Transcript #146-1

Labor Department Under Right-Wing Control Allowed Wage Theft From Workers


Partially hyperlinked to sources.  For all sources, see the data resources page.



Whenever I read about the average Joe being abused, it gets me really angry.  Doesn't it you?


This is one such story.


The main sources for this segment are various articles in the New York Times.


The GAO, the General Accounting Office, is the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress.


It did a study of the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.  That agency is supposed to enforce minimum wage, overtime and other labor laws.


Bush, of course, cut the funding and staff for Department of Labor.  And those left there, apparently aren't much interested in accomplishing their mission.


The GAO study found that under the Bush administration, this agency was not doing its job, leaving workers vulnerable to abuse.  And abused they were.


Not surprising for an agency run by right-wingers.


Here's how the report put it:


This investigation clearly shows that Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn.

Unfortunately, far too often the result is unscrupulous employers’ taking advantage of our country’s low-wage workers.

Low wage workers, already not earning enough to survive, getting the shaft via right-wing closing their eyes to abuse.


Some of the gory details.


There were two areas, test cases, and a study of how real life cases were handled.


Test cases.


A team of undercover agents posed as workers complaining of employer abuse.


Over the course of a nine month investigation, 5 of 10, half of the complaints the undercover agents filed, were not even put into the Wage and Hour Division's data base.  Three complaints were put in the data base, but never investigated.


And maybe most outrageous of all, in two cases, the agency recorded that the employers in question had paid back wages due, when in reality -- that reality right-wingers avoid in so many ways -- in reality, the employers had not paid those back wages.


What kind of cases were involved, you may be wondering?


One complaint the division failed to investigate was that under-age children in California were working, during school hours, at a meatpacking plant, using dangerous machinery.


Eh, they're probably the children of illegals, why should we bother to investigate?


Here's another:


An undercover agent posed as a dishwasher, and complained over the phone to the Wage and Hour Division's Miami office that he hadn't been paid overtime for 19 weeks.  That office took four months to return his calls, and then said -- get this -- that it would be 8 to 10 months more before they'd be able to start investigating his case!


That does it for the test cases.


As to the GAO's evaluation of real life cases, the report found that this Wage and Hour division mishandled 1 in 5 serious-type complaints.


To say the least, the agency was not an outspoken or effective advocate for the workers.


For example:


--investigators would drop cases when an employer failed to return their phone calls


--restaurant workers were owed $230,000 for off-the-books work and tips never passed on to them.  Investigators let the restaurant just pay the wages, so the workers lost the tips.


--workers at a boarding school were owed $200,000 in overtime.  The division accepted the school's offer of $1000, maybe because a statute of limitations was approaching.


As you may be thinking, this agency seems pretty cavalier about workers' rights.  And that's what the report found.


Amazingly, the agency actually told workers in many cases that what they should do, is to go file their own lawsuits against their employers.  The whole purpose of the Wage and Hour division is to avoid the necessity for workers to have to file private lawsuits, which they often can't afford to do.


You have to remember who we're talking about here.  These aren't derivatives traders who've already made millions and now aren't getting bonuses they don't need.  These are low income workers who desperately need every cent of their wages to put food on the table and pay their children's medical bills.


Ok, in a moment, I'll tell you what the prospects are for cleaning up this situation.  Stay tuned.






As you'd probably expect, progressive advocates are none too happy with this wage theft situation.


The group Interfaith Worker Justice advocates on behalf of low-income workers.  Kim Bobo, their executive director, said:


We have a crisis in wage theft, and the Department of Labor has not been aggressive enough in recent years.

The new secretary of labor says she’s the new sheriff in town, but I’m concerned she’s facing the wild, wild West of wage theft.

Which brings me to, what's the Obama administration going to do about this?


The new secretary of labor Kim Bobo refers to, is Hilda Solis.  She's probably the most progressive of Obama's cabinet appointments, which is not saying much given his other choices.  But she truly is a progressive.


Her parents were immigrants who held union jobs.  In California politics, and then for eight years in Congress, she's been a staunch advocate for workers' rights.


Solis  reacted to the GAO report by promising:


I am committed to ensuring that every worker is paid at least the minimum wage, that those who work overtime are properly compensated, that child labor laws are strictly enforced and that every worker is provided a safe and healthful environment.

She's going to increase the Wage and Hour Division staff by hiring hundreds of new investigators.  The stimulus package will help pay for that.


And Solis pledged to vigorously pursue the agency's "enforcement responsibilities."


She'll have legislative support.  Good old Representative George Miller, California Democrat, is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. He was the one who asked the GAO to do the investigation.


I like what he recently said:


When you have weak penalties and weak enforcement, that’s a deadly combination for workers.

It’s clear that under the existing system, employers feel they can steal workers’ wages with impunity, and that has to change.

Miller will push for tougher penalties for employer violations.


Throw them in jail, I say.


I ask you, how many right-wing talking points are belied by stories such as this?


The value of work, hard work should be rewarded, taking personal responsibility, the rule of law.


These don't mean a thing to the right-wing when money's to be made.


Now Representative Miller mentioned how employers feel they can steal workers' wages with impunity.  That reminds me of the situation with union organizing, where in podcast 137 I told you, how employers feel they can fire workers with impunity if the workers try to organize a union. [Correction: it was podcast 140 where the firing issue was discussed]


All this is related, because strong unions are the best way to protect workers against wage theft and other abuses.


So let me quickly mention something to you really, really important, And this, unlike the Wage and Hour Division scandal, you can do something about right now.


In Podcast 137 you heard about the right-wing campaign of lies against the Employee Free Choice Act, labor's number one priority.  The Act allows for secret ballot elections just like now, and card check -- union recognition when a majority of workers ask for it -- card check just like now.  The only change is, the Employee Free Choice Act doesn't allow employers any longer to veto a card check organizing effort.


Well, bad news.  Republican Senator Arlen Specter, unlike in 2007,  will apparently not support the bill in procedural votes that allow the bill to come to the floor to be voted on.


And in more bad news, California Democrat Senator Barbara [correction, should be Diane] Feinstein issued a statement indicating she's disinclined to support the bill, even though she did last time.


So if you're a California listener, please call her office and tell her to support it.  202-224-3121!  You can also go to which has one of those fill in the blanks, send an email pages on this issue.  But that's nowhere near as effective as a firm but polite phone call, if you can do that.


There are other wavering Democratic Senators as well.  Lincoln and Prior of Arkansas, Landrieu of Louisiana.  If you live there, call them!


Let's do it!





Transcript #146-2

Red Cross Declares "Torture" And Spain Targets Bushians For Prosecution


Partially hyperlinked to sources.  For all sources, see the data resources page.



Your sources for this segment include: the New York Times, the Associated Press, USA Today, MSNBC, CNN, the British newspaper The Guardian,, and the archives at


To my way of thinking, it's critically important that Bush and everyone else on down be held accountable for creating a regime of torture.


I don't know if you've noticed it, but every week, sometimes every day, it seems new evidence is revealed, and new efforts to hold them accountable are undertaken.


It's a steady drip, drip, drip, hopefully leading to, as Martin Luther King put it, justice rolling down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.


I'm going to tell you here about a couple of these developments, one minor, one major, one with earth-shaking potential.


In podcast 142 you heard about the explicit invocation of the T-word by some former Bush administration officials.


Retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba investigated the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib for the Bush administration.


He later wrote:


There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

Susan J. Crawford was in charge of deciding which prisoners to bring to trial before the military commissions.


She said that in at least one case, that of Mohammed al-Qahtani


We tortured Qahtani.

His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case

for prosecution.


Ok, just recently, Vijay Padmanabhan, the former State Department lawyer responsible for Guantanamo cases, spoke up.


He said that waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques "constitute torture."


Admitted, no one really knows this guy.  This is the minor development.


But everyone knows the Red Cross.  It enjoys profound international respect.  One of its jobs is to evaluate if the Geneva Conventions are being complied with in the treatment of prisoners of war.


What did this esteemed organization say about the Bushians?


A bit of background to set this up.


Back in September, 2006, George W. Bush held a press conference.  He first defended the interrogation techniques used by the CIA.  Here are some excerpts I've put together:


audio: George W. Bush

In addition to the terrorists held at Guantanamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.


[T]he CIA used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations.


This program has been subject to multiple legal reviews by the Department of Justice and CIA lawyers; they've determined it complied with our laws.


I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it -- and I will not authorize it.

Well, if George says so, it must be true.


Here's where the Red Cross enters the picture, when Bush announces what's being done with the prisoners questioned by the CIA.


audio: Bush

So I'm announcing today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and 11 other terrorists in CIA custody have been transferred to the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.

…These men will be held in a high-security facility at Guantanamo. The International Committee of the Red Cross is being advised of their detention, and will have the opportunity to meet with them.

The opportunity to meet with them.  And meet they did.


The Red Cross produced a report and sent it to the Bush administration, marked confidential. 


Mark Danner is a journalism professor at UC Berkeley and Bard College.  He somehow got a hold of this document, and wrote an article about it for The New York Review of Books and an oped for the New York Times.


This is what the Red Cross concluded:


The allegations of ill treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill treatment to which they were subjected while held in the C.I.A. program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

If you look at the chapter headings of the report, any decent person would get a chill up their spine:


“suffocation by water,” “prolonged stress standing,” “beatings by use of a collar,” “confinement in a box”

Now you may be wondering, and a right-winger would certainly think to claim, well, this is just what the detainees told the Red Cross.  They're probably making up stories.


Well, the problem with that excuse is, that the detainees were kept isolated from one another, both at the CIA interrogation locations, and at Gitmo.  Yet their stories are remarkably similar.  The Red Cross said that it


wishes to underscore that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided…

By the way, in case you're curious what "beatings by use of a collar" means -- I was -- it means this, as described by some of the detainees, who remember, never spoke to each other.


First is what I call ad hoc collar:


I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. 

Later, the ad hoc towel was replaced by a plastic collar, as two other detainees reported:


A thick flexible plastic collar would…be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall.



On a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements. 

In a moment, what are the ramifications of this Red Cross finding of torture?


Stick around.






What does the Red Cross finding of torture mean?


Remember back in podcast 142 you heard that the US is a signatory to a treaty called the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.


Treaties are binding laws on the US government.


And the Convention Against Torture unequivocally requires that a "prompt and impartial investigation" be undertaken


wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed

Before this Red Cross report, the Obama administration had Major General Taguba, Susan Crawford, and then Vijay Padmanabhan to establish a reasonable ground to believe that torture had taken place.


Right-wingers and other deniers would say, oh, they're just disgruntled officials.


So this Red Cross report is the coup de grace for any wiggle room in establishing reasonable grounds to believe that prisoners were tortured.


Not to mention the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder has himself baldly stated that waterboarding is torture.


audio: Eric Holder

Waterboarding is torture.


And the Bushians have admitted to waterboarding prisoners.


audio: Dick Cheney

INTERVIEWER: [O]ne of those tactics, of course, widely reported was waterboarding. And that seems to be a tactic we no longer use. Even that you think was appropriate?


Remember also, way back in podcast 124 I told you how right inside the White House situation room, the highest officials in the land, like Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, all sat around, and discussed which "enhanced interrogation techniques," including waterboarding, would be used on which prisoners.


And, ol' George W. has stated that he approved of these meetings.


Be assured, the Geneva Convention and the federal War Crimes Act also provide grounds for prosecution.



Given the mounting irrefutable evidence, how does the public feel about all this?


The last time I told you about a poll on this issue, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Americans by 58% to 40% said that torture should never be used, "no matter what the circumstances."


That same poll found that by a lesser margin, 50 to 47%, Americans supported investigating "whether any laws were broken in the way terrorism suspects were treated under the Bush administration."


I conjectured at the time that perhaps that slimmer margin has to do with the question's wording.  Instead of "whether laws were broken," if it had said "whether torture was used," the pro-investigations view might have had a higher number, given the 58-40% margin that said torture should never be used in any circumstances in the first place.


Well, perhaps I was correct.


A more recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that 62% of Americans want some sort of investigation over whether the Bush administration used torture to question terrorism suspects.


A negative development in holding the torturers accountable is that the Obama administration


is trying to protect top Bush administration military officials from lawsuits brought by prisoners who say they were tortured while being held at Guantanamo Bay.

[A protester, dressed as a Guantanamo Bay prison inmate, calls for the closing of the US military prison at a protest in front of the White House in Washington, DC in early February. (AFP/File/Nicholas Kamm)]A protester, dressed as a Guantanamo Bay prison inmate, calls for the closing of the US military prison at a protest in front of the White House in Washington, DC in early February. (AFP/File/Nicholas Kamm)

The Justice Department argued in a filing…that holding military officials liable for their treatment of prisoners could cause them to make future decisions based on fear of litigation rather than appropriate military policy.

As a recent NY Times editorial summarized it, in too much detail to get into here, Obama is definitely a mixed bag, confusing even, on the war on terrorism/treatment of prisoners/secrecy/interrogation fronts.


Of course, that's infinitely better than a consistently horrific bag of a Bush or a McCain or any of a thousand and one other right-wingers.



And, even though there doesn't seem to be much appetite in the Obama administration or among the movers and shakers in Congress to hold the Bushians personally, criminally accountable for their torture-mongering, there is a ray of hope.


You may not know this gentleman by name, Baltasar Garzon.   He's a Spanish investigative judge.  But you may well remember what he did.  He was the judge who ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator August Pinochet.  Pinochet was arrested in Britain in 1988.


Well -- for joy, for joy -- Judge Garzon has


taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said.

The case, against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others, was sent to the prosecutor’s office for review… The official said that it was “highly probable” that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest warrants.

For those of you familiar with such players, the other officials named include Douglas Feith and John Yoo, the latter of the infamous torture memo.


The complaint sent on by Judge Garzon is based on the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions.


In case you're wondering what connection Spain has with the case, several of the Gitmo detainees were Spanish citizens.


And Spanish law provides for worldwide jurisdiction in cases of torture or war crimes.


Reports are, the complaint names not the highest officials like Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney, in order to make it less politically explosive.  Maybe after getting the underlings, they'll go up the ladder.  Sort of like a Mafia prosecution.


Now, I can hear right-wingers grumbling, another leftist judge.


Not so.


Judge Garzon is an equal opportunity defender of human rights. In addition to other right-wing human rights abusers like the former Argentine dictatorship, he's also investigated Islamic terrorists and drug traffickers.


You should be aware that the right is also alleging that one of the lawyers pushing the Spanish court to take this case, was convicted of collaborating with a terrorist organization, this relating to the country of Chile or the Basque separatists in Spain, I can't make out precisely what the right claiming.


Even if true, I don't care if Osama bin Laden himself drafted the complaint Judge Garzon has forwarded on to the prosecutor.  The complaint stands on its own factual and legal merits, not on who supports it.


And factual and legal merit it has in abundance, as you've just heard.  Hence the right-wing resort to their usual distraction attacks.


On a buffoonish note, get a load of Bill O'Reilly up in arms, threatening the Spanish people:


audio: Bill O'Reilly

As this goes on, you know, there are going to be a lot of Americans angry with Spain… 

Spain is cruisin' for a bruisin',  as they say out in Levittown, Long Island, where I'm from…

We have a brand-new poll question for you in light of what you've just heard and what's happening in Spain. 

Do you believe we should boycott that country?

Yes, No, Not Yet?  Should we boycott Spain—yes?  no?  not yet?

I'll leave you with this:


One of the lawyers who drafted the complaint predicted:


The only route of escape the prosecutor might have is to ask whether there is ongoing process in the US against these people,

This case will go ahead. It will be against the law not to go ahead.

Rule of law, thy will be done!




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