Jim Hightower

The Unbearable Lowness of Halliburton

This giant government contractor with tentacles running straight into the White House has previously been caught overcharging U.S. taxpayers and shortchanging U.S. troops for its work in Iraq. But now we learn that Halliburton has been profiting by mistreating foreign workers. By “foreign,” I don’t mean Iraqis, even though thousands of folks there are desperate for jobs. Instead, I mean impoverished Asian laborers brought by the thousands from southern India, Thailand, and the Philippines to work for Halliburton on U.S. bases as cooks, electricians, launderers, custodians, etc. They are mostly 20-somethings, powerless—and exploited. When recruited, most had no idea they were headed for a war zone. Once there, they are branded as TCN—Third Country Nationals—which is both a derogatory term and an assurance of third class treatment, at best. They are paid a fraction of what other Halliburton workers get, and their meager paychecks are often several months behind, keeping them in debt and in place. They work 12-hour days and are allowed only one day a month off—without pay. TCNs are housed in cramped trailers jammed end-to-end with bunk beds. They’re not allowed to eat with the Americans, nor do they even get to eat the same food. They cannot use the Internet, the phone center, or the recreation facility. Even though their bases regularly come under attack, TCNs are issued no body armor or helmets.

It’s bad enough that Halliburton is doing this at all, but it’s far worse that it’s doing it under our flag, in our name. What must Iraqis and Asians think as they watch how one of our country’s most favored corporations treats workers who are non-white and poor? To learn more, go to the globalization watchdog group, corpwatch: www.corpwatch.org.

DOING LESS FOR MORE

Isn’t it just pure pleasure to fly the friendly skies these days? I’m sure there are mule trains that offer more joy per mile. I know that airlines have been hard-hit financially, but what genius came up with the idea to cut back on the employees that serve the public, eliminate everything from meals to movies, charge customers for services that should come with the price of a ticket, jam people onto the planes like chickens in a cage, even take away those little pillows that offered a modicum of comfort—and then run ads that show delighted customers and happy-go-lucky workers skipping along together.

Yet, we might soon remember the today’s travel reality as the good ol’ days. Industry bosses are scheming on new ways to do less for customers, while charging more. For example, why should you get a seat that reclines and has padded armrests for nothing? Airlines are thinking they could charge extra for such frills. While companies already are charging passengers for boxed lunches, they’re now looking at a fee to use a tray table. Then there are your bags. Why check, load, and unload them for nada? Since adding a charge will tick off travelers, the savvy executives are contemplating a phase-in strategy, beginning by assessing a fee for priority baggage service. For 10 bucks or so per bag, you could get yours unloaded ahead of all the deadbeats standing around the baggage carousel. Who says your orange juice should be free? An aisle or window seat could come at a premium. That flight attendant call button and the little air vents could be equipped with coin slots. The customer might always be right—but there’ll be a fee for that in the friendly skies.

BUILDING YOUR OWN

Here’s an idea: What if instead of waiting for a progressive political future to be delivered to us by a magical someone on a big white steed, we actually built our own future from the ground up? In my speeches around the country, I’m invariably asked, who’s going to be “our” presidential nominee? My titillating answer, whispered confidentially, is that it’ll be someone the audience hasn’t even heard of yet. If I haven’t heard of our nominee, it’s because I’m not looking to 2008, but 2012 and beyond. We can nominate a “Not-Bush” in ’08, but getting to a true progressive for president takes a political movement that’s deliberately developing a broad and deep farm team of grassroots progressive talent. “Our” nominee is not yet another U.S. senator playing kissy face with corporate lobbyists but a committed progressive who’s now running for city council, county commissioner, or state senate. The good news is that this grassroots movement-building is already flourishing, propelled by such hard-nosed, determined groups as Progressive Majority. Recognizing that Americans overwhelmingly hold progressive views on issues – yet rarely encounter candidates with the will and skills to win on those issues—PM is at work to recruit, train, and back local candidates who connect to this winning progressive base. And here’s the important news: They’re winning! In this year’s elections—despite being outspent and despite right-wing smear tactics—Progressive Majority’s candidates won two-thirds of their races for school board, city council, county commissioner, etc. in places like Colorado Springs, Tucson, and Snohomish County, Washington. To plug in to this progressive future, call Progressive Majority: 202-408-8603.

Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit www.jimhightower.com. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900.

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