proper way. 

For me, the issue was a no brainer, but I know that for many it was not. I like to think that those who opposed this issue (as well as other gay rights issues) simply do not have a friend or family member who daily feel the sting of such discrimination. 

Some may say that the accomplishment by Obama is a not major issue. I rank it right up there with President Truman's 1948 Executive Order 9981 to end racial discrimination in the armed forces. 

Because the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is change that I can believe in, it is one of the reasons I plan to vote Democratic. What about you?

- Milo

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I Plan to Vote Democratic - Part 1

How I Might Have Been a Republican

[This is the first in a series of blogs on my intent to vote not only for President Obama, but a straight Democratic ticket at the national, state, and local levels. I plan to look at issues that are important to me and I believe important to the American people.

I welcome your responses, whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or something else. I will publish whatever comments you have unless they are mean-spirited or do not speak directly to the issue addressed in that particular blog. In this first segment I write about my Republican roots, I invite you to share your stories of how you have come to the political affiliations you have; or if you don’t have any at all.]

[10/03/2012 Updates: See Susan's story in the Comments and Bert's story following mine.]

Had I followed in the footsteps of my father and mother, aunts and uncles, their parents and grandparents, I would have been a Republican. As far as I know, they never changed their Republican affiliations. A second cousin is a Republican Representative in the House.

If it weren’t for my Republican great grandfather, Amos Lancaster Thornberry, I might still be in the Republican fold. I assume he was a Republican because before he was old enough to vote he left his Confederate-believing family in Kentucky to join the Union Army in the Civil War. He was a supporter of Abraham Lincoln’s effort to save the union and  he  believed slavery was wrong. He fought through the war, was wounded, and after the war returned to Kentucky only long enough to marry his fiancé, and go to Texas. He never had contact with his Kentucky family again.

While I was told the story about great grandfather as I was growing up, my grandparents and parents told it with some pride; despite the fact that they had been born in Texas and held views on race that were typically southern. I'm not sure they knew that the Republican Party had been founded in 1854 by anti-slavery activists. In school I tried, really tried, to fit in by identifying with the racial views of my peers, but in the background there was always the memory of my great grandfather. His middle name was given to me and I was proud of it.

When the Civil Rights Movement erupted in the 1950s, my family members were vehement in their condemnation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and regarded him as a “communist agitator” just like they viewed President Franklin Roosevelt - in spite of the fact that FDR probably saved their farms and ranches during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl.

As a class assignment, I went to hear Dr. King speak at a voter registration rally in Dallas in 1960. It was as if my great grandfather were speaking directly to me, saying that he would have been a part of the Movement, not a part of the white opposition to it. It was a life-changing and a party-affiliation-changing moment in my life. Of course, I was surrounded by southern Democrats and Republicans whose views were mirror images of those of most of my family and the people with whom I grew up.

I was grateful for Republican President Eisenhower’s sending the federal troops to Central High in Little Rock in 1957 to ensure the safety of the first black students, but when I came to the first opportunity to exercise my right to vote I believed that a John Kennedy administration would be a better friend of the Civil Rights Movement than one of Richard Nixon. There were still liberals and progressives on race issues in the Republican Party, but Nixon was not Eisenhower, and neither were like the party that nominated and that elected Abraham Lincoln a hundred years earlier.

I would like to think that I would have joined with my great grandfather in 1860, but in 1960 I think he would have been a Kennedy Democrat. That was good enough for me. Since then, the progressive wing of the Republican Party has been excommunicated and their policies on race have continued to narrow and harden. There have been Democratic policies I didn’t like over the years, and there have also been some in the Obama administration. I’ll tell you about them in subsequent pieces in this series. But compared to candidates and policies Republicans have offered over these years, for me there has been no comparison.  

My great grandfather is one reason why I plan to vote Democratic in November. What about you? How did you become whatever you are?

- Milo

UPDATE: Bert's Story 

Why I am a DemoCrat/republican/socialist.( republiCratist?): I grew up in a working class family which struggled  to make ends meet, but a family that believed in and supported unionism and collective bargaining  that allowed  workers to  share in the proceeds of their productivity. Thereis no question that those early years, wherever we come from, stick with us wherever we go. I believe that the Capital C in Crat, is a vital  element of a society that professes to be democratic--that allows all voices to be heard:  the willing. the unwilling, the sick,  the lame, the haves, the have nots, the owners, the disowned. I am a Crat who believes that upward mobilitycomes through a society's commitment to education, training and open institutions that allow those with tenacity and talent to rise beyond humble beginnings to achieve above the class and status into which they were born and to and make a contribution to society, not just take from it.

Part of the repubIican  (our nation is a republic, after all--the small r is purposeful) in us all,  is the acceptance of the rule of laws, which should reflect an expression of the values, norms,and  goals of  the populace--something our founders expressed very well.  Law, along with social norms, is an important factor in  regulating human conduct--as long as the law supports and reinforces trends toward maintaining and improving the human condition. When the law denies human progress, when it excludes rather than includes,  it is cause for political revolt, peaceful or otherwise. Another side of the republican component of my belief  is the importance of the private business sector.  It must  be profitable, it must be innovative, it must be competitive while being socially and environmentally responsible.  To be these things, it must be properly regulated so that it contributes to society as a whole, not just to those who may be investors, board members, or high-paid executives.  It must be taxed.

Finally,  I am socialist, who has great respect for those mature countries which have devoted energies to improving the quality of human life by  providing basic levels of support, including income, educational  and  social services, and health care.  I believe they  are way ahead of  countries which have not yet come to terms with the inherent conflicts between unbridled capitalism and the human need for safety, security, and freedom of expression.   Yes, I am a demorepubliist-- or a repubsocialdemocan, or a something like it, that hopes and even prays that we Americans can get it all together.  


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Not So Trivial Labor Day Trivia

Did you know
· That a Labor Day holiday was first proposed in 1882 by Matthew Maguire, a machinist and secretary of the Central Labor Union?
· That Oregon was the first state to make it a holiday in 1887?
· That President Grover Cleveland and Congress unanimously approved Labor Day as a national holiday in 1904 after the deaths of a number of workers in the Pullman Strike and signed into law six days after the end of the strike?
· That the original proposal for the holiday was for a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and spirit of corps of the trade and labor organizations," followed by a festival for the workers and their families? 
For many Labor Day is a long weekend, the last chance for a break before the kids go back to school and an often frantic fall schedule begins. For those of us who are retired with no school age kids at home, the weekend may pass with little notice. 
I once wrote 
Celebrations are the ritualized interruptions in the continuum of daily life which remind us of who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.”
I believe that all celebrations, whether birthdays, Christmas, or Labor Day have the potential to renew the human spirit when they are not totally given over to over-indulgence and entertainment.
Maybe this weekend, whether you are cooking out with family and friends or spending a quiet weekend at home, you might take a few moments to reflect on what this day means.
With the industrial Revolution came the unprecedented concentration of laborers, working and living in deplorable conditions, and grossly underpaid. They organized to get better wages and working conditions and to enhance their status in society. 

Few would disagree that the weight of the Great Recession has fallen heaviest on poor and working class people.
Maybe this is a good weekend to remember your own working experience, and remember those whose labor gets food to your table, who teach your children and grandchildren, who work on the fire lines, who care for you in the hospital, and the countless others without whose labors we couldn’t live; and give thanks for them.