Monday, November 17, 2014

Is Fast Food Consumption Unethical?

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about the ethics of supporting the fast food industry. In the debate on solutions to hunger and poverty, it is important to note the high levels of food waste in the United States and ask what we could do to solve the problem.

The UN estimated in 2008 that it would take $30 Billion per year to solve world hunger. If we adjust for inflation, the current numbers would be just over $33 Billion, assuming no population growth (source: Adjusting for population growth (from 6.67B in 2008 to 7.2B currently), gives us a figure of just over $35 Billion. So let's assume a figure of $40 billion to adjust for any open variables. $40 billion to eliminate poverty worldwide.

I could compare that with other expenditures in the US government, but for the moment, I am simply focusing on how food waste reduction could impact world hunger.

According to a recent USDA study using figures from 2010, an estimated $161.6 billion in food was wasted in the US. The breakdown is right around 3 to 1 when broken down between retail and consumer food waste (the whole report is available here). Approximately $46.7 billion worth of food is thrown away by the retail industry; about $114.9 billion is attributed to consumer food waste.

Those numbers are sobering, and raise the question as to whether we should encourage the fast food industry to change some of their practices.

See, it's easy to get caught up in blaming the corporations, but in no industry is the direct correlation between consumer demand and corporate practice clearer than it is in the fast food industry. We can cite multiple examples of consumer pressure directly affecting the practice of the fast food industry. So ultimately we must ask ourselves, not a corporate CEO, if practices need to be changed.

We live in a culture where "instant" is the expectation and we fast become impatient with those who do not provide it. I live in a rural area and often have to drive 2 hours to reach job sites. During much of that time I am effectively off the grid. I have, on multiple occasions received several emails during that span of time, each more impatient than the last and expressing frustration that I have not replied to previous emails despite the fact I have not SEEN them.

That expectation often carries over into dining. I have informally observed service times with my stopwatch at the drive through and inside of a restaurant, and what I have noticed is, despite the fact they are very similar, we often perceive the drive through times as being longer because our expectations for faster service are set by the appeal of "drive through" service.

By looking at these numbers, I am inclined to believe that a simple change in our behavior could impact world hunger more dramatically than we realize. There will never be a point where either sector will reach zero food waste, although that number is optimal. But it is not unrealistic to consider that we could reduce our waste by 25% and have adequate resources, properly applied, to solve this problem.

This leads me to the question asked in the title sentence: Is fast food consumption unethical? I am inclined to believe that, as we push demand for a naturally inefficient method of supplying food, the answer is yes. There is more that we could change in our practices, and would need to, before we would even near solving this problem, but the very first, most impactful thing that we could do, today, to begin to address world hunger is to stop consuming fast food. And all indicators are that we would probably find ourselves becoming healthier in the process.

This is indicting for me above all else because, while I don't love fast food, I often default to it when I am on the road because it is easier. After dissecting this report, though, I am starting to think a trip to the produce section of the local market might not be that much more difficult, and would be more consistent with my core beliefs.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why the Ebola Crisis COULD Be Worse Than What is Being Stated

Before I begin this article, let me be very clear that I am not a doctor. But I am capable of research, and want to note that the source material I used for this article was from one that should be considered reliable. All data, unless otherwise noted, is taken from the following  website:

The CDC and the federal government are advising us not to worry in the wake of revelations that Ebola has now been confirmed in a patient in Dallas. And that is their job, to prevent the public from going into a state of panic. And even with widespread concerns, it's still sound advice to not panic. But it is also sound advice to look at the very real possibilities that this could become more of a concern than they are saying.

Of utmost concern is what we now about the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the US. He first showed symptoms of the disease on September 24. He sought treatment on the 26th, but was sent home because the hospital personnel did not believe it to be a serious disease, despite his advising them that he was from Liberia. He then returned on the 28th, and was quarantined (source:

So there were four days between the onset of symptoms and quarantine. Four days in a large city where the virus could possibly have been transmitted. Note: I am not saying it WAS transmitted, I am just saying that IF it was, it could be a very serious problem. Here is why:

In the United States, many low paid workers do not take off work when symptoms of illness appear. Many do not have sick days, and fewer still have the money to afford a doctor's visit, even with insurance coverage under the ACA. So the first few days of symptoms, they are likely to be at work, and exposed to the general public. Unless the CDC can properly identify everyone who had contact with this individual, the chances of this happening are actually better than we realize.

Here's where it gets interesting: the CDC reports that there is no possibility of ebola being transmitted though airborne contact. Two potential problems with that are possible contradictory evidence (, and the nasty tendency that viruses can have to mutate, the limits of which are still not fully understood. Still, for the sake of this analysis, I will accept the CDC's conclusion on this matter to be absolute (although I would encourage you not to assume it).

So the means of transmission are through blood or bodily fluids, right? Assuming these are the sole means of transmission, there are still plenty of innocent ways that the virus could be transmitted.

First, the fast food culture: The source information from the Public Health Agency of Canada (linked at the beginning of the article) notes that the virus can survive under certain conditions for up to 50 days outside the host. It is particularly viable at low temperatures, so the likelihood of it being transmitted by a grill cook or someone else behind the lines is fairly minimal.

But hot foods are not the only thing served by the fast food industry. The 50 day survival rate was at 4 degrees celsius, or 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit...almost exactly the temperature of the average refrigerator. This means that refrigerated products bear a high likelihood of being host to the virus for almost two months if the body fluids of an exposed individual make contact.

With the holiday shopping season around the corner, I would consider that especially worrisome.

Then, going further, the tables. If infected patients sit at the tables and wipe their noses and touch the tables, there is a potentially infected source. The good news is that ebola can pretty much be wiped out by many commercial disinfectants; the bad news is the tables would need to be wiped with disinfectant between each patron, something I have never seen at any fast food restaurant I have patronized. In fact, it's more likely to be wiped with a wet cloth that has simply been run under the faucet, a condition which could actually further the transmission.

In case someone is reading this wondering how to minimize the risk of infection, I am including the paragraph from the PHAC site below. I would encourage you to follow the first link for additional information:

SUSCEPTIBILITY TO DISINFECTANTS: Ebolavirus is susceptible to 3% acetic acid, 1% glutaraldehyde, alcohol-based products, and dilutions (1:10-1:100 for ≥10 minutes) of 5.25% household bleach (sodium hypochlorite), and calcium hypochlorite (bleach powder) Footnote 48 Footnote 49 Footnote 50 Footnote 62 Footnote 63. The WHO recommendations for cleaning up spills of blood or body fluids suggest flooding the area with a 1:10 dilutions of 5.25% household bleach for 10 minutes for surfaces that can tolerate stronger bleach solutions (e.g., cement, metal) Footnote 62. For surfaces that may corrode or discolour, they recommend careful cleaning to remove visible stains followed by contact with a 1:100 dilution of 5.25% household bleach for more than 10 minutes.

The second area of concern is day care centers and church nurseries. Sick children aren't supposed to go to daycare, and many day care centers are very firm in their policies of not accepting sick children. Assuming the CDC information to be accurate, those centers should really have little to worry about. But again, we live in a world of reality, and there are not enough of those centers to serve all of our children. And children are notorious sharers of bodily fluids, whether it be from chewing on a plastic doll and handing it off to a colleague, wiping snot on the craft table, or the frequent bloody noses from the toddler X Games that frequently go on.

The risk of infection could drop to virtually nil if thoroughly disinfecting contact surfaces with the above noted information in mind were followed, but with the CDC information limited to "don't panic", the information may not get where it needs to go. All of the information, of course, is good general infection control information, but since we are dealing with a disease that carries a high mortality rate, it wouldn't be a bad idea to revisit this.

The third area of concern is public transit. For brevity's sake, I am going to couple this with the scenario of a driver stopping to render aid in an accident. Our daily public contact puts us in places where we may be susceptible, particularly in crowded cities.

The fourth area, though, is probably the area of greatest concern if the disease reaches the wrong population. It can be transmitted through shared needles, as can HIV, but the virus remains viable in a patient from 61 to 82 days after the onset of illness, and transmission through semen has occurred 7 weeks after full recovery. This means that if the "don't panic" protocol is the only one observed in the US, there are entire segments of the population very much at risk without this information.

Let me again restate that I am not a doctor, and am only operating with published information. I researched this in order to alleviate my own concerns, and found additional concerns in the process. It is not as innocent or casually containable as the CDC suggests, though, although you probably will be safe in suburbia. But a large percentage of the population lives outside of suburbia, and they deserve accurate information, not casual dismissal of their fears.

Friday, September 5, 2014

What Independent Contracting Has Taught Me About the Minimum Wage Battle

I work in IT. Despite having a 4 year degree, industry certs, and 8 years' experience in the area, very few employers will hire me to work in house IT. In fact, sadly, all of that often works against me, as I see people hired quite literally out of convenience store jobs into IT because the businesses want $10-12 an hour techs, they do not want $50K a year Network Administrators.

So I decided to go it on my own. Basically, I wind up going to many of those companies to troubleshoot what their nearly minimum wage IT staff cannot. And I do the back and forth dance with buyers over rates.

I am currently holding out against an employer who wants me to drive two hours, pickup a part, deliver it an hour away, wait in line for over an hour to clear security at the site, perform the work, and return home. Basically a minimum of five hours for the company, with a pay rate that nets me less than minimum once all is said and done.

And so I countered with what I needed. They refused.

This is a common scenario. They can pay more, they are authorized to pay more, but their job is to pay me as absolutely little as they can and still function. I've been on holdouts like this before. They will give the job to lesser experienced providers, and after a series of revisits or a provider who gets fed up with the demands of the assignments, will be shopping it out again. This same site has been shopping for consistent techs for the last four years.

Ultimately, though, they need to get the job done, and they will pay what they need to to make it happen.

I used to feel guilty about this, but eventually I realized this is how it works: you have two competing factions, one that will do whatever it takes to pay as little as they can, and you, who have to negotiate to make a livable wage. And yes, there is such a thing.

When this plays out on minimum wage jobs, though, the employee has little room to bargain. Business owners exploit this by paying as little as they can get away with and then complaining about the turnover. Well, a minimum wage worker cannot be expected to have ANY loyalty to their employer, as they have to negotiate the best rate they can (whether that means a better paying job, a job with less travel, or anything else that gives them an advantage). Doing that is doing THEIR job.

It's a delicate dance that shouldn't exist. Workers should never have to feel guilty about negotiating what they need to survive. And employers should never feel that squeezing that dollar harder is more important than protecting their most important assets: their employees. In fact, paying workers more helps retain quality employees by giving employers a competitive advantage in hiring.

I'm not sorry that I work as an independent contractor. It has its ups and downs, but the freedom is a payoff that has incalculable value. But it has taught me more about real world economics than any college course ever could. And it has taught me that making a fair and living wage will always be a struggle for the working class.

Friday, August 22, 2014

There Is No Single Point Solution In Ferguson, Because It's Not a Single Point Problem.

I have had a lot of discussions, some productive, some not, about the events in Ferguson. And it has occurred to me over time that one of the reasons we are disconnected in the discussion is that we are looking to a single point solution.

The problem is, there were multiple causes to this incident some of them are racial in nature, some not. Some valid points have been raised on both sides of the aisle, but all have focused on part of the solution to the neglect of the whole. But the truth is, for white America to speak to the Black community about their lack of responsibility without paying attention to a culture that consistently gives class and race preference would be premature, and carry with it the appearance of racism, if not the facts.

The truth is, one of the core problems in Ferguson is that it is not the inner city; it is a suburb. And the incident carries with it the frightening fact that the problems of the inner city are moving out to the suburbs, and the "ticky tacky" lifestyle is being confronted with the ugly realities of an urban culture.

We have a convenient past of shuttering ourselves away from our social problems rather than dealing with them. And in the 50 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, we have been able to bottle it away in the inner city, where unemployment and poverty historically run high. But over time, the residents of the inner city have been moving out, to try to build a better life.

To say that race is not a factor would be a display of blind ignorance, but to say that it is the only factor would be equally so. In examining the articles written on privilege, it's fair to note that many things written by middle class authors to describe "white privilege" are in fact, indicators of class privilege. But that doesn't change the reality that white privilege does exist, even for those of us who grew up lower on the socioeconomic landscape.

If you pressed me, I would pinpoint the following factors: poor police training, militarization of police forces, racial inequality, income inequality, lack of leadership, and media sensationalism. There are probably a few I am overlooking, but those factors, I believe, are significant. If we really want to resolve the issues in Ferguson, the best way to do it is to examine what role we can play in the solution. If the answer is "none", the best reply is silence.

For my part, I choose to address the inequality issues and leadership issues. I believe that inadequate leadership is a problem that affects our entire culture, not just the inner city, and that the only remedy is to speak to it and encourage those with leadership skills to give back and assist in developing them among the next generation. That's hard to do when you're working hand to mouth, but it's a better approach longterm.

If we continue to see Ferguson as indicative of JUST a racial issue, or JUST a police brutality issue, we are missing the point. And if we refuse to at least consider the valid points of those who wish to handoff liability entirely to the residents of communities like Ferguson, we won't get anywhere.

Blame is a hard thing to fix; culpability and responsibility can't be pinned down so easily. What happened in Ferguson is something we all need to pay attention to, and a problem we all should have a hand in solving.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why We Do Not GET the Race Issue

We want to believe we live in a post racial America. I want to believe we live in a post racial America, and for a long time that is exactly what I believed. I grew up largely in a community where I never saw racial tensions and struggle; yet the existence of the "black" high school made the past undeniable, even though it had closed some years before I started school.

It's easy to tell someone to "put aside" the crimes of the past, especially when you belong to the culture that perpetrated the injustice. But this is what I would like both sides of the debate to understand.

The problem is, we don't SEE white privilege. Most people in rural America's experience in the inner city is limited to a wrong turn on the freeway or a news article on CNN. We (meaning the royal "We"; I am trying very hard to change that on a personal level) shake our heads, lament the decline of good adult role models in the inner cities, and often simply write the whole region off as being full of thugs and gangsters. We don't see the part we play in the process.

We don't see how capitalism has caused the decline of the inner city, or how it becomes an issue that disproportionately affects minorities. We don't see how often the same conservative role models of minority race who lament the failings of their brothers and sisters in the inner city neglect opportunities to return to the inner city, to be mentors, to educate and lift those kids out of poverty. We have to subsidize teachers going into the inner city because that's a place that most teachers will not go.

When an inner city kid sees a white face, it's usually a cop, a social worker, or a judge. It's never someone wanting to truly connect, to truly speak to that kid as an equal, and as someone with worth and value. And I reject the evangelical outreaches that happen in that area, as I've seen the posts of some of those who attend those churches. While not all are outright slandering the residents of the inner city, very few have spoken up for them.

Perhaps in remembering Michael Brown, we should remember the de facto segregation that gave the kids of an inner city an unequal education system. We need to remember that we have an income inequality that is utterly frightening for a First World Nation, even one in as steep a decline as we are. We need to look to "blockbusting" strategies that devalued properties and left families in the inner city with nowhere to go.

It's all well and good to ask why families in the inner city don't get a job; it's a fairer question to ask "where are the jobs". To a kid in the inner city, the best way to make a living is to start working for the local dealer. There's nothing for them in the job market, even in the fast food joints, where they have to compete with older adults for scant jobs.

I won't pretend to know everything about the inner city. But I know enough to know that standing in a rural environment miles removed from that one and judging the actions of people in the inner city by my values is ignorant at best, racist at worst. I know that the problems go deeper than one incident involving a suspect and shooting, and I know that is why they are marching. The truth of the Michael Brown situation is not that he is innocent; the truth is that he did not deserve to be gunned down. Even affording Officer Wilson every benefit of the doubt, there are ways that he could have addressed the situation from the outset that would have left a better ending for everyone.

Maybe it's time that those of us outside the inner city start listening to those inside the inner city. There are people in the inner city with solutions for change. They need our help going forward.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I Believe the Problem with Racism in America is That it is Not Intentional

I admit it, I genuinely feel sorry for police chief Thomas Jackson.

I don't know him, but I believe he is genuine. I also believe he made a very serious misstep when he released the video of the convenience store robbery allegedly committed by Mike Brown simultaneously with Darren Wilson's name. I don't think it was malicious, but it looks calculated, and so often, appearance is everything.

But I believe what happened with Jackson is symptomatic of a problem we have in our culture: we don't want to believe we're racist, and yet unfortunately, racism may be embedded in our cultural DNA.

For the past 40 years, TV has been our reality. And TV has fed us a world where blacks exist as a very small minority, and Latinos and Asians exist nearly not at all. And you have to look extremely hard to find Native American characters on TV.

Movies are somewhat more diverse, but there is a decided difference in roles cast for ethnic stereotypes. You almost never see a minority CEO, and it's just as rare to see a caucasion drug lord (Walter White being a prominent exception). Even music has genres that typically fall along race lines.

If I look across the people I count as friends in this area, I see people who are overwhelmingly generous, loving, and caring individuals. People who would never consider themselves racist, and you would never consider to be racist. Yet when officials were trying to place refugees some years ago in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, these same people stipulated that they were willing to take in white children.

And yet, in the wake of that, I would defend them against anyone who said they were racist. Because their actions consistently show otherwise.

But we need to look no further than America's justice system to see a disparity in treatment between minority offenders and caucasian. This connection is not speculative; it's been shown pretty conclusively. We look at the number of minorities in our prison, on death roles, their disproportionate representation on the poverty roles.

I remember years ago when I applied for a job in Wisconsin. I had a string of jobs prior to the one I was applying to, and had moved considerably. The gentleman next to me had somewhat similar history. He was black. The factory had not called for references on us, not drug tested either of us. I got the job; he didn't (and there were multiple positions to fill). I heard the owner specifically cite hjs inconsistent work history as the reason, and that was a common factor we both shared.

Now this was a small factory I worked at for 3 1/2 years. I knew this man. I saw him provide opportunities for a wide variety of people in the time I worked for him, and I don't believe that he had a conscious racist bone in his body. Yet I also know what I saw and heard that day. I was given an opportunity where someone of a different race with a similar resume was denied his.

Maybe it's time we start listening to minority voices in their criticism of our society. I really don't think if my lily white kids walked through a subdivision in Sanford, Florida, they would be profiled, let alone killed. I don't believe that had my lily white kid been standing in Mike Brown's case doing the same thing, they would have met the same fate.  And while that is wholly opinion, I also have a lot of empirical evidence that supports that theory.

We owe it to the Trayvon Martins and the Mike Browns of the world to take a very hard look at the cultural fabric of this country. And to adjust it, change it if we have to in order to create a more equitable society.

Because some mother in some community is due, by law of averages, to get the call tonight that her son was next. And because we owe our children better.

Friday, August 15, 2014

3445 Reasons Why Michael Brown's Shooter Doesn't Get the Benefit of the Doubt.

When Michael Brown was executed in Missouri, the conservative response was to wait until the facts came out. Brown's shooter, they insist, deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Yet as I seriously ponder the issue of white privilege, a fact that disturbs me because it should not exist, yet sadly does, I reject the premise that Brown's shooter "deserves" the benefit of the doubt. He will get it of course, but because he is given the assurance of recognition of his rights. That is an assurance that was not given to Michael Brown.

It is an assurance that was not given to 73 black men, later proven innocent, who have faced the executioner. 57 whites, 12 Latinos, and 2 identified as "other" race shared that fate, but the majority of the exonerated were of minority race.

And it's an assurance that was not given to 3,445 men and women of African American descent who met their fate at the hands of lunch mobs that didn't care about their guilt or innocence. That's an average of one every 9 days in America...for 86 years!

That's 3445 reasons why we should insist that Michael Brown's executioner does not get special treatment. I am not calling for a lynch mob mentality, but I am calling for him to be brought to justice; justice he sadly denied Brown when he acted as judge, jury and executioner.

I know that as a parent I am statistically less likely than a father in Ferguson to find my child lying dead on the pavement. I am less likely to have to search the morgue because an overzealous night watchman who thought he was John Wayne targetted my child. I am less likely to find my child profiled for a crime they didn't commit.

I am angry because I was promised a vision where people were judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. But everywhere I look, I see that I have been given benefits that are denied my brothers and sisters of color. And that infuriates me.

I don't want to benefit from white privilege. I want these families to enjoy the same safety and security that I do. I want to see equal treatment in the justice system and on the streets. And I want to see Michael Brown's murderer live a long life behind the bars of a federal prison for his callous disregard for that young man's life.

We cannot undo the sins of the past, but we can atone for them by focusing more intently on the sins of the present!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Why Should I Subsidize Your Hamburger?

The debate on minimum wage sadly is not occurring in the highest levels of government. Conservatives have so conveniently steered the conversation to side issues that it is hardly thought of anymore. And for a country where the effects of recession have all but wiped out the household savings of most families, and where even professionals have had to accept jobs at substantial reductions from their previous job levels, it has never been more relevant.

In fact, as a middle aged worker, I can honestly say that in three decades in the workforce, I have never seen a time when the average family has less money.

The push of many conservatives, even those without a lot of money, has been to oppose increases in wages on the premise that it hurts middle income workers by increasing the cost of goods and services. And certainly it does have an effect, but not as much as people tend to think. There is not a dollar to dollar correlation; in fact because labor costs are usually set below 20% of the gross at service industry businesses (the 20% is a figure lifted from a major fast food chain), even a doubling of wages should only increase prices about 20% or so.

It also bears mentioning that the wages of middle income workers will increase with the rise in minimum wage. Businesses aren't likely to keep paying $30,000 a year for network engineers when that is the minimum wage. And yet, currently, I know many network engineers with degrees who barely make that. Which is disturbing, because that's about what I made 20 years ago as an unskilled, nonunion factory worker.

But the argument that is being overlooked is that in suppressing the price of minimum wage workers, we are effectively subsidizing your burger. As the GOP uses the "hamburger" argument (arguing that you'd have to pay $15 for a burger if you increased the minimum wage to the suggested $15 an hour), essentially they are saying that we should suppress the wages of the poor in order to keep the prices of goods and services low for the middle class. This is a faulty argument, and a cruel one.

We have created a world where it is impossible to survive on minimum wage. Not difficult; impossible. It is not a living wage by any stretch of the imagination. And while the good news is that a decreasing percentage of Americans are making minimum wage, the bad news is that an increasing number of Americans are making less than $15 an hour, as post recession jobs have focused heavily on suppressing wages.

So how do low income families make it? Simple answer: subsidies. The only way they can survive is by accepting subsidies that keep their families' heads above water. In fact, the numbers are interesting: 28% of Americans make less than $15 an hour; 20% of Americans receive SNAP (more popularly called by it's old name of "food stamps". This means that by denying an increase in benefits, taxpayers are effectively working to subsidize the hamburgers of the middle class. Ironically enough, burgers that the workers who make them increasingly cannot afford (most "value meals" hover in the $6-8 an hour range, meaning a minimum wage worker would need to sacrifice an hour's pay to eat their own product. And here Henry Ford was worried about workers being able to afford to own CARS!)

Anyone who has gone to the grocery store recently is aware that costs of food, even staples, has increased at an alarming rate. Pinto beans, for instance, have nearly tripled in price over the last 10 years. As those prices increase, families who are struggling have to stretch and make sacrifices, which usually means eliminating the quality foods from their diet. And while the ACA thankfully covers most of those workers, it can only cover the cost of the consequence from those poor diets; it can't provide food to keep that from happening.

So it's time to think with a conscience. It's time to recognize the workers and give dignity to their jobs. Because people who work for a living, even at low skill jobs, are not a drain on the economy; they are DRIVERS of the economy. All work has worth, and all workers should have dignity. And if you pay them a fair wage, they will spend more, and our economy will grow, not shrink.

Dollars do not exist in limited amounts. Ironically, conservatives chide the poor by stating that the economy is not a "zero sum game" (in other words, my success need not depend on your failure). Yet they continue to suppress wages as the value of the dollar declines as if it were a zero sum game. It's time for that to stop. It's time to recognize the value of their workforce and pay a living wage.

It's time to stop subsidizing the cost of your hamburger.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Push to Make Less Money

I've seen a lot of disturbing trends in my life, and nothing concerns me more than the current trend for lower to middle class workers to beg for their employers to give them LESS money.

It might have made sense at the height of the Great Recession; one can see how misguided workers could have seen the collapse as a result of their greed, as the GOP insisted. And how they might be disinclined to ask for a raise. But it continues long after the recovery happened on Wall Street; while we are well into the recovery on Wall Street, we are still in the throes of recession on Main Street.

Of course, most will insist that they have not been begging to make less money. But they have. Here's how:

Money loses value over time. A dollar today is not the same as a dollar yesterday. And it's certainly not the same as a dollar a hundred years ago. So the longer your wage stagnates at the same level, the less you are getting paid. Don't believe me? Is your gas bill the same as it was five years ago? Your grocery bill? Your rent? In most cases, your costs are higher, in some cases, substantially. Yet we have allowed wages to stagnate.

I recently have viewed several discussions on "good paying" jobs. In each case, the mark was $10 an hour or above. I hate to say it, but I was making substantially more than that twenty years ago as an unskilled, nonunion factory worker. And my wages were not ridiculously high; they were, in fact, typical. The same twenty years ago saw fast food joints paying $9 an hour and up. Rent was cheaper, gas was cheaper, food was cheaper, and utilities were cheaper. Yet wages were higher.

Workers have long allowed themselves to be duped by propaganda that if they simply endure the current austerity measures, the "trickle down" effect would see everyone else become richer. Well, I've lived enough years with false promises to tell you with absolute confidence that the only thing that's trickling down is the effluent!

A higher minimum wage seems like a threat to the middle class simply because the GOP talking heads have made it so. But the truth is, when a full time job doesn't pay enough for a family to survive, someone's making up the difference somewhere. Either taxpayers through entitlement programs, working class families who have to sacrifice to make enough money to survive to the point where divorce and dysfunction become the norm, or, worst of all, the children through disease, malnutrition and poor education.

As for the workers making just over minimum, its ludicrous to think their salaries won't increase as well. A job that requires a degree will always pay more than one that doesn't, because the supply is smaller. And inflation keeps happening whether workers' pay is increased or not.

We don't need more welfare programs in an ideal society. A working adult should make enough money to actually see the promise of a better day. When that promise is being shattered, when they are seeing themselves make less and less while the boss makes more and more, the system has failed.

The rich truly are getting richer, and the poor truly are getting poorer. And millions of Americans are being conned into arguing and voting against their own self interest. The church refuses to take on issues of social justice, instead concentrating their efforts in the realm of Mammon, against the instructions of the Bible.

I don't want to see a revolution. Revolutions are messy and, more often than not, end up with the exact opposite effect of what is desired. But I fear that if workers are starved into submission long enough, revolution may be inevitable. Wake up, folks, and realize that a livable wage is in the best interests of everyone. Don't want to pay for food stamp programs? Then demand fair wages, and the food stamp programs will by necessity have to be reduced. To say nothing of the formerly low income workers who suddenly find themselves paying net federal taxes rather than receiving them back.

I can make a religious case for fair wages, I can make a political case for them. But the odd truth is, most people would rather continue to believe the lie that poor people making more is somehow a threat to their existence. And they're being told this by very wealthy people, with something to protect.

It's time we stopped letting the wealthy dictate what scraps they will offer the working class and started letting the working class negotiate for a fair wage again. Labor was strong in this country before; let it be again!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why I Can't Embrace the "Libertarian" Label

In the past five years, "Libertarianism" has been the buzzword. It has recently driven a well oiled machine that is well funded and maintained by hypercapitalism and a brand of religiosity that is appalling to anyone with a true sense of faith. It has been used to justify everything from the right to graze public land without paying fees, to the push to eliminate minimum wage.

And it is there that Libertarianism sticks in my craw. See, the current Libertarian push (not the Randian creation) simply asks adherents to eschew the use of force to obtain political or social ends.

And yet, when I look at the suppression of workers' wages in the current landscape, I cannot help but think that "force" is the very driver of what I am seeing. The architects of this economy have used the vehicle of inflation to cleverly hide the fact that we are stealing the money of the poor and working class as they sleep. That while maintaining the minimum wage at dollar levels that are the same for 6 years running, with no relief in sight, we have actually DECREASED the real wage of the American workforce to a dangerously low level. In no state can a minimum wage job pay the average rent, to say nothing of the other expenses that must accompany it.

I recently heard a computer tech brag that he bids out his labor for assist techs at $100 hour, then pays them $10 an hour. That, in my view, is the purest, vilest form of evil.

So how does this fit into the use of force? Simple, because the theft of the wages of the working class for the enrichment of the wealthy is the ultimate expression of force. If their labor is worth $50 on your books, then you should be paying  them $50 in wages and benefits, and not pocketing that money for your own profit.

It's ironic that every discussion of wages always comes back to hamburgers, such as "would you like to pay $10 for a Big Mac?" And yet, in all of this, the same folks that argue for the elimination of subsidies such as SNAP benefits, WIC, etc, are arguing for the continuing subsidy that keeps the price of their burger low; the suppression of workers' wages.

Libertarians enjoy a great deal of debate about what it means to be Libertarian. But until that debate includes the right of workers to receive a fair wage for a fair day's work, and the responsibility of the government to ensure that, I will not again embrace that level. The battle is far too important.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Understanding White, Male "Privilege"

Recently I had a bit of bad timing when I had to head out on the road for work. I knew I wouldn't have enough money to get home, but couldn't afford to turn down the job, so I set off, planning on some money that should have deposited before I finished the assignments.

Long story short, the money didn't come through in time, and I spent 6 nights "road camping", 4 of those in two separate WalMart parking lots, one at a highway rest stop, and one at a friend's house. This extended downtime was a valuable experience, and, among other things, gave me time to think.

I thought about the term du jour "white privilege" that is used to describe the differences between the races ("male privilege" is used as well). I didn't like the term, and I thought about how I could hardly be considered "privileged" when I was living out of my van with no money to get home. And then I thought of a winter not long back when a nice healthy cough passed through our family at absolutely the worst time, the middle of winter as we'd moved into our home and hadn't had the opportunity to find the seals and drafts...with absolutely no money to spare. I didn't feel privileged on either occasion.

And, as I point out, I'm certainly more privileged than ghetto kids in Detroit, but less privileged than Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's kids.

The problem is, that is not what proponents of the "White privilege" or "male privilege" theory are talking about,. and, frankly, that's a big part of the problem. We're employing a word in the English language in a sense that is technically correct, but that is not the primary usage of the term. When most people think "privilege", they do so in a material sense. They think about it in terms of what a child is born with, of the things they have that give them a step up, and a headstart on life. They think of politicians who are "born on third base thinking they hit a triple". And they don't identify with them.

Nor should they. They certainly don't have the same experience.

The problem is, "privilege" is a rather limiting term, a rather divisive one that does not fully express the reality.

Going back to the Will Smith illustration: if you take him out of the Hollywood environment, let him go a few months without a haircut and a couple of weeks without a shave, if you put on thrift store clothes, his privilege goes away. People don't see Will Smith anymore, they suddenly see his race first. If you take a white Hollywood A lister, do the same thing and put the two together in a rough neighborhood, you will quickly see the difference in how they are treated.

In the same way we have "first world problems" (stressing when the car won't start, for instance), we also have "white person problems". In my instance, the fact that I had family at home, had constant communication with them and knew that ultimately it was just a matter of getting a paycheck and depositing it before I could head home was a powerful indicator of advantages that I have that, while not universal to the experience of a white American, do exist in higher percentages than among minority populations.

As a bit of a hippy, I've certainly had my share of harassment from the cops. I was pulled over and had my car searched while on the way to a job for speeding; my car was searched for no other reason than because I was driving a van with out of state plates and they somehow felt my appearance fit a profile. But my five or six such lifetime experiences don't equal out to the daily, continual experience that a lot of minorities have.

I've left the male privilege issue on the shelf for a reason: because while I don't usually see white privilege in my day to day experience, I DO see male privilege almost every day. When I come home at night, I am statistically far less likely to be mugged, raped, or kidnapped and sold into human sex trafficking (sadly, slavery is a far too overlooked problem today). When I go to the mechanic, I don't get the "dumbed down" experience, and I don't get overcharged by someone who feels they can take advantage of my ignorance. Nobody assumes that I am technically ignorant, and they don't assume I can't open a jar. In short, I'm treated as any adult should be.

So while I will continue to argue against the terminology of "white privilege" and "male privilege", the reality of what those who coined the term are expressing remains. Perhaps they should listen to the very real concerns of some of us and try to find a term that is less divisive. I am not certain what that term is, but I am certain we can find it. And hopefully, use it to reach across the aisle by people who shut out the argument when the latest politically correct term is employed.

Winning in the court of public opinion requires an ability to communicate effectively with your opponent, and I'm not seeing that from many who advance this rather relevant argument. Let's try to listen to what your opponents are saying, not trying to assume what they are not.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Why I Can't Support the #NotOneMore campaign

I really hate to speak in these moments. I genuinely do. As a parent, I cannot help but feel endless sympathy for Richard Martinez. He lost a son, and the grief he feels as a parent is something that neither I, nor any politician, have the right to minimize.

But the #NotOneMore campaign, as well intentioned as it is, is in my opinion, horribly misguided. No, I am not going to insult you, or the memory of Christopher Michaels-Martinez, by using the overworn platitude "guns don't kill people; people kill people". No, my response is a little less different.

First, I believe that pointing exclusively to the gun culture is a horrible mistake. Not only are we a frighteningly violent culture, but the final words of the shooter, whose memory I will not dignify by repeating his name (it is the victims, and their families that we should remember, not the shooter), indicated a disturbing level of misogyny and disconnect with reality to say without question that there were far more issues at play. And it is the culture in which Rodger grew up that we should be addressing; a culture of entitlement in which he saw himself as being more important than those around him,. and thus deserving of the sexual favors of the women he encountered. It was narcissism at its finest.

If the #NotOneMore campaign succeeds in every single one of its aims tomorrow, guess what? There will be one more. And another. And another. Cain only needed a rock to take down his brother.

The solution lies not in the hallowed halls of Congress, or in the offices of political lobbyists. They will fail you always, as even the most fiery idealog recognizes the need to compromise. The solution lies in us, in the sense of community that we have long abandoned as we've turned electronic media into our babysitter, our teacher, our minister, our minstrel, and our mentor. We need to step away from the glow of the TVs, tablets, and smart phones, and into the presence of our children, our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors. We need to reconnect with each other and rediscover the value of relationships that is better, is deeper, than the hollow synthesis we find in our multitude of devices. We won't stop every Elliot Rodger out there, but we may stop one. And we may help one father to go to sleep at night knowing that his child is alive.

Richard Martinez is not wrong in what he is doing. He is a father. And he is reaching out in the only way he knows how. But lying lobbyists don't care about that; they care about what Martinez can do for them. And they'll sweet talk him until the cows come home.

Want to respect the memory of Christopher Michaels-Martinez? Pay attention. Be a better neighbor. And realize that we are, each and every one of us, our brother's keeper.