A week after US troops were sent to fight in far-away country, the FBI proposed to the president that 12,000 people be rounded up and detained as "potentially dangerous" to national security. Almost all of them were citizens, and the FBI proposed that the president suspend habeas corpus to make the roundup constitutional.
The president, however, was not George W. Bush, and the war in question was not the war on terror – it was the Korean War.
The plan, outlined in a 1950 letter from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to an assistant to President Harry Truman, called for "permanent detention" of the 12,000. That was deemed necessary to "protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage."
Hoover told Truman that the FBI had spent "a long period of time" creating a list of "approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States." The 12,000 names were not included in the proposal that was declassified on Dec. 22.
The equivalent proportion of the population today would be 25,000 people.
What would such a roundup look like? Now we know: Hoover was concerned about making sure it would hold up in court. The way to do that, he wrote, was the president would issue a proclamation that "recites the existence of the emergency situation and that in order to immediately protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage, the Attorney General is instructed to apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous to the internal security." In order for that to be legal, the president's proclamation would suspend habeas corpus.
Then Congress would pass a "joint resolution" supporting the roundup, and the president would issue an executive order to the FBI to go to work.
Hoover's other concern was where to jail 12,000 people. So many of the people on the lists lived in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco that prisons there weren't big enough to hold all of them. So for the targets those cities, Hoover proposed "detention in military facilities."
Although George W. Bush was only four years old at the time, the 1950 plan has some striking parallels to his policies today. After 9-11, as Tim Weiner of the New York Times explained, Bush "issued an order that effectively allowed the United States to hold suspects indefinitely without a hearing, a lawyer, or formal charges." Last year Congress passed a law formally suspending habeas corpus for anyone named by the president as an "unlawful enemy combatant." The Supreme Court is reviewing that law this term.
There are significant differences, however: Hoover's 1950 plan required "a statement of charges to be served on each detainee and a hearing to be afforded the individual within a specified period."
And there's one other difference between the 1950 plan and our present war on terror: President Truman ignored the FBI proposal and never went to the Supreme Court to argue that habeas corpus did not apply to people detained as threats to the country.
Hoover's letter was included in the latest volume in the State Department series "Foreign Relations of the United States" released on Dec. 22 with the modest title "The Intelligence Community, 1950-1955." The volume is 759 pages long and is online; the Hoover letter can be found here on page 18. New York Times reporter Tim Weiner gets credit for discovering the Hoover letter -- he reported the story on Dec. 23.
The finest Christmas songs are never just Christmas songs. Though linked by reference of sentiment to the Christmastide, they are sufficiently universal in their themes to have meaning throughout the year. Surely this is why so many of us return with such frequency and glad tiding to Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus," a song he first performed on the brilliant 1991 Chieftains album, "The Bells of Dublin."
Over the ensuing 16 years, the song has become a favorite for celebrants of the season who suspect the Nazarene might be disinclined toward the commercial chaos that has come to characterize its contemporary expression.
So it was that, when Jackson Browne and I appeared together last week in New York, as part of the Culture Project brilliant series of discussions and performances on behalf of the impeachment movement, we spent a predictable period of time discussing the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush/Cheney administration, along with the prospects of replacing these lump-of-coal leaders with more deserving tribunes of the American promise -- Browne's an enthusiastic backer of John Edwards' presidential campaign. But we spoke at somewhat greater some length of "The Rebel Jesus."
Browne knows the song has taken on a life of its own, as all great songs do. Yet, through all the renditions over the years, by its writer and the many fine artists who have covered it, "The Rebel Jesus" remains fresh and renewing. Perhaps that is because Browne's lyrics, world-weary and wry in their observations yet warm in their delivery, offer an ancient antidote to the dispiriting crush of commerce, the tyranny of schedules and the theft of meaning that can crowd the better angels of our nature at Christmas:
All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants' windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
They'll be gathering around the hearths and tales
Giving thanks for all God's graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus
Well they call him by the prince of peace
And they call him by the savior
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they've turned the nature that I worshipped in
From a temple to a robber's den
In the words of the rebel Jesus
We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus
But please forgive me if I seem
To take the tone of judgment
For I've no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.
We are lawyers in the United States of America. As such, we have all taken an oath obligating us to defend the Constitution and the rule of law…. We believe the Bush administration has committed numerous offenses against the Constitution and may have violated federal laws…. Moreover, the administration has blatantly defied congressional subpoenas, obstructing constitutional oversight …. Thus, we call on House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to launch hearings into the possibility that crimes have been committed by this administration in violation of the Constitution…. We call for the investigations to go where they must, including into the offices of the President and the Vice President. -- American Lawyers Defending the Constitution
Over one thousand lawyers – including former Governor Mario Cuomo and former Reagan administration official Bruce Fein – have signed onto the above statement demanding wide-ranging investigative hearings into unconstitutional and potentially criminal activity by the Bush administration.
In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and winner of the 2007 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship, said: "The majority of lawyers in this country understand that the Bush administration has really gone off the page of constitutional rights and off the page of fundamental rights, and is willing to push the Congress to restore those rights." Ratner said he was "dismayed" that a Democratic majority has failed "to push on key illegalities… the torture program, and now the destruction of the tapes involving the torture program; the warrantless wiretapping, the denial of habeas corpus, the secret sites/rendition program, special trials, and of course what we now know is the firing of US Attorneys scandal…. The minimal that absolutely is needed to get us back on the page of law is to have serious investigative hearings that go up the chain of command and figure out who is responsible for what."
Ratner noted that even with regard to the US attorney's investigations, where Congressional committees held Harriet Miers, Josh Bolten, and Karl Rove in contempt, leadership has failed to enforce these actions by bringing the resolutions to a vote. "Just announcing that investigations will be held and subpoenas will be issued is terribly insufficient unless Congress is willing to enforce the subpoenas by issuing contempt citations," Ratner said. "Congress has a constitutional duty to oversee the activities of the executive branch and our entire system of government is threatened when Congress simply folds before an obstinate executive. Issuing contempt citations against Bolten, Miers, and Rove should be Congress's first order of business in 2008."
Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, discussed the administration's torture program violating three US-ratified treaties and the US torture statute; the illegal War in Iraq violating the US-ratified UN Charter as a war of aggression; and Attorney General Michael Mukasey's conflict of interest in overseeing investigations into the torture program and the destruction of the CIA interrogations tapes.
Also speaking with reporters was Jesselyn Raddack, a former Justice Department ethics lawyer who served as an advisor during the interrogation of John Walker Lindh (the "American Taliban"). Raddack said, "My e-mails documented my advice against interrogating Lindh without a lawyer, and concluded that the FBI committed an ethics violation when it did so anyway. Both the CIA videotapes and my e-mails were destroyed, in part, because officials were concerned that they documented controversial interrogation methods that could put agency officials in legal jeopardy…. " Raddack pointed to the Department of Justice's investigations of Enron and Arthur Anderson for obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence, and the need for the same aggressive oversight and legal proceedings in these scandals.
This is a vital effort by those charged with defending our constitution, as Ratner said, "This lawyers' letter and the growing number of signatures we'll have on it, and prominent people – it's a way of saying to Congress, ‘You need some backbone. You need to have a serious investigation, wherever it might go, on these issues that really have taken the United States out of the mainstream of human rights.' It's absolutely critical… We've opened up the door to illegality…. Unless we have accountability on those illegalities, we're going to be facing a very bleak future in which fundamental rights will not really be obeyed."
Here's a little holiday quiz–all questions (and answers) drawn from my book, The End of Victory Culture. Think of this as the beginning of a secret cultural history in trivia of our political times:
1. What was the great commercial triumph of cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy with his "spine-tingling episodes never before shown on TV!"? (Answer: Marketing his signature black shirt to one million children soon after World War II, at a time when black was still associated with mourning or Italian fascism.)
2. What did Desi Arnaz tell the studio audience of the top-rated TV comedy I Love Lucy in 1953, after Lucy was accused of being a communist by gossip columnist Walter Winchell? (Answer: "And now I want you to meet my favorite wife -- my favorite redhead -- in fact, that's the only thing red about her, and even that's not legitimate.")
3. When did the first interracial kiss make it onto television? (Answer: November 22, 1968, in outer space. Star Trek's Captain Kirk had to turn his back to the camera to simulate placing that kiss on Lieutenant Uhuru.)
4. From what movie did junior officers at the Army Command and General Staff at Fort Leavenworth, responsible for planning some of the ground campaign in the first Gulf War, choose a nickname -- and what was it? (Answer: Star Wars and it was "Jedi Knights.")
5. When, on May 1, 2003, George W. Bush made his carefully timed, late afternoon landing on, and strut across, the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, to announce that "major combat operations" had ended in Iraq against the backdrop of that infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner, what term did his advance men use for the photogenic moment chosen? (Answer: "Magic hour light.")
[Note: If you want to learn a little about the more serious side of The End of Victory Culture, just click here.]
My colleague Joan Connell's end-of-year review highlighted those issues that Nation.com readers found of most importance during the course of this past year of alarming news and amazing reporting on the Iraq War, the rise of private mercenary firms, the burgeoning business of disaster capitalism, the imploding of the GOP and the disappointments of the Democrats, and an increasingly vulnerable environment.
We're also running an end-of-year poll asking readers to weigh in on their year's MVP--Most Valuable Progressive.
Here are the candidates:
Click here to vote. And please use the comments field below to let us know about all the worthy candidates we undoubtedly left out.
I also wanted to recommend Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon's sixteenth annual P.U.-litzer Prize Awards dedicated to recognizing the "truly stinkiest media performances of the year" and the Alternet staff's roundup of the most popular videos of the year.
Thanks for reading (and acting!) in 2007 and happy holidays!
In 2004, 20 million unmarried women – single, divorced, separated or widowed – didn't vote. In 2006, that number was 30 million. Depressing? Yes. But in 2008, these women are also known as the voting bloc that could determine the outcome of this election and many more to come.
Unmarried women make up the largest bloc of non-voters in the nation. Over 26 percent of eligible voters – 53 million people – are unmarried women. And for the first time in history there are as many women who are unmarried as married. A majority of households in the nation are headed by an unmarried person. Unmarried women are growing at twice the rate of married women since 2000, but are 9 percentage points less likely to register and 13 percentage points less likely to vote than married women.
Women's Voices. Women Vote. (WVWV) is targeting 25 states in an effort to register over one million unmarried women and reach out to an additional 3 million "low-propensity voters." (Unmarried women who are registered but didn't vote in at least one of the last two presidential elections.) WVWV Founder and President, Page Gardner, says, "We are making sure the voices of women on their own are heard in the political process. Particularly, that they are heard from in terms of the strength of their numbers. Polling shows that these women are paying attention earlier than ever before and they are motivated. They are wanting change, they are desperate for change, and we are going to see their participation go up." Gardner points to a recent study by the polling firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, that showed 85 percent of unmarried women saying they are so frustrated with the direction of the country, they are more likely to vote.
WVWV understands that it's not just about registering the voters but also getting them to cast their ballots. "Given their income, many of these women are incredibly stretched," Gardner says. "We have to not only take the registration to them, we have to take the voting booth to them too." She says that in 2006 they conducted a vote-by-mail program that was "extraordinarily successful." (All WVWV programs are tested before they are rolled out – with a control group and a treatment group – so the value of the program in gaining new voters and its cost-effectiveness can be determined.) In addition to registration forms, WVWV will be providing vote-by-mail applications so that women can vote at their convenience and take their time to study the candidates. The group also has a strong online presence, including widgets and banners that people can place on their own sites, allowing visitors to watch a "20 million Reasons" PSA campaign and register to vote.
In contrast to married women, Gardner says, unmarried women are largely driven by economic issues when it comes to their politics. She points to the fact that 44 percent of them live in households with annual incomes of $30,000 or less, while approximately 44 percent of married women live in households earning over $75,000 annually. One in five unmarried women lacks health care, and 50 percent of children who are age six or younger – and live with single Moms – live in poverty. The connection between this voting bloc's economic concerns and its potential power at the polls isn't lost on Ann Lewis, Senior Advisor at Hillary Clinton for President. Lewis coined the phrase "single anxious female" which has since gained traction in the press.
"I was talking to a reporter who used a term I didn't like – something that sounded too Sex and the City," Lewis told me. "So I said that wasn't accurate, the biggest common factor was economic anxiety, more like single anxious female."
According to Lewis, the Clinton campaign has a layered program to connect with "women on their own" and make an impact. "We know that they are more likely to be economically vulnerable," she says, "and to think of themselves as outsiders to the political system. So our outreach programs include an emphasis on economic issues that make a difference in their lives – like equal pay – where Hillary has been the leader in the Senate on strengthening equal pay laws. We also did a series of events around Equal Pay Day in the early primary states and nationwide. In New Hampshire, we held a panel discussion led by Evelyn Murphy, an expert on equal pay, and released a list of women supporters, including the [New Hampshire] co-chair who was also the first woman firefighter in the state. In Iowa, [former First Lady of Iowa] Christie Vilsack did a press conference with two cakes – one whole one representing men's pay, and one with a big slice taken out for women's pay; in Nevada, an open letter was signed by many women urging support for Hillary's equal pay bill. Meanwhile, nationally, Hillary spoke at a rally at the Capitol – as she has done before. We also featured a calculator on our website where women could figure out their own wage gap. Hillary also often talks about her commitment to Social Security – and her opposition to Republican attempts to privatize it – as an example of where she stands up and fights. Single women also often have family responsibilities – Hillary talks about her work for children's health, and also issues like long-term care, because being responsible for aging parents is a growing concern."
Audrey Waters, spokesperson for the John Edwards for President campaign, says that Senator Edwards has an agenda that strikes a chord with all women, and his economic platform in particular appeals to unmarried women. "Senator Edwards has proposed a bold and specific policy agenda on issues that most directly impact women voters," says Waters. "We're proud of the tremendous support it has earned Senator Edwards among women." She also points to the campaign website's Women for Edwards page and "an extensive outreach effort, led in part by NARAL Pro-Choice America President Emeritus, Kate Michelman, who has campaigned for us in New Hampshire and other early states."
While Lewis and Waters both point to the importance their campaigns place on addressing issues of particular concern to unmarried women, the Obama for America campaign seems to have a different approach. Spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "Women connect with Barack's message regardless of age, marital status or income because of the new ideas and real change he'll bring to Washington. All women are tired of politicians telling them what they want to hear; Barack tells them what they need to hear. They want an end to divisive politics in Washington and Barack is the only candidate who's actually worked to bring people together to get things done that matter to people – in the Illinois and US Senate he's been able to bring Republicans and Democrats together to pass ethics reforms, health care for uninsured children, domestic violence prevention, and bring change to the way government works." Psaki described the Obama campaign's outreach efforts: "We have a broad approach to communicating with women and some of that outreach connects in particular with younger, unmarried women through blogs, emails, e-newsletters, and podcasts. But the most effective way to reach out to undecided women is through the one-on-one contact that our supporters have with their undecided friends, family, colleagues and neighbors. It's that kind of outreach that's created our 20,000 women-strong grassroots organization, Women for Obama. These women have hosted house parties, book clubs, phone banks, Girls Night Out, canvassing, and other grassroots events to bring women together with other women to talk about their support for Obama."
Lewis also says that the Clinton campaign works hard in its outreach efforts to address feelings unmarried women have of being political outsiders. She says, "Our program in Iowa, for example, is geared to encouraging people, especially women, who have not caucused before: our Caucus with a Buddy program and the video Caucusing is Easy. We also feature women as messengers, knowing that woman-to-woman communication can be particularly effective. Single women strongly support having more women in elected office; many of our surrogates are elected women leaders, like Senator Barbara Mikulski, Congresswomen Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, Sheila Jackson Lee, Allyson Schwartz, Hilda Solis, etc…."
While the campaigns vie for this voting bloc that the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner study describedas "hav[ing] the power to reshape American politics further, if they vote," Gardner and WVWV will continue to do the hard work to make sure their voices are heard. She says they have partnered with both state and national organizations, including state-based and national groups, USAction Education Fund, Project Vote, Working America, and others.
"Our attitude is, ‘Steal this book,' Gardner says. "We share our materials, research, lists – anything to help [other 501c3] organizations increase the participation rates of unmarried women… anyone interested in doing that, we consider partners." Gardner says that every year since WVWV's founding in 2004 the organization's voter lists have grown in value, and their programs are increasingly innovative. "We have the best marital status model – predicting the likelihood that a person is unmarried – in the country," she says. "We have designed a model to predict who is and who is not likely to respond to voter registration and vote-by-mail efforts, so that helps organizations use their dollars wisely. And we know the issues that concern these women so we can ensure that we are talking to them in a way that resonates."
Gardner knows the impact that unmarried women can have – not only in 2008 – but the years ahead. "What we're trying to do by making this group of women heard – not just through voting, but advocating for their issues, and making sure politicians see their power – that they are the decisive factor in so many races….We are saying that their issues of concern need to be at the top of the list. Their power when they participate is astounding. We want that power realized, and their agenda to become America's agenda."
Despite the furious efforts of media activists, this past Tuesday the FCC approved new rules that will unleash a flood of media concentration across America. The new rules will further consolidate local media markets and will take away independent voices in cities already woefully short of local news and investigative journalism.
The FCC's move, as my colleague John Nichols wrote, while very much in line with the Bush's administration's radical pro-corporate agenda, goes against every signal the FCC has received from Congress, which is responsible for establishing regulations regarding the ownership of the public's airwaves. Just two weeks ago, senators from both parties berated FCC Chairman Kevin Martin about his planned big giveaway to Big Media. But Martin then thumbed his nose at both Congress and the public by forging ahead with the vote that legislators had asked him to postpone.
Fortunately, Congress has the power to overturn the rule changes -- and if the groundswell of opposition is sufficiently loud, lawmakers will have to listen. The media reform group Free Press has published an open letter urging Congress to take action. Join more than 166,000 of your fellow citizens in signing on to the letter and click here for info on why the stakes are so high in this fight.
In its selection of Russian President Vladimir Putin as its 2007 Person of the Year,Time magazine is careful to make clear that "it is not anendorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At best, it is a clear-eyedrecognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individualsand forces shaping that world-for better or for worse. " Reassuringwords.
It's also reassuring to know that Time's editors didn't gethoodwinked by Putin's steely blue gaze or hard-as-rock presidential pecs (which, bythe way, are featured on several softporn-style politico websites). As stated clearly in its lead editorial, "Putin is not a boyscout." (Are there any world leaders who are boy scouts?)
More seriously, what Time's selection does acknowledge, with allthe appropriate concerns and caveats about the rollback of democracyand a free press, is that Putin "has performed an extraordinary feat ofleadership in imposing stability on a nation that has rarely known itand brought Russia back to the table of world power."
Time is not the only magazine keeping its eye on Putin. At The Nation, we've watched the Russian president from the early days of his presidency (Who Is Putin? and Putin's Choice) through the horrors of the 2003 incident in Beslan, Chechnya (Putin's War), to the ongoing process of de-democratization (From Russia, With Hypocrisy) and his continuing crackdown on news media (The Fight for Press Freedom in Putin's Russia.
At a charged time of conflicting narratives in Russia and the West aboutPutin's Russia, what interests me about Time's assessment isthat most Russians would agree with it.
Some in the West have argued that Putin's popularity results from hiscontrol of television, or his suppression of opposition parties. Ifonly it were that easy. In fact, most Russians value the economicstability Putin has brought to their lives and their country after the Yeltsin years of turmoil and corruption--and view his impact as essentially positive. Putin is also credited by Russians with bringingtheir country back as a powerful player in the world--at a time when thegeopolitical power of oil is reshaping the map. Here too there areconflicting narratives with most US pundits and politicians attributingonly malign motives to Russia's actions on the world stage.
Time's recognition of Putin's leadership, in all its facets, may signalthat it is time to think anew about US relations with Russia. Will weengage Russia in intelligent ways--as Stephen Cohen has argued weshould (in theNation's pages)--or continue on a path to a new Cold War withPutin's Russia?
The Federal Communications Commission has, as expected, voted along party lines to approve the demand of Rupert Murdoch and other communications-industry moguls for a loosening of limits on media monopolies in American cities.
Now, the real fight begins.
There was never any doubt that FCC chair Kevin Martin, a Bush-Cheney administration appointee and acolyte, would lead the two other Republican members of the commission to a 3-2 endorsement of a move to begin dismantling the historic "newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership" ban which has long served as the only barrier to the buying by one powerful individual or corporation of newspapers, television and radio stations and other media outlets in a community.
The two dissidents on the commission -- Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein -- cast their expected votes against Martin's plan to allow a company in the 20 largest media markets to own both newspapers and radio and television stations. The Martin plan also opens up smaller markets to monopoly exploitation allowing firms to apply for a waiver of the cross-ownership ban.
Arguing that the commission was bowing to pressure from media conglomerates without beginning to study the likely impact on local news coverage, minority ownership and other supposed concerns of the FCC, Copps told his fellow commissioners, "Today's story is a majority decision unconnected to good policy and not even incidentally concerned with encouraging media to make our democracy stronger. We are not concerned with gathering valid data, conducting good research, or following the facts where they lead us."
Copps said he had little doubt that Martin and the other two Republicans would move quickly to waive what remains of the cross-ownership ban and begin approving mergers in communities large and small across the whole country.
Martin's move, while very much in line with the Bush's administration's radical pro-corporate agenda, goes against every signal the FCC has gotten from Congress, which is responsible for establishing regulations regarding the ownership of the public's airwaves.
"The FCC has never attempted such a brazen act of defiance against Congress," argued Adelstein, in a passionate condemnation of the commission's actions. "Like the Titanic, we are steaming at full speed despite repeated warnings of danger ahead. We should have slowed down rather than put everything at risk."
The response to that risk must come from Congress.
Before the vote, 26 members of the Senate -- a quarter of the chamber's members -- notified the commission that they would "immediately move legislation that will revoke and nullify the proposed rule."
The senators making that promise are the key players on communications policy in the chamber, including Commerce Committee chair Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and the vice chairman of that committee, Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. So they can make the move.
But they will need the full and aggressive support of Democratic leaders in the Senate and House to push back with the force necessary to counter an expected veto by President Bush.
This is one fight where citizen action will matter. Key Republicans such as Stevens and Mississippi's Trent Lott, the party's number two man in the Senate, are in complete support of the move to overturn the FCC vote. It is possible to build a broad coalition. But there can be no wavering by the Democrats on this front.
Indeed, they must make this a national issue. And the way to do that is by talking it up where it cannot be ignored. All four Democratic senators who are seeking the presidency signed the letter pledging to revoke and nullify the FCC decision.
Now, New York's Hillary Clinton, Illinois' Barack Obama, Connecticut's Chris Dodd and Delaware's Joe Biden need to put the issue of media monopoly front and center in Iowa and New Hampshire. Of course, they can and will talk about other issues. But if they are not talking about the fundamental threat to diversity of media ownership in American communities and the country as a whole, they will be failing to use the most powerful bully pulpit in the fight against the monopoly on communication that represents the single greatest threat to the battered democratic discourse of a country where the public's right to know cannot take this hit and survive.
Farm workers who toil to pick tomatoes for Burger King's sandwiches earn 40 to 50 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has not risen significantly in nearly 30 years. During a typical 10-hour day each migrant picks, carries, and unloads two tons of tomatoes giving them just enough piece work to earn close to minimum wage.
But instead of joining other fast-food chains who agreed in 2005 to pay an extra penny per pound for its tomatoes, as a piece by Michael Gould-Wartofsky at TheNation.com makes clear, this Christmas Burger King is working to undermine agreements that have been made with the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW). As a result, already impoverished tomato pickers in Florida are facing the prospect of losing the first significant raise some of them have seen in nearly 30 years as tomato growers have been encouraged and emboldened to cancel deals already struck with Taco Bell and McDonald's.
As the great muckraking writer Eric Schlosser wrote in a New York Times op-ed last November, "The prominent role that Burger King has played in rescinding the pay raise offers a spectacle of yuletide greed worthy of Charles Dickens. Burger King has justified its behavior by claiming that it has no control over the labor practices of its suppliers...Yet the company has adopted a far more activist approach when the issue is the well-being of livestock. In March, Burger King announced strict new rules on how its meatpacking suppliers should treat chickens and hogs. As for human rights abuses, Burger King has suggested that if the poor farm workers of southern Florida need more money, they should apply for jobs at its restaurants."
BK's callousness is driven home in this YouTube video, produced by the CIW, which powerfully details the difficulty of the work endured by these workers.
After watching this video, it should be clear that these workers aren't asking for very much. A farm-labor activist coalition, led by the CIW and the Student-Farmworker Alliance, is now asking concerned citizens to tell Burger King to stop acting like Scrooge and to start paying farm workers fair wages. The Sojourners' website has been devoting regular coverage to the issue and has created an action center from which you can email Burger King management and spread the word about the campaign.
As Schlosser concluded, asking Burger King to pay an extra penny for tomatoes and provide a decent wage to migrant workers would hardly bankrupt the company. Indeed, it would cost BK only $250,000 a year. At Goldman Sachs--the private equity firm that controls much of BK's stock--that sort of money shouldn't be too hard to find. In 2006, the bonuses of the top twelve Goldman Sachs executives exceeded $200 million -- more than twice as much money as all of the roughly 10,000 tomato pickers in southern Florida earned that year.