TrenchNews, Verse 9

TOP STORY

Supreme Court Decides to Favor Discrimination Against Women Workers

The Bush SCOTUS seems to get less friendly to non-corporate non-oligarchs every day. After last week’s insulting of both women in general and a doctor’s ability to make medical decisions not in line with the beliefs of James Dobson, they’ve gone after women again, this time women who work.

A Supreme Court once again split by the thinnest of margins ruled yesterday that workers may not sue their employers over unequal pay caused by discrimination alleged to have occurred years earlier.

The court ruled 5 to 4 that Lilly Ledbetter, the lone female supervisor at a tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., did not file her lawsuit against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in the timely manner specified by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This court is so anti-female that it’s impossible to figure out whether they would have reached a different decision had it been a man who overshot the deadline, but it has been so pro-corporate and anti-worker that it’s reasonable to assume they would have made the same decision on that basis.

IAC, the ruling, though it sticks strictly to the specific limitations in the law, is so divorced from actual realities of the workplace that it amounts to a travesty. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read an angry dissent from the bench.

The decision moved Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to read a dissent from the bench, a usually rare practice that she has now employed twice in the past six weeks to criticize the majority for opinions that she said undermine women’s rights.

Speaking for the three other dissenting justices, Ginsburg’s voice was as precise and emotionless as if she were reading a banking decision, but the words were stinging.

“In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination,” she said.

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OTHER STORIES

Modern Employment

Associated Press: “Bribery Claimed in NY Slave Labor Case

The mother of a woman accused of keeping two Indonesian women as slaves tried to bribe a victim’s relative to make the case go away, prosecutors said.

The accused woman, Varsha Mahender Sabhnani, and her husband, Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, were being held in jail on Friday, a day after the new charges arose at their arraignment.

The millionaire couple — who operate a worldwide perfume business out of their Long Island home — pleaded not guilty to federal slavery charges.

They were arrested last week after one of the servants, wearing only pants and a towel, was found wandering outside a doughnut shop in Syosset, on the region’s so-called Gold Coast. Authorities concluded she escaped the Sabhnanis’ nearby Muttontown home when she took out the trash.

Unable to speak English fluently, she showed her wounds and Indonesian passport to a shop worker and said, “Mister, mister, I want to go home — Indonesia,” said Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kristiarto Legowo.

Prosecutors said Thursday that Varsha Sabhnani’s mother, who lives in Indonesia, tried to make the case go away by bribing a son-in-law of one of the servants with the equivalent of $2,500. They also said Varsha Sabhnani had earlier told the other victim that her husband, who still lives in Indonesia, would be arrested unless she followed orders.

“The defendants operated a torture house,” federal prosecutor Mark Lesko said. “They are capable of acts of violence.”

This horror was going to be our Top Story until I saw that Barbara Ehrenreich had already seized on it to point out that it isn’t as unusual as you might think.

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Changes

There’s going to be a big change to this site starting tomorrow. If you’re interested, the explanation is here.

Stealing the ’08 Election: Rove and Reconstruction After Katrina

Evidence has come to light over the past month that the so-called “incompetence” of the Federal response to Katrina is anything but. It has been a calculated effort led by Karl Rove to turn Louisiana from a Democratic state into a Republican state by destroying New Orleans, but it may backfire.

Two weeks ago the WaPo reported that roughly a quarter of a million people are suing the Federal government for damages, claiming that the Army Corps of Engineers screwed up the building of the levees, dams, in fact the whole New Orleans water delivery system.

Ever since the floodwaters receded, the idea that the U.S. government was to blame for the Katrina catastrophe has possessed and angered its victims.

A legion of lawn signs, posted in front of many wrecked homes, wagged a finger at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for the flood works: “Hold the Corps accountable!”

Turns out it was more than mere talk. After a massive deadline filing rush recently that is still being sorted through, the United States is facing legal claims from more than 250,000 people here demanding compensation because, they allege, the Corps negligently designed the waterworks that permeate the city.

***

[O]fficials said the damage claimed against the Corps exceeds $278 billion, an amount that dwarfs even the estimated $125 billion that the federal government has put up for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery.

Win or lose, the volume of claims is a measure of the prevalent sense in this city that the United States created the disaster and that, worse, it has failed to make up for it in disaster aid.

“This was the largest catastrophe in the history of the United States, and people want justice,” said Joseph M. Bruno, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys handling the case in federal court.

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New England Journal of Medicine Prints Report Critical of GlaxoSmithKline Drug (Updated)

The Boston Globe reported today that a new study released early by the New England Journal of Medicine on its website questions the safety of one of the largest-selling diabetes medications in the country, Avandia.

Avandia, the world’s top-selling oral diabetes drug, significantly increases the risk of heart attacks, a prominent cardiologist said in an article that the New England Journal of Medicine deemed important enough to post on its website yesterday, weeks before the scheduled print publication date.

Dr. Steven E. Nissen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic and the article’s lead author, pored through summaries of dozens of studies and found a 43 percent higher risk of diabetics suffering a heart attack if they took Avandia compared with other drugs or sugar pills. Nissen was unable to determine whether the risk is affected by how long Avandia is used or how much is taken.

***

“The leading cause of death in diabetes is heart disease. It causes between 65 to 80 percent of all diabetes mortality,” Nissen said in an interview. “When a diabetes drug, which is intended to reduce the risk of diabetes complications, actually increases it, it has profound public health consequences.”

In an accompanying editorial published by the New England Journal of Medicine, Bruce Psaty and Curt Furberg, doctors who are critics of the FDA’s drug-approval process, said there is little reason for doctors to prescribe Avandia….

(emphasis added)

The drug is produced by GlaxoSmithKline, a major player in Big Pharma, and is worth over $$$3BIL$$$/year in sales worldwide. GSK immediately attacked the report, claiming it’s “flawed”.

That’s not particularly surprising, nor is it surprising that after the Vioxx debacle, the release of the report triggered a nosedive of GSK’s stock.

Since the Food and Drug Administration approved Avandia in 1999 doctors have written tens of millions of prescriptions for the drug. The Journal released the paper in advance of its June 14 print publication date partly because of its public health impact, according to executive editor Dr. Gregory Curfman.

Investors and others, including members of Congress, yesterday reacted strongly to the article.

GlaxoSmithKline shares closed at $53.18, down 7.85 percent, in heavy trading.

(emphasis added)

The big question here is, “Where was the FDA?”

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Privatization Leads to Fraud, Mismanagement, and Employee Abuse at Wackenhut

The three words that best describe the private security business these days are “racism”, “corruption”, and “profits”. Wackenhut, the largest private security provider to the Federal govt and the military outside of Iraq, would appear to be awash in all three.

Wackenhut, which has ties to the GOP and the Bush Administration that go almost as deep as Halliburton’s, is currently under investigation:

  • in Alaska by the GAO for “inadequate training and incomplete background checks that led to employment of officers with criminal records”, “poor” record-keeping that included falsified training records, and a near-total lack of any kind of monitoring or oversight on the program, as well as for illegally obtaining security contracts that were supposed to go to minority businesses;
  • in Miami (scroll to bottom) by Dade County for fraud – overbilling, billing for services not provided, falsifying records of guards’ hours, and violations of labor laws for working guards in some cases 20 hrs/day, 7 days/week;
  • by the Homeland Security Committee for “problems at Wackenhut-guarded facilities nationwide that lead to high employee turnover, low morale and ineffective security” at US nuclear sites;
  • by the House Govt Reform Committee “to examine charges of racism, discrimination and poor performance;
  • at a Tennessee Army ammunition plant where inspectors found holes in the perimeter fences, and where “two teenage runaways were found wandering around the 6,000-acre property after getting dangerously close to explosives” after the number of guards had been cut “in response to higher gas prices”;
  • by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for security violations “at Wackenhut-guarded Three Mile Island, Seabrook Station, St. Lucie, and Turkey Point nuclear power plants”;
  • and by the Dept of Energy for “shorting the protective force on combat training; excessive overtime; caught cheating during one security drill and involved in a near-friendly fire incident in another” at its Y-12 (Oak Ridge) nuclear weapons plant.

And that’s only a partial list of domestic investigations.

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Congressmen Go Hungry on Food Stamps (Updated)

This is a stunt. It isn’t even an original stunt. It has been done before periodically by other legislators. Still, it makes the point.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) stood before the refrigerated section of the Safeway on Capitol Hill yesterday and looked longingly at the eggs.

At $1.29 for a half-dozen, he couldn’t afford them.

Ryan and three other members of Congress have pledged to live for one week on $21 worth of food, the amount the average food stamp recipient receives in federal assistance. That’s $3 a day or $1 a meal. They started yesterday.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), co-chairmen of the House Hunger Caucus, called on lawmakers to take the “Food Stamp Challenge” to raise awareness of hunger and what they say are inadequate benefits for food stamp recipients. Only two others, Ryan and Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), took them up on it.

“All of us in Congress live pretty good lives,” said McGovern, who ate a single banana for breakfast yesterday and was going through caffeine withdrawal by midday. “We don’t have to wake up worrying about the next meal. But there are a lot of Americans who do. I think it’s wrong. I think it’s immoral that in the U.S., the richest country in the world, people are hungry.”

A very good friend of mine knew, liked and campaigned for Jim McGovern while she was alive (he was running for State Rep then). She was an Irish redhead – a hard city broad, tough as nails and as skeptical as they come, and she thought he was a decent guy. I don’t doubt her. And I appreciate his willingness to try to drum up some media attention for the problem of hunger in this country as it has exploded during the Bush years.

Having said that, it shouldn’t really be necessary for him to have to prove that $1 a day isn’t enough to live on. Only movement conservative Republicans believe it is, and as we all know, proving something they don’t want to believe is a waste of energy. They’ll just shut their eyes, block their ears, and recite Grover Norquist at the top of their lungs like Monty Python’s Gumby Family – you know, the ones with the bandages on their heads – reciting “You’ve got beautiful legs!” in unison no matter what question they’re asked.

But the timing for this stunt isn’t random. There’s a reason for it. Continue reading

The New Bedford Raid and Its Aftermath

Back in March, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials pulled off the biggest raid New England has ever seen, bursting into a leather factory in New Bedford to arrest 360 illegal aliens who had been working for Michael Bianco, Inc, a company with contracts to “produce safety vests and backpacks for the US military”. The owner, one Francesco Insolia, was charged with “conspiring to encourage or induce illegal immigrants to live in the United States, and conspiring to hire illegal immigrants.” Why would they risk jail to hire illegals? Because those illegals were desperate enough to work in the intolerable conditions which were all Insolia was willing to furnish.

According to affidavits unsealed yesterday, Insolia hired illegal immigrants instead of legal workers because the immigrants were desperate for jobs and more willing to put up with working conditions in his factory. Federal investigators allege workers were denied overtime, docked 15 minutes for every minute they were late, and fined for talking on the job, or for spending more than two minutes in the plant’s squalid bathrooms.

“Insolia and others knowingly and intentionally exploited the government by recruiting and hiring illegal aliens without authorization to work,” said US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, announcing the arrests yesterday. “They exploited the workforce with low-paying jobs and horrible working conditions, exploited the taxpayers by securing lucrative contracts funded by our legal workforce, and exploited the legal workforce by hiring illegal aliens.”

A month later the Boston Globe reported that Insolia had actually had the gall to apply for – and receive – grant money from the state of Massachusetts to “train” the workers he was already abusing.

The New Bedford manufacturer raided by federal agents last month for allegedly employing illegal immigrants won approval for $111,150 in state grants over the last four years to hire and train employees, as part of the company’s expansion.

The Massachusetts Department of Workforce Development approved two grants for Michael Bianco Inc. after the owner of the company, Francesco Insolia, appealed for help in winning new contracts from the US Department of Defense and building its share of the commercial textile market.

In early 2003, Michael Bianco, which then employed 87 people, was awarded a $66,250 grant to hire and train 80 new stitchers and machine operators, and to develop an in-house training program for entry-level workers. The state approved another $44,900 for the company this January, but the March 6 immigration raid put that grant on hold.

I probably don’t need to tell you that there is no evidence whatever that the “training sessions” actually took place. Insolia simply pocketed the money. Or perhaps he used it to pay Luis Torres for the fake ID’s Torres got for Insolia’s workers. But here’s the neat part: city officials, Republican and pro-business all, actually visited the factory and, rather than being appalled by the conditions, offered to help Insolia with the grant money and tax breaks.

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