Roundtable: Terror Plot Foiled, Gay Marriage

Topics: An alleged terrorist plot is foiled by Canadian police, and the Bush administration pushes for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Guests: Robert George, editorial writer for the New York Post; Callie Crossley; social/cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press in Boston; and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, co-director of immigration studies at NYU.

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ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's Roundtable, gay marriage goes to the Hill, and did the Supreme Court send a message to corporate whistleblowers?

Joining us today to discuss these topics and others, Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, he's a professor of globalization and education and the Co-Director of Immigration Studies at New York University. Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the NorthStarNetwork.com, joins us via phone from New York. And also with us, Callie Crossley, social and cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press, which is seen in the Boston area. She joins us from member station WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts.

All right, folks. One of the things that we want to talk about is something has been on the political landscape for some time, but it is getting red hot again, and that's because the president and other Republicans are gearing up to try to make - and everyone suggests that this is almost an impossibility, Walter Fields - but to try to make the ban on gay marriage a Constitutional amendment.

Mr. WALTER FIELDS (CEO, Publisher, NorthStarNetwork.com): Well, I think it's a Hail Mary pass as the Republicans prepare for midterm elections, and poll numbers really show potential disaster for Republicans on the Hill. I think they're trying to find something to ignite their base, particularly their conservative base. And this certainly has been one of their key issues for some time, and I do think it's over-reaching at this point.

And I'm a little troubled by the fact that we're continuing to have discussions about having government interfere in this way, in a very personal decision. It would be one thing if you were talking about civil unions, but I think for the government to define marriage is a troubling aspect that really is counter-intuitive to what conservatives have been preaching about for some time now, in terms of getting government out of your life.

GORDON: Here's something that perhaps is issuing the gauntlet and talking about what we are going to see in coming years, frankly, Marcelo, and that's that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is best known as a possible candidate now in 2008, placed the amendment on the floor schedule. This, of course, saying that Bush's promotion of this was central to the plan for Republicans.

Professor MARCELO SUAREZ-OROZCO (Professor of Globalization and Education, Co-Director of Immigration Studies, New York University): Yes, it's really changing the topic, Ed. We have a disaster unfolding in Iraq - really an inferno. We have serious ongoing issues in Afghanistan. The price of gas is skyrocketing. We're not talking about the important issues in our country today. The fact is that marriage is highly protected under law in the United States, and this is simply a change-the-topic strategy, and I don't think this is going to work. I think the voters are very focused on the things that matter now, and the things that matter now are our foreign policy, are our out of control healthcare costs, gasoline prices, and so on and so forth.

GORDON: Callie, the interesting point here is, as Marcelo talks about, prioritizing the concerns of this country, the war, of course, being tantamount to almost Bush suicide in some people's minds - administratively at least. One has to believe that the idea of talking about other issues that may have been front and center before, becomes the political juggling act for all of these folks.

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Social and Cultural Commentator, Beat the Press): Absolutely. It is about changing the conversation, particularly as we're going into the elections. What they need to make sure of - this, the folks who are Bush-based folks or actually, the Bush people trying to appeal to the base - is to make sure that those folks will get out and vote in the fall. And nothing right now is going to inspire them to do that. They're mad at him. That's why those numbers are as down as they are. Folks who were already mad at him, had moved away a long time ago, but when you lose the base, when you lose the loyalists, the question becomes, how can I bring them back and demonstrate to them once and for all, I have not forgotten you; I have not forgotten my pledge to you; I know who you are; You know who I am. And the best way to do this is to go to the heart of one of the central issues for the base, and that's this.

And so what they want to inspire folks to do, that despite anything else that may be on that ballot, we want you to get out there and vote for - in favor of this ban, and make certain that you speak to the nation and say that this is who we are from a fundamentalist standpoint.

Now, what I think about it is, okay, well, you want to get folks to the polls, but how are they going to get there with $4.00 a gallon gas? I mean, I just think that at some point people are going to wake up and say, well, wait a minute. You know, what's going on here?

GORDON: Walter, what of those who want to legalize same sex marriage, who will say to the argument that Marcelo put forth, while they agree that this is not as perhaps important as war, this is still a very important issue, and they don't want it to be lost in the sauce, so to speak.

Mr. FIELDS: Well, no doubt it's important to a certain segment of the America public, but I think you have to look at it in terms of national priorities. And if I were to rate this as a national priority during a time of war, during an energy crisis, during uncertainty over the economy, this one wouldn't make the cut. And I think what the president's trying to do right now, he's really grabbing for straws. They have to find something that will ignite that base to get people motivated in a way to come out to the polls and vote.

Right now, across the board, whether you look at numbers for the White House, whether you look at numbers for Republicans on the Hill, they're generally very low. So in the next four or five months, they've got to do something to prime their constituents to go to the polls. And for conservative voters, this has always been one of those issues that they have refused to let go of.

GORDON: All right. People woke up to headlines this morning, frightening to many, the idea that 17 people were arrested in Canada. Canadian intelligence agents and police arrested 17. These people had compiled a huge collection of apparatus that usually is associated with terrorist activity, including three tons of ammonium nitrate, and they had fashioned cell phones that would, in turn, detonate bombs. We've seen it in London. We saw it here in the United States, unfortunately, and what is - Callie - perhaps more frightening is that five of the 12 were juveniles.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Not only that, what's frightening to me - and I think something that's going to come up over and over again - is they're described as coming from middle-class families. These are people that, you know, folks just would not have suspected in this way. In the past, there had been some discussion that maybe some of the terrorists were able to gain ground among folks - young people particularly - who were disaffected. So what is the message if you're getting juveniles who, coming from middle-class families, who are seated in the community in ways that nobody would suspect them they're so assimilated. Something's going on here, and it's not just a lesson for what happened in Canada. It's certainly a lesson for the rest of us around the world.

GORDON: Those may remember, in 1995, the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and that was done with two tons of the same kind of ammonium nitrate. It's essentially fertilizer. When you look at three tons here, Marcelo, the idea that these gentlemen allegedly were looking at doing some heavy duty damage, one might believe.

Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Yes, and apparently they were also casing various opportunity targets, let's call them, and this is immensely troubling. Open societies, like Canada, like the United States - we saw it earlier in London, in Spain, in Madrid - are immensely vulnerable to these kinds of developments.

I really think that there is an issue here - a pattern. These are second-generation children of immigrants from south Asia, and we really need to look at the evidence, look at the data, and begin to think through and articulate some answers as to what is going on here with these youth, who seem to be from middle-class backgrounds, who seem fully incorporated into Canadian society, in this case - earlier, we saw it in England - that are so susceptible to this culture of death, to these really desperate attempts. We have a huge problem, and we really need to think about the incorporation of these youth into our societies.

GORDON: We should note that some of sites included the Parliament building in Ottawa and offices of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in Toronto. But Walter, Marcelo brings up an interesting point. The more and more we see this kind of activity, the more and more we see these kinds of arrests and, heaven forbid, yet another strike, we are seeing what has been deemed an open society's window closing ever so slightly each time.

Mr. FIELDS: Well, it's the new reality of this age of terrorism that many of the freedoms and liberties that we once took for granted are now under attack. And I think it does say something when you look at a situation like what was uncovered in Canada, that hate has become sort of an heirloom, that it's being passed down from generation to generation, and not just among people who were so-called disaffected - that there is something in the air that suggests that there are certain countries in this world that are the object of just venom by people who just do not want to see - whether it's Canada or the United States -our societies continue in the manner they have, for whatever reason. And I think we need to get to the root of that hate if we're really ever going to solve this issue of terrorism.

You know, not, you can't have - you'll never have enough police, federal agents - we really have to understand the cultural dynamics that are at work, that are putting us in this precarious position.

GORDON: So, beyond the rhetoric of the discussion of why one country, or one people, hate another - but the reality of what goes on, on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. GEORGE: Without a doubt. And I think that's what we're missing. I think we missed that after the first World Trade Center bombing. And then the second World Trade Center bombing. We keep overlooking the fact that there is something in the waters, something in the stream, that is suggesting that our nation, in particular… It's not - it's not a matter of envy. It's not even a matter of anger. There is something deeper that is going on around the world towards the United States, and we'd better find out soon, or this country will never have peace.

GORDON: All right. Let's turn our attention to something that happened last week, that we were unable to get to because of just the sheer volume of news. But we wanted to make sure we touched base this week on it, Callie, and let me start with you. And that's the Supreme Court has ruled that the constitution does not protect public employees against retaliation by supervisors for anything they say in the course of performing their assigned duties. It was a 5-4 decision.

But here's what's interesting, and a lot of people have raised this question: whether or not this speaks to the idea of whistleblowers who make their complaints public - that in fact, they may now face a greater danger of retaliation. Now, we should note that Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority of opinion, also suggested - within that writing - that employees might face a far better opportunity, speaking out as citizens, rather than taking their complaints to the private sector, and go public, rather than keeping them within the official chain of command. And that is an interesting, some say, contradiction.

Ms. CROSSLEY: It's more than a contradiction. It's confusing and it's frightening.

Let's say you have something to whistle-blow about. Do you have time to try to think about, well let's see, do I need to do this publicly or should I go up the chain of command? It seems to just - as I heard one analyst talk about it - he said, not just to make sense. So I don't know what the overall message here is, Ed, except be quiet.

And it just brings to the fore, once again, that there's lots of stuff going on that can never come to light, unless some, usually brave souls - decide, from inside, where they have the viewpoint to tell us what's going on - will speak up about it. But now I think their voices have been silenced. If they haven't been silenced, then they certainly will think a long and hard before stepping out there, because there is no protection.

GORDON: Though it seems to me, Marcelo, when you talk about corporate whistle-blowing, particularly on the scale of an Enron or a Texaco, the corporations that we've seen these people be brave enough to step up - that they certainly understand the kind of retaliation they're going to face, whether this ruling came down or not.

Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Yeah, this is why the ruling is so significant, really, because people know, often, what they're up against. And, in a way, this is a bad day for transparency. It will push people farther underground, people that before had reservations about the retaliation they might face if they go on and make public, uncomfortable truths about what's going on within organizations. They're now more likely to be quiet, because this kind of technical separation between your public speech versus speech - let's call it within the chain of command - is going to have the effect of really silencing people that would otherwise come forward with information, with troubling facts.

GORDON: Walter, we always talk about the court. And pundits will try to tell you - political purists will try to tell you the court is not political. But when you take a look at how the court decided - the dissenters were John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Steven Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg - you can take a look at this and really see that the court in and of itself holds on to that 5-4 margin to a great degree in many social ills that they have to look at.

Mr. WALTERS: Oh, this one went right down ideological lines. You know, and it's interesting though. I think it could have a chilling effect. But if you look at the personalities of many people who have been whistleblowers, I think those people fully understood the ramifications. And no matter what law was in place, they were still going to step forward.

I mean I think that those people who make those sort of pronouncements, are of such nature that it really doesn't matter to them, because they see the importance of them speaking up. Now, where the problem is, is that if you have instances where corporations, for instance, are involved in behavior that could really have an effect upon the public health - this is where I get concerned.

You know, what if you have a company that is just doing something that has a widespread impact upon the public and you have someone inside that knows that, and is, you know, a little intimidated to speak up. It could have major implications. So, you know, it's going to be interesting to see how this shakes out. I don't think we're going to know until we have a case that comes up - when someone speaks out and whether or not a corporation, you know, seeks to retaliate against that person.

This is one of those types of decisions that you're not going to know until you have a sort of a living incident, to see what really happens here.

GORDON: And Callie, you have to believe that it really is, perhaps not on the scale of an Enron, but some of the smaller concerns that may go on - smaller in scale, that may go on within companies or corporations - where it may not bring the company down, but it may, as Walter suggests, be adverse to the public consumers or the employees within those four walls.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, absolutely. But I would just say that let's remember that when the first inklings about Enron started out, nobody knew that all those people were going to lose their entire life savings. I mean, we are talking about when that first woman whistleblower came forward, I can't think of her name right now, she just knew that there was some funny business going on with the books. And then it untangles.

And so you talk about the health of somebody being affected, these are peoples' whole lives that were affected by that. And I think that, even though she had to know stepping forward was going to bring her some level of grief - its one thing to think, but despite that I know I have the backing somewhere else, some more formal backing, I have something else there to back me up - and what the Supreme Court decision seems to suggest is, no you don't. You're just really out there.

GORDON: Yeah.

Ms. CROSSLEY: So I think that's a problem.

GORDON: All right. Marcelo, Walter, and Callie, thank you so much. Greatly appreciate it.

Mr. FIELDS: Thank you.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Thank you.

Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Thank you, Ed.

GORDON: Next up on NEWS & NOTES, a political warhorse wants to be Oakland's next mayor, but his national experience may, in fact, hurt him. And, her dedication to teaching has earned her national recognition. We'll introduce you to the 2006 Teacher of the Year.

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