James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, January 09, 2004

Class War 2

It’s obvious, but I have to say it:

The Bush initiative to give legal residency to now undocumented workers/illegal aliens for up to three years, with the possibility of stretching that another three years, is like almost all Bush programs. Beneath the mask it is just another way of paying off business at the expense of those who work for a living -- another in the rapidly growing list of Backward Robin Hood moves.

This one is even nastier than most.

No doubt many good but poor people, eager to scratch out any kind of a living, will jump at the chance to come to or stay in this country to work dirty jobs for the minimum wage (if they can get that much). Many of them probably won’t immediately recognize the hook, and many of those who do are so desperate to make a living they’ll take the bait anyway.

The program outlined by G.W. Bush includes the proviso that the temporary immigrants must be employed to remain in this country. If one of them loses a job, he or she is immediately subject to deportation.

Being here under the Bush program means that the government will know who and where the workers are and who employs them. The natures of the jobs they get and the employers who want them mean that very few will have union protection. If one of the workers annoys an employer – say by requesting correction of dangerous working conditions – boom! The worker will be fired, the government will be notified and that individual will deported, very probably with a statement on his or her record to prevent re-entry to this country.

If you don’t think American employers would treat people that way, you’ve ignored the countless newspaper and magazine stories over many years telling of ill treatment of legal and illegal foreign-born workers in this country – up to and including slavery. Some cases have been so egregious that even television covered them.

Come to think of it, many U.S.-born workers aren’t treated a whole lot better, and as the Bushies
continue their rapid gutting of regulatory agencies, conditions are going down hill.

However, the really nasty piece of the Bush proposal is that it makes the U.S. government an active party to abuse of temporary residents. Now when Wal-Mart and other such employers get caught using and abusing illegal immigrants they at least get some bad publicity and maybe even a tiny fine. Under the new program, government power will help businesses keep the temporary immigrants silent, regardless of how they are treated. And the press won’t say much, if anything, because it’s all legal.

Far down the line, one or two smallish dailies may do a piece or two, or even a series of articles, on the ill treatment of temporary residents, but with the possible exception of the New York Times, I’ll be surprised if the big newspapers touch it. That’s “modern journalism.”

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Class War 1

The Bush Labor Department revealed months ago that it is revamping its rules so that companies can avoid paying many employees overtime for extra hours worked. The new rules are to go into effect in March.

Think of it as the Wal-Marting of America.

The Bushies claim that “only” about 640,000 workers will lose their right to overtime pay. But, they say, the new rules will make about 1.3 million low-income workers – some, but far from all, people working at least 40 hours a week and making less than $22,100 a year -- eligible for overtime pay for the first time.

Try not to be too surprised: Some very knowledgeable people say the numbers from Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and her flacks are as phony as the claim that Halliburton Co. receives no special treatment from the Pentagon. Some within the government have said that close to three million people may find themselves newly “exempt” from the right to collect overtime. The figure generally used by labor unions is eight million.

But suspend rational thought for a minute and pretend Chao’s figures are correct. Then go to the next step, heavily reported in newspapers around the country on Jan 6. The figures, it seems, don’t take into account the Bush Labor Department’s new corporate aid program.

Turns out that the department is advising corporations on how to avoid paying overtime to those low-income workers. It has established an outreach program for employers to teach them to use neat little gimmicks built into the new rules so that they can, for example, require employees to work longer hours just to earn what they have been making in 40 hours – in fact, achieving a cut in their employees’ hourly pay rates.

There already is talk of legal challenges, but Chao has made it clear her department is ready to defend it’s actions.

SIDELIGHT: Haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere, but it seems obvious that workers who no longer can claim overtime pay will be at the mercy of their employers, who can require them to work longer hours at will. The Administration will claim that there are legal protections against such demands, but that’s nonsense. We all know that anyone who refuses to work when the boss wants him or her to work will be in trouble, and almost certainly out of a job before long.

Millions of low-pay workers have to hold down two and even three jobs to keep their families minimally fed, clothed and housed. If your first employer frequently makes you stay on beyond your (previously) normal hours, you may get into trouble for being too often late for your second job; you may not be able to hold that second job.

It’s going to make things harder for the people who already are being stomped on.

PUBLIC SERVICE THOUGHT: Given the real focus of the Bush Labor Department, it would be nice if people around the country set up contests for a new and more appropriate name for the agency. The possibilities are endless: Department of Corporate Coddling, War on Labor Department, Department for Repaying Corporate Contributors or my personal favorite to date: Department of Homeland Insecurity.

Charge a small entry fee and donate the cash to your local food shelves. They’re already hurting, and the demand for their services is growing rapidly.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

The Big Neocon

Let’s start with a given: If your primary source of news is commercial television or radio, you are being conned. You don’t know enough to be trusted with a vote.

CNN still does some straight reporting, notably on the late afternoon show anchored by Lou Dobbs. Bill Moyers’ Friday evening show on public television consistently provides solidly documented information you won’t find elsewhere. Other than those two sources and perhaps another exception here and there, the rule is that television news and public affairs programming is designed to promote and support the people who already have most of the money and power in this country. That’s obvious to anyone with the ability of critical thought.

What is not so obvious even to generally astute readers and observers of public affairs is the degree to which supposedly “fair and balanced” general-circulation newspapers also are distorting perceptions and conning folks into accepting their views on politics and government.

There are countless examples to support that claim, but the lesson for today from this former newspaper insider involves the long con being played out to shift the definitions of left, right and center in politics.

Americans generally abhor the idea of being thought of as extreme in anything. We believe in the almighty “middle,” the “center,” the “mainstream.” Somebody calls you a left winger or a right winger and you’re gonna get in his face, right? You’re a solid, middle of the road American.

So where is the center and who represents it?

If you believe the newspapers, Joe Lieberman, former vice presidential candidate now trying to get the Democratic nomination for president, is a “centrist.” My own long-time employer ran a headline in mid-December stating flatly that “Lieberman sticks to centrist course,” with text that made similar claims. Problem is, if you look at the range of his positions, it becomes apparent that honest old Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower and, on some issues, even Barry Goldwater would be to his left. He has no business calling himself a Democrat. He makes occasional token "liberal" moves, such as co-sponsoring a not-too-tough bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In general, however, whatever big business wants, big business should get, in Joe’s view. He'd never cop to that, of course.

The truth is that almost any political figure who is solidly in favor of keeping political and economic power in the hands of those who already have it is called a centrist in the American press.

And who is a right winger? Gee, folks, if you read the newspapers, let alone watch television “news” shows, you’ll discover that we don’t have rightists in the United States. Nope. We have “conservatives” and “neocons.” The latter is a lovely word, quite newly minted; it has a benign sound and look, and the great advantage of being meaningless to the great majority of citizens.

In fact, the evidence clearly shows that many of the people who today call themselves conservatives are anything but that. They are radical rightists, not trying to preserve the status quo but to further strengthen the power of the wealthy few and weaken constitutional rights of the average Joe. (Read the slender little book “The War on the Bill of Rights” by Nat Hentoff, a highly regarded author and defender of the U.S. Constitution. Not a radical. It’s been endorsed by a bunch of brilliant folks, including law professors and Judge Anthony Napolitano, the senior judicial analyst for Fox News, of all things.)

A neocon is someone much to the right than that, and especially someone who actively seeks to put total control of this country into the hands of that little economic elite, and to put the rest of the world under the domination of this country. No kidding. The White House is full of them. And the press identifies them always as conservatives or neocons, never as right wingers or rightists. You can’t get the terms “rightist” and “right winger” published even in a letter to the editor if you’re trying to identify someone that way; I’ll bet you on that.

Oh, but we do have leftists. That is a term you can get printed at will, or by Will. In fact George Will uses it to describe Democratic candidate Howard Dean and many another liberal he wants to disparage. It also is approved for use in letters to the editor and other commentaries.

Liberal? Oh, yeah. It still has meaning to those of us who consider ourselves liberals – which is to say rational folks who really believe that a rising tide should lift all boats, and that all of society is better off if we eliminate homelessness and hunger and provide real education and health care to all.

The word rarely appears in newspapers these days, however, and when it does it is used almost interchangeably with “leftist.”

And, yes, it does matter. It matters greatly.

By shifting the public perception of what is left, center and right, the right’s tame press has shifted the perception of what is acceptable, what is the “correct” stance for Americans. We hate to be thought of as “different,” we need always to be in the mainstream.