2005-02-11 / Columnists

The Progressive

By John Paul Culotta

Pundits will acknowledge that politicians at all levels of government will disseminate unpopular announcements to the public during slow news periods, for example holidays and weekends. During normal work weekdays the public is more attuned to keeping up with current events. (Senator Schumer uses the Sunday television media by making announcements that make him appear active and concerned).

This burial of unpopular announcements is an effective tool of damage control. If the public is unaware of the politician’s actions, the positive image the politician is cultivating is secure. President Bush tries to cultivate an image of being a compassionate conservative concerned with the less fortunate and the education of American youth.

On December 23, 2004 the New York Times headlined a news report on page A18: U.S. Changes Its Aid Rules in an Effort to Retrain Pell Grants. In other words the Bush/Cheney administration announced a significant aid reduction to college students two days before Christmas- the most festive period of the year in this nation. Terry W. Hartle, senior vice-president of the American Council on Education said in the article: “Season’s Greetings from Uncle Sam. Your student aid stocking is going to be a little thinner next year.”

At this time the maximum Pell Grant is set at $4,500 a year. This is not adequate considering current college costs. Politicians from both parties agree. Congress is unwilling to expand the grants because of budgetary considerations. The war in Iraq is costing billions of dollars and soon only the wealthiest of American families will be able to afford higher education. This is not a great incentive to a society based on merit and not privilege. To many in our poor rural areas and inner cities the only possibility of a future is to engage in illegal activity, join the military, or work in industries that pay inadequate wages and do not supply health insurance.

International terrorism must be this nation’s first priority. All resources must be used to secure our borders. At the same time, the cuts in financial aid to 1.3 million students announced by Bush/Cheney will save 300 million dollars.

We have spent billions in Iraq. The administration is seeking to further hurt the middle class and poor working families of this nation.

It will propose legislation-allowing employers to substitute compensatory time off in lieu of cash overtime payment. Comp time will give an incentive to employers to increase mandatory overtime without increasing labor costs. The AFL-CIO feels there will be no effective remedies to ensure the employee choice to have comp time instead of cash payment. President Bush has proposed that overtime cash payments be paid only after employees work 80 hours in a two-week period. An employee could work 50 hours one week and 30 the next and never receive overtime cash payment.

The administration is proposing more voluntary efforts by employers to comply with occupational health and safety rules and seeks to loosen enforcement requirements, hazardous and toxic materials record-keeping rules and to privatize the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Bush/Cheney plan to privatize Social Security is dangerous. It would subject future retirees to the uncertainty of investment in the stock market while giving windfall profits to stockbrokers on Wall Street.

The plan would require massive start-up costs and many predict large cuts in benefits and a rise in retirement age.

This will occur at the same time the administration cuts Pell Grants.

Is this compassionate?

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