November 19, 2013

Living Wages

Credit: Our Walmart
A study just released by DÄ“mos indicates that Wal-Mart could pay an average annual wage of $25,000 if it just halted the practice of buying back its stock at a cost of billions of dollars per year. This buy-back mostly benefits current stockholders, particularly the heirs of founder Sam Walton, who in 2009 owned about 42% of the company. A direct result of this siphoning of profits into the coffers of the have-mores is the sad tale of a Wal-Mart in Canton, OH where employees have set up donation bins at the Thanksgiving season to collect food from employees for distribution to other employees in need.

How extreme must the contrasts become before the Waltons realize that sharing wealth is a sustainable approach and hoarding wealth isn't? Perhaps, when their employees are so poor that they can't afford to shop in their own stores?

But pragmatism shouldn't be the primary impetus towards economic justice. I can say the following without qualification or hesitation: if you can afford to pay your employees a living wage, it is immoral not to do so.

September 19, 2013

Bravo, Chipotle

This short film, titled The Scarecrow, was designed as an advertisement for the fast-food restaurant Chipotle to promote its policy against factory farming. I find it heartening to see a company with such credibility among aficionados of fast and filling fare taking such a stance and implementing it as policy.

While I strive (mostly with success) towards vegetarianism, I know that I live in a world where people of good conscience don't necessarily share my concerns about the consumption of animal products. However, I do think that this video's raising of meat-eaters' consciousness along with Chipotle's tactic of making meat an optional ingredient instead of the heart and soul of its dishes are helping to make us a less meat-centric and inhumane society. Bravo.

September 17, 2013

Mental Illness and Firearms

The recent mass killing at the Washington Navy Yard is yet another instance of a mentally ill young man with easy access to firearms exercising his madness on large numbers of strangers. How many more must die before a consensus is built to address this particular confluence of factors? Does the NRA actually want the mentally ill to have unfettered access to firearms? Why is setting a high bar of trustworthiness for gun licensure oppressive?
According to ABC News:
"Just 12 states actively submit mental health records to the federal background check system, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. Those that do are only required to provide documents related to court-ordered committals. Thousands of felony convictions across the country have also been left out of the system, advocates say. In many states, the records are still paper-based and have to be entered into the background check system by hand -- a costly and time-consuming process."
Tightening up issues like this should disturb no one, since just doing a better job of what we already purport to do may have helped in some of these cases. For example, the Navy Yard killer, Aaron Alexis, reportedly once shot out someone's tires when they had parked in his space. This was a matter of public record, as he was arrested for the incident and later admitted to it, citing blackout-inducing anger. Anyone who has used a firearm in such a way should never have access to them ever again. If we don't improve our success rates in separating the mentally ill from firearms (and other means of mass murder), tragedies like this will go on and on with increasing frequency.

July 19, 2013

The Exponential Benefits of the ACA

Source: Keith Ellison
I believe that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have exponential positive benefits that most of us aren't even anticipating. For example, once the exchanges are established and working throughout the country, the uncomfortable and perhaps unfair requirement placed on employers to provide coverage may be scaled back, even eliminated. I think this will do what most folks on all sides of the issue think is reasonable -- to divorce healthcare coverage from employment. Another till now unforeseen consequence of the ACA is that people who are working only to retain affordable coverage could stop working. A study performed by economists from Northwestern, Columbia, and U. of Chicago anticipates that this could free up nearly 1 million jobs for the unemployed to fill. This couldn't happen unless individuals could find affordable coverage on their own, a possibility that the ACA is now establishing.

July 18, 2013

"This boy is Ignorance"


John Leech, Illustrator
 A Christmas Carol, 1st Ed.

Utah State Senator Aaron Osmond has called for the end of compulsory education in his state. The trajectory of the dominant strain of conservatism in this country has always been clear to me: increase stratification, decrease equality. In Dickens' A Christmas Carol, The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Ebenezer Scrooge two emblematic, mythic children: 
"This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."
Education is the mechanism by which we better our selves, our societies, our planet. In ignorance we descend into barbarity, slavery, and inhumanity. Beware this politician and all his like.

July 16, 2013

The Sympathy Gap

The tragedy of the Trayvon Martin case does have a primary source: the presence or absence of sympathy for someone that is in some way different from us. After listening to Anderson Cooper's interview of an anonymous juror from the case, I am convinced that her sympathies lay primarily with Zimmerman. What I mean specifically is that she felt she knew who Zimmerman was, what motivated him, what his values were -- and that she felt a sense of kinship with him. That five white women and one Hispanic woman felt more sympathy for a half-white, half-Hispanic man than for a black boy is sadly unsurprising to me. 

Imagine for a second that your son, who just turned seventeen, is on his way back to your girlfriend's apartment from a 7-11 run so you all can watch a football game together. It's about 7PM, it's dark and rainy, so he's pulled the hood on his sweatshirt over his head. While your son is talking to a friend on his cell phone, he notices that a man is following him. 

Now, let's start over. Imagine that your twenty-eight-year-old brother is out doing his bit to keep his family safe by pulling neighborhood watch duty. He sees a young man with a hooded sweatshirt walking along the street in his neighborhood. He calls 911 to report a suspicious character in his neighborhood. The operator tells him that he doesn't need to follow the suspicious guy anymore. But he decides to do so anyway because he's frustrated that guys like that always get away. 

Now, let's start over again. You are a disinterested by-stander faced with a situation where two men have had some sort of an altercation. One was armed and the other was not. The armed man is alive and in reasonably good condition: a few cuts and bruises, a broken nose, but walking, talking, and in no need of hospitalization. The unarmed man is dead with a bullet through his heart.

In what logical universe could these three perspectives lead to the armed twenty-eight year old man's killing of the unarmed seventeen-year-old man be declared justified? The only solution I can come up with is an unwarranted sympathy for the shooter and a total lack of sympathy for the victim.

I generally don't see racism everywhere and skeptically scrutinize situations where it's alleged. But in the case of Trayvon Martin's death, I think racism is not just present, it's almost the whole story.

June 06, 2013

Transgressive Dissent

A few days ago, the First Lady was interrupted by a heckler at a private DNC fundraiser at a Washington, D.C. residence. The heckler, Ellen Sturz, is a LGBT activist who was protesting the fact that the President has not signed an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT people by Federal contractors.

I don't like public rudeness and I would have been uncomfortable with Ms. Sturz behavior had I been there. That being said, I understand from Ms. Sturz's reports that Mrs. Obama confronted her physically, getting three inches from her face. As we praise Mrs. Obama for her firmness are we actually saying that she has set the new example for how hecklers should be handled? Should speakers bodily confront rude audience members?

Additionally, with Mrs. Obama offering no sympathy to the concerns being raised by the heckler, she leaves the impression, unfair or not, that she has no sympathy with the heckler's concerns. As a gay man, I'm really asking myself now -- "Gee, how supportive is Mrs. Obama regarding my equality?"

While I am sympathetic to Mrs. Obama's situation and how frustrated she may have been, I just can't say that she handled this situation well.

Finally, the point that bothers me most about the almost unanimous support for Mrs. Obama's reaction is the implicit disapproval therein of all forms of dissent that can be characterized as 'rude.' Are we now against all sit-ins, marches, shouting, picket lines, and protests of any kind that can be deemed obnoxious or transgressive? I hope not. Sometimes the 'proper' avenues for expressing our opinions are wired shut and we need to allow for 'improper' avenues as a fallback option.

June 05, 2013

The Persistence of Truth

Source: Antonu
I begin to despair of our ability to maintain our most precious talent: truth-seeking. It is as though a new world is being formed, populated by masses of gullible work-a-day folks and cadres of cynical charlatans misleading them. In this world
  • 'argumentation' is a process wherein you use words to intimidate, demoralize, or silence anyone who is in disagreement with you
  • a 'fact' is any story, whether true or false, that strengthens your 'argumentation'
  • 'logic' is any way of stringing these 'facts' together that strengthens your 'argumentation'
Yet, in the face of all this, truth yearns to be discovered, even bursting out when we try to squelch it.

May 04, 2013

The Civil Cold War

Source: ThinkProgress
Per ThinkProgress, the soon-to-be president of the NRA has even more radical views than his predecessor. I think the hysterical mistrust of the Federal Government that has infected the South since the founding of our country has spread throughout the country and we are fighting what I would term a 'Civil Cold War' that is nation-wide in scope. Our segregation is less geographic than ever and more maintained by news sources, pastimes, religions, and other more portable markers.

Raised on the Registry

I found this new report Raised on the Registry by Human Rights Watch and was really surprised at the legal ramifications children are facing here. I hope this report changes some minds, particularly those of lawmakers. Branding a person for life as the worst kind of person for a mistake made out of ignorance when they were ten or twelve seems truly awful and tragic. Also, to be clear, I don't think sympathy is zero-sum in this case -- having sympathy for children labeled as perpetrators should not diminish our sympathy for children recognized as victims.