UNFAIR HARVARD

Timothy Patrick McCarthy, who teaches history and literature at Harvard, writes: On April 18, forty-six members of Harvard's Living Wage Campaign took over Massachusetts Hall, one of Harvard's main administrative buildings, to demand a living wage for all Harvard workers. In addition to the sit-in, hundreds of other protesters and sympathizers have marched outside, fasted, slept in tents in Harvard Yard, held panel discussions and rallies and launched an impressive outreach and petition campaign. The Living Wage Campaign is demanding that all Harvard workers, whether directly employed by the university or hired through outside firms, be paid a living wage of at least $10.25 per hour, adjusted annually for inflation and with basic health benefits. According to the administration's own figures, more than a thousand full-time and part-time, or "casual," employees are paid less than $10 per hour for their work. Dining-hall workers at Harvard Law School currently earn as little as $6.50 per hour, and most janitors receive less than $9 per hour. As the university celebrates a transition in presidential leadership from Neil Rudenstine, a humanist, to Lawrence Summers, an economist, it must have the courage to do what is humane and economically just: Provide a living wage to all its workers.

 

CASUALTIES OF THE DRUG WAR

When the single-engine plane carrying missionary Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter, Charity, was shot down on April 20 by a Peruvian fighter jet, killing mother and daughter, they became the latest victims of an ever more irrational US-backed drug war. The missionary plane, tracked by a CIA surveillance aircraft, was mistaken for a drug flight and blown out of the sky by a Peruvian crew. The US claims that the CIA operatives in the surveillance plane tried to dissuade the Peruvian pilot from shooting, but both planes were there because of the antidrug crusade. How many innocent Peruvians have been aboard the other planes shot down in this campaign? The surveillance flights are temporarily suspended, but the Bush Administration is going ahead with plans to more deeply embroil a growing list of Latin American nations in the crusade. Colombia's internal war, fueled by stepped-up US antidrug dollars, already threatens to spread to neighboring countries. In the United States the thousands of mostly poor, nonviolent drug users who fill the prisons are forgotten victims of the drug crusade. Perhaps the barbaric killing of the missionary and her baby will prick the American conscience as past tragedies have not.

 

DRUGGED OUT

Intern Kathryn Lewis writes: Thanks to a 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act, college students convicted of drug-related charges are barred from receiving federal aid for a year or more from the date of conviction. To gain access to assistance, they must complete an approved rehab program. Nearly 10 million students who can't afford higher education without government aid are potential victims of this selective targeting. (No other class of offender, including convicted rapists, is disqualified from receiving aid.) How many students who require financial assistance are going to be able to pay for an expensive treatment program? Last year 9,215 students were denied aid as a result of the provision. More than 800,000 federal aid applicants did not answer the application question asking if they had been convicted of a drug charge. The Education Department decided not to disqualify those who left the question blank, but this year, students who don't answer will be ineligible, so the number denied aid might skyrocket. Congressman Barney Frank has introduced legislation repealing the provision, and sixty student governments have endorsed it. (For information: Drug Reform Coordination Network at www.drcnet.org.)

 

WHITE TRASH

For six years the Missouri branch of the Ku Klux Klan demanded that it be allowed to participate in the Adopt-a-Highway program, which gives it the privilege of picking up trash and posting a self-congratulatory sign along a stretch of I-55. The state didn't want the KKK sign littering its roadside, and a legal battle ensued, culminating in a March ruling by the US Supreme Court supporting the Klan's right to promote itself on the highway. Meanwhile, the state had renamed the Klan's stretch the Rosa Parks Highway. Whether that reduced Klan members' work ethic we know not, but the stretch of road became so trashy that the state expelled the KKK from the Adopt-a-Highway program.

 

JEFF DAVIS'S REVENGE

In voting for a state flag bearing the Confederate battle emblem, the people of Mississippi seem to have followed, in a perverse way, native son William Faulkner's dictum: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." The pro-flag vote was made easier by the myth that the Confederacy had nothing to do with slavery or white supremacy. Here's what Faulkner thought about white supremacy: "They [African-Americans] will endure. They are better than we are." In Montgomery, Alabama, 150 Dixie die-hards protested plans to erect a monument to the Selma voting rights march on the state capitol grounds. They regard the monument to civil rights heroes as a desecration of the site where the Confederate States of America was formed in 1861.

 

NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW

Al Kamen reported in the Washington Post that Assistant US Attorney Janet Rehnquist is about to be named inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. That's right. She is the daughter of the Chief Justice. Kamen also said that Eugene Scalia, son of Justice Antonin, and Virginia Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence, were being considered for Labor Department solicitor and a "top spot" at OMB, respectively. Political payoff? We prefer to think of it as affirmative action.