Cutting through the bullshit.

Friday, 1 June 2007

A good idea

The other day, I mentioned the high level of inequality in the land of the free. On Alternet today, Barbara Ehrenreich puts a bit finer point on it than just the Gini Coefficient.

Recent findings shed new light on the increasingly unequal terrain of American society…the rising tide in executive pay does not lift all yachts equally. The latest pay gap to worry about is the one between the CEO and his -- or very rarely her -- third in command.

According to a just-reported study by Carola Frydman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Raven E. Saks at the Federal Reserve, 30-40 years ago, the CEO's of major companies earned 80 percent more, on average, than the third-highest-paid executives. By the early part of the 21st century, however, the gap CEO and the third in command had ballooned up to 260 percent.

Now take a look at what's happening at the very bottom of the economic spectrum, where you might have pictured low-wage workers trudging between food banks or mendicants dwelling in cardboard boxes. It turns out, though, that the bottom is a lot lower than that.

On May 16, a millionaire couple in a woodsy Long Island suburb was charged with keeping two Indonesian domestics as slaves for five years, during which the women were paid $100 a month, fed very little, forced to sleep on mats on the floor, and subjected to beatings, cigarette burns and other torments.

This is hardly an isolated case…Some of America's slaves are captive domestics, like the Indonesian women in Long Island. Others are factory workers, and at least 10,000 are sex slaves…

…Top-ranked college professors, for example, enjoy salaries of several hundred thousand a year, often augmented by consulting fees and earnings from their patents or biotech companies. At the other end of the professoriate, you have adjunct teachers toiling away for about $5000 a semester or less, with no benefits or chance of tenure…adjuncts who moonlight as waitresses or cleaning ladies are legion.

…law firm partners billing hundred of dollars an hour, now has a new proletariat of temp lawyers working for $19-25 an hour in sweatshop conditions...temp lawyers report working 12 hours a day, six days a week, in crowded basements with inadequate sanitary facilities.

Shaun at Hollowpoint linked to my post about ‘the other 0.001%’, including this great old graphic, which I’m copying over here for your delectation.

Meanwhile, a Pew survey carried out in December and early January of 2,007 adults reveals that only 38% of Americans agree that ‘Business corporations generally strike a fair balance between making profits and serving the public interest’, while 58% disagree. No doubt corporations disagree about what is in the public interest, because the LA Times’s Henry Weinstein reports,

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit Wednesday that accused a Boeing Co. subsidiary of helping the Central Intelligence Agency facilitate "the forced disappearance, torture and inhumane treatment" of three men the government suspected of terrorist involvement.

"This is the first time we are accusing a blue-chip American company of profiting from torture," ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner said at a news conference in New York City.

Since at least 2001, Jeppesen Dataplan Inc. of San Jose "has provided direct and substantial services to the United States for its so-called 'extraordinary rendition' program,"…the suit said that Jeppesen provided flight and logistical support services for more than 70 extraordinary renditions over a four-year period… a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing, declined to confirm whether Jeppesen worked for the CIA. "The services Jeppesen provides are provided on a confidential basis for all its customers," he said.

According to Clive Stafford Smith, ‘a British lawyer who has been…serving as co-counsel on the ACLU suit, ‘Corporations should expect to get sued where they are making blood money off the suffering of others’. Smith has clearly failed to absorb the true spirit of capitalism.

And neither, apparently, do a lot of Americans, 76% of whom agree that ‘There is too much power concentrated in the hands of a few big companies’, while 65% think ‘Business corporations make too much profit’. Now in a real democracy like the US, the government is responsive to what the citizens think. So you’d surmise that these crazy attitudes are some kind of fluke or a recent development. It transpires, however, that Pew has tabulated their responses to these questions over the last 20 years and over that period, the proportion who think corporations have too much power has never dropped below 72% (May 1993) and has reached as high as 84% in February 1989, when 72% also thought they made too much profit. The proportion with this peculiar attitude dropped as low as 56% in September 1999.

Some democracy!

Also on Alternet today, Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report writes

The terror attack that took place on September 11, 2001 was an aberration in more ways than one. Muslims were the perpetrators, but that is usually not the case. The purveyors of hate and violence in America are almost always Christians… Muslims are constantly asked to denounce their members who are terrorists. Why is there no similar demand of Christians? Will the good Christians, the peaceful ones, ever speak out against their co-religionists who carry bombs in their cars or drop them on civilians in Iraq?

…few commentators pointed out what Christians tell pollsters about their urge to maim and kill. Most Christians, 65 percent of Protestants and 72 percent of Catholics, believe that torture is justifiable under certain circumstances. Nearly half of Americans, 46 percent, believe that it may be acceptable to deliberately target civilian populations in war time. An average of 75 percent of Muslims in Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia and Morocco believe that such attacks are never acceptable.

Just as it is unfair to smear all Muslims with the legacy of bin Laden, it would be unfair to smear all Christians as disciples of Jerry Falwell. Muslims are constantly asked to denounce their members who are terrorists. Why is there no similar demand of Christians? Will the good Christians, the peaceful ones, ever speak out against their co-religionists who carry bombs in their cars or drop them on civilians in Iraq?

While Americans have been told to fear Islam and all things Muslim, Christians are riding around with home made bombs…The threat from Christians who publicly express a willingness to die for their faith goes unreported…Mark Uhl, a student at [Jerry Falwell’s] Liberty University, was in possession of homemade bombs when he was arrested at Falwell's funeral. He reportedly planned to use them against any protesters who might disrupt the festivities. Uhl had this to say…’The fear of death shows you don't believe…God needs soldiers to fight so his children may live free…’

Christians perpetrated the crusades, the inquisition, the slave trade and imperial adventures too numerous to mention. It may be comforting to pat ourselves on the back and consign those behaviors to past centuries. We are living in the 21st century after all. Who would use the name of the Christian God to justify mass killing? A majority of modern day American Christians, that's who.

Today’s NY Times carries a report by Julia Preston that a study by three law professors of 140,000 decisions by immigration judges on asylum cases between January 2000 and August 2004.

“Oftentimes, it’s just the luck of the draw,” said Cheryl Little, a lawyer and executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, a legal assistance group in Miami that represents many asylum seekers. “It’s heartbreaking,” Ms. Little said. “How do you explain to people asking for refuge that even in the United States of America we can’t assure them they will receive due process and justice?”

So things are actually worse than they seemed when I wrote about ‘expedited removal’ back in February. ‘…Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…’ Yeah, right.

In one of the starker examples cited, Colombians had an 88 percent chance of winning asylum from one judge in the Miami immigration court and a 5 percent chance from another judge in the same court.

Curiously, ‘the three professors did not examine the judges’ political affiliation or the administration that appointed them’, even though.

Monica M. Goodling, a former aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales,…testified last week that she had “crossed the line” in applying political considerations to candidates for nonpartisan legal jobs. Immigration judges are appointed by the attorney general, and 49 of 226 current judges were appointed during the tenure of Mr. Gonzales

The study also examined 76,000 decisions by the appeals board from 1998 through 2005. The proportion of successful appeals by applicants represented by lawyers declined from 43% in 2001 to 13% in 2005.

American civilisation…‘that would be a good idea’.

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