Sunday, September 23, 2012

Political Correctness

When I was growing up, it was a big deal for a woman to keep her "maiden name" after marriage. I changed my name from Jaben to Bratcher, mainly because it was really important to my husband.  I preferred Jaben, taken from the Polish Grzbznrsch or some thing like that, changed in the early 20th Century when many in my dad's family emigrated from Poland to escape pogroms.  My husband did not and it was not worth an argument to me.

I considered myself a "feminist" of the early 1970's, meaning I believed in equality for women. I did not burn any bras nor did I march in protest, I just wanted to excel in my profession and be treated with respect. My husband and I divided duties. While he always worked, as a lawyer, I usually earned more and definitely worked more hours. I took primary care of the kid's education, welfare, etc.  I loved being a mother.  My husband did more chores around the house. It worked for us.  I am a feminist.  During this time, though, "feminist" became a dirty word. Rush  Limbaugh called us "feminazis."  I always wondered what scared him about strong women. "Feminist" was considered ”politically correct" and people ridiculed the Term. In my book, feminist sure beat the derogatory words used against women, "bitch," "c--t," honey with a patronizing look, sweetly with the same look. 

 Women in the past did not have the same legal rights as men. Women could not vote until around 1922. Before that, women were considered "chattel" or property of their husband.  Women could be whipped by their husbands and upon marriage, the property of the woman's became the man's property.  The saying goes that when a man and woman married, they became one person and that person was the man.  

More outrageous conduct was committed against African-Americans and other non-Caucasians. Slavery, slave-like labor, ridicule, punishment, and disdain comprised the lives of non-Caucasians in America.  The reverse was not true against Caucasians. Caucasians, especially most Protestant Caucasians in this country had most of the power and were never oppressed nor enslaved.  Calling a white man "honky" lacks the same bite as calling an African- American the "n" word, or calling a Latino "wetback", or a Muslim "camel jockey."   

We must look to see which group has been oppressed before someone cries foul because of "political correctness."  We haven't all had the same power. Slurs effect the traditionally down-trodden much more than the powerful. 

Why can't we all just reverse roles, a psychodramatic device, to gain some empathy.  As the song goes, "Walk a mile in my shoes..."  The n word and sexual orientation slurs like "faggot" and "queer", have a greater impact than some white guy being called whitey.  African-Americans, Hispanics, gays and lesbians have endured centuries of insults, violence and even enslavement at the hands of those in power. All disrespect is not created equally. 

My mother's family had to wear Stars of David to segregate the Juden from the Gentiles in Nazi Germany. The emblem itself was not anathema to Jews, it was what it meant in society.  One who wore a Star of David, had his business, his property and ultimately his life taken from him because of what the star symbolized to the Nazis. Words are symbols. Words can maim and kill, or lead to mass killing.  

Political correctness is necessary as long as their remains prejudice and racism that divides people.  I certainly don't condone the reaction to the recent insulting Anti-Muslim film. However, if we all treated others and other religious beliefs with respect, because people deserve respect, think about how many innocent people, including the American Ambassador to Libya, would be alive today. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


have always admired clients who, when they first meet with me, talk about justice.  Usually, it goes something like this, "It's not just about the money.  I want to make sure they can't do this (sexually harass, racially harass, fire older workers or workers with disabilities, etc.) to someone else.  Most of the time, when a client says something like that to me, I believe that person and I feel good. 

As a young lawyer, many moons ago, I was cautioned by more experienced attorneys to never believe anyone who said he or she was more concerned about justice than money.  "It's always about money," they would tell me.  I agree and disagree about that.  Justice is oftentimes more important to my client's than money, but money is how one determines if there has been justice in our society. 

We sue large corporations for money.  Contrary to what the Supreme Court and Mitt Romney say, a corporation is not a person.  Corporations are set up by people to protect individuals from liability AND TO MAKE MONEY.  At a shareholders meeting, one would probably not hear,"Well, we lost our shirts, but at least we treated our customers and employees well."  The bottom line is money.  

Corporations are populated by people with real human emotions and real human prejudices.  It is the people in the corporations who sexually harass employees, not the corporations themselves.  The quandary has always been, how do you stop the human misbehavior when the corporations are not human.  Suing a company probably does not change a boss' racist attitudes against African Americans.  But, if the company has to pay a large sum of money and/or the bigot is fired, the payout sends a message to the humans in the company that racism will not be tolerated.  

Just like the song from Bye Bye Birdie, "Put on a Happy Face," if the humans in the company put on a non-bigoted face for fear of financial reversals in the company, or fear of reprimands or worse, sometimes the bigots may act less bigoted ad perhaps, eventually, feel less bigoted.  And if if the bigots remain bigoted, chances are the culture will change because it's no long in vogue to be biased and the children of the bigots will be less bigoted.  Society benefits.

In the time I have practiced law, I have seen improvements in work environments for women, especially in the sexual harassment area.  I like to think that lawyers like me and the brave clients we represent help to change the work environment for women.  Few secretaries are groped or chased around the desk in this day and age.  I am proud of my clients for that improvement in women's work lives.

Maybe in a car wreck case, unless it is a DUI, there is little reason for a client to get on his or her high horse.  Sometimes drivers are careless and make mistakes.  In discrimination cases, however, usually the discrimination is intentional and often come from a need to bully others because of fear and insecurity.  Discrimination lawsuits can make a real difference.  That is why they are satisfying and lawyers work in this area for decades with little burn out.  

Thank goodness for those brave souls who come in to our office because they want to make the workplace fair for minorities, the disabled and women and, to them, that is more important than money.  We need courageous people willing to fight to make things better for society.  thank goodness for clients who care about justice.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What Happened to Loyalty?

When you think of the word "loyalty," what comes to mind? I think of other concepts that I associate with loyalty: character, perseverance, commitment.  Loyalty is the bedrock of our nation's existence.  Our defense, prosperity and future depend on our commitment to our nation and to each other.  We depend on each, we must, to survive. Just as loyalty is essential for successful marriages, it is essential for prosperity in our country. 

I am belaboring the benefits of loyalty, because I fear the destruction of trust and loyalty undermines our society, particularly in our labor market.  In the past in this country, employees retired from companies after many years of mutually beneficial service, usually capped by lavish retirement parties and gifts.  Other countries, such as Japan, are still loyal to their workers.  These companies recognize their employees' contribution to the company's growth. A company does not succeed on the sweat of a CEO's brow alone. Yet, today in this country, managers and some politicians ignore the tremendous contribution of their workers and the decimation of morale and trust when loyal workers are fired en masse because of greed. Unfortunately, the victims of these mass cutbacks are older workers. 

A friend of mine who works at a very large bank summed it up for me. She doesn't expect a retirement party when she leaves. She doesn't even expect a severance package that older workers before her were forced to take. The bank has figured a way to slough off the older workers without severance additional pay.  They just remove the senior employees  by offering an unsuitable demotion. The choice is either humiliating termination or a humiliating demotion.  The employee is in a lose/lose situation.  What a nice and fair way to remove the most loyal contributors to the corporation's wealth?  After all, the Supreme Court and some politicians confuse the lifeless corporate structure for an actual person.  How screwed up are we? 

Unfortunately, many people let go from their jobs are the oldest workers among us.  In our culture, we do not venerate older people for their lifetimes of experiences and the lessons they have learned. Loyalty and wisdom are easily displaced by greed.   A man in his 60s has few options in a job search. He is considered washed up and tired, and our population is growing older and older. 

What happened to loyalty and decency?  Doesn't it make you want to fire a fat cat CEO with an inflated salary thousands of times higher than those of the common employees? Let's hope we don't become a society more focused on greed than on loyalty.  Corporations can be successful and loyal, e.g., Costco and Carmax.  What is the matter with some people?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Count Your Blessings

In today's economy, it's easy for people to sink into despair.  Throughout my life, there have been times when my psyche has been overtaken by waves of despair and melancholy.  I remember my grandmother down in the dumps, unable to go through her normal daily activities.  Many of my relatives, including me, have been on anti-depressants for long periods of time.  For me it's been twenty-one years.  Those little pills have made a big difference in my life, but I and others in my family still suffer from sometimes crippling anxiety.  One relative had repeated anxiety attacks, another is plagued by obsessive thoughts.  We have even had suicides in my extended family and I know of many others who were in so much pain or were so overwhelmed that life did not seem worth living.  

Most of my clients take medications for depression or anxiety.  Are we all just weak?  I think neither I nor most of my clients are weak, in fact I think most of my clients are incredibly strong.  But, life can be hard and sometimes seem unbearable.  Depression is oftentimes something which cannot be conquered through sheer force of will.  Sometimes we need some help.   

In the past few months, my mother almost died from coronary artery disease.  She is recovering. Four days before my mother got sick, I had a planned ACL reconstruction of my left knee.  When my mom called with chest pains, I had not even been cleared to drive, but drive I did - straight to the emergency room. 

This week, my husband and I had our hearts scanned for calcium deposits, and my husband's heart needs attention.  He is 60 and has worked out, running and exercising throughout his life.  He majored in physical fitness in college.  He has an appointment with a cardiologist this week.  We are worried.

Today, I happened upon a car wreck and as I whizzed past, I noticed I know and love the woman, a relative of mine,  who was in the wreck.  She was distraught and somewhat injured. I always dreaded the thought that the sirens I heard would be the wreck with a love one being hurt.  This time, the scenario I dreaded occurred, and it was awful.  

In life, there is so much that happens that is painful and scary.  A breadwinner loses his or her job in the recession, a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, a friend dies.   There is a lot in life about which to despair.  But everyone on this planet has much about which to rejoice.  Just in my family, my mother who was almost left by doctors to die, but instead had quintuple coronary bypass surgery and is recovering splendidly.  I was preparing myself for the worst, but I am thankful for the additional days, weeks, and, hopefully, years we have left together. My mother is sharp, smart and determined.  My relative in the wreck is going to be fine. My leg is healing well. 

A few years ago I was at a dinner with a large table of friends.  I was drinking wine and trying to talk, and I swallowed my piece of steak so that I could get back into the conversation.  But instead of talking, the steak lodged in my throat.  Without the quick thinking of a friend who knew the Heinlich maneuver, I might not be here.  It is freaky to realize that I owe my LIFE to my friend.  Not coincidentally, I am now a vegetarian.

My son was very large before he was born and in a posterior presentation.  I had great difficulty in giving birth to him.  My back labor hurt like hell.  At one point, the nurse gave me oxygen to breath during the delivery.  I tore the tube from my face.  In my pain I did not consider that the oxygen was not for me, but for my son.  Fortunately for him, he is smart and talented in spite of my actions.   Likewise, my daughter's throat was severely constricted by the umbilical during her delivery.  The doctor, alarmed,told me to push even if I did not feel like it.  During the seemingly slow motion of the delivery, I was sure I was not pushing hard enough and that the cord my body created to nourish my daughter would cause her brain damage.  She was born, and I worried. My worries were unnecessary. She is smart and feisty and talented.  

I think about my mother's first cousins who fled Nazi Germany as teenagers after the death camps killed their parents.  My mother and grandparents left a couple of weeks before the crackdown on Jews. We are all lucky to be alive.  

I know it's corny, but I still remember the lyrics sung by Doris Day, I think.  They go something like this, "When I feel lonely and I can't sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.  You'll go to sleep counting your blessings."

We all are blessed, even if we are not religious.  It's all a matter of perspective.    Being rich, popular, or beautiful may seem important, but they really are not.  Having people who care for you and about whom you care, helping others, believing in yourself, these are the real blessing of life.  Remember - you'll fall asleep counting your blessings.