Sometimes our lives take an unexpected turn. It happened to me in 1994, when I was executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida on a swing through St. Petersburg visiting newspaper editorial boards. That's when Phil Gailey had an idea. • Phil was the courtly editor of editorials at the then-named St. Petersburg Times, and his idea was downright audacious: I should leave the ACLU and come to work for the newspaper's opinion pages. • Never mind that I didn't have a degree in journalism or any daily newspaper experience. Never mind that he didn't know whether I could write my way out of a compound sentence. Phil wanted to add my voice and legal expertise to the editorial board. • The offer was tempting, but I resisted. I loved working for the ACLU, spending my days (and nights and weekends) promoting civil liberties and social justice. Before working for the organization full time I had volunteered as a law clerk for the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project at its national offices in Manhattan. It was in my blood....
When reflecting on 2013, it's easy to feel that the country is moving backward.
Economic inequality continues to widen, undermining America's once-unrivaled middle class. Voting rights are in danger of being rolled back after the Supreme Court made them harder to enforce. Cutbacks are being made to essential helping-hand programs such as food stamps and unemployment benefits. Abortion rights are under direct assault in Republican-controlled states. Heck, the entire notion of personal privacy is on life support now that it has been confirmed that the National Security Agency is in all our business....
Soon after Charles Dickens finished A Christmas Carol, a work he produced in a whirlwind six weeks in 1843, he wrote to his actor friend William Macready who was touring America at the time: "I have sent you … a little book I published on the 17th of December, and which has been a most prodigious success — the greatest, I think, I have ever achieved."
Little could Dickens imagine the success his holiday morality tale would enjoy more than a century and a half later or how Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit would so insinuate themselves into the cultural meme of Christmas as to become essential ingredients....
Terrorists playing online video games to confound the enemy? Sounds like a modern Get Smart episode, and a far-fetched one at that.
But there it was on the front page last week as yet another spying revelation from former NSA contractor turned whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The secret documents showed that America's masters of spycraft thought it possible that terrorists were training and communicating while hiding behind avatars in popular virtual games such as Second Life and World of Warcraft. This prompted spies with the CIA, FBI and Pentagon to infiltrate the world of online gaming in such ridiculous numbers that a group had to be assigned to make sure the spooks weren't colliding with one another....
There WAS an accusation, a terrible one, against Jameis Winston, the star quarterback for Florida State University, that he raped a woman off-campus a year ago. • DNA links them. She says it was rape. He says it was consensual sex, and State Attorney Willie Meggs decided Thursday not to file charges of sexual assault. • Whatever happened, Winston was treated differently from others accused of such a crime. The Tallahassee police failed to fully investigate at the time the victim complained, and the university has been unreasonably sluggish in its own review....
When the U.S. Supreme Court agreed last week to decide whether corporations have the religious freedom to ignore the contraceptive coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act, I thought of Utah. • Why Utah? I directed the Utah affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union in the late 1980s, and we had a case that asked a similar question.
The ACLU of Utah represented Arthur Frank Mayson, a janitor who had worked for 16 years at a gym owned and operated by corporate affiliates of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City. In 1981, a crackdown occurred on wayward Mormon employees, and Mayson was fired for failing to maintain what is known as a "temple recommend." To keep his job, Mayson would have to tithe 10 percent of his annual income to the church, attend church regularly and abstain from coffee, tobacco and alcohol. He didn't....
If you've ever wondered what happened to the John Birch Society, author Claire Conner of Dunedin can tell you. The radical right-wing group that was briefly a player in national conservative politics in the 1960s is back, under a different name: tea party.
She should know. Conner's new memoir Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America's Radical Right is a fascinating inside look at the Birchers in their heyday and her story packed the house last month at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading at University of South Florida St. Petersburg....
On the bitterly divisive issue of immigration reform, can we agree that children are different? Can we at least share the view that children brought to America illegally by their parents are not responsible for their predicament? All they did was grow up where the adults in their lives put them. For that reason — and I'm going to lose a few of you here — special rules should apply.
These DREAMers, as they are known after the various legislative attempts to help them gain citizenship, include a subgroup of young people who are even more deserving of an accommodation. Imagine going through years of expensive and rigorous schooling to qualify as a lawyer but being denied Bar admission because of your undocumented status. Welcome to the world of the DREAM Bar Association, a handful of young people who embody the American ideals of hard work and perseverance, and now just need the system to treat them fairly....
It took a dozen years after it was introduced in France for the abortion drug RU-486 to become available to American women.
The reason was politics, not medicine.
Overseas, the drug regimen was shown to be safe and effective for early-stage abortions, but RU-486 was initially banned for import by the Food and Drug Administration under the President George H.W. Bush. It wasn't until 2000 that the FDA finally approved RU-486 for personal use in the United States....
Want to know one of the greatest unrecognized injustices, in the view of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy? • Overly harsh criminal sentences. • You read that right. The Reagan-appointed justice thinks America's criminal justice system is not working and too costly. "I think you have to look at rehabilitation and alternative punishments," Kennedy told a group of students at the University of California Washington Center during a conversation this month moderated by Jess Bravin of the Wall Street Journal....
There is so little truth-telling by conservatives about their real impetus behind strict voter ID requirements that any morsel feels like a gift.
Thank you, Judge Richard Posner, for being honest.
Posner is an influential Reagan-appointed, conservative federal appeals judge in Chicago who just declared in a new book and public comments that he was wrong to uphold Indiana's voter identification law that requires voters to prove their identity with a photo ID....
The 26 states that have rejected Medicaid expansion are less laboratories of democracy than fiefs of despair. This bloc of states, largely with Republican governors and Republican-controlled Legislatures, is denying health coverage to 8 million people living in poverty. Their reasoning is the same as Republicans in Congress have for cutting food stamps: Refusing a helping hand, a.k.a. causing suffering, discourages government dependency....
I grew up in New York with grandmothers who could speak Yiddish to one another even though both were born in the United States. • One grandmother was president of the local Hadassah, the women's Zionist organization, and I believe single-handedly forested the state of Israel with her tree-planting generosity. • My other grandmother kept a kosher house. The apartment she and my grandfather lived in had lights on timers and an elevator that would automatically stop on every floor during the Sabbath to save residents from having to "work" by pressing a button....
Here is something you don't hear often about the nation's public schools: They are not failing. In fact, schools today are doing a better job educating the nation's youth than they did decades ago. • I know it's hard to believe considering the steady stream of hysteria churned out by so-called school reformers over bad teachers, dropout rates and how American kids rank below so many other countries on standardized tests....
When the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts," the scholar and statesman was issuing a prescient warning: • Watch out America, a self-governing society puts itself in danger when its people dismiss factual evidence that runs counter to their political biases. • Said another way: When the uninformed run a country, it's generally run aground....