Thursday, December 30, 2010
For a real investigative newspaper, pick up copies of the Milwaukee Journal's new "St. Augustine Underground" at these honor rack locations tomorrow:
Pick up a copy of The Saint Augustine Underground at the following locations:
St Augustine Gallery
Atlantic Beach & Tennis Club
Palencia Raquet Club
Old City Tire
Bank of St Augustine
Cold Cow Bakery
Bank of St Augustine
Bank of St. Augustine
Bank of St.Augustine
Price’s Barber Shop
Back 40 Cafe
City Perks Coffee
Fish Tales Market
Gaufree & Goods
George’s Diner Exterior Rack
La Hernecia Cafe
Neil’s Southside Kitchen
St. George Street Tavern
Stir It Up Resturant
The Cheese Wheel
The Spot Cafe
Village Grill WGV
Marsh Landing Tennis Club
New Food Store
North Beach Store
St Johns Community College
Grand Villas @ WGV
Renaissance @ World Golf Village
Cornwell’s Market Rack
Comachee Cove Marina Hotel
Comfort Suites @ WGV
Hilton Historic Bayfront Inn
Anastasia Branch Library
Southeast Branch Library
St Augustine Library
Old City Web Services
Bouvier Maps & Prints
Casa de Hildalgo
Girl Next Door
Hot Shot Bakery
Johnny Ravioli Cigars
Market at Granda Street
Martha Rose Designs
St Johns HeallthMart Pharmacy
St Johns Printing & Ofice Supply
St.Johns Co Chamber of Commerce
Vilano Beach Post Office
3rd Street Dinner II
Asian Thai Palace
Berry’s Smoothies North
Casa Mariia Restuarant
Fly By Cafe
Old City Subs
The Floridian Restaurant
St Johns Convention Center
Local Hero’s Cafe
San Sebastian Winery
The Green Dollar
Mill Top Tavern
In praise of Judge Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
In a prior life, under President Ronald Wilson Reagan during the 1980s, then-young, then-Republican apparatchik Alex Kozinski taught government officials how to fire whistleblowers as Special Counsel. As a result, when Kozinski was nominated to the Ninth Circuit, Kozinski barely won Senate confirmation under withering opposition from my former boss, Tom Devine, and the Government Accountability Project (GAP). That was then. This is now.
Today, we love Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, a Romanian-American champion of civil liberties -- a scholarly, witty judge who doesn't suffer fools gladly, one who exemplifies judicial courage in protection of citizens' civil and constitutional rights, showing once again the wisdom of our Framers regarding judicial independence and lifetime tenure (subject to good behavior) for all Federal Judges. See New York Times editorial and link to Santa Cruz First Amendment case, below.
Judge Kozinski proves Thomas Jefferson's belief about the perfectability of human nature. Judge Alex Kozinski exemplifies what Bernard Malamud wrote in The Natural: "I believe that we each have two lives, Roy, the life we learn with and the life we live with after that."
To the City Council in Santa Cruz, Calif., Robert Norse was a pest long before he sued it. An old-fashioned (and full-time) activist, he championed the city’s homeless and showed up regularly at meetings, making cranky comments and daring members to lose their cool.
Which they did, in March 2002, in an incident viewable on YouTube. As a gesture of silent protest when the Council asked someone else to stop talking, Mr. Norse raised his left arm in a Nazi salute. He was thrown out of the meeting, arrested when he refused to leave and released without charges. Mr. Norse then sued the city and Council members for infringing on his First Amendment right to sound off. But, on the eve of the trial and on his own motion, the trial judge threw out the case because, he said, the people Mr. Norse sued had official immunity.
On Dec. 15, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously sided with Mr. Norse. In a tart and persuasive opinion, Judge Sidney Thomas said that in ruling on his own motion — sua sponte — and without adequate notice, the trial judge had not given Mr. Norse a fair chance to be heard and had thus abused the legal process.
He also made plain that even a guy who’s a pest can count on the protections of the First Amendment. It’s all right to set reasonable time limits on public comments, Judge Thomas said. But if you have a right to be in a place, the right to free speech comes with you.
As the Ninth Circuit’s chief judge, Alex Kozinski, wrote in a concurring opinion about what he saw on the YouTube video, it “clearly shows that Norse’s sieg heil was momentary and casual, causing no disruption whatsoever.” Mr. Norse is not the only beneficiary of the appellate court ruling. All of us who value free speech, even when it is obnoxious, are stronger for it.
To read the decision for yourself, including Chief Judge Alex Kozinski's wonderful concurring opinion, please see:
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Space Shuttle launch as seen from St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine Record photo by DARON DEAN
Crossing the Bridge of Lions March 15, 2009, I saw the most beautiful Space Shuttle launch I had ever seen here in Florida. I thereupon reflected upon my work since the 1970s to expose governmental wrongdoing and assist ethical employee whistleblowers. We've come a long way, baby, but there is more to be done. In the words of poet Robert Frost, "I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."
That Space Shuttle has special meaning for me, because I won a precedent in the Department of Labor protecting the right of NASA contractor employees to speak their truths about contaminants in Space Shuttle cabin air -- specifically ethylene oxide.
NASA did not want to see its whistleblowers protected. We fought and won jurisdiction in that case, with the Secretary of Labor reversing a mossback old Administrative Law Judge thrice, just so one ethical Martin Marietta employee could enjoy her civil and constitutional right to a hearing.
Our Nation has a long way to go. Since that 1996 Clean Air Act whistleblower victory, another Space Shuttle has blown up, killing another seven astronauts.
As Robert Kennedy said at Berkeley, "it is not enough to allow dissent, we must demand it, for there is much to dissent from."
Scientists from around the world are coming to St. Augustine for a program on mosquito borne diseases. I am invited to speak to them on vindicating their free speech rights.
The answer to many of the world's problems is to be found in allowing scientists to practice the scientific method without fear or favor. That means no fear of governments or corporations that retaliate. It is up to all of us to speak out whenever a scientist's independence or integrity is threatened, whether by the Bush Administration's intimidation of EPA scientists concerned about pesticides or the City of Boca Raton, Florida's intimidation of wster department employees concerned about possible contamination due to low water pressure.
On November 20, 2008, the Anastasia Mosquito Control District of St. Johns County adopted a whistleblower protection policy. St. Johns County history was made when the AMCD adopted a policy to protect employee whistleblower rights to raise concerns:
AMCD POLICY 2008-01 -- PROTECTING SAFETY, HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT AND EMPLOYEE RIGHTS TO RAISE CONCERNS
Statement of Principles: The Anastasia Mosquito Control District of St. Johns County (AMCD) encourages employees to raise concerns rather than let them fester, to ask questions and make suggestions, and to work together to solve problems and make AMCD a safe, healthy, happy workplace by respecting principles of equality, openness, transparency and a good day's work for a good day's pay.
AMCD is committed to the highest standards of moral and ethical behavior by all its employees and in all business dealings. Employees are expected to conduct AMCD business in an ethical manner and in compliance with all appropriate laws and regulations. Further, employees have a responsibility to report suspected dishonest acts and/or fraudulent activity to appropriate AMCD officials. Employees acting in good faith to report suspected dishonest acts and/or fraudulent activity ¬will be protected against retaliation for making such report.
A. Environmental, Safety and Health Protection
1. AMCD will control mosquitoes safely and prudently at the lowest feasible cost, favoring natural methods (like reducing standing water), protecting and advancing environmental, safety and health protection.
2. All employees and citizens are encouraged to ask questions, raise issues and report concerns, including concerns about environment, safety and health, accountability or other AMCD governance issues.
3. Persons raising concerns will be respected and treated with courtesy. Concerns will be discussed with respect for individual rights.
4. Employees and supervisors are empowered to report their environmental, safety and health protection concerns to the Board of AMCD and to individual Board members without fear or favor.
1. AMCD expects high standards in protecting employees and the public. Employees are expected to report environment, safety and health concerns and management shall act upon them expeditiously.
C. Knowingly False Allegations Not Protected
Knowingly false allegations are not protected under this policy and AMCD may discipline and terminate employees making false allegations and otherwise defend itself in the event that employees report false allegations.
D. Florida Law For Other Types of Employee Concerns
Concerns other than environmental, health and safety concerns are protected by Florida’s whistleblower law, which provides:
FLORIDA WHISTLE-BLOWER’S ACT
112.3187 Adverse action against employee for disclosing information of specified nature prohibited; employee remedy and relief.—
(1) SHORT TITLE. – Sections 112.3187 – 112.31895 may be cited as the “Whistle-blower’s Act.”
(2) LEGISLATIVE INTENT.—It is the intent of the Legislature to prevent agencies or independent contractors from taking retaliatory action against an employee who reports to an appropriate agency violations of law on the part of a public employer or independent contractor that create a substantial and specific danger to the public’s health, safety, or welfare. It is further the intent of the Legislature to prevent agencies or independent contractors from taking retaliatory action against any person who discloses information to an appropriate agency alleging improper use of governmental office, gross waste of funds, or any other abuse or gross neglect of duty on the part of an agency, public officer, or employee.
(3) DEFINITIONS.—As used in this act, unless otherwise specified, the following words or terms shall have the meanings indicated:
(a) “Agency” means any state, regional, county, local, or municipal government entity, whether executive, judicial, or legislative; any official, officer, department, division, bureau, commission, authority, or political subdivision therein; or any public school, community college, or state university.
(b) “Employee” means a person who performs services for, and under the control and direction of, or contracts with, an agency or independent contractor for wages or other remuneration.
(c) “Adverse personnel action” means the discharge, suspension, transfer, or demotion of any employee or the withholding of bonuses, the reduction in salary or benefits, or any other adverse action taken against an employee within the terms and conditions of employment by an agency or independent contractor.
(d) “Independent contractor” means a person, other than an agency, engaged in any business and who enters into a contract including a provider agreement, with an agency.
(e) “Gross mismanagement” means a continuous pattern of managerial abuses, wrongful or arbitrary and capricious actions, or fraudulent or criminal conduct which may have a substantial adverse economic impact.
(4) ACTIONS PROHIBITED.—
(a) An agency or independent contractor shall not dismiss, discipline, or take any other adverse personnel action against an employee for disclosing information pursuant to the provisions of this section.
(b) An agency or independent contractor shall not take any adverse action that affects the rights or interests of a person in retaliation for the person’s disclosure of information under this section.
(c) The provisions of this subsection shall not be applicable when an employee or person discloses information known by the employee or person to be false.
(5) NATURE OF INFORMATION DISCLOSED.—The information disclosed under this section must include:
(a) Any violation or suspected violation of any federal, state, or local law, rule, or regulation committed by an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor which creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public’s health, safety, or welfare.
(b) Any act or suspected act of gross mismanagement, malfeasance, misfeasance, gross waste of public funds, suspected or actual Medicaid fraud or abuse, or gross neglect of duty committed by an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor.
(6) TO WHOM INFORMATION DISCLOSED.—The information disclosed under this section must be disclosed to any agency or federal government entity having the authority to investigate, police, manage, or otherwise remedy the violation or act, including but not limited to, the Office of the Chief Inspector General, an agency inspector general or the employee designated as agency inspector general under s. 112.3189(1) or inspectors general under s. 20.055, the Florida Commission on Human Relations, and the whistle-blower’s hotline created under s. 112.3189. However, for disclosures concerning a local governmental entity, including any regional, county, or municipal entity, special district, community college district, or school district or any political subdivision of any of the foregoing, the information much be disclosed to a chief executive officer as defined in s. 447.203(9) or other appropriate local official.
(7) EMPLOYEES AND PERSONS PROTECTED.—This section protects employees and persons who disclose information on their own initiative in a written and signed complaint; who are requested to participate in an investigation, hearing, or other inquiry conducted by any agency or federal government entity; who refuse to participate in any adverse action prohibited by this section; or who initiate a complaint through the whistle-blower’s hotline or the hotline of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Department of Legal Affairs; or employees who file any written complaint to their supervisory officials or employees who submit a complaint to the Chief Inspector General in the Executive Office of the Governor, to the employee designated as agency inspector general under s. 112.3189(1), or to the Florida Commission on Human Relations. The provisions of this section may not be used by a person while he or she is under the care, custody, or control of the state correctional system or, after release from the care, custody, or control of the state correctional system, with respect to circumstances that occurred during any period of incarceration. No remedy or other protection under ss. 112.3189-112.31895 applies to any person who has committed or intentionally participated in committing the violation or suspected violation for which protection under ss. 112.3187-112.31895 is being sought.
(a) Any employee of or applicant for employment with any state agency, as the term “state agency” is defined in s. 216.011, who is discharged, disciplined, or subjected to other adverse personnel action, or denied employment, because he or she engaged in an activity protected by this section may file a complaint, which complaint must be made in accordance with s. 112.31895. Upon receipt of notice from the Florida Commission on Human Relations of termination of the investigation, the complainant may elect to pursue the administrative remedy available under s. 112.31895 or bring a civil action within 180 days after receipt of the notice.
(b) Within 60 days after the action prohibited by this section, any local public employee protected by this section may file a complaint with the appropriate local governmental authority, if that authority has established by ordinance an administrative procedure for handling such complaints or has contracted with the Division of Administrative Hearings under s. 120.65 to conduct hearings under this section. The administrative procedure created by ordinance must provide for the complaint to be heard by a panel of impartial persons appointed by the appropriate local governmental authority. Upon hearing the complaint, the panel must make findings of fact and conclusions of law for a final decision by the local governmental authority. Within 180 days after entry of a final decision by the local governmental authority, the public employee who filed the complaint may bring civil action in any court of competent jurisdiction. If the local governmental authority has not established an administrative procedure by ordinance or contract a local public employee may, within 180 days after the action prohibited by this section, bring a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction. For the purpose of this paragraph, the term “local governmental authority” includes any regional, county, or municipal entity, special district, community college district, or school district or any political subdivision of any of the foregoing.
(c) Any other person protected by this section may, after exhausting all available contractual or administrative remedies, bring a civil action in any court of competent jurisdiction within 180 days after the action prohibited by this section.
(9) RELIEF.—In any action brought under this section, the relief must include the following:
(a) Reinstatement of the employee to the same position held before the adverse action was commenced, or to an equivalent position or reasonable front pay as alternative relief.
(b) Reinstatement of the employee’s full fringe benefits and seniority rights, as appropriate.
(c) Compensation, if appropriate, for lost wages, benefits, or other lost remuneration caused by the adverse action.
(d) Payment of reasonable costs, including attorney’s fees, to a substantially prevailing employee, or to the prevailing employer if the employee filed a frivolous action in bad faith.
(e) Issuance of an injunction, if appropriate, by a court of competent jurisdiction.
(f) Temporary reinstatement to the employee’s former position or to an equivalent position, pending the final outcome on the complaint, if an employee complains of being discharged in retaliation for a protected disclosure and if a court of competent jurisdiction or the Florida Commission on Human Relations, as applicable under s. 112.31895, determines that the disclosure was not made in bad faith or for a wrongful purpose or occurred after an agency’s initiation of a personnel action against the employee which includes documentation of the employee’s violation of a disciplinary standard or performance deficiency. This paragraph does not apply to an employee of a municipality.
(10) DEFENSES.—It shall be an affirmative defense to any action brought pursuant to this section that the adverse action was predicated upon grounds other than, and would have been taken absent, the employee’s or person’s exercise of rights protected by this section.
(11) EXISTING RIGHTS.—Sections 112.3187-112.31895 do not diminish the rights, privileges, or remedies of an employee under any other law or rule or under any collective bargaining agreement or employment contract; however, the election of remedies in s. 447.401 also applies to whistle-blower actions.
AMCD celebrate its 60th anniversary last year. We appreciate its wisdom in protecting whistleblowers and urge all other governments in the world to follow its example.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Sometime later today, this blog will host its 150,000th visitor.
It's the blog that keeps the people informed about St. Augustine and St. Johns County environmental, pollution and corruption issues.
It's the blog that brought you the news about the City's illegal solid waste and sewage dumping.
It's the blog that erstwhile City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRISS loved to hate.
It's the blog that helped inform the people, who helped escort HARRISS out the door in 2010.
It's the blog that broke the story of the transcript of the FBU;s THOMAS G. MANUEL tapes that showed how SHERIFF DAVID SHOAR and lawyer GEORGE McCLURE high-fived each other over MANUEL's arrest, while waxing nostalgic about the days when County Commissioners didn't pay attention to any uppity citizens (just developers).
It's the blog you might call "The Little Engine That Could," after the children's story that teaches optimism ("I think I can" is my mantra).
It's been around since Earth Day 2006, with 4527 posts in the intervening four years and eight months of service to our community, state and Nation.
As Ronald Reagan said, "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
St. Augustine National Seashore Will Help Protect Calving Ground of World's Most Endangered Whales (Only 350 Right Whales Left)
When I first proposed the St. Augustine National Historical Park and Seashore on November 13, 2006, there was no Eureka moment. There were no cheers. Instead, the retiring St. Augustine Mayor, GEORGE R. GARDNER, insulted me as a "disbarred lawyer," to the cheers of 75 members of the all-white St. Augustine Yacht Club (which won a no-bid contract to take over the Lighthouse Park Community Center, formerly a family restaurant, with great views of Anastasia State Park). I wore their scorn as a badge of honor.
The St. Augustine Record editorial by Peter Ellis came six days later, defending my honor against Hizzoner's ad hominem yappy, sappy attack on my free speech rights.
Today, nearly 50 months later, the National Park and Seashore idea is taking off, and we have only the wisdom and decency of the people of St. Augustine to thank. With bipartisan support, we can save endangered species, create good jobs, protect our environment, revive our economy and create something wonderful, for which our grandchildren (and their grandchildren) will thank us.
"If it is to be, it is up to me."
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: Republican Seats a "Target-Rich Environment," the "Best Defense is a Strong Offense."
Our new chairman, Steve Israel, has built a powerful candidate recruitment team and is already hard at work identifying strong candidates for the 2012 campaign. With just 25 seats standing between Democrats and our House Majority, we’re pulling out all the stops to get the job done.
Our early analysis of the 2012 map indicates a target rich environment. There are 61 seats that President Obama won in 2008 which now have a Republican Congressman. And, of those, 14 seats were won by Senator Kerry in 2004 – that’s more than half of what we need to pick-up to take the Majority.
FOLIO WEEKLY BACKPAGE EDITORIAL by FAYE ARMITAGE In Support of St. Augustine National Historical Park and Seashore
St. Augustine’s small-town Spanish Colonial charm is in
danger of being ruined by schlock. We love St. Augustine
and must preserve the beauty of endangered Matanzas Inlet
sunsets, Anastasia Island beach mice, nesting leatherback
turtles, soaring families of bald eagles and frolicking schools
of manatees and whales. Florida’s First Coast deserves a first
class National Park for the 500th anniversary of Spanish
Florida (in 2013) and 450th anniversary of St. Augustine
The late U.S. Speaker of the House
Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill and Edward
Boland of Massachusetts made history in
1958, courageously working to protect
Cape Cod’s charm forever. Boland returned
in 1958 from a trip to Cape Hatteras
National Seashore. Within a fortnight, the
two Massachusetts Democrats introduced
the Cape Cod National Seashore Act
(backed by John F. Kennedy only after he
Commercial interests thought that a
national seashore would be bad for business.
They were wrong. Today we scoff at
the quaint story of O’Neill and Boland
being hung in effigy and booed in the Cape
Cod towns of Wellfleet and Truro, where
citizens, in their annual town meetings,
voted against the bill.
Even JFK, the Pulitzer Prize-winning
author of “Profiles in Courage,” feared local
commercial interests in Massachusetts
when it came to proposing a national
seashore. JFK later came aboard as president,
to consider the National Seashore the
best thing he ever did for Massachusetts.
Today’s visitors to Cape Cod come from
around the world to partake of its charm,
marshes, woodlands, beaches and towns
that were saved thanks to the vision of
Congressmen O’Neill and Boland.
A St. Augustine National Park was first
proposed before World War II. The idea is
five years older than President Harry S Truman’s
national health insurance proposal.
And as with national health care, Congress
too often resembles a herd of turtles trying
to write a symphony. It’s somewhat understandable
that our two busy U.S. Senators
(and Representative John Luigi Mica)
haven’t introduced a National Historical
Park, Seashore and Scenic Coastal Parkway.
Legislation moves glacially, except in emergencies.
We have one now.
Our local economy is in a state of emergency.
Businesses are dying. We’re ready for
Congress to stimulate our economy and
preserve our way of life by enacting a St.
Augustine National Historical Park,
Seashore and Scenic Coastal Parkway Act,
supported by a diverse group of citizens,
from octogenarian environmental activist
Robin Nadeau to former Republican
County Commission Chairperson John
Sundeman to St. Augustine Democratic
Club Chairperson Jeanne Moeller, among a
growing group of people concerned about
the declining quality of the tourist experience
in St. Johns County.
A National Historical Park would preserve
and protect St. Augustine’s historic
downtown with the dignity and experience
of the National Park Service, just as parts of
Boston, New Bedford, Philadelphia and
other historic cities are preserved. It would
step into the breach left by the Florida legislature,
Secretary of State, University of
Florida and city of St. Augustine, all of
whom have been unable to repair crumbling
buildings and historic monuments. A
national historical park would preserve
downtown streets and reduce congestion,
improving the tourist experience and making
it one that longer-staying (and biggerspending)
historic and environmental
tourists will enjoy.
A national historic park managed by the
National Park Service would portray history
and nature accurately, as done in Virginia’s
Colonial Williamsburg and the
Colonial National Historical Parkway.
There could also be a National Civil Rights
and Indigenous History Museum, aimed at
telling the region’s story of 11,000 years of
human history, honoring Native Americans,
African-Americans and the Civil
Rights movement here, which helped win
adoption of national antidiscrimination
laws in 1964. The struggles on St. Augustine’s
streets and beaches, including the
arrest of Massachusetts Governor Endicott
Peabody’s mother and Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr., need to be retold and told well.
soldiers monument in St. Augustine’s Plaza
de la Constitucion, paying tribute to Civil
Rights Era activists whose efforts helped
break the Senate logjam and enact basic
A national seashore and coastal parkway
designation would protect the coast from
uglification, as at other national seashores.
We have 61 miles of coast here, and the
transfer from county to federal jurisdiction
would save local tax monies and make environmental
protection a priority on beaches
where turtles land to give birth, and where
beach mice and other critters scamper.
In September, watch Ken Burns’ PBS
documentary “Our National Parks: America’s
Best Idea.” Think of how uplifting it
will be to be able to drive from Ponte Vedra
to Marineland as a tourist or resident,
secure in the knowledge that the beaches
will survive and not be turned into some
unreasonable facsimile of Miami.
Think of the economic efficiency and
environmental benefits of entrusting city
and county parks, seashore water management
district land and at least five state
parks (including Anastasia and Guana-
Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine
Reserve) to one world-class organization
(the National Park Service) to protect, preserve
and interpret, rather than allowing
the land to be ripped apart by greed.
Think of the good jobs that will encourage
young people to stay here, working as
National Park Service employees and contractors.
Think of historic interpreters and
environmental tour guides who are
rewarded with a federal showcase, inviting
the world to a world-class destination.
Let’s enlist Congress and the president
to help us tell our region’s rich history —
including the story of the Indians, African-
American slaves and Minorcan and Greek
indentured servants (who escaped to St.
Augustine from New Smyrna Beach, “voting
with their feet” against slavery by contract.
Indentured servitude was outlawed
along with regular slavery with the 13th
Amendment in 1865.
Think of how our tourist economy will
be stimulated and jobs created and preserved
by preserving the stunning vistas
that draw people here, not uglifying them
with massive high-rises, suburban sprawl
and unsafe homes built in wetlands.
Think of how fourth-graders now and
in the future, from all over Florida, will be
rewarded for their studies of Florida history
by helping preserve “the real Florida” — St.
Augustine and St. Johns County — forever.
It is up to us to learn from the young
and to protect Northeast Florida for families,
flora, fauna and the future. Visit
staugustgreen.com for more information
and let your neighbors and national and
local leaders know what you think.
Faye Armitage lives in Fruit Cove. In 2008,
she ran against nine-term Congressional
incumbent John Mica, receiving nearly 150,000 votes.
America in Decline: Why Germans Think We're Insane
By Democrats Ramshield, AlterNet
Posted on December 26, 2010, Printed on December 28, 2010
As an American expat living in the European Union, I’ve started to see America from a different perspective.
The European Union has a larger economy and more people than America does. Though it spends less -- right around 9 percent of GNP on medical, whereas we in the U.S. spend close to between 15 to 16 percent of GNP on medical -- the EU pretty much insures 100 percent of its population.
The U.S. has 59 million people medically uninsured; 132 million without dental insurance; 60 million without paid sick leave; 40 million on food stamps. Everybody in the European Union has cradle-to-grave access to universal medical and a dental plan by law. The law also requires paid sick leave; paid annual leave; paid maternity leave. When you realize all of that, it becomes easy to understand why many Europeans think America has gone insane.
Der Spiegel has run an interesting feature called "A Superpower in Decline," which attempts to explain to a German audience such odd phenomena as the rise of the Tea Party, without the hedging or attempts at "balance" found in mainstream U.S. media. On the Tea Parties:
Full of Hatred: "The Tea Party, that group of white, older voters who claim that they want their country back, is angry. Fox News host Glenn Beck, a recovering alcoholic who likens Obama to Adolf Hitler, is angry. Beck doesn't quite know what he wants to be -- maybe a politician, maybe president, maybe a preacher -- and he doesn't know what he wants to do, either, or least he hasn't come up with any specific ideas or plans. But he is full of hatred."
The piece continues with the sobering assessment that America’s actual unemployment rate isn’t really 10 percent, but close to 20 percent when we factor in the number of people who have stopped looking for work.
Some social scientists think that making sure large-scale crime or fascism never takes root in Europe again requires a taxpayer investment in a strong social safety net. Can we learn from Europe? Isn't it better to invest in a social safety net than in a large criminal justice system? (In America over 2 million people are incarcerated.)
Jobless Benefits That Never Run Out
Unlike here, in Germany jobless benefits never run out. Not only that -- as part of their social safety net, all job seekers continue to be medically insured, as are their families.
In the German jobless benefit system, when "jobless benefit 1" runs out, "jobless benefit 2," also known as HartzIV, kicks in. That one never gets cut off. The jobless also have contributions made for their pensions. They receive other types of insurance coverage from the state. As you can imagine, the estimated 2 million unemployed Americans who almost had no benefits this Christmas seems a particular horror show to Europeans, made worse by the fact that the U.S. government does not provide any medical insurance to American unemployment recipients. Europeans routinely recoil at that in disbelief and disgust.
In another piece the Spiegel magazine steps away from statistics and tells the story of Pam Brown, who personifies what is coming to be known as the Nouveau American poor. Pam Brown was a former executive assistant on Wall Street, and her shocking decline has become part of the American story:
American society is breaking apart. Millions of people have lost their jobs and fallen into poverty. Among them, for the first time, are many middle-class families. Meet Pam Brown from New York, whose life changed overnight. The crisis caught her unprepared. "It was horrible," Pam Brown remembers. "Overnight I found myself on the wrong side of the fence. It never occurred to me that something like this could happen to me. I got very depressed." Brown sits in a cheap diner on West 14th Street in Manhattan, stirring her $1.35 coffee. That's all she orders -- it's too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. She also needs to save money. Until early 2009, Brown worked as an executive assistant on Wall Street, earning more than $80,000 a year, living in a six-bedroom house with her three sons. Today, she's long-term unemployed and has to make do with a tiny one-bedroom in the Bronx.
It's important to note that no country in the European Union uses food stamps in order to humiliate its disadvantaged citizens in the grocery checkout line. Even worse is the fact that even the humbling food stamp allotment may not provide enough food for America’s jobless families. So it is on a reoccurring basis that some of these families report eating out of garbage cans to the European media.
For Pam Brown, last winter was the worst. One day she ran out of food completely and had to go through trash cans. She fell into a deep depression ... For many, like Brown, the downfall is a Kafkaesque odyssey, a humiliation hard to comprehend. Help is not in sight: their government and their society have abandoned them.
Pam Brown and her children were disturbingly, indeed incomprehensibly, allowed to fall straight to the bottom. The richest country in the world becomes morally bankrupt when someone like Pam Brown and her children have to pick through trash to eat, abandoned with a callous disregard by the American government. People like Brown have found themselves dispossessed due to the robber baron actions of the Wall Street elite.
Hunger in the Land of the Big Mac
A shocking headline from a Swiss newspaper reads (Berner Zeitung) “Hunger in the Land of the Big Mac.” Though the article is in German, the pictures are worth 1,000 words and need no translation. Given the fact that the Swiss virtually eliminated hunger, how do we as Americans think they will view these pictures, to which the American population has apparently been desensitized.
This appears to be a picture of two mothers collecting food boxes from the charity Feed the Children.
Perhaps the only way for us to remember what we really look like in America is to see ourselves through the eyes of others. While it is true that we can all be proud Americans, surely we don't have to be proud of the broken American social safety net. Surely we can do better than that. Can a European-style social safety net rescue the American working and middle classes from GOP and Tea Party warfare?
© 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/149324/
WILLIAM B. HARRISS is at right; ex-Commissioner DONALD CRICHLOW is at left.
The St. Augustine WRecKord did it again last Thursday. It being the eve of Christmas Eve, I neglected to mention it, out of a spirit of Christian charity, I suppose.
On the eve of Christmas Eve, it published another mash note to former City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRISS. See below. As my mother would say about such a non-article (on the front page), "how trite!" So WILLIAM HARRISS likes to hide in trees and shoot Bambi's father. How revealing. So WILLIAM B. HARRISS likes to play golf. How indescribably dull.
Just as when HARRISS retired, there was no mention of Environmental Racism; malign neglect of Lincolnville and West Augustine African-American communities; dumping 40,000 cubic yards of solid waste in our Old City Reservoir in West Augustine and seeking to bring it back to Lincolnville for a "park"; dumping semi-treated sewage effluent into our saltwater marsh for years through a "pipe" that was more like a sieve (300 feet missing); emitting hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage into our San Sebastian River; habitual caving-in to tree-killing, wetland-destroying "developers" like ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD (who has since left town); renewal of cable TV and electric power francise agreements on terms unfavorable to the City and consumers; habitual no-bid contracts and Sunshine and Open Records violations; and emotional, hostile responses to First Amendment protected activity by everyone from artiss and entertainers to speakers at City Commission meetings.
For that, you would have to read this blog.
But I reckon St. Augustine now has a real newspaper, to uncover what the St. Augustine WRecKord habitually covers up. In fact, the next issue of the St. Augustine Underground is out Friday, December 31, 2010. St. Augustine Underground is published by the Milwaukee Journal, and is ably edited by Ponte Vedra Recorder editor Mark Pettus.
Here's a New Year's cheer for the St. Augustine Underground, which we hope fulfills what our Founders had in mind in adopting our First Amendment.
As U.S. District Judge Murray Gurfein, a Nixon appointee serving his first day on the bench, wrote as the trial judge in the Pentagon Papers case, the “security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know." U. S. v. New York Times Co., 328 F. Supp. 324, 325 (S.D.N.Y. 1971)(Gurfein, J.).
Where are they now: Bill Harriss
In the news: St. Augustine City Manager Bill Harriss retired June 29 after 25 years of working for the city, including 12 as city manager.
Harriss is known for his dislike of "fru-fru stuff," as he calls emotional moments. His send-off speech was short and to the point: "While I appreciate that all of you are here, I've tried to keep the city's interests first. That's what's important."
What he's doing now: Retirement hasn't changed him much.
"I've been playing lots of golf, and I've been working on an addition on the house," Harriss said.
Throw in two or three trips to the mountains of North Carolina ("When it was hotter; not now.") and you have an idea of how retirement is going.
He's planning on going on a hunting trip to West Florida where he'll sit in a stand at the top of a tree and wait for a big enough buck. If it's not the right size, he'll just enjoy the outdoors. It's been four years, he noted, since he's seen a buck the right size.
Harriss hasn't lost his interest in the city:
"It's fun to watch from the sidelines and not to have the baton in your hand. I'm never going to forget my children, which is the city ... sometimes you have to let them fly on their own."
However, the story below quotes sink using the word "suck" as a pejorative ("losing sucks"). That's coarse. It's also homophobic, as any middle schooler knows.
Please, Ms. Sink, clean up your act -- such vulgarisms are all too common in our society today. If you're ever going to use "suck" as a pejorative again, please use a funny noun, as in "sucks Republicans!" Or "sucks elephants."
McClatchy News Service: CFO Alex Sink to Start Florida-oriented Think Tank Inspired by Brookings Institution
Sink not about to retire
TALLAHASSEE -- Stung by a narrow defeat in a governor's race she says she never expected to lose, Alex Sink is retiring from public office, but not from public view.
The departure of the chief financial officer and Democrat, who lost to Republican Rick Scott by 62,000 votes, leaves Tallahassee with no Democratic statewide officeholder left standing. Dozens of Sink's employees must either leave government or seek work with Republicans, who control the Legislature and all three Cabinet posts.
To fill a void, and continue the policy work begun by her campaign, Sink told The Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times that she wants to establish a nonprofit, nonpartisan, Brookings Institution-style think tank to advance the policies she focused on during her campaign and to keep herself in play for her next political move.
"I'm not closing any doors,'' said Sink, 62. "I'm at the stage of my life when I've learned never to say never.''
Since she conceded defeat the morning after the election, Sink said she has been on a "roller coaster'' about her loss. She alternates between being pleased with the narrow margin in a year when many Democrats were trounced by double digits and second-guessing whether her campaign could have done more to find votes.
"Losing sucks, no matter how much you lose by,'' Sink said recently, as she prepared to move from Tallahassee back to her Thonotosassa home outside Tampa. "Coming so close doesn't take the sting out of it because so many people were so invested in a future with me.''
Sink hopes to tap into her cross-party support to advance causes she is passionate about, such as small business, children's issues, education, lowering the state's insurance risk, the exploding costs of incarcerating prisoners and the battle over redistricting.
"Just because I was the loser of the election doesn't mean those ideas can't be presented and advocated for,'' Sink said.
She traveled to Washington, D.C. in mid-December to meet Brookings Institution officials and learn more about their program model and, during her "thank you'' tour around the state, she said "thought leaders'' and supporters told her they "are looking for leadership.''
One of her major concerns -- small-business access to credit -- appeared nowhere on the radar screen when she met with the corporation-controlled business lobbying groups in Tallahassee during the campaign, Sink said. A former member of the board of directors for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, she lost the group's endorsement to Scott and now wants to use her business background and experience working for Bank of America to increase the profile of small business issues.
"When I did my endorsement interview with the Florida Chamber, for example, they weren't asking me anything about the issues that businesses were telling me were their challenges,'' Sink said. "There's a disconnect there.''
Sink won't say if she'll be running for governor in 2014, but she's not ruling it out. She is definitely "not running for mayor of Tampa,'' although she has been recruited by many, she said. "My heart wouldn't be there.''
Sink's reach will extend deeply into the Demoratic Party, where her running mate, Rod Smith, is expected to be elected to replace Karen Thurman as party chairman during the annual meeting on Jan. 8.
The pair hopes to reenergize the party by recruiting fresh faces to elected office, and "stake out that brand of moderate, fiscally conservative Democratic focus,'' Sink said.
"Alex is going to be very engaged,'' Smith said. "Her future will be whatever she chooses it to be.''
Florida Education Commissioner Betty Castor, a Tampa Democrat and Sink friend who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate against Mel Martinez in 2004, predicted "it won't be too hard for Alex to stay active in the public policy arena. She has a lot of interests and talents.''
One thing Sink is sure about: Her decision to unwittingly accept a cell phone with a text message during a break in her last debate with Scott was no attempt at cheating. She believes she was unfairly labeled a cheater by bloggers who were influenced by "Scott's spin machine'' and "the worst part of it is that John King on CNN repeated it.''
"Fortunately for me, it didn't influence the votes,'' Sink said.
Sink already has a few assignments for Smith and party leaders, such as learning more about why Democratic voters in Palm Beach and Broward counties don't turn out to vote in mid-term elections.
The drop in turnout was one of many factors that cost her the election, she said. Eight years ago when Sink's husband, Bill McBride, challenged then-Gov. Jeb Bush, Democrats attributed the lower turnout in South Florida to the fact that it took nine days call to call the election for McBride over his opponent Janet Reno. But the pattern repeated this year and Democrats didn't expect it, Sink said.
"What are the dynamics that are causing people not to vote?'' Sink said. "Is it an organizational issue or do we just have a group of voters down there that just care about federal races?''
Should Rick Scott be looking over his shoulder?
"No, he should do his job and do his job well,'' Sink said.
But she warns that if the new governor takes on too much, such as pursuing universal education vouchers and massive agency overhauls, he could become distracted from more pressing issues.
"I just hope they stay focused on the issue at hand for Florida, which is how do they get people back to work.''
Monday, December 27, 2010
OFCCP Seeks to Strengthen Affirmative Action Requirements for People with Disabilities
The OFCCP has expressed its intent to strengthen the affirmative action requirements of federal contractors to employ people with disabilities. It issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) asking for comments on the “range of successful evidence-based practices employers use to recruit, hire, retain and advance” the disabled. The ANPR stated that it was considering adopting measures “similar to those for supply and service contractors” under Executive Order 11246 including numerical measurements. The OFCCP sought public comment on several issues, including the following:
For a complete copy of the ANPR as it appears in the Federal Register, click here.
In recent months, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs of the United States Department of Labor (“OFCCP”) has made clear that it will vigorously pursue government contractors who are not in compliance with the affirmative action and nondiscrimination requirements of Executive Order 11246, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended. In pointed contrast to the more conciliatory approach that OFCCP historically has utilized, OFCCP has taken the following action:
- OFCCP has formally ended the agency’s longstanding Case Management Process that had focused the agency’s enforcement efforts and resources on cases involving systemic discrimination. Under OFCCP’s discontinued protocols, investigations in which there was "no indicator of systemic discrimination (i.e. 10 or more potential victims") most often were resolved and closed out at the desk audit stage. OFCCP will now apply stricter scrutiny to investigations in which there is evidence of individual disparate treatment or failure to adhere to technical affirmative action requirements. Contractors, therefore, are well advised to ensure that any and all submissions to OFCCP are meticulously and accurately prepared and reviewed.
- OFCCP has traditionally focused and limited its investigations by “establishment.” OFCCP Director Patricia Shiu recently announced, however, that the agency will attempt to impose nationwide obligations and remedies where there is evidence that a contractor’s policies or practices are in place at more than one establishment. This enforcement initiative faces almost-certain legal challenge in light of relevant regulatory language and historical enforcement practice.
- OFCCP Director Shiu has made enhanced veterans’ employment a primary goal of the agency’s regulatory initiatives. To this end, the agency is actively considering whether to compel contractors to meet numerical benchmarks in the hiring of protected veterans. The agency’s implementation of additional numerical goals will add to the compliance and recordkeeping burden that currently challenges contractors in the hiring of women and minorities under Executive Order 11246.
- OFCCP traditionally has filed few administrative complaints, eschewing litigation in favor of conciliation and negotiation. OFCCP recently, though, has trumpeted the filing of three complaints: 1) a complaint against Tyson Foods for alleged systemic discrimination against women seeking entry-level positions at the Company’s Joslin, Illinois plant; 2) a complaint against Meyer Tool for alleged systemic discrimination against African-American applicants seeking entry-level machinist positions at the Company’s Cincinnati, Ohio plant; and 3) a complaint against Nash Finch for alleged systemic discrimination seeking order selector positions at the Company’s Lumberton, North Carolina plant. Although OFCCP by no means has discarded conciliation as the preferred method of dispute resolution, the filing of these complaints cannot be ignored. Contractors now assume at their own risk that non-compliance can be smoothed over by protracted negotiations.
- According to published reports, OFCCP plans to continue its practice of issuing Corporate Scheduling Announcement letters. These letters provide contractors with advance notice that two or more of their establishments may be subject to OFCCP investigations. In light of the significant changes at OFCCP, contractors receiving such letters should take advantage of any such advance notice and take steps to audit their affirmative action plans, payroll and compensation practices, and generally ensure that they are in compliance with OFCCP regulatory requirements both at the establishments that OFCCP has officially targeted and at other establishments that now more than ever could become enmeshed in OFCCP investigations.
Baker Hostetler has extensive experience in the maze of OFCCP requirements and stands ready to help contractors navigate through OFCCP compliance issues and investigations. Please contact the Baker Hostetler attorney with whom you normally communicate or feel free to call or email David Grant (firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.861.1638) or Tom Seger (email@example.com or 216.861.7416).
All best wishes for the holidays and for a safe and healthy New Year.
Baker & Hostetler LLP publications are intended to inform our clients and other friends of the Firm about current legal developments of general interest. They should not be construed as legal advice, and readers should not act upon the information contained in these publications without professional counsel. The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements. Before you decide, ask us to send you written information about our qualifications and experience. © 2010 Baker & Hostetler LLP
OFCCP Stepping Up Investigations and Audits
On Wednesday, August 4, 2010 Patricia Shiu, Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) delivered a keynote speech to the National Industry Liaison Group in Las Vegas, Nevada. Director Shiu’s comments spanned a range of equal employment topics. Issues of particular interest to employers are: equal pay, enforcement, and a partnership between the OFCCP and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Director Shiu discussed the hardships faced by women and minorities who do not receive the same pay for the same job as their male or non-minority comparators. She vowed “[t]he OFCCP is working on pay equity issues.” She went on to discuss a partnership between the EEOC and the OFCCP focused on equal pay “[t]he EEOC and the OFCCP have embarked on a new path of partnership . . . [o]ur work together on implementing the White House Pay Equity Initiative affords our respective agencies the unique opportunity to work in concert . . . ”
Director Shiu also highlighted the OFCCP’s focus on enforcement. “With respect to enforcement, the OFCCP is working to transform its enforcement procedures to be more effective, more efficient, and more pro-active. The OFCCP staff across the country is stepping up their investigations and audits, ensuring accuracy, thoroughness, and quality outcomes. Excellence is the standard.”
What does this mean to employers?
Over the past year, we have seen an increased focus from government agencies on enforcement and investigation. Director Shiu’s comments further reinforce the government’s intent. The equal rights agenda is laudable; however, there are potential ramifications for employers. EEO Logic commented in our June blog post on the need for robust policies and procedures and regular self-critical analysis to protect against potential claims of systemic discrimination. Director Shiu’s speech and her focus on equal pay, enforcement, and intra-agency partnerships highlight the need for robust systems. What appear to be simple business decisions, when statistically analyzed, or considered as a group of unrelated decisions, may lead to an inference of discrimination.
EEO Logic will help you navigate the Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity Maze. Affirmative Action and Equal Employment laws and regulations are the core of EEO Logic’s business – it is what we focus on. Turn your compliance activity over to the experts so you can focus on your core business.
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USDOJ: Attorney General Sues BP for Deepwater Horizon "Spill" Costs Under Oil Pollution Act for All Removal Costs & Damage to Our Natural Resources
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Attorney General Eric Holder Announces Civil Lawsuit Against Nine Defendants for Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the Justice Department has filed a civil lawsuit against nine defendants in the matter of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The lawsuit asks the court for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act and to declare eight of the defendants liable without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act for all removal costs and damages caused by the oil spill, including damages to natural resources.
In the complaint filed today in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans, the United States alleges violations of federal safety and operational regulations which caused or contributed to the oil spill that began on April 20, 2010 when an explosion and fire destroyed the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50 miles from the Mississippi River delta. This action will become part of the multi-district litigation pending before Judge Barbier in federal court in New Orleans.
“We intend to prove that these defendants are responsible for government removal costs, economic losses, and environmental damages without limitation,” said Attorney General Holder. “Even though the spill has been contained, the Department’s focus on investigating this disaster and preventing future devastation has not wavered. Both our civil and criminal investigations continue, and our work to ensure that the American taxpayers are not forced to bear the costs of restoring the gulf area and its economy is moving forward.”
The defendants named in the lawsuit are BP Exploration and Production Inc.; Anadarko Exploration & Production LP and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (known collectively as “Anadarko Defendants”); MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC; Triton Asset Leasing GMBH, Transocean Holdings LLC, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc., and Transocean Deepwater Inc. (known collectively as “Transocean Defendants”); and Transocean’s insurer, QBE Underwriting Ltd./Lloyd’s Syndicate 1036. QBE/Lloyd’s can be held liable only up to the amount of insurance policy coverage under the Oil Pollution Act and is not being sued under the Clean Water Act.
According to the complaint, important safety and operating regulations were violated in the period leading up to the April 20, 2010 Oil Spill, including:
Failing to take necessary precautions to keep the Macondo Well under control in the period leading up to the April 20th explosion;
Failing to use the best available and safest drilling technology to monitor the well’s conditions;
Failing to maintain continuous surveillance; and
Failing to use and maintain equipment and material that were available and necessary to ensure the safety and protection of personnel, equipment, natural resources, and the environment.
The complaint alleges that these violations caused or contributed to the massive oil spill, and that the defendants are therefore responsible for removal costs and damages without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act.
The complaint also includes claims for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act, which prohibits the unauthorized discharge of oil into the nation’s waters. It alleges that the defendants named in the lawsuit were in violation of the Act throughout the months that oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
The ongoing civil investigation into the Gulf Spill is being handled by the Assistant Attorneys General Ignacia Moreno and Tony West of the Environment and Natural Resources Division and the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Huffington Post/Law Professor Geoffrey R. Stone: "America's Promise: Reflections on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal" As Landmark Civil Rights Victory
America's most profound achievement in this quest was of course the abolition of African slavery, which was attained only after a bitter and bloody Civil War that cost the lives of more than 600,000 Americans. Another fundamental milestone was the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which for the first time guaranteed women the right to vote.
But despite these and other achievements, at the end of World War II the United States was still basically a white, male, Protestant society. Every president in American history had been a white male Protestant. Every justice of the Supreme Court had been a white male. The United States Senate in 1945 was made up of 98 white males. Only one woman (Frances Perkins) and no African-American, Hispanic-American or Asian-American had ever served in a president's cabinet.
In 1945, racial segregation was rampant, women were once again (after the War) relegated to the kitchen, Jews often felt the need to change their names (an early version of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell") in an effort to avoid religious discrimination, Japanese-Americans were struggling to put their devastated lives back together after finally being released from American internment camps, and gays were buried so deep in the closet that most people were certain they had never met one.
In the 65 years since the end of World War II, however, we have made significant strides. Here is an illustrative timeline of our progress:
1948: President Harry Truman orders the desegregation of the armed forces.
1954: The Supreme Court rules in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation is "inherently" unequal and therefore unconstitutional.
1959: Hiram Fong is elected as the nation's first Asian-American senator.
1960: John F. Kennedy is elected as the nation's first Catholic president.
1964: Congress enacts the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, religion or gender.
1966: Lyndon Johnson appoints Robert Weaver as the nation's first African-American cabinet secretary.
1967: The Supreme Court rules in Loving v. Virginia that laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional.
1967: Lyndon Johnson appoints Thurgood Marshall as the nation's first African-American Supreme Court justice.
1968: Congress enacts the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibits racial and religious discrimination in housing.
1970: The Supreme Court holds for the first time a law that discriminating against women violates the Equal Protection Clause.
1973: Richard Nixon appoints Henry Kissinger as the nation's first Jewish secretary of state.
1981: Ronald Reagan appoints Sandra Day O'Connor as the nation's first woman Supreme Court justice.
1982: Gerry Studds is elected the nation's first openly-gay member of Congress.
1984: The Democrats nominate Geraldine Ferraro as the nation's first woman vice-presidential candidate of a major political party.
1988: George H.W. Bush appoints Lauro F. Cavazos as the nation's first Hispanic-American cabinet member.
1990: Congress enacts the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.
1993: The Hawaii Supreme Court rules that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
1997: Bill Clinton appoints Madeline Albright as the nation's first woman secretary of state.
2000: Bill Clinton appoints Norman Mineta as the nation's first Asian-American cabinet member.
2000: The Democrats nominate Joseph Lieberman as the nation's first Jewish vice-presidential candidate of a major political party.
2001: George W. Bush appoints Colin Powell as the nation's first African-American secretary of state.
2003: The Supreme Court rules in Lawrence v. Texas that the government cannot constitutionally punish gays and lesbians for engaging in same-sex sex.
2007: Keith Ellison is elected as the nation's first Muslim member of Congress.
2008: Barack Obama is elected as the nation's first African-American president.
2009: Barack Obama appoints Sonia Sotomayor as the nation's first Hispanic-American Supreme Court justice.
2010: Congress enacts legislation allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces.
This is an admirable record of progress, and we should be proud as a nation of how far we have come. This is not to say, however, that there have not been setbacks. The defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment and the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act are notable examples. But despite the regressive forces of intolerance, ignorance, and bigotry, Americans have a way of returning to what Lincoln described as "the better angels of our nature."
None of this comes easy. Almost every step forward has been the result of a small but determined group of farsighted Americans who see injustice when others do not, and who then work tirelessly and often courageously to help others see the light. If we do not lose heart and continue to push forward despite the forces of "tradition," fear and prejudice, then we may someday see a woman president, an openly-gay Supreme Court justice, and a Muslim secretary of state. This is, after all, America's promise.