Tuesday, April 28, 2009
by Larry Geller
Probably everyone is familiar, at least at a gut level, with what civil disobedience means. From Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 Resistance to Civil Government, to Gandi, Rosa Parks, and to present day war protestors, civil disobedience is a common tool of change. We all know that (for example) Rosa Parks broke the law by refusing to obey regulations requiring her to give up her seat on the bus. We also know and revere her for how successfully she brought about change. We consider her act to be a good thing. This is key.
Now, civil disobedience is practiced by ordinary people in reaction to perceived unjust laws or as a matter of conscience. Refusing to give up a bus seat or hammering on the covers of nuclear missiles are activities that ordinary people may undertake. Perhaps they will be arrested for their acts, perhaps they will serve jail time.
But what about when our government itself breaks the law? From ordering torture of innocent civilians at one end to refusing to comply with state laws at the other, the acts of our elected representatives or appointed public servants do not qualify as “civil disobedience.”
Selling Barak Obama’s former Illinois senate seat is not civil disobedience. Refusing to provide quarterly Superferry reports is not civil disobedience. Now, Blagojevich may end up in jail ultimately, but Linda Lingle won’t do time for disregarding the law. And then we have the irregularities in procurement unearthed by investigations and audits of DBEDT.
DBEDT Director Ted Liu has been accused of violating state procurement laws by awarding an $8.7 million contract to the lowest-ranked bidder. A recently completed audit found an “apathetic environment” in his department with regard to these laws. I’ve suggested that he should resign, but he’s still there. More audits are due out and still more may be ordered. There are YouTube videos posted of the Senate investigation, here’s one of the sequence. The Honolulu city prosecutor has been asked to investigate. But the Senate's Hydrogen Investigative Committee has already determined that Liu had violated state procurement law. We don’t have a Blagojevich, but we have this. A whole state department ignoring state laws.
The unlawful acts of government actors lack the moral basis to be called civil disobedience. In fact, they would more often be described as immoral or lacking in conscience. That’s an important distinction. Strangely, we prosecute the moral actors while the immoral actors run our government. I’ve never understood why this is so.
Thoreau’s civil disobedience has been described as passive. He refused to cooperate by withholding his taxes in protest of slavery and war, for example. Lingle’s uncivil disobedience has also been passive. Not filing the quarterly Superferry reports is an example.
There are passive acts that may be within the letter of the law (for example, not releasing money for senior care, for services for the blind, or for pedestrian safety). The statutes allow the governor to withhold this money. Morality isn’t directly in the statutes but I think it can be implied. It’s immoral to deny your granny home services when she comes out of the hospital, for example. At least, I think it is.
What about declining to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices on prescription drugs for Hawaii’s citizens with disabilities, with low incomes or who are seniors? The legislature clarified the law to replace “may” with “shall,” but there are still no negotiations. Hawaii residents should have had the benefit of lower prescription prices since 2004.
What about the baby “Safe Haven” law that the governor vetoed but which became law anyway in 2007? She now does nothing to enforce this law. It was passed to allow distraught mothers to turn over babies to be cared for instead of abandoning them or taking their lives. Hawaii was one of only three states and the District of Columbia without such a law, which had been signed by governors of both political parties (but vetoed by Lingle). But if you google Hawaii safe haven law you’ll not find any link to a state website explaining the law, who administers it, or how it is used.
This is a sign posted in Massachusetts explaining the law. How many signs have you seen in Hawaii? How many pamphlets?
Morality is not on the side of uncivil disobedience that endangers lives. Let’s be clear on this—it is unacceptable that even one baby die in Hawaii because its mother did not know that she could take advantage of this law. And let’s be clear that it is a decision on the part of our governor not to enforce this and other laws that our legislature has passed. She can’t say “I forgot.” Keeping this law secret is not what the legislature intended.
What’s missing is a way to respond to this uncivil disobedience. Pound on a nuclear missile cover and you’ll be arrested. Public servants ignore or flaunt state law and yet nothing happens.
What to do? At the moment, our only tool may be shame.
Now here's that facts behind the story. Almost all of the signs posted in Massachusetts have been donated by private citizens, with the rest being purchased by various cities and towns.
For the last two years the promotion of the law has been done by private citizens, with absolutely no support from our governor, who like Linda Lingle doesn't like Baby Safe Havens.
But, we have the best program in the country, and are a model for every state in the nation.
The hotlines are private, and out of state. One covers Hawaii.
Our promotions and education initiatives are very targeted. We use web, MySpace - http://myspace.com/babysafehaven - it covers Hawaii.
The videos on the site are of our spokesperson, Renee Marcou, who visits radio and TV stations to talk to DJ's, anchors and talk show hosts.
Here's a sample.
How is New England doing?
We are now 28 months without a deadly abandonment, only one baby left a block from a hospital, safely on a doorstep and found in minutes.
We used to get 2 to 3 abandonments per year, with half deadly, prior to the laws passing.
If you want success, don't let the state government do it for you.
With all those Red shirts at the Legislature over Civll Unions, it's hard to believe that they have allowed Lingle to not promote/set up the Baby Safe Havens. Isn't this part of the red shirt radicals agenda.....or are they waiting for Aiona and Transformation Hawaii to use this in an election year?