Sunday, October 18, 2009

Just the Juxtaposition of Facts, Ma'am

You might need to be at least 50 years old to understand the title's reference to the perennial tagline of the old TV show "dragnet" ("just the facts, ma'am," usually spoken to a lady highly motivated to explain why her petunias are blooming so colorfully before she tells the detectives about the murder she just witnessed). However, all you need to draw conclusions from carefully juxtaposed facts is the ability to see that 2+2 = 4.

Fact #1 -- low wage workers are frequently screwed by the business establishment. According to the New York Times (9/2/09, p. A11), a new study documents frequent and egregious violations of work rules affecting people earning, on average, about $8 an hour. More than 4,000 workers were interviewed, across the country, in a variety of industries. Among the results: only 8% of such employees claimed workers' compensation benefits following a work-related injury -- the others mostly didn't report as a result of pressure by their employers not to file; 12% of workers who earn tips reported that their employers steal some of the tips; 76% who had worked overtime the previous week were not paid the proper amount; 57% had not received mandatory pay documents that would have indicated they were being properly paid; 43% in the apparel and textile industries reported being paid less than the minimum wage. Workers surveyed, in fact, lost on average 15% of the pay to which they were legally entitled.

Fact #2 -- more recently, it has come to light that wealthy Americans have hidden large sums of money in Swiss banks, illegally evading taxes. According to the Los Angeles Times (10/15/09, p. B6), 7,500 people have voluntarily disclosed such accounts in order to take advantage of an IRS amnesty program that would preclude them from being criminally prosecuted and possibly spending time in jail. No doubt thousands more are hoping that their names are not among those to be disclosed by banks "in 70 countries and on every continent except Antarctica."

Fact #3 -- According to the New York Times (5/16/09, p. A9), business groups were opposing legislation that would guarantee workers seven sick days per year if they work for employers with 15 or more employees. The authors of this bill claim that three-fourths of low-wage workers do not currently earn any sick days. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the head of the Republican Party oppose the bill.

Fact #4 -- According to the non-partisan California Budget Project (reported in the Los Angeles Times 10/12/09, p. B1), "the bottom fifth of taxpayers -- those earning less than about $18,000 -- paid about 11.7% of family income in state and local taxes. By contrast, the top 1%, earning $430,000 or more, paid only about 7.1% on average." (So much for California being a "high tax state" -- yeah, for whom??) The article goes on to point out how many state services (education, transportation, the entire law enforcement/correctional system, etc.) benefit the wealthy at least as much as they benefit the poor.

Try to keep these facts in mind the next time you recite the Pledge of Allegiance: "...with liberty and justice for all."

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, Ron! I like the reference to Dragnet. You put together the pieces extremely well in terms of what is happening to regular workers all across the U.S. Have you seen Michael Moore's new film yet, "Capitalism: A Love Story"? It is his best film yet and is a broader extension of what you are getting at here. It is a culmination of his long standing point of how the business establishment is screwing the little guy, but he utilizes the financial crisis to show just how bad things have gotten. A lot of it you will already know about, but the way he pieces it together and offers his commentary makes for one of the most compelling and important films that I have ever seen. Highly recommend it.

    Just one of many examples from his film - he exposes the insurance policies that benefit companies - not the employees - when workers die. Wal-Mart is one of many companies shown to use these "dead peasant" policies. He shows in one segment how the sudden death of a 26-year-old former Wal-Mart worker resulted in a $81,000 life insurance payout to the retailer.

    All in all, we can't stop talking about these injustices, and I'm glad to see you doing just that. It seems that people already want to sweep the failings of the financial crisis under the rug only a year after the crash. Well, your points above attest that nothing has really changed and that the problems are more important than ever to tackle given what we have already seen occur here. We as a country can't keep on hiding from the facts if we want to represent all the great American ideals such as "liberty and justice for all" among many others. I hope that America can reclaim those.