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October 05, 2006

Questions One and Two

It's funny how the same questions keep cropping up for me. You'd think after all the years I've been at the disability dodge that I'd've figgered out more stuff.

Question One: Why does public condemnation of access so often go unrebutted? Why aren't there more local and national gimp groups speaking out in condemnation of the anti-access lobby?

This probably seems like I'm still on my rant from Monday. In fact I was put in mind of this perennially unanswered question of mine by an email in my in-box this a.m. with a couple of nasty stories from a San Diego TV station about disabled attorney Theodore Pinnock who has filed some more access suits.

"Some La Mesa businesses are being sued, accused of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act," begins the brief item on the KFMB website. " The accuser is no stranger to these types of lawsuits. . . " Note that KFMB chose to file the story in its "Consumer Alert" web section.

KFMB's later update reports that the five La Mesa businesses "are crying foul over a lawsuit accusing them of violating the American with Disabilities Act" and goes on to report that "Theodore Pinnock, a local attorney with cerebral palsy" who filed the suits, "is known for suing 67 businesses in Julian last year for not making their shops more accessible to the disabled."

Those being sued in La Mesa claim Pinnock is just trying to extort money from small family businesses.

Now I know it's accurate for a TV station to report what the defendants said -- but how about a little balance in the reporting? All that's said is that the TV station tried to contact Pinnock and he was "out of the country."

Are there no other access advocates who could have given a quote?

The stories certainly don't qualify as journalism. Journalism, as I learned it -- where a reporter tries to actually get the story; to find out what happened, to at least appear to be objective, to interview parties with varying viewpoints, seems to be a thing of the past.

But here's the rub: maybe no gimp groups in San Diego ever speak out about access. Maybe TV news departments don't know any spokespeople to give "the other side." Could that be true? Could it be that when reporters try to reach access activists their calls aren't returned; or they're told to call back later, or the source is reluctant to say anything publicly without having a meeting with other gimps first, or...

I don't know, but I do know the pattern. Stories like these appear again and again. And unless I'm mistaken (and I surely hope I will be!) there'll be no press conferences, no statement, no opeds, no anything much by disability activists. Let's watch and see.

Question Two: Why are there so many ridiculous stunt projects put on in the name of "cure" -- and virtually no public-involvement projects in things like access or visitability? Question Two popped into my mind when my eyes fell on a story in my local rag this a.m. about -- I am not making this up -- shooting guns to raise money to cure cystic fibrosis. The organizers actually call their event "Shooting for a Cure," and it's described as "a clay-shooting event that benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation." (Read Ready, aim, shoot for cystic fibrosis cure.) Like the JailAThon for the MDA Telethon, these events are a dime a dozen. This being Breast Cancer Awareness Month or whatever it's called, I'm sure there are scads of variations on this theme being trotted out by those "Racing for The Cure."

Question Two isn't so much about why community-minded folks stage these events (although that might be the topic of another blog entry some day) -- no; my question is more about why so many folks seem to put energy behind these things and so very very few put any energy behind "get involved community projects" that have to do with access or rights.

You know Questions One and Two are related, of course.

I think Question Two is a new one for you dedicated Edge-Centric readers, but you know I've flogged Question One over and over (here and here and here).

And I still don't have an answer.

Does anyone out there have one? If so, please comment.

Posted by mjohnson at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)

October 02, 2006

I'm baaack... and Foley's gone!

Yep. Mark Foley is out of Congress. It's great to be able to write that.

By now it's common knowledge that Florida Republican hypocrite Mark Foley was forced to resign following news of his sexually explicit e-mails to teenage boys serving as Congressional pages. Fueling the media's glee, of course, was the fact the Foley had set himself up as the key foe of child sexual exploitation. As recently as late July, he appeared at the Rose Garden ceremony where President Bush signed a law creating a national registry for sex offenders, a provision Foley wrote -- the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. (Carl Jung would not have found any of this in the least surprising.)

But, of course -- and, I have to write, as usual -- the mass media and the blogosphere seem to know little about his fight against disability rights.

Foley was the power behind the continuing effort to get Congress to consider a different "Notification Act" -- this one an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act -- a bill that continues to crop up like a bad penny. The last I ran across reference to it was in an article just a month ago out of Charlotte, Florida:

Foley has introduced a bill in Congress that would give businesses 90 days to meet ADA standards before they can be sued.

"What I am hoping to do is give business owners a legitimate chance to fix properties or make them compliant without the expense of litigation," he said. (Businesses vulnerable to 'drive-by' lawsuits)

Foley's fight against the ADA hit the bigtime in the spring of 2000 when he got lots of face time on places like Crossfire with his pal actor Clint Eastwood, and got quoted in the Wall St. Journal and the like, promising to help businesses fight against unscrupulous attorneys who were suing mom-and-pop businesses, willy nilly.

Foley's stunts formed the backdrop of my book Make Them Go Away, so I'm likely more aware of his shenanigans than the average taxpayer.

But it's a shame that while the public learns of his sleaze when it comes to sexual mores, they remain unaware of his role in the fight against access.

Of course, as he told Chris Matthews on Hardball back then, "We want people that are disabled to know this is not about hurting or harming them."

Here, then, is a snip from Foley's testimony back on May 18, 2000 before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution:

Mr. Chairman, the Americans with Disabilities Act is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation we have passed in recent years. It is a good law, with great intentions.

At the time it was signed into law, however, even President Bush acknowledged concerns about unintended consequences. Today, we are facing one of those unintended consequences. To put it simply, the ADA is being used by some attorneys to shake down thousands of businesses from Florida to California, and they are doing so at the response of people with disabilities.

As you know, under title III of the ADA, disabled plaintiffs who file lawsuits to compel compliance with ADA access requirements are barred from receiving damage awards, but the attorneys who bring these lawsuits are not. They are allowed to collect attorney's fees. As a result, some attorneys apparently have figured out that the ADA can be a real cash cow for minimum work on their part.. . .

[W]e are talking about businesses that can barely afford clerks, much less lawyers, being expected to comply with very specific requirements of a Federal law that no one has made them aware of. . . .

A black person entering a restaurant and being denied access is reprehensible, but that is because the person is mean. Most everybody understands the impact of civil rights legislation, and I regret that still may occur in parts of America. Unfortunately, today what we are talking about with ADA is ignorance. . . .

Lest anyone be deceived, this fight "on behalf of" small businesses against "drive-by lawsuits" is pretty much a trumped-up charge powered by the ongoing "tort reform" movement. (More about disabled people filing lawsuits here.)

My question, upon returning from my summer hiatus is: who'll take up the cudgel against access now? Florida croney Rep. Clay Shaw? We'll need to see who emerges as the tort reform group's point-man on this issue. Because someone will.

Goodbye, Mr. Foley. Don't let the door hit you on your way out.

Posted by mjohnson at 10:00 AM | Comments (5)