Poly Ticks

On Giving the People What They Want vs. What They Deserve

“It’s not rocket science, you ratchet up the level of enforcement so people leave on their own.” – Kris Kobach co-author of AZ Senate Bill 1070 (source)

While we’re on the subject of institutional racism, a quick little note about Arizona and what I’ll call their “papers, please” law.

A lot of people have been talking about boycotting Arizona, and I’m all for that, monetarily, but I think that those of us of the swarthier complexions should perhaps stop short of what might be our natural inclination to avoid the state altogether. I know when I first heard that Arizona was making themselves poster children for discrimination, my first thought was “well, guess I won’t be going to Arizona any time soon”. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that this may actually be more of a reason to vacation in Arizona. The reasoning goes like this: the good (read: white) people of Arizona have voted for and supported a law that makes life more difficult for us fer’ners because clearly they want fewer of us around – they don’t mind making life more difficult for brown people because in the end, the fewer of us they have to deal with, the better. I’d rather not give them the satisfaction – I’m a legal immigrant (citizen, even) and I’m not going to be bullied out of your state because you don’t like people with my complexion. Brown people – any of you always wanted to see the Grand Canyon? Now’s the time. Let’s pack Arizona so full of mocha skin that anybody despairs who hoped that making the law more hostile to us would help keep the riff-raff out.

Poly Ticks
The Substance of Things

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Tim James is a Xenophobe

I may have linked to this before, but then, I realize that even on the internet, where there are archives of what I’ve said, I’m prone to repeating myself a lot. Anyway, watch this campaign ad for Alabama gubernatorial candidate Tim James:

This ad makes me feel physically uneasy, especially in light of the recent immigration law in Arizona. There will always be “love it or leave it”/”learn English” assholes, and there will always be politicians who give a wink and a nod to those voters, but this is pretty brazenly xenophobic.

If you see nothing wrong with the proposition outlined by this ad, consider: People need to take time to learn English. Even people who have put in the prior effort to learn English before they move here are probably not conversant enough to deal with the relatively technical language of a driver’s test. In order to learn English, one needs a class – it turns out that there are far more immigrants who want to learn English than there are adult ESL slots. Even ignoring that, in order to learn English, you need the means to pay for ongoing education. In many places, order to make a living you need to be independently mobile, which means a car. So now we have a problem – people need to get around in order to learn English, but there’s no way to do legally it without learning English.

So – will this lead to more people learning English and assimilating? Of course it won’t. It will lead to more people driving unlicensed. This means more people driving uninsured. This means more people driving cars they cannot get inspected because they aren’t legally allowed own them. This means fewer people aware of the rules of the road as they drive, which means more danger for all of us. It also means more foreign-looking (read: not white) people are criminals, which as the State government of Arizona has shown us, some people don’t mind too much. Now, this English-only DMV proposal falls short of making brown skin probable cause the way Arizona has, but it’s certainly in the same ballpark. The sad thing is that even while large swathes of the country are reviling Arizona’s new law, there are segments of the country, and clearly Tim James has pegged them as his people, who are driving pedal-to-floor into the bright, shiny racist future. I just hope they’re wearing their seat belts – there are a lot of unlicensed drivers down that road.

Poly Ticks

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A Plea For Temperance

If you know anybody who’s for living wage, against living wage, interested in any way, please send this link on to them. Even if you disagree with me – post a scathing comment, then send people a link saying “look what an idiot this guy is!” Free exchange of ideas never hurt anyone, right?

EDIT: Yeah, yeah – I forgot FICA. I still stand by my proposal, though the tangential tax issue is not quite as simple as I was thinking. Looking into some specific numbers now.

The lot of a graduate student is not easy. Buried in the halls of academia, it can be very easy to have blinders on and let events in the real world pass by unnoticed. So it was that when my friend called me around noon on Friday to come to the Living Wage rally at Madison Hall, I was unfortunately underinformed about the issues at hand. However, I had heard about the movement, such as it is, and I am in support of both living and being paid. So I felt that my support for being paid enough to live should be a pretty straightforward affair. I went to the rally, despite my general misgivings about rallies: particularly having been an undergrad here and seeing the debacle that was the UVA anti-Iraq war protests.When I got there, I was shocked – students inside, exercising non-violent protest against the administration’s refusal to pay people what they needed, were being denied food, and books! How could the administration be so cruel? After all, these students simply object to people being paid five bucks an… err, I mean $9.37 an hour! Well, even if UVA’s minimum wage of $9.37 is better than the pathetic federally-mandated one of $5.15,it’s still not enough to live in… now hold on. Doing math in my head, yes, hmm – it seems like my stipend is only slightly more than the equivalent of working full-time at UVA’s minimum wage. And I’m not allowed to have other income! Worse still, I know that I’m privileged – my compatriots in humanities have much lower stipends, and yet they manage to live, apparently. What was I missing… aha! Of course! Most of us don’t have kids to feed. (Also, we’re getting our tuition payed for and we’re getting a lot of value added, but none of that helps us eat right now, so we’ll ignore that for the moment.)

Now before I go on, I should state categorically – I believe that the administration was fully within their legal rights to deny the students whatever they wished, after all, they were not prisoners, they were on University property, and they were at least mildly disruptive to productivity. However, I think that the administration was wrong, both ethically and in terms of PR, to make this attempt to “smoke out” people who disagree with them. On the other hand, I am increasingly of the opinion that the Living Wage Campaign itself takes an entirely too simple view of the real issues, and that their cause is muddled by confusing irrelevancies. Further, just as a punishment should fit a crime, I’m a firm believer that the protest should fit the cause. Thus, I opposed the anti-war “walk out” (they were, after all, protesting war, not class), and I feel that a sit-in was more unnecessarily disruptive and less fitting than, say, a hunger strike. Worse still, the rally to support the sitters-in should have been held elsewhere so as not to compound the disruption and to lend their cause more credence – rallying on the Lawn, and encouraging people to, individually, attempt to feed the students inside seemed more appropriate. I have quite a handful of other complaints about the Living wage Campaign itself, but I’m going to talk ideas, and not politics.

The crux of the matter is twofold: first, does the university have a ethical obligation to pay people enough so that they can support themselves and their family if they work full time; and second, what’s the right level of compensation? The former is a question that we really cannot answer analytically without getting into a great deal of philosophy and economics. I find that interesting, but I’m not really qualified, and in any case it would probably be little more than an intellectual exercise. Let’s talk about the second question – what is a livable wage?The Living Wage Campaign has made their line clear — $10.72/hour is the minimum livable wage. Now, I like esoteric numbers as much as the next guy (in all likelihood more than the next guy) but $10.72 seems awfully specific. Going on to Living Wage’s website (http://uvalivingwage.net), I found a “report” which, while containing outdated information about the UVA minimum wage, does include the source of their figure of $10.71. It is based upon the Economic Policy Institute’s basic family budget, adjusted for Charlottesville values. Their table, which summarizes EPI numbers is as follows:

Need Monthly Cost Hourly Cost
Taxes $349 $1.00
Other necessities $359 $1.03
Transportation $375 $1.08
Health care* $401 $1.16
Food $587 $1.69
Housing $744 $2.15
Childcare $904 $2.61
Subtotal $3,716 $10.72

Looking at this table, something jumped out at me – by far the largest budgetary sink was childcare. In fact, according to these numbers, for single people, or even two-income couples without children, UVA’s hourly wage even has some amount of comfort room.

But according to this model, what’s “comfortable” for a childless employee is still living pretty close to the edge for parents. Well, let’s look at where all that money is going – to taking care of the kids. After all, there are doctor’s visits, diapers, and of course we can’t leave them at home alone while both parents are out trying their damnedest to make this subsistence living work out. That and more come to a full $900+/month in the EPI model. What if we could make it cheaper? After all, it would be great if these parents who are just working to support their families could have some access to quality, low-cost childcare.

And so, I propose this — instead of screaming at an administration which may or may not have limited powers with regard to wage, and instead of steadfastly refusing to pour more money into personnel across the board, why don’t we look into the creation University-run day care and after-school programs for the children of wage employees? By giving free or cheap access to top-quality child care, the University could help those with the most need at the lowest end of the University’s economic spectrum without unnecessarily raising the salaries of those who can more easily live at those income levels. Personally, I spent a good part of my early childhood in day care and after-school programs provided by my parents’ employer, and it was a safe and educational environment for me to spend my time while my parents were still at work. The University has phenomenal access to experts in child psychology, child care, education, and more – surely it could create such a quality environment for the children of wage employees. This idea has the benefits of economy for the University; better worker focus, loyalty, and availability; and on top of all that, it has the benefit of being the right thing to do, from a humanitarian perspective.

So, please – to all parties involved, I would ask that you settle this fiasco thusly: have the administration commission a time-limited feasibility study of the best way to provide better child care benefits to employees, and Living Wage and their related protesters take this study as a good faith effort on the University’s part to help look out for those who need it. Remember, compromise is not weakness, and sometimes you can solve your problem without getting your way.

Poly Ticks

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Some of you may recall my earlier post about Tookie Williams, which sparked a small debate on the death penalty. Today, Gov. Schwarzenegger denied his lawyers’ appeal for clemency.

For those of you who don’t know, Tookie Williams was a co-founder of the Crips. Yes, those Crips, as in “Bloods and…”. He was convicted of four murders that took place in 1979, and has been in jail ever since. In that time, he renounced the gang he founded, the principles it stood for, and made himself an active proponent against gangs and street crime. There were rumours that he was being considered for the Nobel Peace Prize at one point, and he wrote a series of children’s books, promoting an anti-gang message.

In his statement, Schwarzenegger said:

“The possible irregularities in Williams’ trial have been thoroughly and carefully reviewed by the courts, and there is no reason to disturb the judicial decisions that uphold the jury’s decisions that he is guilty of these four murders and should pay with his life.”

This is the reason that I am opposed to the death penalty more than anything else. The concept that it is not worth the bother to “disturb” previous rulings to prevent a wrongful death is beyond me. However, I also accept that there comes a point where the justice system can only be abused by demanding repeated hearings. With that in mind, how can the death penalty be supported? I certainly respect that there is a point where justice must be considered as served as possible, but when you cannot give a person every last possible recourse before meting out such a final judgment, how can you prescribe that penalty?

Further, we live in a society where every life is given value – medical science keeps alive those with diseases that evolution selects against for a reason. We do not allow euthanization, even in voluntary situations. No matter how much of a lowlife the person you murdered was, you still murdered them, and that is (at least officially) reprehensible. I don’t agree 100% with these first two, but it underlines the difference – how can we refuse to take the lives of those who beg for death, but deal it freely to those who desire life?

We are not infallible – not our justice, not our judgment, not our morals. Freedom denied can be restored – breath denied, not so. We cannot commit ourselves so heinously in our youth to decisions we might regret in the sagacity of age.

Poly Ticks

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