The failure of our corporate and political leaders to make sure every worker gets good health care is causing some unpleasant consequences — like widespread stomach flu.
Ill workers often spread illness, because millions of employees who deal directly with the public are not covered by paid sick leave policies. So, when they come down with something like the stomach flu, they tend to drag themselves to work, rather than going to bed until they recover, since staying home means a loss of pay — or even the loss of their jobs.
Low-wage workers in the restaurant industry are particularly vulnerable and, since they handle food, particularly threatening. Nearly 80 percent of America's food service workers receive no paid sick leave, and researchers have found that about half of them go to work ill because they fear losing their jobs if they don't. As a result, a study by the Centers for Disease Control finds that ill workers are causing up to 80 percent of America's stomach flu outbreaks, which is one reason CDC has declared our country's lack of paid sick leave to be a major public health threat.
You'd think the industry itself would be horrified enough by this endangerment of its customers that it would take the obvious curative step of providing the leave. But au contraire, amigos, such huge and hugely profitable chains as McDonald's, Red Lobster and Taco Bell not only fail to provide such commonsense care for their employees, but also have lobbied furiously against city and state efforts to require paid sick days.
Ironically, the top corporate executives of these chains (who are not involved in preparing or serving food to the public) are protected with full sick leave policies. For them to deny it to workers is idiotic, dangerously shortsighted — and even more sickening than stomach flu.
But what about our lawmakers? Where's the leadership we need on this basic issue of fairness and public health? To paraphrase an old bumper sticker: "When the people lead, leaders will follow. Or not."
Not when the "leaders" are in the pocket of corporate interests that don't like where the people are leading. Take Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who never met a corporate pocket too grungy to climb into.
This story starts in 2008, when the people of Milwaukee took the lead on the obvious need for a program allowing employees to earn a few days of paid sick leave each year, to be used if they fall ill or must care for a sick family member. Seven out of 10 Milwaukee voters approved that measure in a citywide referendum.
Corporate interests, however, sued to stall the people's will, tying the sick leave provision up in court until 2011. By then, the corporations had put up big bucks to put Walker into the governorship — and right into their pocket. Sure enough, he dutifully nullified the Milwaukee vote by passing a "state pre-emption" law, autocratically banning local governments from requiring sick leave benefits for employees.
Just three months later, Walker's pre-emption ploy was the star at a meeting of ALEC, the corporate front group that brings state legislators into secret sessions with CEOs and lobbyists. There, legislators are handed model laws to benefit corporations — then sent home to pass them. At a session overseen by Taco Bell, attendees got copies of Walker's no-paid-sick-leave edict, along with a how-to-pass-it lecture by the National Restaurant Association. "Go forth, and pre-empt local democracy!" was the message.
And, lo, they did. Bills summarily prohibiting local governments from passing paid-sick-leave ordinances are being considered in at least 12 states this year, and Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee have already passed theirs.
Florida's process was especially ugly. Organize now, a coalition of voters in Orlando, had obtained 50,000 signatures to put a sick leave referendum on last November's ballot. But, pressured by the hugely profitable Disney World empire, county commissioners arbitrarily removed it from the ballot.
The scrappy coalition, however, took 'em to court — and won, getting the referendum rescheduled for a 2014 vote. Disney & Gang scuttled off to Tallahassee this year to conspire with Gov. Rick Snyder and GOP legislative leaders. Quicker than a bullet leaves a gun, those corporate-hugging politicos obligingly delivered a "kill shot" to Orlando voters by enacting a Walkeresque state usurpation of local authority.
By spreading Walker's autocratic nastiness from state to state, money-grubbing low-wage profiteers are literally spreading illness all across our land.
(Forner Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower has been called America's most popular populist.)
Last Updated on Friday, 16 August 2013 07:19
The culture war has gone global. And the divisions are not only between, but within nations.
"Suddenly, homosexuality is against the law," wailed Jay Leno. "I mean, this seems like Germany. Let's round up the Jews. Let's round up the gays. ... I mean, it starts like that."
Leno was speaking of Vladimir Putin's Russia. Obama eagerly agreed: "I have no patience for countries that treat gays or lesbians ... in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them. ... Nobody is more offended than me by some of the antigay and lesbian legislation that you've been seeing in Russia."
Leno and Obama were referring to a new Russian law prohibiting "homosexual propaganda." Moscow is also warning foreigners, including visitors to the winter Olympics in Sochi, that propagandizing for gay rights can get them two weeks in detention. No kiss-ins allowed.
"Medieval," howled The Washington Post. "Mr. Putin's war" on gays and lesbians is "part and parcel of his lapse into xenophobia, religious chauvinism and general intolerance."
Monday's New York Times has a front-page story — "Gays in Russia Find No Haven, Despite Support From the West" — featuring photos of roughed-up protesters.
Our moral and cultural elites have put Putin on notice: Get in step with us on homosexual rights — or we may just boycott your Sochi games. What this reveals is the distance America has traveled, morally and culturally, in a few short years, and our amnesia about who we Americans once were, and what it is we once believed.
Only yesterday, homosexual sodomy, which Thomas Jefferson said should be treated like rape, was outlawed in many states and same-sex marriage was regarded as an absurdity. Was that America we grew up in really like Nazi Germany?
In the Catholic schools this writer attended, pornography — let alone homosexual propaganda — would get one expelled. Was this really just like Kristallnacht?
As Father Regis Scanlon writes in Crisis Magazine, in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated Catholic doctrine that homosexuality is a "strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil," an "objective disorder." That homosexual acts are unnatural and immoral remains Catholic teaching. Thus, if we seek to build a Good Society by traditional Catholic and Christian standards, why should not homosexual propaganda be treated the same as racist or anti-Semitic propaganda?
We can no longer even agree on what is good and evil.
When Pope Francis said, "Who am I to judge?" he was saying that a sexual orientation is something over which an individual may have no control, dating to birth or infancy. Hence homosexuals ought not to be condemned, but welcomed into the community. As for homosexual propaganda and acts, that is another matter.
What, one wonders, is the view of those Evangelical Christians who sustain the Republican Party on homosexual propaganda in the public square? Do they agree with the Post? Or do they agree with Putin?
When the Socialist regime of Francois Hollande enacted a law endorsing same-sex marriage, a million Frenchmen marched in protest in Paris. Is America on Hollande's side, or the side of the protesters?
When the ultra-Orthodox haredim of Jerusalem denounce the annual gay pride parade in the Holy City, whose side is America on?
The Post weeps for the "young women of the persecuted rock band Pussy Riot," who engaged in half-naked obscene acts on the high altar of Moscow's most sacred cathedral. Had these women crayoned swastikas on the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., would the Post have been so sympathetic?
Putin suggested the ladies try the same stunt in Mecca.
In our late Mideast wars, America has fought for secularist democracy. Yet Christians have suffered horribly, with the murder of priests, the burning of churches, terrorism and wholesale flight.
According to LifeSiteNews, Putin, meeting with Orthodox Christian leaders, urged the world to come together to stop these violent persecutions. "Especially in the Middle East and North Africa ... the rights of religious minorities are infringed, especially Christians and Orthodox Christians. ... This pressing problem should be a subject of close attention for the entire international community."
Urging America and the West to join with Russia in saving Syria's Christians, Orthodox Patriarch Kirill said their expulsion from Syria would be a "catastrophe" for civilization.
Has Obama ever spoken out so forcefully for international action to save Christians? Has The New York Times ever exhibited a fraction of the concern for persecuted Christians it daily exhibits for harassed homosexuals?
What did the Post mean by "religious chauvinism"?
Putin is trying to re-establish the Orthodox Church as the moral compass of the nation it had been for 1,000 years before Russia fell captive to the atheistic and pagan ideology of Marxism. "The adoption of Christianity," declared Putin, "became a turning point in the fate of our fatherland, made it an inseparable part of the Christian civilization and helped turn it into one of the largest world powers."
Anyone ever heard anything like that from the Post, the Times or Barack Hussein Obama?
Last Updated on Thursday, 15 August 2013 07:59
These days, almost every political conversation ends up with a little Hillary at the end.
Catnip. The gift we give ourselves.
It would make absolutely no sense for Hillary Clinton to decide today whether she will or will not run for president. So the only sensible stance to take is that it's not impossible or, if you prefer, it certainly is possible, which is to say they flirt and we fan it.
Even out of office, Hillary Clinton obviously has the power to bring attention to issues, propose solutions, define problems, shape the debate. And if there's a chance she might be in office again, she has more power still. You are never more popular, certainly with the press, than the day before you announce. Until the day she says for sure she isn't running, she'll be treated as if she is.
That's the easy part. The press bores easily. But us? What I find striking is just how many of us, less than a year into our president's second term, are getting stars in our eyes thinking about Hillary 2016.
Have we so quickly lost interest in 2013 — or in the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?
The president is on vacation. I don't begrudge him that. But there is something about the image of carefree days on the beach that seems so old and completely out of touch with where the country is.
Things did not turn out exactly the way we boomers expected, which is certainly a big piece of the "there's still Hillary" coda. I know all of these amazingly qualified people who are ready for the next act, who still, God willing, have decades of work and life and expenses ahead, just not in the job or place they've been in the past.
Does the president get it? One of the things that was so striking about the president's comments on the George Zimmerman verdict was how clear it was that he understood the ordeal of Trayvon Martin's family and those who support them.
And maybe a little of the backlash (which was unwarranted on any rational grounds) owed to the folks who are wondering whether he'll ever understand their lives.
But there's more to it. Barack Obama — he of the gifted voice, the soaring spirit, the 21st-century politician — sounds more and more like everybody else in Washington. You can half-close your eyes, and it's all a bunch of word soup: "the American people" yada, yada, "but our opponents" yada yada, we're on the side of "the American people," and "they're blocking progress... " If you throw in "Benghazi" and "tax breaks for the rich," you can pretty much turn the page.
Now, I'm not saying that Hillary Clinton wouldn't sound just like Obama if she were sitting where he is (I'm long past re-fighting 2008). But he's where he is — and she's more than three years from that seat — and he'll spend the rest of his life looking back at these months, particularly this critical period before the midterm elections, and wondering what more he could have done.
Obamacare is about to take center stage. Sometimes, listening to the president's attackers and defenders, I think Kool-Aid must be all that's being served in D.C. Hello! Isn't the challenge right now to make the system work as well as it can for as many people as it can? Isn't that what we should talk about: How do we do it, fix it, work it? Not whether the president was right or wrong.
The point of sending representatives to Washington is to see what they can agree on, not what they can disagree on. You can disagree on cable news. If the president can't make Washington work before the midterms, will it really be easier afterward?
A little Hillary is nice, but Obama is the president. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.
(Susan Estrich is a law professor at the University of Southern California. Long active in Democratic Party politics, she managed the presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis in 1988.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 August 2013 11:56
What is the most intellectually dishonest profession around? My nomination: the admissions officers at highly selective colleges and universities.
Evidence in support of this comes from, of all places, a recent article in The New York Times. The writer is Ruth Starkman, and the subject is her experience as a reader of applications to the highly selective University of California, Berkeley.
"Admissions officers were careful not to mention gender, ethnicity and race during our training sessions," she notes. But when she asked one privately, "What are we doing about race?" she was told it was illegal to consider it, but that they were looking at "the 'bigger picture' of the applicant's life."
Racial discrimination in state universities was made illegal in 1996 when California voters by a 55 percent margin passed UC Regent Ward Connerly's Proposition 209. At first UC admissions officers enforced the law, as Richard Sander (a UCLA law professor) and Stuart Taylor report in their book, "Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It."
The result was that fewer blacks and Hispanics were admitted to the most selective UC schools, Berkeley and UCLA, but more were admitted to and graduated from less selective UC campuses.
But then admissions officers started to cheat. They declared that they were using "holistic" criteria, trying to gauge from students' applications the "bigger picture" of their life. In practice, this meant racial discrimination in favor of blacks and Hispanics, and against Asians and whites
Starkman's job was to read applications and rate them on a numeric scale, with 1s being the most desirable. She "was told I needed more 1s and referrals. A referral is a flag that a student's grades and scores do not make the cut but the application merits a special read because of "stressors" — socioeconomic disadvantages that admissions offices can use to increase diversity."
It's not hard to imagine what "stressors" might include. A Spanish surname. A home address or high school in a heavily black neighborhood. An essay recounting "the hardships that prevented the student from achieving better grades, test scores and honors."
So the admissions officers were tipping the scale heavily in favor of certain students — and heavily against others.
"When I asked about an Asian student who I thought was a 2 but had received only a 3, the officer noted, 'Oh, you'll get a lot of them,'" Starkman writes. "She said the same when I asked why a low-income student with top grades and scores, and who had served in the Israeli Army, was a 3."
What's extraordinary about this is that you have an organization every member of which is well aware of its main purpose — illegal racial discrimination — but in which no one will say so out loud. A willingness to lie and break the law are job requirements.
Now I am aware that there are arguments against a college just admitting the students with the highest test scores. It does probably serve some educational purpose to bring together people with different interests and different strengths.
Preferences to offspring of alumni and talented athletes may be warranted for schools that need private contributions to thrive.
But racial discrimination is unlawful and has been rightly repudiated by the American people. The corrupt silence concerning such discrimination in college and university admissions suggests that at some level these people know they are doing something for which they should be ashamed.
Unfortunately they are doing their intended beneficiaries no favors. That's proved beyond demur by Sander and Taylor's "Mismatch." Black and Hispanic students tend to drop out of schools when they find themselves less well prepared than their schoolmates. Those intending to major in science and engineering tend to back out of those fields. Many do not graduate yet are stuck with mounds of student loan debt.
Meanwhile, there appears to be a ceiling on the number of Asians in selective private schools, similar to the ceiling imposed on Jews there from the 1920s to the 1960s. Just 19 percent of students at Stanford and 16 percent in the Ivy League are Asian — numbers that have remained static for two decades despite increasing numbers of Asian applicants.
This is, in my American Enterprise Institute colleague Charles Murray's phrase, "discrimination against hardworking, high-achieving young people because of the color of their skin." His word for it: "despicable."
(Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)
Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 August 2013 07:38
On immigration, the Republican Party is trapped in two trains of thought, each speeding along the wrong track. At the tea party end, there's absolute resistance to normalizing the status of illegal immigrants. On the cheap-labor side, there's this big push to admit as many unskilled immigrants as possible.
The first view, that putting millions of illegal immigrants on the path to citizenship rewards lawbreakers, is unhelpful. It is true that they broke the law by taking jobs in the United States. It is also true that their employers broke the law in hiring them. An honest gathering of all the lawbreakers would make for an interesting roundup.
The building of this 11-million-strong population of undocumented workers had another player — the federal government. Until Barack Obama assumed office, no president took enforcing the ban on hiring illegal workers very seriously. Also making the job difficult is the loophole letting employers accept any reasonably good-looking Social Security card as proof of right to work here. Social Security cards are often stolen, and plausible ones are easy to counterfeit.
The proposed reforms would end all that. Companies would have to send the information to a central database confirming a prospective hire's right to work here. Tougher sanctions, meanwhile, would motivate employers to follow the law.
Without passage of the immigration reforms, none of this will occur. The Swiss cheese system by which undocumented workers and their employers slip through the law will remain. If you really want to end illegal immigration, the reforms offer the only reliable route. And politically they won't happen if there's no path to citizenship.
This is pretty obvious, but in many cases, animus toward Latinos trumps even self-interest. Iowa Rep. Steve King has built quite a repertory of ethnic insults, most recently referring to border crossers' calves as "the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana."
The other Republican track wants lots and lots of legal, low-skilled workers to ensure that restaurants, hotels and other service businesses need never raise their wages.
Though the hourly pay of cooks and hotel maids is actually falling, there can never be "low-enough" for the cheap-labor rump of the Republican Party.
The bill that passed the Senate provides for a new class of visas for up to 200,000 low-skilled workers. That number was reached through a delicate compromise with labor, which understandably doesn't like the idea.
But Republican Reps. Ted Poe of Texas and Raul Labrador of Idaho want more, many more, low-skilled workers. They're proposing about 400,000 visas a year. This pleases the American Hotel and Lodging Association — to an extent.
"Ideally, there should be no cap," association official Shawn McBurney told The Wall Street Journal. "It should be driven by the market."
By market, McBurney presumably means not the United States labor market, but the Western Hemispheric labor market. Hey, throw in the other hemisphere, too.
Labrador plays an interesting double game — on one hand breathing fire against the path to citizenship; on the other, opening a wide highway for imported cheap labor. Perhaps there's some consistency here: Expanding the low-skilled visa program and keeping illegal immigrants vulnerable both depress wages.
Sympathy goes to that minority of Republicans who understand what it takes to get immigration reform passed and the stakes in not succeeding. They include Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. Under assault by their party's radical wings, these lawmakers deserve an extra star for bravery.
Of course, demonizing Latinos while ignoring the economic interests of all blue-collar workers is also not great politics. A Republican Party unable to change these directions is chugging into oblivion.
(Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop writes from her base at the Providence Journal.)
Last Updated on Monday, 12 August 2013 07:42