Worse Than the U.N.
November 21, 2001
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Two articles in the international section of today's New York Times appear at first glance to be passing along unquestioned the anti-American, anti-Israel bias that prevails at the United Nations. The U.N. is a place where corrupt dictatorial regimes have as much say as free ones do, notwithstanding the fact that American taxpayers pay much of the bill to operate the U.N.
One Times article, from Geneva, reports on an appearance by Israeli officials at a meeting of the United Nations Committee Against Torture.
Another Times article, in the World Briefing column, reports, "An Iraqi explosive that landed in Kuwait this month may have been an antiaircraft round fired in self-defense rather than a mortar shell, the United Nations said."
One could complain that, rather than passing along this U.N. tripe unchallenged, the Times could have instead probed why, among all the world's countries, Israel is being singled out by the U.N. for investigation. Or one could ask what the U.N. possibly had in mind when it uses the term "self-defense" to describe an Iraqi attack against American planes that are enforcing a no-fly zone designed to protect Kuwaiti and Iraqi civilians from the aggression of Saddam Hussein.
But in this case, the bias is not apparently the U.N.'s, but the New York Times's.
Check the wires, and it turns out that the Associated Press and Reuters both reported yesterday on the same statement by the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission about the Iraqi explosive. Neither the AP report nor the Reuters report uses the term "self-defense" to describe the Iraqi action. Smartertimes.com was unable to locate this morning the actual U.N. statement, but, given the AP and Reuters articles, it seems quite possible that the phrase "self-defense" is a delusion of the New York Times, not the U.N.
The U.N. press releases on the torture committee hearings are available on the Web. The press releases indicate that there is a steady flow of countries that appear before the committee. A November 19 release, for instance, is headlined, "Committee Against Torture Continues Examination of Report of Indonesia." Another November 19 release was headlined, "Committee Against Torture Begins Review of Report of Zambia." A November 15 release was headlined, "Committee Against Torture Concludes Review of Report of Ukraine." None of those hearings made the New York Times.
Instead the Times chooses to report only on the situation in Israel. The U.N. press release reports, "Serving as Rapporteur on the situation in Israel was Committee Expert and Chairman PETER THOMAS BURNS, who termed the report 'admirably focused' and noted that the country was an open democracy, somewhat isolated in its region, and that there was a great flow of information to the Committee as a result from a number of sources." But the Times article makes no mention of that reasonable statement from the United Nations official.
Note: Smartertimes.com is this month introducing some original, non-Times-related material, mostly about New York City. Today's article focuses on a "living wage" campaign.
By Benjamin Smith
The change in focus may be a sign that the some of the city's labor and anti-poverty groups are adjusting their agenda to fit the city's new budget crunch. But even the limited plan raises some of the same basic questions: will legislating a higher wage for some workers carry the rest of the city's poor along with them, or will the living wage end up harming some of those it is intended to help?
"The living wage is a minimum wage ordinance with better advertising," said an economist at Cleveland State University, Edward Hill. "The problem is that you just can't do it locally. The smaller the unit of geography, the easier it is [for employers] to jump borders. . . . You're increasing the competitive disadvantage of cities with left-of-center majorities."
Before September 11, the campaign for an $11.50 an hour "living wage" in New York had gained momentum. A majority in the current City Council had expressed support for the living-wage bill, and so had many candidates who were running for the council. Similar legislation has passed in Boston, Los Angeles, Detroit and other US cities. The New York legislation would have more than doubled the $5.15 per hour federal minimum wage. It would have applied to the employees of city service contractors and of private companies benefiting from tax breaks and subsidies.
At a meeting planned for early next month, the campaign's organizers and supporters -- spearheaded by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn) and the labor-backed Working Families Party -- are likely to change the proposal. The focus on contractors "will probably need to be revised or dropped," said a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, Paul Sonn, who drafted the original New York bill.
The new plan is to impose the living wage on employers who benefit from any rebuilding-related grants or tax breaks that pass through City Hall. Campaigners will also demand the living wage for the service employees in whatever complex is built to replace the World Trade Center.
"This is a moral issue," said the executive director of Acorn's New York chapter, Bertha Lewis. "The projects which are connected to city money or taxpayer dollars have to pay a living wage."
The argument over the living wage largely mirrors the national minimum wage debate. Supporters say it will lift workers out of poverty; critics warn that a higher minimum means fewer jobs to go around.
The plan's backers say that a local minimum wage can work without causing job flight. "Most city firms that pay low wages are location-specific," said Robert Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "Hotels aren't going out of New York City because of a 2% increase in costs." Instead, he said, the wage hikes would be passed on to businesses, consumers, and taxpayers.
In the good economic times of the late 1990s, the plan for a modest spending hike was easier to push. The estimated $65 million that the original proposal would have tacked on to the New York City budget seemed affordable, and companies were fighting for Manhattan real estate. But with a multi-billion dollar city budget shortfall looming and companies moving to New Jersey, any new costs are likely to be faced with skepticism.
"I would expect the city officials to be combing through every area of the budget to look for ways to save money. That makes it very difficult to talk about spending more money," said the president of the Citizens Budget Commission, Diana Fortuna.
The living wage campaigners cast their project as an antidote for recession. Echoing national Democratic leaders, they say that the best way to restart the economy is to put money in workers' hands.
"The logic of public policy should be to set a floor on wages and increase the number of jobs at decent wages," says Mr. Pollin, who is a leading voice of the nationwide living wage campaign. "That's the kind of counter-cyclical policy that stimulates demand."
Some of those who agree on the need to get cash to poor workers argue that a better method is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which would shift the burden of higher wages from employers to the federal government. The credit grants tax breaks and, in some cases, subsidies to people who work for low wages.
"At the end of the day a low income person doesn't care how much their employer pays," says Cleveland's Mr. Hill. "What they really care about is how much money they take home in their paycheck."
Others argue that rather than incentivizing low-wage work with wage regulations or tax credits, government spending should focus on education and training that lifts workers to jobs where they can earn higher wages in the free market.
New York's living wage campaigners will face far tougher odds than they had expected before September 11. Congress and the Bush administration, which have already resisted some of the Empire State's more extravagant post-attack aid requests, are likely to balk at appropriating money to pay above-market wages. Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg took no position on the original New York living wage bill, unlike his rival, Mark Green, who supported it. Real estate developers, business groups and even non-profit social service agencies that rely on low-wage workers have fought living wage legislation around the country. And the question of how much say the New York City government will have in the use of the rebuilding money remains in doubt.
But living wage campaigners will ask their allies in the City Council to introduce the legislation in February, said Acorn's Ms. Lewis. "We can't let them weasel out of [the living wage] and use 9/11 as an excuse," she said.
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