Thursday, October 23, 2008

Muddying Up The Waters

By William Fisher

A 31-year-old law designed to put an end to “redlining” and other restrictive practices that effectively shut poor and minority families out of home-ownership and neighborhood development is being attacked by conservative commentators as a major cause of today’s sub-prime mortgage mess.

The charge is being incessantly repeated by some of the so-called mainstream media as well as by right-wing bloggers.

For many years, local and regional banks were happy to take deposits from people who lived in deprived neighborhoods. A large proportion of these depositors were members of racial minority groups.

But the banks did not extend credit to these depositors. Small businesses did not receive finance. Mortgage loans were not made. Supermarkets and other shops were not built, forcing residents to travel miles for their household needs. Local jobs dwindled. Crime rose. Riots broke out in some cities in the U.S. Whole neighborhoods fell apart.

Then, in 1977, when Jimmy Carter was President of the U.S., Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The Act required federally regulated and insured financial institutions to show that they were lending and investing in their communities.

Initially, some local and regional banks opposed the measure. To these, it represented unnecessary government interference in the private sector and mired them in what they saw as a sea of additional paperwork.

But over the years, these banks have largely become adjusted to the requirements of the CRA. Today, most regard it as normal “cost of doing business.”

The key words here are “federally regulated and insured financial institutions.” Which means commercial banks and thrift organizations.

Not included were investment banks, mortgage brokers, and the now-bankrupt non-bank lenders such as New Century Financial Corp. and Ameriquest that underwrote most of the subprime loans that we now know were so toxic.

The reason is that these private non-bank lenders were regulated by 50 different state banking supervisors instead of the federal government – which effectively meant they were not regulated at all.

And those who champion the CRA point out that the default rate on CRA mortgages is far below the national average and many times lower than the sub-prime mortgages written by unsupervised lenders.

Ellen Seidman, Director of the U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision under President Bush 41 until 2001 and now an official at The New America Foundation, told us, “In the 30 years since its enactment, CRA has generated major changes in the manner in which banks and thrifts view and serve low- and moderate-income communities and consumers.”

Federal housing data shows it was the unregulated private sector -- not the government or government-backed companies – that was responsible for the explosion of subprime lending at the core of the crisis. According to the Federal Reserve Board, more than 84 percent of the subprime mortgages in 2006 were issued by private unregulated lending institutions and that private firms made nearly 83 percent of the subprime loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers that year.

Nor does the timing correspond. Subprime lending offered high-cost loans to the weakest borrowers during the housing boom that lasted from 2001 to 2007. Subprime lending was at its height from 2004 to 2006.

Conservative critics of the CRA also claim that the Clinton administration pushed Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac to purchase risky sub-prime mortgage loans made to people with known poor credit histories.

These entities have operated since 1968 as government sponsored enterprises (GSEs). This means that, although the two companies are privately owned and operated by shareholders, they were assumed to be protected financially by the support of the Federal Government – and now, both have been taken over by the Government.

Fannie Mae was created in 1938 as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. The collapse of the national housing market in the wake of the Great Depression discouraged private lenders from investing in home loans. Fannie Mae was established in order to provide local banks with federal money to finance home mortgages in an attempt to raise levels of home ownership and the availability of affordable housing.

But Fannie and Freddie aren’t lenders, to minorities or anyone else. They purchase loans from private lenders who actually underwrite the loans. In an effort to promote affordable home ownership for minorities and rural whites, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) set targets for Fannie and Freddie in 1992 to purchase low-income loans for sale into the secondary market that eventually reached 52 percent of loans given to low-to moderate-income families.

But these loans, and those to low- and moderate-income families, represent a
small proportion of overall lending. Between 2004 and 2006, when subprime lending was exploding, Fannie and Freddie went from holding 48 percent of the subprime loans to holding about 24 percent. Among the reasons is that Fannie and Freddie were supervised by far more robust standards than most of the unregulated players in the private sector. Most of these unregulated players have now gone bankrupt or are in serious legal trouble.

During the same three-year period, these same unregulated private investment banks dominated the mortgage loans that were packaged and sold into the secondary mortgage market. According to McClatchy News Service, in 2005 and 2006, the private sector securitized almost two thirds of all U.S. mortgages, supplanting Fannie and Freddie.

Ellen Seidman, who successfully presided over the thrift crisis in the 1980s and 1990s -- the failure of 2412 savings and loan associations -- testified to Congress that “Billions, perhaps trillions, of dollars of credit and investment has come into these communities spurred, incented, or directed by the Act and collateral laws such as the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), various anti-discrimination statutes, and obligations placed on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And while there was a time when those subject to CRA complained bitterly about it, in general that time has passed.”

But despite a substantial body of evidence to the contrary, conservative critics of the CRA continue to blame it for the nation’s economic woes.

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote recently that while the goal of the CRA was admirable, "it led to tremendous pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — who in turn pressured banks and other lenders — to extend mortgages to people who were borrowing over their heads. That's called subprime lending. It lies at the root of our current calamity."

And on FOX News, commentator Neil Cavuto remarked, “I don't remember a clarion call that said Fannie and Freddie are a disaster. Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


By William Fisher

Leading human rights groups reacted with outrage today to media reports that the administration of President George W. Bush has decided not to close the iconic prison at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Quoting anonymous senior Bush Administration officials, The New York Times reported today that the issue would in effect be “kicked the down the road” to await action by the new president when he takes office in January 2009.

The Times reported that Bush never considered proposals drafted by the State Department and the Pentagon that outlined options for transferring the detainees elsewhere.

According the newspaper, Bush adopted the view of his most hawkish advisers that closing Guantánamo would involve too many legal and political risks to be acceptable, now or any time soon, the officials said.

Civil libertarians were quick to condemn the Administration’s position.

Jameel Jaffer, Director of the National Security Project for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation (ACLU), told IPS, “The decision to keep the prison open is deeply irresponsible. Hundreds of men have been held without charge and without trial for almost seven years. The administration's renewed commitment to Guantanamo means that these men will be imprisoned for even longer. And as long as the prison remains open, the country's standing in the world will continue to erode.”

He added, “At this point, the government has both a moral and legal obligation to close Guantanamo. Even President Bush has conceded that the prison should be closed. But unfortunately it seems that this administration is simply unwilling to show the leadership that would be required to actually get the job done.”

Jaffer was also critical of the controversial system of justice that exists at GITMO. He told IPS, “The handful of prisoners who have been charged with crimes are being tried in a system that is unfair and unconstitutional. It's a system that allows the government to rely on secret evidence, on hearsay, and on evidence that was elicited through abusive interrogation methods such as waterboarding.”

Jameel Jaffer has been an active participant in cases involving GITMO, the Bush Administration’s “domestic surveillance” program, provisions of the USA Patriot Act, and a number of related legal issues.

Shayana Kadidal, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) a legal advocacy organization that has provided attorneys for many of the Guantanamo detainees –expressed equal outrage. He told IPS, “We’ve been saying for two years now that the government’s litigation strategy is to run out the clock on these cases and leave the mess at Guantanamo for the next president to clean up – much like the misadventure in Iraq. At every stage the government has tried to maximize delay, with no discernable endgame to resolve the situation.”

He said that “various inside sources have told reporters for years that there are no more than two dozen men at Gitmo who might be worthy of facing charges. If the government chooses to charge them they should be charged and tried in federal court inside the Untied States. (Of course, this presents a real dilemma for individuals who have faced torture; there is domestic law stating that government conduct that shocks the conscience may render an individual untriable, regardless of whether the government has non-torture evidence it may lawfully rely on.)”

He added, “As to the rest, with narrow exceptions, men who are not going to face charges simply should not be detained. The exceptions relate to people actually captured on a conventional battlefield, which is a tiny fraction of the men at Guantanamo – about 4% overall.”

He predicted that “over 200 of the men still at Guantanamo will be returned to their home countries. The idea that moving prisoners to indefinite detention in Kansas will represent an improvement over Guantanamo is ridiculous.”

Shayana Kadidal is senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo project at the Center for Constitutional Rights and has been at CCR since 2001. In addition to supervising the Guantánamo litigation, he has also worked on the Center's case against the NSA's warrantless surveillance program, (CCR v. Bush), and its challenge to the "material support" statute, (HLP v. Mukasey).

Other legal and human rights organizations have also weighed in on the Guantanamo issue. For example, Human Rights First (HRF) has drafted a report, “How to Close Guantanamo: Blueprint for the Next U.S. Administration.” (, detailing a step-by-step process for closing Guantanamo and dealing responsibly and legally with the detainees.

According to HRF’s International Legal Director, Gabor Rona, “Those who can be tried under the laws of war and other criminal laws should be prosecuted. Those who will not be prosecuted by the U.S. must be released to their home country or a third country where they will not be at risk of ill treatment. They may also be subject to prosecution. But this process cannot take place in a vacuum. It must be part of a larger effort to return the US to practices that respect its international legal obligations under the Geneva Conventions and human rights treaties.”

He told IPS that “This means, at a minimum, abandoning the concept of ‘enemy combatant’, which is unknown in the laws of war and which was created by this Administration to remove detainees from the law. A return to the traditional concepts of combatant and civilian will provide the best of both worlds: the ability to prosecute criminals in the normal course of justice and the right of innocents to get their day in court.”

Since the U.S. began sending prisoners to from Afghanistan to Guantanamo in January 2002, the island prison has become the center of a highly charged chapter in American jurisprudence. U.S. Appeals Courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have ruled against various aspects of the Guantanamo legal regimen. The Supreme Court declared the Bush-constructed Military Commissions unconstitutional. And it ruled that Congress could not block detainees’ right to petition for habeas corpus.

In that landmark decision, Boumediene et al v. Bush, the high court ruled 5-4 that prisoners held as “enemy combatants” at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba can immediately file habeas corpus petitions in U.S. district courts challenging the legality of their confinement.

Legal and human rights advocates have characterized that opinion as “a rebuke to a cornerstone of the Bush administration’s so-called ‘global war on terror’.” They say that by holding unconstitutional the provision of the 2006 Military Commissions Act (MCA) stripping Guantánamo Bay prisoners of their habeas corpus rights, the Supreme Court has stopped the Bush administration from continuing to use the naval base as a legal limbo, where it can imprison people indefinitely without regard for either domestic or international law.

In another case, a highly fractured court ordered that the government establish tribunals to determine whether individuals are in fact “enemy combatants.” That same day the court also decided Rasul v. Bush, recognizing that Guantánamo prisoners were entitled to file petitions for habeas corpus under the terms of the congressional Habeas Corpus Act.

In response, Bush administration lawyers established Combat Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) — considered by many legal scholars to be kangaroo courts where prisoners are denied lawyers and, in most cases, access to the evidence against them — and Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which revoked habeas corpus for Guantánamo prisoners, giving them access to U.S. courts only for a cursory review of whether CSRT procedures were followed correctly.

In June 2006 the Supreme Court decided in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the DTA’s ban on habeas petitions did not apply to those already filed. The Bush administration, with the complicity of key congressional Democrats, rammed through the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which contained a provision depriving federal courts of jurisdiction over all habeas petitions filed by Guantánamo prisoners.

Hamdan, the Yemeni-born driver for Osama bin Laden who was captured in Afghanistan, became the first GITMO detainee ever to be tried by Military Commission. He was convicted of aiding terrorism but acquitted on a charge of conspiring to commit terrorist attacks including those on Sept. 11. Given credit for years already served, Hamdan could be eligible for release before the end of 2008, though the government has recently claimed that the court over-estimated the time he has served.

Over the years, evidence obtained largely from government records has shown that practices tantamount to torture have been widely and consistently practiced at Guantanamo, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

The effect of Bush’s decision is to retain a prison that has become a worldwide negative icon for the administration’s fight against terrorism.

The decision also leaves another major foreign policy dilemma for the next president. Both Senators John McCain and Barack Obama have called for closing Guantánamo. Either candidate could reverse Mr. Bush’s policy, but neither has discussed how he would deal with the legal consequences of shutting the prison. The principal issue is where to imprison and/or try the remaining approximately 250 Guantanamo detainees, many of whom have already been declared eligible for release.

Seven Years and Counting!

By William Fisher

Seventeen Chinese Muslims who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for seven years will now have to wait still longer to discover whether a U.S. appeals court will confirm or reverse a judge’s earlier decision that they be immediately released into the United States.

Yesterday, a split federal appeals court refused to allow the immediate release into the U.S. of the 17, which means they will remain in prison for at least several more weeks.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed with the Bush administration’s argument that the Muslims' release should be halted while the government prepares its full appeal. The court will hear oral arguments on Nov. 24.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the detainees were said to be considering other options. It has been reported that an appeal directly to the Supreme Court might be a possibility, since that court ruled last June that foreign detainees at Guantanamo have the right to appeal to federal judges to challenge their imprisonment.

Two appointees of the first President Bush voted to halt the detainees' immediate release. They are Judges Karen Henderson and A. Raymond Randolph.

But in an outspoken dissent, Judge Judith W. Rogers argued that the detainees should be freed. She noted that the Bush administration had acknowledged the Uighurs were no longer considered enemy combatants even as it continued to argue the detainees were a national security risk based on little more than the fact they had admitted to receiving weapons training in Afghanistan.

"The fact that petitioners received firearms training cannot alone show they are dangerous, unless millions of United States resident citizens who have received firearms training are to be deemed dangerous as well," Rogers wrote. "And, in any event, the district court found there is no evidence petitioners harbor hostility toward the United States."

She added that the government's appeal was problematic "given both the length of time that petitioners have been denied their liberty" and the years the government has already had up to now — with little success — to justify the Uighurs' continued imprisonment.

Judge Rogers was appointed by President Clinton.

The appeals court's move came after U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina
on October 10 ruled that the government should free the detainees immediately and ordered them brought physically to his court. Urbina said it would be wrong for the Bush administration to continue holding the Uighurs since they are no longer considered enemy combatants.

The detainees were days away from being released when the government requested and received a stay of Judge Urbina’s ruling to allow time for an appeal.

Lawyers for the Uighurs had carefully set up arrangements for the Uighurs’ to be placed in the custody of religious organizations and individuals in the U.S.

Among the central issues in the case is whether a federal judge has the authority to order the release of Guantanamo prisoners who were unlawfully detained by the U.S. and cannot be sent back to their homeland. The Uighurs, who are Turkic-speaking Muslims in western China, have been cleared for release from Guantanamo but fear they will be tortured if they are turned over to China.

Also at issue is the potential use of immigration law by the government to prevent the Uighurs from entering the U.S. It is possible they could be freed into the U.S. by a federal court, but then immediately re-arrested, detained and ultimately deported because they had not been legally admitted into the U.S.

Judge Urbina’s ruling may yet become one of the historic decisions in U.S. jurisprudence. He wrote, ”There come a time when delayed action prompted by judicial deference to the executive branch's function yields inaction not consistent with constitutional imperative. Such a time has come in the case of the 17 Uighurs in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba...whom the government has held for seven years without an opportunity for judicial redress until recently."

Urbina noted that it was the government that decided that it would no longer consider the 17 Uighurs as enemy combatants.

After the Supreme Court's decision in Boumedienne v. Bush -- restoring the court's jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions -- the Uighurs filed motions alleging that their continued detention was unlawful and requesting the court order the government to release them into the U.S.

Urbina ruled that "Because the Constitution prohibits indefinite detention with just cause…continued detention of the petitioners is unlawful."

"Because separation of powers concerns do not trump the very principle upon which this nation was founded -- the unalienable right to liberty -- the court orders the government to release the petitioners into the U.S," he wrote.

The Bush administration has said it was continuing "heightened" efforts to find another country to accept the Uighurs.

Albania accepted five Uighur detainees in 2006 but since has balked at taking others. Other nations are said to have followed the same tack, reportedly out of fear of diplomatic repercussions from China. Foreign policy experts have also noted that the U.S. appears to have greatly diminished leverage in the world community to persuade other countries to accept the Uighurs.

Uighurs are from Xinjiang — an isolated region that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and six Central Asian nations. They say they have been repressed by the Chinese government. China long has said that insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement in Xinjiang. The Uighur detainees were captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001.

The possibility that Judge Urbina’s decision will prevail cannot be ruled out. From time to time, a decision of a lower court judge is reversed by an appeals court – but ultimately affirmed by the Supreme Court.

David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University and one of the Uighurs’ attorneys, told us that this is precisely what happened in another landmark Guantanamo case, Hamdan v. Bush.

“Surprisingly,” Cole said, “Hamdan prevailed in the district court, when U.S. District Judge James Robertson courageously ruled that trying Hamdan in a military tribunal of the kind set up by the government would violate the Geneva Conventions.”

But Cole added that, “Not surprisingly, that decision was unanimously reversed, on every conceivable ground, by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in an opinion joined fully by then Judge, now Chief Justice, John Roberts.”

He noted that after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Hamdan case, Congress passed a law that appeared to be designed to strip the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction to do so. The law “required defendants in military tribunals to undergo their trials before seeking judicial review, and prescribed the D.C. Circuit as the exclusive forum for such review,” Cole said.

But in June 2008, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 unconstitutionally limited detainee's access to judicial review and that detainees have the right to challenge their detention in conventional civilian courts.

Salim Hamdan, the Yemeni-born driver for Osama bin Laden who was captured in Afghanistan, was charged at Guantanamo, tried last August before the first Military Tribunal, convicted of aiding terrorism but acquitted on a charge of conspiring to commit terrorist attacks including those on Sept. 11. Given credit for years already served, Hamdan could be eligible for release before the end of 2008.

In a related and far-reaching development, President George W. Bush today announced that his administration would in effect “kick the Guantánamo can down the road” – and not close the notorious prison.

Quoting senior administration officials, newspapers reported that Bush never considered proposals drafted by the State Department and the Pentagon that outlined options for transferring the detainees elsewhere.

According the U.S. media, Bush adopted the view of his most hawkish advisers that closing Guantánamo would involve too many legal and political risks to be acceptable, now or any time soon, the officials said.

The effect of Bush’s decision is to retain a prison that has become a worldwide negative icon for the administration’s fight against terrorism.

The decision also leaves another major foreign policy dilemma for the next president. Both Senators John McCain and Barack Obama have called for closing Guantánamo. Either candidate could reverse Mr. Bush’s policy, but neither has discussed how he would deal with the legal consequences of shutting the prison. The principal issue is where to imprison and/or try the remaining approximately 255 Guantanamo detainees, many of whom have already been declared eligible for release.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Facts: Campaign Collateral Damage

By William Fisher

The elementary school I attended as kid in Brooklyn was located in a “mixed” neighborhood --- which in the early 1940s meant Irish, Italian and Jews. Many of my classmates were first generation Americans – the children of immigrants.

These three groups fought constantly – over what, I’m sure none of us had a clue. But we were pre-teens, and so clueless by definition.

I sort of got used to being called Jewboy and Dirty Jew and Kike and Sheeny. But most of my fellow Jews tried to ignore the slurs. I didn’t. Somehow, I learned to defend myself – with my fists. And I got pretty good at it.

This behavior seemed to baffle my Gentile classmates – they just didn’t equate Jew with fighter. That confluence didn’t really transpire until the Warsaw Ghetto uprising or the 1948 Israeli war.

As I grew older, the anti-Semitic smears became a lot more subtle. “Some of my best friends are Jews,” mindlessly became the politically correct form of bigotry. It was the time of Gregory Peck and “Gentlemen’s Agreement.”

What reminded me of this long-ago history was the remark made by a woman who was attending a John McCain townhall-style rally in Minnesota last Friday.

She took the microphone to tell McCain that Obama could not be trusted because he is an "Arab."

The happy part of this episode is that McCain rebuked her, reminding some of us about the man John McCain perhaps used to be. He said, "No, ma'am, he's a decent family man, a citizen, who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that's what this campaign is all about. He's not [an Arab]."

The sad part is that that’s where McCain stopped.

How risky would it have been for McCain to go on to ask, “What if he was an Arab?” Would that mean he was somehow un-American? Well, Straight-Talking John might just as well have said exactly that, because his silence created a verbal void in which his supporters were tacitly enabled to interpret his remarks any way they wished.

And given the McCain campaign’s proclivity for incessantly reminding voters that Obama’s middle name is Hussein, it doesn’t take an advanced degree in geophysics to figure out what that interpretation would be.

Ever since the attacks of 9/11, people of Middle Eastern descent have been viewed as potential terrorists by the public and law enforcement alike. The logic of this says, “Such people were responsible for 9/11. Al-Qaeda consists mostly of Middle Eastern men, and so that's who law enforcement and security personnel should look at first.”

Yet multiple studies have shown that when police focus on factors such as race, they tend to pay less attention to actual criminal behavior. This is a dangerous trend that can inhibit effective law enforcement and ultimately endanger the lives of all persons who depend on law enforcement for protection.

The same can be said of candidates and voters. Having Americans of Arab descent support you has become one of the hottest new Third Rails of American politics.

But lest I get carried away by partisanship, it’s worth noting that Barack Obama is not without culpability in steering clear of this new Third Rail. When was the last time we heard him say anything meaningful about our country’s several million Arab-Americans or American Muslims? But for McCain, painting Obama as an Arab or a Muslim isn’t simply an omission or a misstep or an oversight: It’s a core part of his strategy.

What’s amazing is that these people – many of whom have been U.S. citizens for generations – are still willing to participate in a political process that increasingly paints them as, at best, invisible or, at worst, pariahs.

Yet they are participating.

And, according to a recent Zogby poll, they are throwing their support behind Barack Obama. And Scott MacLeod, chief of TIME’s Cairo Bureau, reports that in a two-way race, Obama beats McCain 54% to 33% among Arab-Americans. In a tight nationwide race, their votes could give Obama a boost in a number of key swing states.

There are an estimated 3.5 million Arab-Americans, making up about 1% of the population of the U.S. Almost two-thirds trace their ancestry to countries of the eastern Mediterranean Sea; Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Jordan. Roughly 70% are Christians and 20% Muslims; the poll respondents were identified as 63% Christian, 24% Muslim and 13% other/none.

Zogby’s findings have little to do with the so-called "ethnic vote." His polling found that Arab and Muslim-Americans are voting the same pocketbook issues as the rest of us.

They're not voting in a bloc because of Middle East-related issues. Arab-Americans considered jobs and the economy by far to be the most important issue in the election rather than Middle East foreign policy issues. Just 16% of Arab-Americans said they favored McCain because of his stance on foreign policy, and only 3% said that about Obama.

Sixty-three percent listed the economy as one of the top two issues facing the country – and that was before the current financial meltdown. Only 37% listed Iraq and Middle East peace. Health care, gas prices and terrorism were all much higher among the issues than regional problems like Palestine and Lebanon. Only 1% of the respondents said either of the latter issues was among the top two issues in the election.

When it came to who was better prepared to handle our economic challenges, 52% picked Obama and 34% chose McCain. Likewise, 48% said Obama was better able to handle the Middle East, while 39% said McCain was.

Zogby found that during the Bush presidency Arab-Americans have swung more decisively behind the Democratic Party in general. The respondents overall gave Bush a 76% negative job approval rating, with even those identifying themselves as Republicans registering only a 63%-37% positive-negative rating for the incumbent president.

Compared to the year Bush was elected in 2000, when the Democratic-Republican ID breakdown was almost even at 40%-38%, Arab-Americans now identify with the Democratic Party by a margin of more than 2-1. Forty-six percent called themselves Democrats, while only 20% said they were Republicans.

Do any of these statistics provide any rationale for the candidates to ignore or diss these voters – much less to encourage voters to go on believing that “that one” is part of the same group?

Yes. The excuse is that we seem to have accepted the proposition that during political campaigns, there are two parallel universes. There’s the real world – in which we trumpet our impeccable morality and those wonderful family values, runaway hypocrisy notwithstanding. Then there’s the political universe, where a lie is valued only in direct relationship to how big it is.

Call me naïve. Maybe so. But there were many of us who yearned for a different kind of campaign this time. We got rolled bigtime.

Who’s to blame? The candidates? The campaign consultants? The political parties?

I don’t think so. Candidates and consultants will always do and say whatever they think they have to do to win and/or whatever they think they can get away with. They’re just facilitators.

No, I suggest that the problem is a lot closer than that: It’s us. Notwithstanding the endless bromides about the “innate common sense” of the American voter, every credible survey reveals that we are a dangerously uninformed electorate. When a sizable majority of high school grads can’t tell you what the first ten amendments to our Constitution are called, do you think our country might just be in trouble?

It’s worth pondering that it was our schools, our teachers, our uninformed parents – and our thoughtless determination to stay cosseted in our fact-free zones while having a beer with our new president – that brought us George W. Bush eight years ago – and Sarah Palin today.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Have the Inmates Taken Over the Asylum?

By William Fisher

In what some government critics are citing as an egregious example of public foot-dragging and bureaucratic inefficiency in immigration rule-making, the woman at the center of one of America’s longest-running asylum disputes may now be in further jeopardy.

The case involves the asylum claim of Rodi Alvarado, who fled Guatemala in 1996 after suffering more than a decade of brutal domestic violence in a situation where neither the police nor the courts responded to her pleas for protection.

Professor Karen Musalo, Ms. Alvarado’s long-time attorney and director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California, Hastings, told IPS that a recent action by U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey could actually make Ms. Alvarado’s plight even more tenuous. “It could change the course of protection of women asylum seekers across the country,” she said.

The twists and turns in Ms. Alvarado’s plea for American asylum since she fled to the U.S. place it in the pantheon of the more Byzantine and difficult-to-explain immigration cases.

Under U.S. law, asylum applicants have to show they can't go home because they face persecution because of religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Neither gender nor domestic violence are currently considered grounds for asylum.

In 1996 Ms. Alvarado was granted asylum by an immigration judge in San Francisco. In 1999 the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the highest immigration tribunal in the country, reversed her grant of asylum and ordered her back to Guatemala. This decision mobilized thousands of women’s rights advocates, who successfully persuaded then Attorney General Janet Reno to intervene. Reno proposed a regulation that would have allowed battered women to be considered members of a social group, and thus potentially eligible to be granted asylum.

Reno vacated the BIA’s decision in January 2001, and ordered the BIA to reconsider the case once regulations the Justice Department (DOJ) had proposed in 2000 were finalized.

More than three years passed and no regulations were finalized. In 2004, then Attorney General John Ashcroft took jurisdiction over the case, and ordered lawyers for Ms. Alvarado and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to brief the case. Though the DHS itself recommended that Ms. Alvarado be granted asylum, Attorney General Ashcroft did not rule on the case but sent it back to the BIA with the same order that his predecessor Janet Reno had – that the BIA reconsider the case once the regulations proposed in 2000 were issued as final.

With the 2000 election of President George W. Bush, the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the current and continuing anti-immigration sentiment in the U.S., drafting of new rules languished. Opponents said they would lead to a surge in claims, an assertion disputed by advocates.

Musalo told IPS: "Both the DHS and the DOJ have to reach consensus on the regulations and issue them jointly, since both agencies have jurisdiction over asylum. It is a little kept secret that the delay is due in no small part to the DOJ, which does not agree with the DHS. The DOJ has expressed the position that such claims cannot be recognized. The DHS expressed an opposing position in the brief it filed in February 2004" in the Alvarado case.

The proposed new regulations were generally seen as a positive legal development, which recognized claims such as Ms. Alvarado’s,” Musalo told IPS. But as of today, they have not been issued in final form. Spokespersons for both the DHS and the DOJ declined to comment to IPS on their apparent failure to reach consensus.

The case took yet another arguably more discouraging turn last month. In a surprise move on September 25, Attorney General Mukasey issued a decision ordering the BIA to reconsider the case. In so doing, he removed the requirement that the BIA await the issuance of proposed regulations.

This means that the BIA can immediately begin to consider the Alvarado decision -- as well as many others also on hold awaiting a BIA decision in the Alvarado case.

Musalo told IPS that Mukasey’s removal of the requirement that Reno initially put in, and that Ashcroft also included in his order -- that the BIA should wait to decide the case until the new regulations were finalized – could have serious negative implications for Alvarado. She said that “without the requirement of those regulations, the BIA can just apply its own precedent -- which has been increasingly restrictive. Mukasey said the BIA doesn't have to wait for the new regulations to decide the case -- which is very troubling to us.”

“Though we are glad to see some movement in the case, I am worried that that the current Attorney General is less sympathetic than his predecessors to the protection of women asylum seekers who flee brutal forms of persecution in countries where their governments will not protect them,” she told IPS.

Domestic violence is recognized as a legitimate basis for refugee protection by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as by countries around the world – including Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand; however its acceptance in the U.S. has been controversial.

The DHS says it will not press for Ms. Alvarado's deportation regardless of how much longer it may take the agency to finalize the new regulations. Meanwhile, Ms. Alvarado remains in legal limbo. Though she can remain in the U.S. that is only a partial victory since she cannot be reunited with her children, who remain in Guatemala. For a number of years, she has been working as a housekeeper at a convent in San Francisco.

Mrs. Alvarado's case created a firestorm of bipartisan criticism of U.S. Government immigration policies. Advocates for women and immigration rights had hoped Alvarado's situation would already have led to a change in U.S. policy to recognize asylum cases filed by victims of domestic violence.

The issue of immigration judges has been further complicated by the recent revelations of partisan political influence in the DOJ during the tenure of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. One of Gonzales’ key aides, Monica Goodling, testified to Congress that she recommended the appointment of immigration judges based on their conservative political credentials.

Judge Rebukes Bush -- Again

By William Fisher

In what appears to be another stunning legal rebuke to President George W. Bush’s policies in the “global war on terrorism,” a federal judge has blocked the government from blacklisting a Muslim-oriented charity to give the group a chance to defend itself after its assets were frozen almost three years ago.

In response to a request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Ohio and several civil rights lawyers on behalf of KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development, Inc., Judge James G. Carr last week blocked the government from branding the organization as a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ "without first affording KindHearts with constitutionally adequate process," including notice and a meaningful opportunity to contest the basis for such a designation.

The judge ruled that the government’s proposed action prior to a judicial review will cause KindHearts to “suffer serious and irreparable injury in the form of loss of reputation and goodwill.”

Hina Shamsi, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said, "We are gratified that the judge recognized the importance of independent judicial review of the government's actions towards KindHearts. His decision also serves the public's interest in ensuring that government action, including in the name of national security, is subject to the constitutional requirements of due process."

Lawyers for the Ohio-based charity charged that it was effectively shut down without due process – “without notice of the basis for the freeze, hearing, finding of wrongdoing, or meaningful opportunity to respond to the freeze.”

They say the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) froze the group’s assets more than 31 months ago “based simply on the assertion that KindHearts was ‘under investigation’. OFAC has since threatened to brand KindHearts as a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ based on classified evidence, again without providing KindHearts with a reason or meaningful opportunity to defend itself.”

One of the lawyers representing the charity, Professor David Cole, a constitutional law expert at the Georgetown University Law Center, told IPS, "The legal regime employed in the name of cutting off terror financing gives the executive branch a ‘blank check’ to blacklist disfavored individuals and groups, imposes guilt by association, and lacks even minimal attributes of fair process.”

He said, “With our return to a ‘preventive paradigm’ of preemptively weeding out threats to national security, guilt by association has been resurrected from the McCarthy era. While it was illegal in the 1950s to be a member of the Communist Party, it is now a crime to support an individual or organization on a terror watch list, although the government can designate and freeze assets without a showing of actual ties to terrorism or illegal acts.”

“While the House Un-American Activities Committee once relied on the private sector to mete out punishment through the destruction of reputations and careers, today measures such as the Anti-Terrorist Financing Guidelines have turned funders into the new enforcers. In this light, he said the nonprofit sector has an obligation to resist such a partnership with government,” he says.

Other observers believe that the campaign against charities that conduct programs in Muslim areas is part of a larger suspicion of Arabs and other Muslims. Samer Shehata, professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown University, told IPS that what he termed 'Islamophobia' “produces an environment that is fundamentally at odds with what the U.S. is supposed to be about; our values for treating everyone fairly and not discriminating on the basis of skin color, race, religion, gender, etc.”

He adds, “This is damaging certainly for all Americans and it is also damaging for the reputation of the U.S. overseas. One of the questions I hear the most whenever I am in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East is: how is it like now in the U.S. for Arabs? Have you been the victim of discrimination, bigotry, abuse?”

Since 9/11, the government has shut down dozens of charitable groups, but only three have ever been charged and brought to trial for supporting terrorist causes. None has been convicted.

“OFAC’s authority to shut down a charity based on secret evidence, without any notice of wrongdoing, any probable cause, any opportunity to defend itself or any judicial review violates fundamental due process guarantees,” said Hina Shamsi, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

“KindHearts is asking for nothing more than its day in court before the government takes the draconian action of unilaterally designating it a terrorist and inflicting irreparable harm on the charity’s most valuable asset, its reputation.”

Under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and an executive order, the president assumed the power to impose economic sanctions on any organization or individual he or the Treasury secretary designates a “specially designated global terrorist” (SDGT). A provision of the Patriot Act goes further and authorizes OFAC to freeze an organization’s assets without designating it an SDGT or even finding any wrongdoing.

According to the ACLU’s complaint, both the authority to designate SDGTs and to freeze assets “pending investigation” violate the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments because they give the government the virtually unfettered ability to shut down an organization even if it has no intent to engage in or support criminal activity.

The organization’s lawyers claim KindHearts’ founders established the charity in 2002 – after the government shut down a number of Muslim charities – with the express purpose of providing humanitarian aid abroad and at home in the United States in full compliance with the law.

“Since its assets were frozen more than two and a half years ago, KindHearts has repeatedly asked the government for the legal and factual basis for OFAC’s actions and for a meaningful chance to defend itself,” said Fritz Byers, an Ohio attorney on the case. “The government’s failure to respond has left KindHearts in limbo, unable to fulfill its humanitarian mission. It is in the interest not only of KindHearts, but also the public, for there to be independent judicial scrutiny of the government’s actions in this case.”

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Palin: Sancho Pander

By William Fisher

During this seemingly endless presidential campaign, there’s been a ton of criticism of the so-called mainstream media and its alleged fawning love affair with Barrack Obama.

Yeah? Maybe on cable TV with Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow. But they’re a pretty fragile counterpoint to that medium’s many wing-nuts like Sean Hannity.

Print reporters are ordinarily a very different story. If they err, it’s usually on the side of “objectivity.” If a candidate makes a statement, no matter how absurd or inaccurate or untrue, it gets reported. When I was a very young newspaper reporter, the office joke was that things didn’t get to be political news until they fell from the lips of public officials. We even had an official Associated Press handbook on “Objectivity.” That’s one of the ways Joe McCarthy got so famous.

But writers who really knew politics usually managed to thread their way around the AP’s rules. Despite print journalism’s well-worn and still-current mantra– “if it bleeds it leads” – most really savvy political writers figured out how to write you to a place where you would find yourself encouraged to raise questions.

For many years, Roger Simon of has been one of those savvy political writers. Today, he’s become an entertainment critic. Today, he gets my nomination for the most mindlessly cynical piece yet written during this campaign.

I refer to his Oct. 2 paean to the moose-dresser, entitled, “You betcha Sarah Palin can debate.”

Sarah Palin, Simon wrote, “was supposed to fall off the stage at her vice presidential debate Thursday evening. Instead, she ended up dominating it.”

Really? That may have been the verdict of the GOP far right base, but all reliable polling concluded otherwise.

Undeterred by this inconvenient truth, Simon warmed to his task, citing the hockeymom’s myriad positive attributes. She “kept Joe Biden on the defensive.” She “repeatedly attacked Barack Obama”. She “looked like she was enjoying herself while doing it.” “She smiled. She faced the camera. She was warm. She was human. Gosh and golly, she even dropped a bunch of g’s…. if people thought she was going to look like a dumb bunny for 90 minutes, they were disappointed.”

Hey Roger, after eight years of mangled presidential locution, do we really want to be rewarding no-nothing grammar?

Palin, he wrote, “said what she wanted to say, and she was so relaxed she even winked at one point. Really! An actual wink during a national debate….”

Well, maybe what Palin really needs is a membership in Actor’s Equity! "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.”

But Simon gave her a free pass on the inarticulate test, writing, “She went out of her way to talk in everyday terms, saying things like ‘I betcha’ and ‘We have a heckuva opportunity to learn’ and ‘Darn right we need tax relief’.

He crowed that Palin again repeated Obama’s now-ridiculously-distorted statement that “he would meet with some foreign leaders who are hostile to the United States”, and then took her shot: “Some of these dictators hate America and what we stand for. They cannot be met with. That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous… An issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naiveté and goes beyond poor judgment.”

“Sarah Palin accusing Barack Obama of being naive?” asked Simon. “Yep. And she was unabashed about it.”

Maybe someone ought to tell George W. Bush, who is currently keeping himself busy talking with (and trying to buy off) lots of “dictators who hate America.”

“And so what if Joe Biden has been in the Senate approximately forever and knows a lot more about a lot more stuff than she does? She doesn’t care,” Simon wrote.

That’s it. She doesn’t care. And that’s one of the scariest things about McCain’s Russia-watcher.

In a moment of rare candor, Simon acknowledged, “a lot of her statements were of the fortune cookie variety. “At end of day,” she said, “if we are all working together for the greater good, it is going to be OK.”

“But a lot of people like fortune cookies,” he continued.

“Do people care about such stuff?” he asked. “Should all that down-home talk and body language really count?”

Simon wrote that Joe Biden doesn’t think so. (“Facts matter,” Biden said.)

Simon disagreed: “Yeah? In politics? Since when?” Well, maybe since Sarah Palin is asking us to ensconce her in Observatory Circle at a time when our country is facing its most existential challenges in a generation.

Is this really what we really want? A poorly informed opportunist who can’t tell us what she reads? Who plays fast and loose with the truth? Who can’t think of a single Supreme Court decision she disagrees with (save Roe v. Wade)? Whose international experience consists of trying to see Russia from her front lawn? Whose foreign policy savvy comes from a few minutes with Henry Kissinger or Hamid Karzai? Who labors under the misapprehension that the Constitution allows for vice presidential flexibility?

I don’t think so. And, judging from her plummeting poll numbers, neither do most of my fellow citizens.

It’s not that Sarah Palin is a Republican. We’ve had good Republican presidents before. It’s not that’s she’s folksy. As FDR and JFK and Harry Truman so ably demonstrated when they had to, folksiness can be necessary and positive.

No, Palin’s problem has already been underlined by some of the more thoughtful of her GOP brethren and sistren like George Will, David Brooks, and Kathleen Parker. Her problem is that she is clueless. It’s not that people may disagree with her ideas; it’s that she doesn’t have any ideas. It’s that she is quite content to live her life in a thought-free zone. It’s that she’s like Lou Dobbs in drag.

In short, Sarah Palin has zero knowledge of the things a Vice President really does need to know. Our Constitution. Our history. Our challenges. And a zillion other issues (including energy) likely to cross a Veep’s desk.

Can anyone think of a more absurd idea than a Palin portfolio that includes (a) energy (b) government reform and (c) improving the care of special needs children and their mothers?

And all that a beat away from a 71-year-old heart, et cetera.

For me, Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham, best summed up our dilemma. He wrote: “Perhaps Sarah Palin will somehow emerge from the hurly-burly of history as a transformative figure who was underestimated in her time by journalists who could not see, or refused to acknowledge, her virtues. But do I think I am right in saying that Palin's populist view of high office -- hey, Vice President Six-Pack, what should we do about Pakistan? --is dangerous?

“You betcha.”

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Debate Question for Joe Biden

By William Fisher

Tonight, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden will engage in the first and only debate for vice presidential candidates in the 2008 election.

Who will “win” this debate should be a no-brainer. Joe Biden has lots of style, but he also has lots of substance. Sarah Palin will attempt to use style over substance, as there is no substance there.

Biden will make no attempt to destroy Palin. He will let her do that for herself in her responses to Gwen Ifill’s questions. And, as everyone except the moose-dresser’s dwindling cadre of loonytunes supporters have painfully come to know, she is quite capable of demonstrating her preference for Joe Six-Pack over actual facts and real information and anything remotely associated with thoughtfulness.

But the history of campaign debates is littered with proof that Joe Six-Pack often emerges victorious from these encounters. Just recall the Reagan-Carter debate of 1979. As NPR reported, the Carter campaign was eager to debate Reagan “because they thought it would give the president a chance to display his great command of complex issues, and that Reagan might stumble or look confused.”

The Reagan camp only agreed to that debate when they saw how tight the race was. “They were glad they did. Rather than sounding dangerous or overwhelmed, Reagan calmly brushed aside Carter's attacks, shaking his head” and delivering his instantly-famous one-liner: ‘There you go again’.”

Our best hope that this doesn’t happen again is that the American voter may finally be starting to understand that, in this election, the stakes are just too high to roll the dice in favor of someone they’d like to have a beer with.

That’s what gave us George W. Bush.

Joe Biden arguably knows more about world affairs and American foreign policy than anyone in the U.S. Senate. Like his running mate, he is also an expert on the Constitution and teaches Constitutional Law at American University. That should reassure us that an Obama-Biden win in November might return our country to such quaint niceties as checks and balances, limits on Presidential power, secret government and the rule of law.

Joe Biden is nobody’s fool on domestic policy either. His name appears on some of the most consequential legislation in recent history: To cite just one of many examples, the Violence Against Women Act.

But Biden is not without his vulnerabilities. Among the most glaring of these was his support for the so-called “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005". This bill, which President Bush signed into law in 2006, neither prevented bankruptcy abuse nor protected consumers.

So what did this law do? As reported in 2005 by Arianna Huffington, when she was writing for Slate, it made it harder for average people to file for bankruptcy protection; it made it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant; it endangered child-support payments by giving a wider array of creditors a shot at post-bankruptcy income; it allowed millionaires to shield an unlimited amount of equity in homes and asset-protection trusts; it made it more difficult for small businesses to reorganize while opening new loopholes for the Enrons of the world; it allowed creditors to provide misleading information; and it did nothing to rein in lending abuses....

This law was a gift to the many of the nation’s biggest credit card companies, which spent years and millions lobbying the government for its adoption (and wouldn’t give up despite two earlier vetoes by Bill Clinton).

And guess what? Many of those credit card companies are incorporated in Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware. Biden has been particularly cozy with MBNA, a Delaware-based financial services company that is now a subsidiary of Bank of America. Over the past 20 years, MBNA has been Biden's single largest contributor.

This is an issue Gwen Ifill needs to raise with Joe Biden. It should be instructive to hear his response – and he will certainly have one, as he will certainly have anticipated the question and rarely comes up short of several thousand words in response to almost any question.

Aside from Biden’s craven support of this home-state-supporting law, he’s got another problem Gwen Ifill ought to raise tonight: Barack Obama doesn’t agree with Biden’s positions on this issue. In numerous stump speeches, he has vowed to reexamine our bankruptcy regulations.

In the 2005 bankruptcy bill debate in the Senate, Biden was one of only five Democrats who voted against a proposal to require credit card companies to provide more effective warnings to consumers about the consequences of paying only the minimum amount due each month.

Obama voted for it.

Likewise, amendments to the bill aimed at strengthening protections for people forced into bankruptcy by medical debts or who were members of the military.

Biden voted to defeat these amendments. Obama voted for them.

Likewise, an amendment that would have transferred responsibility in certain cases from debtors to the predatory lenders who helped push them into bankruptcy.

Biden voted against it. Obama voted for it.

Gwen Ifill should ask Joe Biden to explain these conflicts with the head of his own party’s ticket.

Over the past eight years – and particularly since the housing bubble starting bursting – bankruptcy filings have skyrocketed. While there have certainly been abuses by millionaires using clever legal provisions to game the system, most bankruptcies are filed by people earning less than $30,000 a year. They have been caused by mortgage defaults, by loss of jobs, by the rising costs of everything, and by runaway medical bills triggered by the absence of health insurance or by health insurance companies whose primary mission appears to denial of benefits.

I want Joe Biden to “win” this debate. He deserves to win it. He will be the anti-Cheney. He will be a credit to his office. He will be a comfort to those who envision the possibility that, someday, another vice-president may be called upon to move into the Oval Office.

More important still, Joe Biden can play a huge role in bringing sanity to American foreign policy and in helping to restore our country’s reputation in the eyes of the world.

But he is not without his warts. And these should be explored tonight. Not just because sunlight is the best disinfectant; it’s also because transparency can signal the beginning of the process that forces our elected officials to make long-overdue changes.

Real bankruptcy reform should be high on the list of such changes.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What Sarah Palin Needs to Know About Special Needs Families

The article below was written by Patricia Stacey, Author of “The Boy Who Loved Windows: Opening the Heart and Mind of a Child Threatened with Autism”.

Ten years ago, my husband and I discovered that our six-month-old son had serious neurological problems and was at risk for autism. He couldn't look at me, but he stared obsessively, incessantly out of windows, as if beguiled by light that flooded into the room each morning rather than by his own mother's face. The realization of his neurological problems was the beginning of a life-changing road for my family, a life of intensive research, and working as hard as we could every day of our lives to help our son overcome the disability that he was born with.

I resisted at first the identity of mom with a sick kid, yet I am still in awe of the ways that adversity has of dragging us back into life, into new ways of seeing. Researching, I learned that a baby's brain does not come into the world like a clock ready to start running; it comes in more like a computer ready to be programmed, ready to make itself fit into whatever world it enters.

In the first few months of life, the brain increases neural connections by as much as fifty trillion. These same connections will begin to be pruned away by the very brain that made them if the baby does not have the right kinds of "experiences" and stimuli. Understanding that time was critical, I knew I could not afford to think about my career. It was time to buckle down and get to work to make a future for my son.

I spent every free minute of the day on the floor with him working to stimulate his brain. Sometimes I had to do it in a darkened room, because my son's nervous system was fragile, shutting down in bright light.

Today at eleven years old, my son is highly social with friends calling for play dates. He is creative, intelligent, compassionate, and just finished his first season of baseball, but keeping him that way still takes hours a week, even hours some days. Sometimes I wonder what his life would be like if I hadn't spent those countless hours with him as a baby, if I hadn't brought him to nutritionists or driven him to occupational therapists and physical therapists and the parade of doctors who came not just to our lives, but through our lives.

Listening to a recent speech by Sarah Palin, I felt a strange sense of disquiet, a disquiet that continues to haunt me. As a feminist, I know I should be proud that a woman is in line for one of the greatest leadership positions a human can face in this world. Yet, Sarah Palin's presence in this campaign leaves more questions for me than answers. Most disquieting are her claims to being a "hockey mom," and to be a representative of special needs families.

I've been mulling this problem over for days. How can she do this? Pretend to know our struggles? How can any parent of a special needs child ramp up her professional life right at the moment she should be taking a leave of absence? (Or at least as her husband should, but neither is to my knowledge).

I can't figure out the mystery. Who is dragging their son to all those appointments? Who is talking to him and playing with him regularly to make sure all those neural connections develop properly? (If the brain doesn't receive the proper kind of stimulation, those neural pathways will be lost forever. Scientists now insist that the course of a child's life hangs on these important first months and years.). Who is meeting once or twice a week with early intervention staff to make sure that the family follows through with suggestions and therapeutic activities? And who is following through?

Palin can't know my struggles. If someone had asked me to so much as join the PTO when my special needs son was a baby I would have laughed, (or cried -- probably the latter).

Studies show that many fathers mysteriously become very busy when special needs children are born. The stress of the extra work at home, the dramas of discussion with doctors with its mixture of bad and good news, the new lists of twenty things parents are supposed to be doing, the endless visits to therapists, facing the stressed-out wife in tears by dinner, is too much for some to handle. Work is a safe haven from the chaos of the special needs family life.

But if there is a percentage of parents who retreat to work when they have special needs children, isn't Sarah Palin one of them? What makes the problem convoluted, like something Orwell described in his coining of the term "doublespeak" is the way that Sarah Palin pretends to be the kind of mother who is on the front lines. Instead, she stands on a podium with this child as if he is a trophy of her domesticity, without admitting that she often works 800 miles from her family home, and now will be on a campaign trail for weeks. By doing this, she mocks me and all the parents of special needs children who have given up years of our lives to protect the dignity and futures of our children.

"So are you saying that special needs children are solely the responsibility of mothers?" the feminist in me perseverates. "No! They are not," she insists. "But Palin parades her Down syndrome child at a convention, in an environment wholly hostile to a baby's delicate nervous system. She displays a teenager equally vulnerable, (and quite possibly a teenager who lacks proper guidance), while the baby lies in someone else's arms (ironically, that very teenager), a baby who lies limp-headed, ignored even while being starred at, surrounded by crowds of people who seem oblivious to the truth, that family values have skipped town in the arms of ambition.