Friday, November 30, 2007

No Hablo Ingles

Congress in tiff over English-only rules
Republicans prevent EEOC from enforcing rules on language discrimination
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A government suit against the Salvation Army has the House and Senate at loggerheads over whether to nullify a law that prohibits employers from firing people who don't speak English on the job.

The fight illustrates the explosiveness of immigration as an issue in the 2008 elections.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are pushing hard to protect employers who require their workers to speak English, but Democratic leaders have blocked the move despite narrow vote tallies in the GOP's favor. (To continue: Congress in Tiff… )

My Commentary:
I have generally been opposed to those efforts that prohibit the use of the Spanish language or mandate “English Only”. Earlier this year there was an effort in Nashville to pass a local ordinance prohibiting Metro government from conducting business in any language but English and declaring Metro government as “English Only”. With the growing Hispanic population, many agencies of government had hired bi-lingual personel in service positions and had a Spanish option on the telephone answering services. Some native English speakers took offence and a bill was introduced in the Metro Council to prohibit the provision of services in any language but English. After much public discussion, a watered-down version of the bill passed the Council but Mayor Purcell vetoed the bill and the council failed to override the veto. (To read about it: Nashville Mayor… )

If I had still been serving in the Metro Council, I would not have supported that bill. I think it was mean-spirited and unnecessary. The bill would have probably hurt tourism and development and it does not project the image I want for the city I call home. During the public debate about this bill, some of the mean-spiritedness was really revealed. On radio talk shows, people complained about every encounter with Spanish-speaking people and complained about signs in Spanish and they even complained about ATM cash machines that give an option of having the ATM give the instructions in a variety of languages. Having traveled independently in several foreign countries, I know how welcoming it can be when signs are in English and you encounter people who can speak English and I am thankful that English is an option on ATM machines around the world. The US has few bi-lingual people compared to the rest of the world. With the increase in globalization and the shrinking world, I think it is a plus for America if there are languages other than English spoken in this country.

The current legislation before Congress is different from the English-only bills like the one that Nashville considered. The legislation before Congress is an Amendment to the EEOC budget that would prohibit the EEOC from prosecuting an employer who requires his employees to speak English. This bill would not prohibit anyone from speaking his or her native tongue, and it would not mandate that anyone speak English. Senator Alexander was prompted to propose this amendment by a lawsuit filed in April by the EEOC against the Salvation Army for allegedly discriminating against two of the Army's employees in a Massachusetts thrift store for requiring them to speak English on the job. The Salvation Army had clearly posted the rule, and the employees were given a year to learn English.

It is important that foreigners who are going to live in American learn the language and assimilate. It is not mean-spirited to encourage them to learn English. It should not be against the law for an employer to require his employees to speak English on the job. With a backlog of 56,000 cases, the EEOC should be doing something other than prosecuting employers who require their workers speak English. I commend Senator Alexander for this common sense proposal. (read more: Alexander...)

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Reporting from The War on Christmas

A few days ago, on one of the several chat groups to which I belong, a fellow group member alerted us that one of the major retail outlets was calling their Christmas trees, “Family Trees” this year. Uh-oh, here we go again: The Christmas-time (or is it Holiday-time) culture wars.

I don’t know that there really is a “war on Christmas,” but there does seem to be a move to use the term “Christmas” less often. Whether it is a desire to make people of other cultural or religious traditions feel less excluded or has some other motive, I don’t know. As a public service, I thought I would examine all 17 pounds of the Tennessean Thanksgiving Day newspaper inserts to see which advertisers are Christmas-friendly and which are politically correct. (I really don’t know that there is 17 pounds of inserts, but it is a heck of a lot of newspaper that normally goes in the trash unread.)

Michael’s full-size insert featured almost nothing but Christmas décor and Christmas trees but Michaels was able to avoid the word “Christmas.” The front of their insert featured “Pre-lit trees,” “Donner Pine,” “Madison Fir,” "Frasier Fir,” etc. but no “Christmas Trees.” They had lots of “holiday” items, including “holiday” cards. They did however offer one “Christmas Collection” garland. “Christmas Collection” was the brand name.

On the other hand, Old Time Pottery bragged “We are your low price Christmas Tree Headquarters,” and Old Time Pottery had “Christmas Trees,” “Christmas stockings,” “Christmas mugs,” “Christmas wrap,” “Christmas tins and trays,” “Christmas gift boxes” and "Christmas" everything.

Jo Ann Fabric and Craft stores, a chain I am not familiar with, is also very Christmas-friendly. Their insert had “Christmas Food crafting supplies,” “Christmas gift wrap,” “Christmas Décor,” and “Christmas ornaments.”

Petco, where you can buy your cat a “Holiday ginger bread Cat Scratcher” or a “Kitty Hoots Holiday Stocking for $12.99, used the term “holiday” numerous times and almost made it into the politically correct column but redeemed themselves by offering a “Kitten’s First Christmas Collection.”

Rite Aid offered “holiday Savings,” and “holiday light sets” but they also had “indoor Artificial Christmas Trees” and “Christmas stocking stuffers.” Walgreen’s was very Christmas-friendly and had “Christmas Window Clings” and “50% off select Christmas Ornaments and Garland,” and “Hershey’s Christmas Candy” and their trees were all “Christmas Trees”. CSC Pharmacy seemed to try to avoid the C word and had “Merry Brite lighted Cone Trees,” and “Holiday Decorations” and “Holiday Scented 5.5” Pillar Candles” but they did offer an “Angels of Christmas Ornament.” “Angels of Christmas” appears to be brand name.

Circuit City’s ad had was heavily winter holiday-themed (Christmas-themed?) and mentioned “Santa’s Little Helper,” “the joy of giving” and “spread some holiday cheer” and almost avoided the C word but then they did offer “Christmas DVD’s” for $9.99. “Christmas DVD’s” was not a brand name; that is what Circuit City called them.

Party City had lots of party stuff and had “75% off Boxed Christmas Cards.” Best Buy had “fun holiday gifts” and told us to “have a holiday movie marathon,” but no Christmas at Best Buys.

JC Penny’s advertised a “7.5-Ft pre-lit Wonder Tree”, but did not call it a Christmas tree. They had “gifts that spread holiday cheer,” and featured “holiday Motif Jewelry” but no Christmas at Penny’s. Goody’s advertised “sweaters & knits in a holiday mood” and “the perfect stocking stuffers” but no mention of Christmas. On the other hand, Bed and Bath told us they had “Extended hours now Through Christmas.” Sears had “Christmas Trees.” Macy’s had no Christmas. K-mart had “holiday” trees and told us to “Spruce up your holiday home,” but no Christmas at K-mart.

Sprint had winter holiday-themed (Christmas-themed?) ads with play-on-word advertisements like “Text the Halls,” “Dashing through the songs” and “Hands-free for the holidays” and “Jingle bell rock, faster” but they avoided the C word.

Lowe’s featured a “6-1/2 ft. 400-light clear pre-lit tree” and lots of other “holiday” décor. They did not use the word “Christmas,” while Home Depot told us to “buy any live Christmas tree and receive $30 off any future purchase at The Home Depot.”

I don’t know what to make of this Christmas battle of the culture wars. I am not going to boycott companies that use the term “holiday trees” but I do think Christmas trees ought to be called “Christmas” trees. I won’t get mad at you if you wish me “Happy Holiday” or “Merry Christmas,” but I do sometimes pause before I wish someone else a “Happy holiday” or “Merry Christmas”; use the wrong term and they may take offence. I pity the poor retail clerk who must say one or the other or neither and risk offending someone.

One of my favorite country artists, Billy Joe Shaver, testifies with humor, “If you don’t love Jesus, you can go to hell.” I think a lot of the culture warriors have that attitude and they are not being humerous. Lighten up people.

Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays).

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