icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Odds and ends

I’ve visited the church in Charleston that we all know of since the massacre. It’s beautiful and historic, as is the city itself. Lovely, unique homes that were built to take advantage of sea breezes. Even lovelier gardens, carefully tended to the last perfect leaf -- and usually surrounded by iron fences. Delicious Low Country food, especially oysters, okra, shrimp and grits. The city’s cemeteries are graciously maintained and full of stories, full of the elite, hypocritical Old South that took racism for granted, that proclaimed one message in its pulpits and practiced another in its bedrooms.

Indeed, I have a friend whose Charleston ancestors moved to Kenya after the Civil War so that they could profit from the same human bondage they had in South Carolina. (And yes, slavery continues in Africa and other parts of the world.) This was after a great-grandfather had been tried, but not convicted, of murdering his white neighbor after the neighbor had accused him (probably correctly) of sleeping with his children’s nursery maid. The neighbor probably wouldn’t have cared except that in this case, the maid was not black, but Swedish, young and blonde.

So it was a young blonde man who committed the terrible crime last week. He shot nine black people – six of them women, after ranting that blacks were “raping our women.” What? How? As always in these horrifying events, there’s only one explanation: A lethal combination of excessive testosterone and guns.

* * *

A lot of odds and ends today, as I clean off my desk. The first is based on another “Today in History.” On May 24, 1937, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Social Security Act, issuing the last of several rulings against those who objected to the new law. Ironically, on the same date in 1889, Germany’s legislative body passed a mandatory disability and old-age retirement law. That was about a half-century earlier, and American economists and sociologists most certainly cited Europe’s example in creating our new system. Yet we persist in the belief that we are first at everything. And a few fringe fanatics on the right still attempt to gut the system at every opportunity. That will not happen, as the entire First World has demonstrated for more than a century that everything works better if we honor our moral obligations to those who have paid their dues.

And that leads naturally to income inequality. I am so pleased to have the pope on my side for this one! But aside from morality, the economics of income inequality are getting out of hand. A recent study showed that in 1980 – the year that Ronald Reagan was elected – the average CEO made 42 times as much as workers earned. Now that number is 373! According to their own corporate filings for stock issues, proxy statements, etc., the average corporation paid its top dog $13.5 million in annual compensation last year. Meanwhile the Bureau of Labor Statistics said that the yearly average for American workers was $36,134.

That’s absurd, not only in terms of the value added by such executives – most of whom can point to very little that they individually did to merit such money – but also and especially in terms of purchasing power. If the average worker earns so comparatively little, who’s going to buy the goods and services that these presumably miraculous CEOs turn out?

Still on labor issues: Did you notice the fire in May that killed 72 workers – most of them young women – in a Manila factory that made slippers? Just as in New York’s great 1911 Triangle Fire in a factory that made dresses, they died because they were locked in, working behind windows with iron bars that one witness said “would not have allowed even a cat to get out.” Just as happened here more than a century ago, unrecognizably charred bodies were found piled up at potential fire escapes.

It’s not as though we lack the data or systems to foresee and prevent such tragedies. We know. We do not care. We’ve had the International Labor Organization (ILO) since 1919, first under the aegis of the League of Nations and now under the United Nations. Headquartered in Geneva, the ILO has a tripartite structure that grants businesses and governments an equal voice with labor, but nonetheless it is largely toothless, with little enforcement power beyond good intentions. Empowerment of the ILO is the argument that my friends in organized labor should be using as they debate the trans-Pacific trade agreements. Please, Americans, let’s stop being so parochial in a vain attempt to stop globalism – that is not going to happen – and let’s start insisting on the use of agencies such as the ILO to create a fair playing field. Then we will have both justice and economics on our side.

* * *

A few more newspaper clips that served as reminders. One, the Times ran an interesting map showing the geographical divide on family life, measuring it by the percentage of children who live in two-parent households. Surely this definition is a sound standard, especially near Father’s Day, when we praise homes with both parents present. “Family values” preachers in the South proclaim loudly on the subject, arguing that every child needs a male and a female role model and that couples unable to meet that measurement should not be allowed to adopt. And yet the map makes the reality clear: Except for Arizona and Texas, which are middling, there’s a great stretch from South Carolina through Nevada where kids are likely to live without married, biological parents. Those evil Yankees rank much better. Except for the Mormon theocracy of Utah, the best states for real family values are in the upper Midwest, in liberal places such as Minnesota and Illinois. Ponder it.

Second, I saved an article last month by Tribune reporter Elizabeth Behrman titled, “Wash day goes over big with residents.” I’ve been hoping for some follow-up, but none yet. It’s a dramatically simple idea and apparently has been going on in cities such as Chicago since 2009, but was news to me. A national charity called Current sponsors free laundry services on certain days, usually lasting about three hours. Word of mouth seems to be the chief media approach, although the story said the project had been covered on NBC. The Laundry Project in Plant City and West Tampa recently brought dozens of women and children to use washers and dryers free of charge. In some communities, local merchants also chip in for detergent and other supplies.

The dignity of clean clothes is important, both to working adults and especially to teenagers who too often are subject to bullying. Those of us with our own appliances forget how expensive laundries can be, with an average cost of $7 per load. In a big family, that quickly rises to $20 or $30 a week. The project founder, Ira Lockhart, said that many poor families have to choose between groceries and cleanliness. The story quoted a young West Tampa woman as saying that between her mother’s two jobs and her own 14-hour shifts, Saturday morning was the only time they had to do their wash and clean her uniforms. Saving the money on this particular Saturday, she said, was “more than a blessing.” Let’s think about this, Kiwanis, Rotary, and other clubs and charities. Cleanliness, you know, is next to Godliness.

Finally, I am so grateful to Florida’s supervisors of elections for standing up to Rick Scott’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner during election-law debates in the recent legislative session. Regardless of party, the 67 county officials – elected, not appointed as Detzner is -- united in telling lawmakers that there were no valid reasons for failing to implement reforms. I was especially pleased that, according to Times reporter Adam Smith, the supervisors “are eager to join other states in using a new system that makes it easier to maintain accurate voting lists – scrubbing out people registered to vote in two places at once, for instance.”

If you are a longtime reader, you know that I’ve been railing about this for ages. I’ve written before that I’ve had two men – both white and older – who confidently told me that they were entitled to cast ballots in more than one place because they own property in more than one place. I’ve suspected for ages that many winter residents who are affluent enough to also own homes Up North are voting both there and here, in person and by absentee. I’ve proposed to political scientists and to League of Women Voters activists that we study this possibility, but no one has taken me up on the idea. Therefore I’m delighted that some supervisors have been thinking about this, too. And even though Ken Dentzer says nothing can be done until after the 2016 election, we’ll see. Those supers are super, especially our own Craig Latimer.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian
Make a comment to the author