BP and CEOs Fight the Laws

Kendrick Meek; Blast BP and Corporate Irresponsibility

copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Whispers whirled around the White House, on The Hill, within the Department of Justice, and finally filtered down to the streets.  In truth, talk could be heard on the avenues, where average Americans roam, long before declarations came from above.   Should BP CEO Tony Hayward Go to Prison?  The public wonders.  What would the Obama Administration do.  Countless clamored; with full knowledge that President Bush’s DOJ Killed a Criminal Probe Into BP.  It was believed that the potential indictments threatened the most senior officials.  More recently, words of warrants have become a distinct possibility.  Criminal charges are being considered against BP in regards to the Gulf oil rig tragedy.

Currently, the possibility or probability of legal action is plausible.  After all, the Gulf region was not the only shore or sea affected.  A planet, inclusive of people, were placed in further peril, the repercussions cannot be calculated.  Someone or ones must take responsibility, or be taken to task.   BP certainly has shown a desire to shift the blame.  However, a frustrated electorate may not be so anxious to forgive and forget.  For the common folk ,BP and other corporations are responsible for what occurred.  Constituents applaud the idea floated months ago; BP Execs Could Face Potential Jail Time.  These people have a friend in Congressman Kendrick Meek; they always did.  

Senatorial candidate  Congressman Kendrick Meek heard the indictments. He saw the future, and decided long before most Americans did; the behavior of BP and other corporate Executives is unforgivable.  The question is, laws of the land or laws of nature?  Might citizenry or corporations lose or rule.  The test case could be before us.  The defendants are BP, Transocean Limited, and Halliburton, or their Chief Executives.  The plaintiffs; the American people.  

Today, many more than Mister Meek or a scant number of citizens immediately affected by the crisis have begun to wrestle with the arguments and past and present applications.  “Principles” adopted by Corporate Executives, heads of companies such as BP, Transocean Limited, and Halliburton are a concern that might affect all of us for years.  Local persons in the Gulf region  have chosen to take action.  A judge, with over 400 Gulf disaster court cases on his roster explained.  BP and other companies will face “thousands” of lawsuits as a result of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion.  In April, no one in the area imagined how his or her life would be threatened by the derrick that had been the source of [economic] survival.  That is, most did not fully comprehend what Florida Congressman Meek did.

As a profound predictor of the future, or as a Senatorial candidate with a vision and a mission, he spoke of the doom and dire consequences he believed would, or should follow.  Mister Meek mused.  With anticipation, he addressed what he thought needed be spoken about months before today’s events.  It was June.  United States Congressman, Kendrick Meek stood before an audience at America’s Future Now! 2010 conference.   Kendrick Meek spoke of justice.

I was there for the pronouncement.  I recall the day and the proclamation.  Florida Senate hopeful Kendrick Meek called for corporate integrity.  All those months earlier, he understood that irresponsibility could not be repeatedly rewarded, if it is rewarded at all.  Decisive disciplinary actions for those tycoons and companies that aggress against the planet and us must be taken.  Unscrupulous moneyed moguls, who wrongfully attack the people, must meet their reward.  Mister Meek said, then, in early summer, BP should pay the price for the folly they reaped.  Even then, he understood; if a company rapes Mother Earth, robs the people, plants, indeed, all that is our Earthly sphere, jail time must be served.  All who break the laws of nature and the people, must suffer the consequences.  Microbes, mammals, and much more will!

Might we heed what was a warning, or will we harvest the seeds sown.  We must choose.  Hopefully, we will remember before it is too late, Newton’s Third Law of Motion.  “For every action there is an equal and opposing reaction.”

References and realities . . .

The Stonecutter

copyright © 2009. Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the blog.

Much may be made of what seems like permanent material when a stonecutter takes his tools and begins to work.  The stonecutter aiming to break off a piece of a larger stone block hits the stone time and time again with his mallet and chisel.  A final blow is struck and the stone breaks.  The stonecutter knows the final blow was not the one that broke the stone.  It was instead the accumulation of patient effort and many blows that led to the final changing of the stone.  So it is with a nation trying to restore itself in the name of liberty and justice for all.

Many steps must be taken to insure the proper outcome.  Some are already in progress with the administration’s order to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.  Detainees are humans who deserve the same rights and privileges as any other human being.  Under our system of laws a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  If we are to restore our lost standing in the eyes of the world we must begin to give the detainees the same access to trial we ask for ourselves.  Those declared innocent must have their freedom restored.  Those found guilty of crimes may serve their appropriate punishment under our laws.

If we are to become again a nation of laws rather than a nation of rules put forth by people ignoring the law we have much work to do.  President Obama has already reversed many of the executive orders left in place by the last administration.  Rules promulgated without adequate public notice are being reviewed and changed as the days continue to pass by.  Like the stonecutter working at his task, the administration continues to strike one blow at a time in the name of justice and liberty.

We, the people, are the ones who will in the end be served best of all by a return to our founding principles.  We must continue to be patient, but we need not allow these days to be the best we will enjoy.  There is always a better nation right around the corner so long as we keep pushing for change and for real improvement.


Quote of the week:

Violence is an admission that one’s ideals and goals cannot prevail on their own merits.

~ Edward M. Kennedy

Whitehouse: As We Look Forward We Must Also Look Back

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Millions in America were focused on the future.  Billions, worldwide, anxiously awaited change.  On January 20, 2009, the Presidential Inauguration was broadcast hither and yon.  Barely a television, radio, computer monitor, or big screen was turned off.  Most all tuned in to see Barack Obama take the Oath of Office.  Nary a one were as moved as they were on that occasion.  

Even several Republicans said they were excited.  For countless, it seemed a light was turned on.  Finally, the American people, our allies, and those who are often characterized as adversaries, had hope.  We, collectively, believe it was possible to walk through the din that had been our doom and envision an Earth united.

The world was wowed with thoughts of what would be, as were many Constitutional scholars, concerned citizens, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.  Yet, there remained a persistent thought; our potential would not be fully realized.  Several understood, as Senator Whitehouse so solemnly expressed in a speech presented on the Senate floor, a day after the festivities,  As We Look Forward We Must Also Look Back.  Few had an opportunity to see or hear an oration that was perhaps as honest and historic as the Presidents.

Sheldon Whitehouse too saw the glimmer of light.  He spoke to, as Barack Obama did in his address the day before, a democratic republic, deeply scarred, cannot heal without a shared commitment to the principles that guide our country.  The Rhode Island representative, reflected on the notion, just as the Chief Executive had hours earlier, what was sanctioned in the past would not be wiped away by a more hopeful and ethical Administration.  He noted, no series of endeavors would expunge past misdeeds.  Nor could a solitary earthly being erase the clouds that now covered the Constitution.

The Rhode Island Legislator succinctly and eloquently expressed the concern others had hoped to communicate.  He said,  As the President looks forward and charts a new course, must someone not also look back, to take an accounting of where we are, what was done, and what must now be repaired.

For Senator Whitehouse, as for many legal scholars, Conservatives, such as Bruce Fein, and Journalist, Author, John Nichols, it seemed too clear; Americans, in Congress, and on the streets in every community have yet to learn from history.  Even the newly elected President, Barack Obama, did not wish to tread on traditions that obfuscate the thread, the United States Constitution, that for centuries has allowed America to prosper.  

The President, the Obama Administration, and most of America, has expressed a desire to bury the past.  Yet, there is reason to reflect if we are to see “that brighter day; forward to what Winston Churchill in Britain’s dark days called those “broad and sunlit uplands.”  To ponder the past does not mean to punish others for misdeeds.  A penalty cannot be the priority.  Reprimands will not realize a nation’s rebirth.

Indeed, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse reflects, “Our new Attorney-General designate has said, we should not criminalize policy differences.  I agree.”  The Rhode Island representative continues, “I hope we can all agree that summoning young sacrificial lambs to prosecute, as we did after the Abu Ghraib disaster, would be reprehensible.”  Sheldon Whitehouse asks only that “We hold this unique gift in trust for the future and the world.”

Please peruse the prose that might move us to provide a little bright, healthy sunshine and fresh air, to citizens of the world.  The children of today, and those who will survive Seven Generations from now need us to strengthen our democracy.  If we are to be, an educated population, empathetic to those who inherit the Earth we must, as Sheldon Whitehouse avowed, “show where the tunnels were bored, when the truth was subordinated; what institutions were subverted; how our democracy was compromised; so this grim history is not condemned to repeat itself; so a knowing public in the clarity of day can say, “Never, never, never, again,”

I thank you Sheldon Whitehouse for the wisdom and the words that break through the silence, and secure a brighter day.

Whitehouse: As We Look Forward We Must Also Look Back

January 21, 2009

I rise as we celebrate a new President, a new administration, a new mode of governing, and a new future for America.

Even in the gloom of our present predicaments, Americans’ hearts are strong and confident because we see a brighter future ahead.

President Obama looks to that future. Given the depth and severity of those predicaments, we need all his energy to look forward to lead us to that brighter day; forward to what Winston Churchill in Britain’s dark days called those “broad and sunlit uplands.”

But, as we steer toward this broad and sunlit future, what about the past? As the President looks forward and charts a new course, must someone not also look back, to take an accounting of where we are, what was done, and what must now be repaired.

Our new President has said, “America needs to look forward.” I agree.

Our new Attorney General designate has said, we should not criminalize policy differences. I agree.

And I hope we can all agree that summoning young sacrificial lambs to prosecute, as we did after the Abu Ghraib disaster, would be reprehensible.

But consider the pervasive, deliberate, and systematic damage the Bush Administration did to America, to her finest traditions and institutions, to her reputation and integrity.

I evaluate that damage in history’s light. Although I’m no historian, here is what I believe:

The story of humankind on this Earth has been a long and halting march from the darkness of barbarism and the principle that to the victor go the spoils, to the light of organized civilization and freedom. During that long and halting march, this light of progress has burned, sometimes brightly and sometimes softly, in different places at different times around the world.

The light shone in Athens, when that first Senate made democracy a living experiment; and again in the softer but broader glow of the Roman Empire and Senate.

That light burned brightly, incandescently, in Jerusalem, when Jesus of Nazareth cast his lot with the weak and the powerless.

The light burned in Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo and Cordoba, when the Arab world kept science, mathematics, art, and logic alive, as Europe descended into Dark Ages of plague and violence.

The light flashed from the fields of Runnymede when English nobles forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, and glowed steadily from that island kingdom as England developed Parliament and the common law, and was the first to stand against slavery.

It rekindled in Europe at the time of the Reformation, with a bright flash in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his edicts to the Wittenberg cathedral doors, and faced with excommunication, stated “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

Over the years across the globe, that light, and the darkness of tyranny and cruelty, have ebbed and flowed.

But for the duration of our Republic, even though our Republic is admittedly imperfect, that light has shone more brightly and more steadily here in this Republic than in any place on earth: as we adopted the Constitution, the greatest achievement yet in human freedom; as boys and men bled out of shattered bodies into sodden fields at Antietam and Chicamagua, Shiloh and Gettysburg to expiate the sin of slavery; as we rebuilt shattered enemies, now friends, overseas and came home after winning world wars; and as we threw off bit by bit ancient shackles of race and gender to make this a more perfect union for all of us.

What made this bright and steady glow possible? What made it possible is not that we are better people, I believe, but that our system of government is government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Why else does our President take his oath to defend a Constitution of the United States of America? Our unique form of self-government is a blessing, and we hold it in trust; not just for us, but for our children and grandchildren down through history; not just for us, but as an example out through the world.

That is why our Statue of Liberty raises a lamp to other nations still engloomed in tyranny.

That is why we stand as a beacon in this world, beckoning to all who seek a kinder, freer, brighter future.

We hold this unique gift in trust for the future and the world. Each generation assumes responsibility for this Republic and its government, and each generation takes on a special obligation when they do. Our new President closed his Inaugural Address by setting forth the challenge against which future generations will test us: whether “with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generation.” There are no guarantees that we will – this is a continuing experiment we are embarked upon – and a lot is at stake; indeed, the most precious thing of man’s creation on the face of the Earth is at stake. That is what I believe.

So from that perspective, what about the past? No one can deny that in the last eight years America’s bright light has dimmed and flickered, darkening our country and darkening the world.

The price of that is incalculable. There are nearly 7 billion human souls on this world. Every morning, the sun rises anew over their villages and hamlets and barrios, and every day they can choose where to invest their hopes, their confidence, and their dreams.

I submit that when America’s light shines brightly, when honesty, freedom, justice and compassion glow from our institutions, it attracts those hopes, those dreams; and the force of those 7 billion hopes and dreams, the confidence of those 7 billion souls in our lively experiment, is, I believe, the strongest power in our national arsenal – stronger than atom bombs. We risk it at our peril.

And of course, when our own faith is diminished at home, this vital light only dims further, again at incalculable cost.

So when an administration rigs the intelligence process and produces false evidence to send our country to war;

When an administration descends to interrogation techniques of the Inquisition, of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge – descends to techniques that we have prosecuted as crimes in military tribunals and federal courts;

When institutions as noble as the Department of Justice and as vital as the Environmental Protection Agency are systematically and deliberately twisted from their missions by odious means of institutional sabotage;

When the integrity of our markets and the fiscal security of our budget are opened wide to the frenzied greed of corporations, speculators and contractors;

When the integrity of public officials; the warnings of science; the honesty of government procedures; and the careful historic balance of our separated powers of government, are all seen as obstacles to be overcome and not attributes to be celebrated;

When taxpayers are cheated, and the forces of government ride to the rescue of the cheaters and punish the whistleblowers;

When a government turns the guns of official secrecy against its own people to mislead, confuse and propagandize them;

When government ceases to even try to understand the complex topography of the difficult problems it is our very purpose and duty to solve, and instead cares only for these points where it intersects with the party ideology, so that the purpose of government becomes no longer to solve problems, but only to work them for political advantage;

In short, when you have pervasive infiltration into all the halls of government – judicial, legislative, and executive – of the most ignoble forms of influence; when you see systematic dismantling of historic processes and traditions of government that are the safeguards of our democracy; and when you have a bodyguard of lies, jargon, and propaganda emitted to fool and beguile the American people…

Well, something very serious in the history of our republic has gone wrong, something that dims the light of progress for all humanity.

As we look forward, as we begin the task of rebuilding this nation, we have an abiding duty to determine how great the damage is. I say this in no spirit of vindictiveness or revenge. I say it because the thing that was sullied is so, so precious; and I say it because the past bears upon the future. If people have been planted in government in violation of our civil service laws to serve their party and their ideology instead of serving the public, the past will bear upon the future. If procedures and institutions of government have been corrupted and are not put right, that past will assuredly bear on the future. In an ongoing enterprise like government, the door cannot be so conveniently closed on the closets of the past. The past always bears on the future.

Moreover, a democracy is not just a static institution, it is a living education – an ongoing education in freedom of a people. As Harry Truman said addressing a joint session of Congress back in 1947, “One of the chief virtues of a democracy is that its defects are always visible, and under democratic processes can be pointed out and corrected.”

Entirely apart from tentacles of the past that may reach into the future, are the lessons we as a people have to learn from this past carnival of folly, greed, lies, and sabotage, so that it can, under democratic processes, be pointed out and corrected.

If we blind ourselves to this history, if we pull an invisibility cloak over it, we will deny ourselves its lessons. Those lessons came at too painful a cost to ignore. Those lessons merit discovery, disclosure and discussion. Indeed, disclosure and discussion is the difference between a valuable lesson for the bright upward forces of our democracy, and a blueprint for darker forces to return and do it all over again.

A little bright, healthy sunshine and fresh air, so that an educated population knows what was done and how, can show where the tunnels were bored, when the truth was subordinated; what institutions were subverted; how our democracy was compromised; so this grim history is not condemned to repeat itself; so a knowing public in the clarity of day can say, “Never, never, never, again;” so we can keep that light – that light that is at once America’s greatest gift and greatest strength – brightly shining. To do this, I submit, we must look back.

I yield the floor.

Farewell To Privacy. Hello To Arms


copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

The Courts and Congress have come to believe there is reason for fear.  Enemies are everywhere.  Those who wish to do us harm are in our homes.  They talk to us on our telephones.  Some sashay in through our computers.  “Evil doers” are ubiquitous in the United States.  Our open society places the public at risk.  We, the people, must defend ourselves.  Thus, the Supreme Court and Congress have given the government and us the means.  The highest judicial body in the nation has made it possible for the common man to protect himself with a pistol; Legislators provided the President ethereal firearms.  Indeed, individuals and the Commander-In-Chief were bequeathed more than either had asked for.  In 2008, we have entered the Summer of Separation.  In the United States we say, “Farewell to privacy.  Hello to arms.”

Absorbed in fear, Americans have detached themselves from the original intent of the United States Constitution.  We the people have embraced weaponry and rejected our right to privacy.  The populace, with assistance from Congress willingly chose to forfeit the Fourth Amendment.  authentic freedoms were  disemboweled.  If the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act  (FISA) stands, and there is no reason to think a Bill signed into law by the President of the United States and each House of Congress would not be fully implemented, the press and the people will no longer have unfettered access to information.  Nor can they disseminate data without intense scrutiny.  Chris Hedges, a twenty year veteran Foreign Correspondent for The New York Times, speaks to a truth that he lived and now fears will die.

The new FISA Amendments Act nearly eviscerates oversight of government surveillance.  It allows the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review only general procedures for spying rather than individual warrants.  The court will not be told specifics about who will be wiretapped, which means the law provides woefully inadequate safeguards to protect innocent people whose communications are caught up in the government’s dragnet surveillance program.

The law, passed under the guise of national security, ostensibly targets people outside the country.  There is no question, however, that it will ensnare many communications between Americans and those overseas.  Those communications can be stored indefinitely and disseminated, not just to the U.S. government but to other governments.

This law will cripple the work of those of us who as reporters communicate regularly with people overseas, especially those in the Middle East.  It will intimidate dissidents, human rights activists, and courageous officials who seek to expose the lies of our government or governments allied with ours.  It will hang like the sword of Damocles over all who dare to defy the official versions of events.  It leaves open the possibility of retribution and invites the potential for abuse by those whose concern is not with national security but with the consolidation of their own power.

Trepidation has long been a tool for intimidation.  A frightened fellow or female will happily adopt a policy or a pistol to relieve apprehension.  Perhaps, that it why after the events of September 11, 2001, Americans, panicked and the power elite prospered.  As the Twin Towers fell, the people cried out for protection.  Congress gleefully approved the Patriot Act; and as a nation, we pursued a course of action that was and is contrary to Constitutional principles.  Even early on, Americans said,  “Farewell to privacy.  Hello to arms.”

As the war thundered on, the public worked to avoid greater anxiety.  People purchased more guns for personal safety sake.  They feared the government might not be able to shield them from all potential harms.  Indeed, this attitude has been ubiquitous in American history.  The Wild West outlook often overrides logic or Constitutional law.  In America, there have been many Summers of Separation.

When humans think weaponry is the solution, as they do in a country where there are ninety guns per every one hundred U.S. residents, they will grab a pistol when faced with any problem.  The availability of petroleum has become a paradox.  Prices for fuel and food are high.  The cost for shelter is higher.  Homes are in foreclosure.  Job security is but a myth.  Employer provided benefits are elusive.  The cost for Health Care coverage is out of reach; yet, the gun that could end it all is close.

Immigration is also an issue that irks many in America.  When migrants flee to the States in search of financial freedom, the native-born feel further threatened.  The divide between the races causes much resentment.  Income inequity offers reason for rage.  Economic slavery causes tempers to rise.  In 2008, the effect of all these predicaments troubles the populace.   The American public is aggravated.  Currently, people feel less safe, less strong, and more scared.  Millions ponder.  Force can seem the great equalizer.  Hence, gun ownership is great.  The Small Arms Survey, released in August 2007 reveals Americans have a ready arsenal.

With fewer than five per cent of the world’s population, the United States is home to roughly 35-50 per cent of the world’s civilian-owned guns.

The report went on to state that the common folk are better equipped with weaponry than law enforcement or the military might be.  Civilians who reside in cities, suburbs, and those who dwell in the countryside possess the vast majority of total firearms owned in the United States.  Citizens in a country built on might will use firepower to retain what they believe is their right. If they are refused the privilege to pack heat, Americans will seek recourse by any means.

Special-forces policeman Heller, a resident of Washington District of Columbia certainly did.  The lawman, aware that anyone on the street might be armed sought solace in a piece of hardware.  Mister Heller applied to register a handgun he wished to keep at home; the District denied his request since, at the time, the District of Columbia forbade civilian handgun ownership.  Disgruntled, and prepared for battle, as Americans often are, Officer Heller filed a legal suit.  He stated his Second Amendment Rights were violated.  The Supreme Court agreed.

A review of the actual Second Amendment which states Americans have the Right to “bear arms in times when a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free State,” or research might have led the Justices to decide otherwise.  Nonetheless, in a summer steeped with separation from acumen, the Supreme Court ruled civilian gun ownership is a right.

The Administration, policymakers, and pundits think the decision wise.  After all, it is a dangerous world.  Americans need to be prepared to fight the ominous foe  Fifteen years ago,   near half of American households understood this.  People built arsenals.  Thirty-one percent of adult Americans owned a firearm in 1993.  Still, that armory was not enough to protect the citizenry from attack.  Years later, the munitions stored,  while likely larger, were no better protection.

Crimes occurred outside the home, on the streets of any given community and , just as predicted, some transgressions traumatized those within four walls. Few Americans ponder the weightier aspects of artillery in the American home.

Earlier this year (1997), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a mind-boggling report showing that the U.S. firearm-related homicide rate for children was 16 times higher than the combined rate for children in 25 other industrialized countries.  Meanwhile, the U.S. child rate of firearm related suicide was 11 times higher. . .

Last year, Congress nearly slashed the budget for the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), which collects and monitors firearm injury data and funds related research as part of its mission.  As a result of new funding mandates, CDC this year has been forced to dramatically reduce its firearm-related injury research, and CDC-funded gunshot injury surveillance programs will come to an end in several states.

All this comes at a time when gunshot injuries are expected to soon outstrip automobile accidents as the number one cause of injury death in the U.S., costing an estimated $20 billion yearly in medical costs and lost productivity.  Surprisingly little medical research monitors the kinds of firearm injuries that occur or the types of guns used.  While the CDC samples unshot injury data from 91 hospitals around the country, there is no comprehensive national surveillance system to accurately track how many people are wounded by guns each year..

Surveillance is the sham used to explain what Federal officials think a greater priority.  Those who have more power than a weapon might wield understand the statistics on civilian gun wounds would not please or appease Americans.  Information on gun injury might shift the fear factor.  If the people are to remain focused on foreign forces, then FISA, the Bill that keeps on giving to the politically powerful, will remain safe, and after all, is that not the truer issue.  As foreign correspondent Christopher Hedges reminds us . . .

It (the law) is about using terrorism (at home or abroad) as a pretext to permit wholesale spying and to silence voices that will allow us to maintain an open society.

Thankfully, when prized pistols are in question, it is easy to silence voices of dissent.  Physicians were not asked to speak before the Supreme Court shot down a ban on gun sales.  Had they had the opportunity Americans and the Justices might have heard  . . .

Doctors worried by Supreme Court gun ruling

By Maggie Fox


Wed Jul 9, 2008 7:44pm EDT

Washington (Reuters) – Last month’s Supreme Court ruling striking down a strict gun control law in the U.S. capital will lead to more deaths and accidental injuries, the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine said on Wednesday.

They joined a growing clamor from medical doctors, especially emergency room physicians, who fear a surge of accidental deaths, murders, and suicides if handguns become more easily available than they already are.

The ruling struck down a law in Washington that forbade personal ownership of handguns.  The court made explicit, for the first time, that Americans had rights as individuals to own guns.

It won praise from President George W. Bush, Republican presidential candidate John McCain and guns rights advocates (and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama)

Justice Antonin Scalia, who voted with the 5-4 majority on the decision, said citizens may prefer handguns for home defense because they “can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police.”

Perchance, Justice Scalia would be comforted to know, that with thanks to his cohorts  in the Legislative Branch, when a city dweller or a rural resident telephones for assistance, he or she can be comforted by the thought the authorities are very close by.  Indeed, public officials may be plugged into the individual’s phone, and computer.  In the Summer of Separation, as powerbrokers in one part of Washington said , “Hello To Arms,” those on the other side of the Hill proclaimed, “Farewell To Privacy.”

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act established thirty years ago was all but rescinded.  The court system created to help public officials in a crisis is no longer needed to swiftly serve warrants when an investigation is requested.  The Constitution has been compromised.

Lawmakers are already justifying their votes for making major changes to that proven regime by saying that the bill is a reasonable compromise that updates FISA technologically and will make it somewhat harder to spy on Americans abroad. But none of that mitigates the bill’s much larger damage. It would make it much easier to spy on Americans at home, reduce the courts’ powers, and grant immunity to the companies that turned over Americans’ private communications without a warrant.

It would allow the government to bypass the FISA court and collect large amounts of Americans’ communications without a warrant simply by declaring that it is doing so for reasons of national security. It cuts the vital “foreign power” provision from FISA, never mentions counterterrorism and defines national security so broadly that experts think the term could mean almost anything a president wants it to mean.

The President is abundantly pleased.  The present Commander-In-Chief is now assured ultimate power.  Future potential Chief Executives, one of whom voted to support this conciliatory commitment to telecommunication companies, will forever retain the “right” to be spy on the citizenry.   In the Summer of Separation, cognitive and Constitutional dissonance is secure.  Congress and the courts assured us of this.

Congress cast aside the Fourth Amendment,  The Supreme Court rescinded the essence of the Second Amendment.  Our countrymen are now be free to carry a gun, and chat on an open line with the trigger cocked.  Former President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt  told us “Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself.”  Perhaps, the prominent predecessor could not have predicted a day when citizens would be convinced to embrace fretfulness, to forego freedom, and to sing, “Farewell to privacy.  Hello to Arms.”

References and Rights . . .

English Language Learners [ELL] at Risk; Florida State Bill [SB] 286

copyright © 2008 Candace Harper, Associate Professor [University of Florida, College of Education, School of Teaching and Learning]

On Thursday, SB 286 passed with little opposition in the Florida Senate. Legislators who voted for the bill either don’t understand the English language and literacy learning needs of the .25 million English language learners (ELLs) in Florida schools, or they simply don’t care. In either case, if this bill passes in the House of Representatives and becomes law, it will result in our failure to prepare Florida teachers to meet ELLs’ very real needs to learn to read in English and to succeed in school. Whether SB 286 has been motivated and propelled by ignorance or by negligence, it represents a giant step backwards for our students.

The fact is that Florida teachers of reading to ELLs need more ELL-specific professional development than some apparently think. I use the case of “Holly” to illustrate. Soon after SB 286 was introduced in the Senate, a reading teacher named Holly wrote in to one of Florida’s major newspapers to assert that, based on her experience, teachers do not need special preparation to teach reading to ELLs. Holly stated that she had not pursued the ESOL professional development required by the state because, she explained, “If I had wanted to become an ESOL teacher, I would have done so.”

Indeed, Holly claimed that she was “proud to be a reading teacher.” Holly went on to report that last year she had been assigned to teach reading to two classes of Haitian students. In spite of the fact that these recent arrivals spoke “almost no English,” Holly noted emphatically that she “was NOT teaching these students English. We focused on phonics.”

Holly’s instruction ignored the fact that her students did not have the oral language foundation they needed to take advantage of phonics instruction in English. In fact, Holly appeared to understand very little about teaching reading to ELLs. Her own account of her instructional practices with these students reveals a general misconception among teachers who are inadequately prepared to teach ELLs-the belief that teaching reading (or teaching any of the other language arts or any content area) to ELLs is little more than “just good teaching.”  Below I provide several examples of how and why Holly’s generic reading instruction was likely inappropriate and inadequate for her ELL students.

First, unless these middle school students were completely illiterate in their native language (Kreyol or French), there was probably very little need to “teach” them phonics.  Those languages use basically the same alphabet as English and have few distinctive sound contrasts with English, so Haitian students who are already literate in their home language can transfer their phonemic awareness and knowledge of phonics to English.  These prior literacy skills allow them to “read” (decode) English aloud without understanding any of the words, just as most readers of this blog can “read” the words in the following Kreyol sentence without understanding what they mean:

“M byen kontan pou m te eksplike w kòman fet la te ye pou mwen.”  ?[English translation: I’m very happy to have told you about my holiday.]

In order to read the Kreyol sentence above with understanding we have to know what the individual words mean and we have to know something about the sentence structure.  For example, we have to recognize verb tense markers, contractions, and definite articles.  Basically, we have to know a little Kreyol-not just be able to sound out the printed words.  Phonics instruction must build on (not replace) oral language development, including vocabulary.  That is my first point.

Second, Holly wrote that she found it “exciting” to hear these middle school students reading grade-level texts aloud.  However, if the skill of decoding has already been established in the native language, reading aloud in a second (alphabetic) language is no great breakthrough and is of little real value for ESOL students without diagnosed language or learning disabilities.  In fact, reading aloud can be counterproductive for ESOL readers because they tend to focus on the pronunciation of unfamiliar words rather than on their meaning.  The main goal of reading at this grade and English proficiency level should be comprehension.  That is my second point.

Third, Holly commented that these students would “probably never pass the FCAT reading test.”  In spite of the low expectations reflected in this statement, ESOL students at this grade level do in fact have time to catch up in learning the English language and academic content of school.  But they have no time to spare.  Focusing on phonics instruction and reading aloud are a waste of precious time for students who need intensive oral language development in English and in reading and writing in the academic register of school.  If adolescent ELLs have any hope of passing the FCAT and eventually graduating, their teachers need to provide reading instruction that is appropriate for these students’ age/grade level and targeted to their second language and literacy needs.  They should not be delivering generic, remedial reading lessons that lead to barking at print and not much else.  That is my third point.

Finally, Holly said that over time, as the students (somehow) learned English, their reading comprehension began to catch up with their phonetic reading skills.  Of course!  Naturally.  What is surprising is that Holly credited herself for having played a key role in this process.  It is a shame that she did not make more informed contributions to her students’ progress in reading English.  That could have been accomplished by building on their existing literacy skills, helping them to develop their vocabulary in English through meaning-based language and literacy techniques, and drawing their attention to bilingual strategies such as recognizing cognates and using the “key word” approach.  Teaching reading to ELLs is NOT the same as teaching struggling readers who are already proficient in English.  That is my fourth point.

A recent review of existing research in second language reading (August & Shanahan, 2006) supports the following conclusions: 1) phonics instruction for ELLs may be necessary, but is not sufficient, 2) oral language development in English (including vocabulary) should accompany decoding instruction, 3) phonics instruction for ELLs who are already literate should target contrastive differences between English and students’ native languages, and 4) reading aloud is not a sound instructional technique for ELLs who have already learned to decode (especially those in the upper grades) nor is it a valid and reliable measure of their reading fluency or comprehension. Holly was either blissfully unaware of or purposefully negligent in providing reading instruction targeted to her ELL students’ specific second language and literacy needs.

In sum, teaching (reading) to second language learners is NOT the same as teaching (reading) to native English speakers.  All teachers of reading to ELLs (not just ESOL teachers) need to understand this complex issue and know how to provide instruction that meets their needs.  If the Florida legislature approves the proposed reduction in ESOL professional development, the inappropriate and inadequate one-size-fits all reading instruction described by Holly will be the most we can expect from Florida teachers of ELLs.

[*Thanks to Mercedes Pichard for providing the Haitian Kreyol example.]

The Law. Bush Versus Attorney General Gonzales ©

This issue confuses me, entertains me, scares me, and fascinates me.  I am thankful that the “letter of the law” was followed, a warrant was granted and that is good, particularly in light of recent revelations.  I do think the principles that guide society are important.  I prefer to believe that politicians are altruistic; when bribes are buying influence, I shutter.  Nevertheless, I am conflicted.  Having experienced an administration that routinely violates the law [thus far, 750 of them in fact], alters the Constitution, and hides behind privilege, I fear for what might be.

Representative William Jefferson, a Louisiana Congressman is under investigation.  The charge is bribery.  Apparently, serious allegations have been made.  It is said that this prominent political leader was videotaped accepting $100,000 from an informant.

The case against Mr. Jefferson has been building for months.  This week the court awarded a search-and-seizure warrant.  Federal Bureau of Investigation examiners were sent out.  Ninety thousand dollars in cold, hard, and ice-covered cash was found in the Congressman’s home freezer.  The suspect’s computer was taken from his office.  The money, while fascinating, has caused little clamor.  The legality and constitutionality of a Congressional office search has brought much comment.

Rummaging through the workplace went on for eighteen long hours.  Others in Congress, also under investigation; however, on different charges, feared for themselves.  These persons were decidedly nervous.  They questioned privately, might these unprecedented exercises affect them?  I wonder how it might affect us all.  When there is no separation of power, no checks, or balances, what is there?  Oh yes, totalitarianism, exactly what this administration claims we are fighting against.

Publicly, some Congresspersons rancor was raised.  They asked what of our system of checks and balances.  They pondered and proposed legal scholars to do the same.  Does a practice such as this suggest that we, as a nation, endorse policies that negate the separation of power?  These rabble-rousers, normally calm and contrite were criticized.  It was said they are more worried about themselves than the law of this land.  However, orators such as House Speaker Dennis Hastert declared, “Nothing I have learned in the last 48 hours leads me to believe that there was any necessity to change the precedent established over those 219 years.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, proclaimed, Justice Department investigations must follow “constitutional protections and historical precedent.”  House Democratic whip, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, chimed in stating he has “grave concerns” about this search and seizure.

Democratic Representative William Jefferson, who has not yet been charged, felt justified in stating an FBI search of his Capitol office “an outrageous intrusion.”  The Congressman said, “There are two sides to every story.  There are certainly two sides to this story.”  He was empathic; though asked by leader Pelosi, Jefferson said, no, he will not resign.  Interestingly, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales might.

Attorney General Gonzales conceded, “I will admit that, these were unusual steps that were taken in response to an unusual set of circumstances.”  Nevertheless, he thinks these actions were necessary and just.  You might recall, dear reader, this same man thought it wise to discount standards set by Geneva Convention.  He stated they were obsolete.  Principles of compassion, and humanitarian gestures are archaic.

George W. Bush did as well; however, now, with the weight of polls looming large on his shoulders, he is more repentant or reluctant to cause himself greater grief.  The President is seeking solace and therefore, wants to end the wrangling.  King George II wishes to give each side time to think, a novel concept coming from this White House.

Mr. Bush explained everyone needs time to cool down.  Possibly, they might meet in William Jefferson’s freezer.  In an attempt to achieve greater calm, President Bush has asked the Justice Department to seal all the documents and keep them for 45 days.  Mr. Bush is expectant that in the interim more facts will emerge, tempers will cool, and all persons involved might have a cleared perspective.

The Attorney General is clear.  Gonzales has offered to tender his resignation if the President enforces his command.  Cool, as cash is in a well-insulated freezer.

References For Review . . .
Bush challenges hundreds of laws By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe. April 30, 2006 for PDF Bush challenges hundreds of laws
Congressman in bribery inquiry won’t resign Associated Press. MSNBC. May 22, 2006
Angry lawmakers demand FBI return seized documents CNN News May 26, 2006
GOP, Dems blast FBI for searching congressional office. CNN News May 25, 2006
Alberto Gonzales: A Record of Injustice Center for American Progress
Memorandum on the Geneva Conventions Center for American Progress
Hastert Irate at ABC Story; Bush Freezes Files, by Luke Burbank. All Things Considered. National Public Radio. May 25, 2006
Gonzales was ready to quit over evidence, By David Johnston, Carl Hulse, New York Times. San Francisco Chronicle. Saturday, May 27, 2006
Hastert, Pelosi issue rare joint statement Joint Statement from Speaker Hastert and Minority Leader Pelosi. By Lynn Sweet. Chicago Sun Times. May 24, 2006
Bush Orders Jefferson Documents Sealed CBS News. May 25, 2006
Finally, a search warrant is used–and Republicans in Congress don’t like it By Mitchell J. Freedman. MF Blog. May 25, 2006