Thursday, June 30, 2005

Sleeping in Farragut Square

On June 28, I had the opportunity to view two very different Washingtons. First, I was on Capitol Hill, attending a hearing on religious tolerance at the Air Force Academy and a press conference and platform rollout for the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Great Congressional leaders like Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee spoke about the need to protect equality of opportunity, not just the top one percent, and the importance of a safety net for those who cannot always do the job themselves. Jesse Jackson spoke of the need to protect the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which has been under attack as the Bush administration stands idly by and lets states chip away at our most cherished and most important right.

After leaving Capitol Hill, I took the metro down to Farragut Square and saw why the goals of the Congressional Progressive Caucus were so important. Four blocks from the White House, in the capital city of the richest nation that the world has ever known, people were sitting on benches in the square, with everything they own in the world in a bag next to them. These people, men and women, were dirty, looked tired, hungry, and dejected. They could see the affluence around them. People were going to and from work wearing suits, talking on cell phones, listening to music, and all they could do was stare blankly ahead. Most would probably not have a roof over their head that night, and where their next meal would come from was unknown.

The system failed these people. They are Americans. They deserve both opportunity and security, but they have fallen through the cracks. Undoubtedly some of them are veterans, and wore the uniform and defended this country, only to come back and be neglected and ignored. Even if they are not veterans, however, no one deserves to be treated this way.

And yet President Bush believes that there are no problems in America today that cannot be fixed with a tax cut. I wonder if President Bush has taken the opportunity, as he speeds through Washington's streets in one of his armored limousines or over the city in his Marine helicopter on his way to his private 747, to look around him and see the problems in the streets. This is not an unreasonable question. It is not like he has to go to New Delhi, Mozambique, or Mexico City, or even to San Francisco, Atlanta, or the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. All he has to do to see the poverty that Americans live with every day is walk four blocks to Farragut Square.

A society is judged be the least of its citizens. President Bush has forgotten this and is instead toadying to his cronies and saving them money with his tax cuts for the top one percent. These super-rich executives and heirs should realize that yes, they pay more in taxes than the average American, but they also earn more and therefore have a responsibility to those who and cannot make upwards of $500,000 per year, and in some cases over $1,000,000.

America is best served when we raise everybody up. We all benefit when no one is sleeping on the streets. President Bush needs to end these disastrous tax cuts for the wealthy. Trickle-down Reagonomics did not work in the 1980s, and it cannot work today. Instead, we need to build up our foundations, reinforce the least of our society, and provide assistance to those who need it. Then we can and will be the great nation envisioned by so many of our greatest leaders on both sides of the aisle. Only then can we truly say that we have reached the American dream, the true manifest destiny, an America where no one has to sleep in Farragut Square.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Supreme Court puts Journalists in the Line of Fire

On June 27, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeals of two journalists who would not identify their sources, letting their convictions stand and forcing them to face prison time. The Court has made a grievous error in issuing this non-decision. In denying the appeal and ducking the issue, the justices have again restricted one of the fundamental rights that protect democracy and hold the government accountable for its actions.

The First Amendment to the Constitution provides for, among other things, a free press in this country. Journalists follow a calling that takes them around the world to report back what is going on around us, be it charges of torture at Guantanamo, news on the elections and deaths in Iraq, or on cases of the President of the United States violating the law in covering up a crime. We were reminded again just a few weeks ago how important investigative journalism can be when Mark Felt unmasked himself as Deep Throat, the secret source who was critical in uncovering the Watergate break-in and cover-up that brought down the Nixon presidency.

It is even more appalling that in this environment of renewed interest in investigative journalism and awareness of the importance of legitimate, high-placed anonymous sources, the Supreme Court has denied reporters this important avenue of information. Without the guarantee of the protection of anonymity, it is much more likely that those with information will not come forward. While their information can be critical, their coming forward may depend on their identity being protected. It is the same reason we have witness protection and whistleblower laws, so that fear of retribution does not get in the way of someone doing the right thing.

In 1965, the Supreme Court recognized that there was a right to privacy in what was termed the "penumbra of rights" in different amendments to the Constitution. This set the precedent for recognizing and protecting fundamental rights that were not specifically listed in the document. The protection of non-enumerated rights is especially important when the right in question is related to one of the fundamental rights listed in the constitution, as is the case here.

The First Amendment specifically says that the press is protected, but, in this case, the Court has taken the teeth out of that right. It is as if they have handed journalists a flashlight, complete with batteries, but have taken away the light bulb inside. It looks good, almost as if it could work, but in truth is nothing more than a shadow of what it could and should be.