Income Inequality and Service Jobs

So I’m watching an episode of CNN’s series Inside Man. This particular episode is about unions. There’s a section covering income inequality where it points out that since 1973, the average American worker’s income has gone up about 6% (adjusted for inflation, one assumes), while the average CEO income has gone up by 726%. The show also pointed out that about 90% of new jobs created since the recession have been service industry.

Now I’m going to depart slightly from most of my friends on the left. I don’t think either of these are necessarily bad things. I have no real problem with CEOs earning an insane amount of money, nor with 90% of jobs being service jobs. But there is a slight problem that I do have with this.

Extreme differences in income is acceptable only if the people on the lower-end of that income are able to live good, decent, healthy lives with access to toys, tech and teaching (ok…education…but I wanted a third “t”!). Now most lower-income people in this country actually come to close to that. Very few people starve to death, for example, and with the expansion of Medicaid and Obamacare, most people are able to get health insurance even if they’re poor. And they can usually afford to have a computer, even if it’s a bit old, a cell phone, even if it isn’t smart, and a TV, even if it isn’t HD.

However! Lower-income people are still usually only a paycheck away from a shitstorm of trouble. You’re supposed to only spend 1/3 of your income or less on housing. That’s seldom the case for lower-income people. It certainly isn’t the case for me. If you’re spending 50%+ of your income on rent, that doesn’t leave you much of a margin for error, especially if you have kids.

This is why something like a higher minimum wage is important. If a CEO of a company I work for is making three times the amount per day that I earn in a year, I’m fine with that, as long as I’m earning enough to cover my expenses, have some savings, have some benefits and have something left over. I don’t require that I earn what he does (though it would be nice); just that I earn a fair wage. Even if that job is a service industry job (as my current one is), I should be making a fair, living wage.

And that’s where this all falls apart, because these days, that often isn’t the case. Wal-Mart pays its employees very, very poorly. It varies depending on the market, but we can generally assume it isn’t a living wage in most places. They don’t have to do this. According to that same episode of Inside Man, if Wal-Mart paid their employees an average of twelve dollars an hour, and passed 100% of that cost to their customers, it would cost the average consumer about $12.50 per year. By contrast, Cost-Co pays its employees fairly well and still manages to have low prices.

The problem in this country isn’t income inequality. The problem is that the rich have basically everything and the poor have very little in the way of things like security. Paycheck-to-paycheck isn’t a fun way to live, and while I don’t think we need to pass laws to make everyone rich, we do need to do some basic correction and, among other things, raise the minimum wage. It’s just sense.

How Not to Be Patriotic

As you’ve probably heard by now, armed militia members have been gathered in a small part of their country holding government forces at bay and threatening violence unless their demands are met. No, this isn’t Ukraine; this is Nevada.

See, there’s this rancher who wanted to graze his cattle on publicly-owned lands. That’s fine. The government allows this. But thanks to Ronald Reagan, you have to pay a fee to do so. I don’t think that’s entirely unreasonable, but to me the rules here are simple: if you don’t want to pay a fee, don’t graze your cattle on that land. Well, this rancher wanted it both ways. He wanted to graze his cattle, but do it for free. The courts have constantly, since the 1980s, told him no, and told him repeatedly that he needed to pay the fees or face fines, and possible confiscation of his heard. He ignored them. The feds eventually showed up and started rounding up cows, and the next thing you know, there’s an armed militia threatening to murder them. The feds, not wanting a repeat of Waco, backed off.

This is a complex issue with many layers, or so we are told, but it really isn’t. This man was breaking the law. He’s been breaking it since the 1980s (thanks, Reagan!). He knew he faced legal consequences if the courts continued to rule against him, but he still broke the law. Now you can say it’s an unjust law. I can see the argument for that. You can say that breaking an unjust law is justifiable. I can see that, too. But if you break an unjust law, part of the deal is that you face the consequences. That’s what happened during much of the 1950s and 1960s with the Civil Rights movement. We never had Martin Luther King, Jr, show up with an armed militia and threaten to murder people if they don’t get their way.

In this country, if you don’t like the laws, there are mechanisms to change them. Those methods are good and acceptable, and if they don’t work, well, sucks to be you, but you just kind of have to accept it and go with it. What you aren’t allowed to do is threaten violence. You certainly aren’t allowed to use violence to force a change in the laws. We have a word for that.

So I have basically zero respect for this rancher, who at this point should be faced with either giving up a part of his herd or going to jail. I have zero respect for these armed militia douchebags who decided to take the law into their own hands. They should also be facing strict legal sanctions. Meantime their supporters are welcome to work through the system to get these laws changed. That’s the way a true patriot does it.

A Vaguely Annoyed Man Decided to Write Something for His Blog. What Happened Next Will Blow Your Mind.

Dear Upworthy;

You mean well. I know you mean well. But you’re just awful. Your gigantic click-bait headlines are terrible, and the stories they link to almost never live up to the hype.

The basic idea of your site-drawing people’s attention to positive stories that “the internet likes”, which might otherwise escape their notice-is a good one. I have no problem with that. But those headlines are so goddamn awful and over-the-top. My Facebook feed is just cluttered with them. And, generally, they just disappoint. I first encountered this when I clicked on a headline that said, something along the lines of “His First Five Sentences Are Interesting. The Next Two Blew My Mind. And Made Me a Little Sick”. It then linked to a Vlog Brother’s YouTube video about healthcare which was fairly interesting, but wasn’t all that great, and certainly wasn’t “mind blowing”.

And that’s the problem with Upworthy. They lack, for want of a better phrase, an “indoor voice”. Everything is described in superlatives. It’s click-bait and nothing but, and it’s oh so irritating.

So I don’t click. I don’t read. I probably miss out on several things I might genuinely find interesting or moving or whatever. But I don’t want to encourage their stupidity.

*** UPDATE ***

Here’s the actual headline from Upworthy that I mangled before. “His First 4 Sentences Are Interesting. The 5th Blew My Mind. And Made Me A Little Sick.” So, yeah, apologies all around, I suppose.

Once More Unto the Breech

Well, my time at my current job is winding down, and my schedule is opening up very soon. So I think it’s a good time for me to start looking for work.

If anyone in Phoenix has leads on jobs in tech support, data entry, or general office work, please let me know. Entry level is fine! If anyone has any leads on good places for servers to work, please let me know. I’d like to have something new within three weeks. Any help anyone can give is appreciated!

The Moral of This Story?

Back a few years ago, Ryan Holle lent his car to his roommate, and then went to bed; something he’d done many times before. What happened next?

He had lent his car to his roommate many times before with no negative consequences. This time the roommate and others went to a house where they knew a woman was selling marijuana from a safe. They planned to get the marijuana, but in the course of their break-in a teenage girl was killed.

Yikes! Well, clearly the roommate and whomever else was involved needed to get into some serious trouble with the law for this, yes? And they did. They were punished, and went to prison. That’ll learn ‘em not to kill people! But also punished, and sentenced to prison, for life, and without the possibility of parole, was Ryan Holle, who is now eleven years into that sentence. That’ll…learn him to…not…loan out his car? I guess?

Yes, thanks to a horribly ill-advised and downright wrong concept known as the Felony Murder Rule, Holle is stuck in prison for the rest of his life, for loaning someone a vehicle that was used as part of a crime where someone was killed.

Now I think all but the most brain-dead among us can agree that this is not fair, and that he shouldn’t spend a single day more in prison. I hope we can also agree he shouldn’t have gone to prison in the first place. This is a serious miscarriage of justice, and not only should be be freed, but the rule that leads to unintended consequences such as this needs to be done away with.

Of course we live in a democracy full of under-informed, easily-swayed voters (and, most often, non-voters), who don’t really bother to learn the facts. I can guarantee you that if an elected official stepped up tomorrow and pardoned Holle, that elected official would see that used against her in an upcoming election. She would be described as being “soft on crime” and “coddling criminals”. There’s every chance it might cost her the election later on. So it’s little surprise that he remains in prison. It’s somewhat more surprising that the unelected justices of the circuit courts and Supreme Court haven’t yet struck down these laws, but one can hope they will do so in the future.

There is some hope beyond that. The Felony Murder Rule exists in 46 out of 50 states. That’s four where it’s been done away with. So that’s hopeful. On the other hand, in 24 of those states, this rule can lead to the death penalty. So, yay, America. Continuing to hold justice to the fine standards established in the 19th century!

Right, Wrong, or Somewhere in the Middle?

As you probably heard, a few days ago the website, OkCupid, began posting up messages saying that they prefer users not access the site with Firefox. This was due to the CEO of Mozilla, the company that makes Firefox, giving $1000 to support California’s anti-equality ballot measure, Proposition 8. This eventually led to the CEO being forced to resign.

Now I have several thoughts here, and I’m quite conflicted by all of this.

First off, this wasn’t an infringement on his free speech, as some like to say. Brendan Eich, who had only been made CEO a few days before, was and remains perfectly free to say what he likes and to donate money to whatever causes he likes. However that doesn’t make him free from suffering the consequences for those words and deeds. Had he stood up and talked about how Judaism wasn’t really a religion, but was actually a cult, you can bet there would be consequences. Free speech, as a political concept, applies only to the government. The government cannot punish you for the things you say or donating money to political causes. Companies, at least to an extent, can.

Second, though, should Mozilla have forced Eich out? He made a choice I disagree with, but…so? I won’t go to Chik-Fil-A, and that’s in part because the owner of that company supports anti-equality causes. Also, their food is kind of overpriced. But Eich wasn’t CEO when he made that donation, so that isn’t the same thing. Perhaps he should have simply been left in place, and we could all decide whether or not that’s a reason not to use Firefox. It’s a largely moot discussion for me, because the only time I ever use Firefox is when I’m doing my computer science homework, since for some reason it won’t work with Chrome.

Third, if Firefox was something that I used regularly, would Eich’s donations to Prop 8 be enough to make me not use it? I don’t think so, no. I’m a creature of habit, and it takes a lot more than one idiot’s political views to make me change even something as basic as a browser. Also, frankly, it was only $1000, and the Prop 8 side basically lost in the long run, so, yeah…

One thing Andrew Sullivan said the other night when he was on The Colbert Report is that it is important for us to learn to live with people we disagree with. He’s absolutely correct, and as an atheist, that’s something I have a fair amount of experience with. I regularly have to work with, hang out with, and otherwise be around people who believe in a god or several gods. I think it’s fundamentally a stupid thing to believe in, but I generally ignore it and just accept them as people.

Boycotting Firefox was a silly thing to do. The CEO made the donation before he was the CEO, and had been in place for only a few days. Ignore crap like that. If you must boycott people for their political views, be a bit more choosy, and chase after companies like Papa John’s, Wal-Mart and, yes, perhaps even Chik-Fil-A. Those are companies that are run by people who are actively trying to make life worse for their underlings and/or the general public. But something as minor as the Firefox thing, no. Leave it alone. Save your energy for the big battles.

Jane! Stop This Crazy Thing!

Not that Jane, nor this one. But this one!


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