Twin epidemics in Northwest Arkansas | Street Jazz

Twin epidemics in Northwest Arkansas

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A few weeks ago I interviewed Rachel Townsend of the Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center - for both my show and a print interview - and she told me about a surprising epidemic that is gaining ground in our area. It's not medical, though it may indicate a disease of the soul. It seems that a number of employers - primarily in the construction business - are engaging in something called "wage theft."

Wage theft, to put it in its simplest terms, is when workers are not paid an honest day's pay for an honest day's work."I don't have the money right now," an employer might say. "My contractor hasn't paid me yet. Keep working for a another week or so, I'll have the money." But the money never comes.

Sometimes the employer has just vanished into the night when the employee goes to pick up his pay.

This doesn't happen in the majority of cases, but it happens enough to cause concern.

By an odd coincidence, most - if not all - of the affected workers are Hispanic.

Isn't it nice that we have new neighbors to enslave and call our very own?

Townsend refers to what is happening as an epidemic, but she is just referring to the act of nonpayment of wages. It seems to me that bigotry has eached epidemic proportions in this country, as well.

Oh - that just sounds ponderous and dull! Of course there is an epidemic of bigotry.

Why am I so surprised? Well, this is why:

In the early 1970s I was an Air Force brat, and my father was stationed at two bases in Germany - part of an American detachment at RAF Bruggen, in northen Germany, and Zweibrucken, in southern Germany. What an exciting time to live overseas. Vietnam, civil rights marches, Richard Nixon in the White House. It was a wonderful opportunity to see one's country from the perspective of others.

Those of us who were military kids, living on military bases, were sort of this great experiment in diversity in action. We were proof that the melting pot worked in America. We knew in our hearts that come the 21st Century - should any of us actually ever live to be that old  - that racism would be a thing of the past. Like the Model T, and Spam.

Well, Spam, in all its evil variations, is still with us, and so is racism. Our social experiment came to naught. But still, one holds out hope for the future.

And then you hear a teenager who professes to be Christian sneer at those who are different, and you cringe.

And you pick up the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and read the ramblings of Dana D. Kelley, our very own David Duke on training wheels, and you cringe.

Still, one hopes . . .

******

Here's a question that would be a lot more entertaining to ask candidates - especially those testoterone soaked GOP presidential wannabes- instead of asking them if they believe in evolution, ask 'em how old they think the earth is. Let's watch them pander to their base while still trying to sound half-way educated.

rsdrake@nwark.com

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