Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Women make news?and change

Commentary by Pat Murphy


Pat Murphy

No matter what your sympathies, this is a fact:

Nothing has so stung the Bush administration recently as much as Cindy Sheehan, the California mother angered by her soldier son's death in Iraq and who's fueling renewed debate on the war, and Valerie Plame, the undercover CIA operative whose outing by the White House in a political vendetta against her husband has fired up a grand jury investigation.

Sheehan has made it OK to criticize the war. As for Plame, she's shamed the White House and an unidentified insider for blowing her cover. Talk about hiding behind a woman's skirts.

What's afoot is a trend of gutsy women taking on issues usually reserved to men.

Time magazine detected the pattern with its 2002 persons of the year that recognized female whistleblowers -- Sherron Watkins, an Enron vice president who unmasked her company's corrupt accounting methods; Coleen Rowley, an FBI staff attorney who exposed bureau indifference and finally stirred up criminal charges against terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, and Cynthia Cooper, a WorldCom executive whose revelations about her firm's phony bookkeeping is sending top brass to the slammer.

Not so well known is Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet tribal member whose unprecedented lawsuit against the Department of Interior (dragging through the courts since 1996) demands an accounting of $100 billion(!) in lost Indian trust funds from extraction leases on Indian lands.

Linda Tripp found a place in history by revealing Bill Clinton's seedy sexual dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.

Some intrepid women, however, pay dearly for principle.

The chief overseer of the Army Corps of Engineers contracts and a 20-year Corps procurement officer, Bunnatine Greenhouse, last week was demoted after criticizing the no-bid contracts in Iraq awarded to Halliburton, Vice President Cheney's former firm.

Worse awaited Teresa Chambers, chief of the U.S. Park Police, when she admitted to a reporter her force was underfunded. For candor, she was fired. Rather than accept her dismissal, however, Chambers fought on, prompting an investigation and the resignation of the Interior department male official who fired her.

Then there's Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, warden of Abu Ghraib prison where photos of prisoner abuse opened a Pandora's box of scandals. Finger-pointing at male higher-ups led to her demotion to colonel, and an end to her military career. Her male superiors are still on the job, unscathed and unchastened.

The 19th century historian Henry Brooks Adams probably had it right when he wrote, "Women have, commonly, a very positive moral sense. . . ."

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