Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Stay Divided and Be Conquered

The National Low Income Housing Coalition released a report that's making waves on social media regarding the lack of affordability of housing in the United States, but the story isn't new. The left has been pushing hard for a $15 federal minimum wage, a wage that, according to the NLIHC's report is STILL below the “housing wage” for a renter in 29 states and the District of Columbia. The “housing wage” is defined as the “full time hourly wage a household must earn to afford a decent apartment at [US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)]'s estimated Fair Market Rent while spending no more than 30% of income on housing costs” (OOR2015, NLIHC). Strictly in terms of number sense, a wage that allows paying less than 30% of income for rent seems quite reasonable, but there has been an absolutely ludicrous amount of push back. The rich insist that the poor need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Then there's the outcry that there are worthier wage earners than the fry cook at McD's that make less than $15...

Wait. Rewind on that last one.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012 figures, median pay for an Emergency Medical Technician or Paramedic was only $14.91 an hour. These are people who are trained to “care for the sick or injured in emergency medical settings” (BoLS). These are people who literally hold the lives of others in their hands. $14.91 an hour. And you want $15 for flipping burgers?!

This kind of rhetoric is dangerous. Of course it's unjust that lifesaving personnel with extensive training are so hideously underpaid. They work the most brutal of hours, brave sometimes dangerous situations to administer emergency care, and in the best of cases, they save lives; they absolutely should be paid more than that. Realistically, not only should they be paid more than that, they should be making more than the minimum wage. What those who push back against raising the minimum wage to $15/hr seem not to realise is that if the minimum wage is raised, everyone will benefit. If an employer is paying over minimum, they are required to dole out raises that reflect the change in minimum wage. If a profession is making under $15/hr, the solution should not be that nobody should make that kind of money, it should be that we need to reevaluate how that profession is paid.

Another favoured argument against raising the minimum wage is the ideology of throwing back to the golden days of yore... where about a week and a half's wages paid the rent. According to The Fiscal Times, rent in the 50s averaged 56 hours at minimum wage—not 56 hrs/week, but per month—in the 60s, that figure increased to 71 hours, which still isn't quite two weeks' wages. The minimum wage, due to its disconnect from inflation, has effectively decreased by 25% from 1968 to 2012 (Konen, How Well Can You Live on Minimum Wage). At this point, on average, a minimum-wage worker has to burn 109 hours of their paycheck on rent alone, which is still double NLIHC's cited expectation of 30% of income—according to the Fiscal Times piece, the HUD's suggestion is that only 25% of income go to rent, meaning that we're paying more than double what we should. There's no denying it; the minimum wage has been too low since the 80s. It's been raised, sure, but inflation has continued on up with it. The 80s saw renters paying 70% of their income into rent, which is worse, but that doesn't make paying 60% of income to keep a roof overhead good.

We need to stop seeing minimum wage in such an adversarial light, because that kind of thinking only serves to reinforce the status quo. The more we fight amongst ourselves about who deserves to be able to afford a roof over their heads, the less things change. We need to fight for what's in our best interests, collectively. If so many of us weren't living paycheck to paycheck, we'd put more back into the economy. If we weren't barely scraping by, higher taxes wouldn't be such a burden, and maybe, just maybe, we could put a meaningful dent in not just the deficit, but the debt. Don't let toxic, divisive rhetoric turn you against someone else who's just trying to get by. Nobody's suggesting that flipping burgers should buy you a mansion, but food and shelter are basic human necessities, and shouldn't be considered a luxury available only to the rich.

As an aside, the argument I have generally heard is NOT, in fact, that EMS get paid less so fast food workers shouldn't make more, it's that EMSand police make less, an assertion that is not supported by the numbers from the BoLS.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Gulf Electric is not turning ME on...

So, there have been these billboards recently in my area, all on inconvenient stretches of highway so I must admit I did not take the picture that follows.  Massachusetts State Representative  Carole Fiola seems to be the only person openly expressing outrage at what respondents on both the Twitter accounts of Representative Fiola and the Children's Advocacy Center of Bristol County(CAC of BC) have carelessly handwaved, because of course they have.  So what, exactly, is the problem here?

The billboard in question, borrowed from @CACofBC
Lots of things.

Admittedly, the first reaction I had was to giggle.  Somewhere inside, I'm a seventeen year old boy at heart.  I enjoy humour that might be dismissed as sophomoric, juvenile, or crude.  But here's the thing: I enjoy that humour among friends.  Not every joke is appropriate for every audience; I'm not going to tell the same kinds of jokes when I'm having drinks with friends that I'm going to tell at a family dinner with Grandma or at a business dinner with my boss.  The issue with the billboard isn't a matter of being too uptight to enjoy the humour, it's a matter of the setting in which it's being presented.  The response that, "Anyone who is offended needs to take the stick out of their ass," [source redacted to avoid misdirected hate tweets] is only contributing to the problem by silencing any protest against systemic sexism as a prudish and underdeveloped sense of humour.  I get the joke, Gulf, I just don't think you understand ad targeting very well.

And speaking of ad targeting...  just who IS this targeting, anyway?  Well, one assumes, from the fact that it's a utility, it's targeting, to use tax lingo, the Head of Household.  Real progressive, Gulf, assuming that the Head of Household is a straight man, just like it was in the '50s. The owner of those legs is just window dressing anyway, am I right?  Wouldn't want to make them worry their pretty little head about something like how the electricity is being provided!  That's for the red-blooded, heterosexual MAN to worry about!

Of course, as is often the case, the same assumptions that hurt women are hurting gay men.  Just as the stocking clad leg is unlikely to appeal sexually to a straight woman and likely to be more offensive than appealing to a gay or bisexual woman, using heteronormative sex to sell product serves only to further alienate gay men.  You are not our target audience, it says.  Whether that's because gay men shouldn't be heads of household, because they don't exist, because they don't matter...  all of these things are dismissive of gay men.  Even the defense I expect, which is, "I'm sure they weren't thinking about that when they ran the billboard," is not a defense.  They never stopped to consider that it might alienate gay men?  But you're trying to tell me that the experience of gay men isn't being minimized or dismissed.  They just didn't think of it.  The irony, it burns.

Lastly, of course, is the fact that they're using sex to sell electricity.  If they were a sex-toy manufacturer that specialized in electric toys (e.g. toys that are rechargeable, the infamous Hitachi magic wand, or Violet Wands), that would make sense.  Otherwise, the link between electricity and sex is tenuous at best, and the woman becomes nothing but a prop.  Please notice that there's not a pinup girl making eyes at drivers as she flirtily turns the light on.  There is a disembodied leg flipping a light switch.  I could see the owner of that leg at work, on the bus, or in the mall and have no idea it was her, because her personhood is irrelevant to this advertisement.  Her leg is an object to be desired, and to allow the play on words.

The news clip I linked in the beginning mentions that Representative Fiola contacted Gulf and received no response.  Worse yet, an unnamed Senator contacted Gulf, and was informed that they had no intention of reconsidering their billboards.  Gulf knows what they've done, and they don't care.  And they're going to get away with it, because anyone who finds the joke to be in poor taste just "needs to take the stick out of their ass."  Isn't that lovely?

If you're tired of seeing women used as window dressing to sell things, if you agree that this billboard is out of line, don't just sit back and seethe.  Tumbl.  Get #GulfElectricityTurnsMeOff! trending.  Blog. Email Gulf Electricity.  Don't assume you won't make a difference.  Prove that you will.

Monday, April 22, 2013

CISPA is just SOPA/PIPA with a new coat of paint

And if a rose by any other name still smells as sweet, don't try to tell me that this bill doesn't REEK of Big Brother.

I'm not a consistent blogger.  I get that.  I'm friendly with a couple, so maybe I can get some pointers from someone on how one runs a successful blog so that when I do big posts like this, I'm not just shouting into an echo chamber.  However, it is what it is, and this is important, so I'm going to shout myself hoarse again, and if I can inform just ONE person, at least I've done SOMETHING.

So, a little over a year ago, you may recall the hubbub surrounding SOPA and PIPA as the impending doom of the internet.  The bill passed the House and the alarms sounded.  Social media became a sea of stop signs, do not enter signs (with explanations of the measure; that one happened to be my icon of choice), and plain red or black boxes.  Google and Wikipedia even participated in the blackout, so extreme was the opposition to this proposed internet tyranny.  Reddit, Tumblr, and many other internet giants took a stand.  It was hailed as "the largest online protest in history," a status that I feel would have more punch if the internet had been around for longer, but that's neither here nor there.  What's important is that, even at the time, protesters were encouraged not to let our guard down.  We were warned it could come back.  Warned that it probably would.

Well, here it is.  CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, passed the House in the midst of the Boston Marathon Manhunt.  Ah, politicians; what better time to push an agenda than in the wake of a tragedy and the chaos that follows?  We saw it with September 11 and the War on Terror (e.g. the Orwellian and deliberately misnamed Patriot Act).  We saw it with Newtown and gun regulation.  Apparently, the Boston Marathon Bombing is, in some twisted, typically political way, being used to push this carte blanche invasion of privacy.

Clearly, the internet is ready!  There's another blackout planned for April 22!  We'll just bring down the whole internet all over again, right?  If you bothered to hit that link, you'll realize we've got a harder fight on our hands this time.  It seems like Google is quietly supporting this legislature, alongside Yahoo, Microsoft (unsurprisingly, in my opinion), and Apple (also not shocked).  At the links to these giants, you will find contact information for their PR departments and/or investor concerns.  I recommend starting there.

Facebook, impressively, stands among the companies NOT backing the bill.  Mozilla, as they did with SOPA/PIPA, also stands against the bill, stating that it has a "broad and alarming reach that goes far beyond Internet security" (http://on.rt.com/rsnapm).

The issue with the bill is a very real and very dangerous one that has persisted even within the amendments that have been made to it over the last year, and, as an educator and lover of language, one that  I find to be egregious; the language is entirely too nebulous.  Why is that a problem?  When laws aren't clearly defined, it's hard to defend against their abuse.  We have landmark cases that set precedents for a reason.  These are the things to which we refer in cases where something dodgy is going on to make sure that the rights of the persons involved in any given case are not violated.  In times when emotions are high, such as following the Boston Marathon Bombings, we may, as a country, feel tempted to throw due process to the wind.  "So what he's an American citizen?  He's a terrorist, put him under the jail!"  The part that people don't fully seem to realize is that mistakes do happen; early in the investigation, a missing Brown University student Sunil Tripathi was erroneously identified by the internet, via Reddit, as one of the perpetrators, and the New York Post went so far as to run an image, on their front page, of 'these two [men] pictured at Boston Marathon' who were later determined not to be the brothers responsible for the bombing at all.  Without the due process of law, we truly do give way to witch hunts a la Salem in 1692--lots of finger-pointing, and who knows how many innocent deaths.  It's that highly emotional frenzy, however, that lawmakers are counting on to push this legislature through.

What poorly worded legislature of this nature does is fling the floodgates open for carte-blanche spying.  Doesn't matter why, if the government decides it wants your info, none of the sites with their so-called "privacy agreements" can hold back a thing, AND they can't be held accountable for anything that happens as a result of oversharing your information.  The EFF breaks down the amendments to CISPA that passed, as well as those that failed, quite nicely, and details the ways in which it still forces you to sacrifice your freedom in the name of "protection."

So what's an internet savvy citizen who values their freedom to do?  Contact your Senators, first and foremost.  Those guys and gals actually do the voting, so you need to make them understand, clearly but politely, that you, as their constituents, and the people that decide whether or not they get another term in office, do not approve of this legislation.  And after them?  Remember the links I posted a couple of paragraphs up for the PR and/or investor concerns for the companies that have come out in support of CISPA?  If you are an investor, call them and tell them how you feel about the legislation.  Again, well-reasoned and level-headed will get you much further than threats or name-calling.  If you're not, you can still make an impact as a concerned consumer.  Don't let them off the hook.  This is dangerously Orwellian stuff here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Girl On Unannounced Hiatus

I've been writing at work again, and I realized that a lot of my writing is meant to be read.  It's just the way I write.  Over the years, I've been equally praised and derided  for my highly conversational tone; even throughout college, many of my professors encouraged me, much to my surprise, to continue to write in my own voice, rather than attempting to adopt the sterile, unvoiced academic tone I thought that they wanted.  I digress.  Sitting here, reading over something I'm writing, I decided it belongs on my blog.  So, of course, I do the natural thing and fire up the blog.

I haven't touched this since February.

There is, surprisingly, a reason for that.  I just never wrote about it.

Maybe I will at some point, but suffice to say for now that my life was in serious flux for the first few months following that last post, including two moves, an apartment hunt, the three longest roadtrips I've ever made unaccompanied, two endings, a false start, and the beginning of something awesome.

There is so much to say.  I will be coming back around to say it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Finding Feminism: My Musings

Interestingly, unlike the mainstream media coverage thereof, the Grammys sparked something of a philosophical discussion between my sister and I, and I feel like it really bears further exploration.  Firstly, the background.  I will summarize, but the full article that informed my perspective can be found here (I actually read it off a tumblr, but the tumblr link seems dead and on reading it at the linked location, I realized it was the same article).  So, long story short, Chris Brown, who was meant to perform at the 2009 Grammys alongside his then-girlfriend Rhianna until he decided to settle a dispute between them with his fists, was invited to perform at this year's Grammy awards ceremony.  For obvious reasons, they did not perform together in '09, and according to a Billboard timeline, Rhianna was not even seen in public for about three months after the assault.  Fast forward to a few days ago, almost precisely three years after the fact, and we have Chris Brown and Rhianna somehow once again scheduled to perform at the Grammys, presumably together once again.  Don't ask me to figure out Hollywood; I can't, and won't bother.

Now, mind, this is all background.  Believe it or not, I am not weighing in on whether or not this choice was appropriate on the part of ANY involved parties.  I have my own opinions on the matter, but that's neither here nor there; feminist media bloggers have likely tackled the topic ad nauseum and better than I could anyway.  What I'm concerned with right now is the reactions of others, now as then, particularly women.  My kid sister quoted one of her own female friends as saying of the recent media blogger frenzy that she was "ignoring all of the chris brown posts because they make me want to rip out those women tweeter’s vaginas and feed them to a crocodile."  I'm not clear as to whether the clarification of the antecedent of "them" came from my sister or her friend, but, for those wondering, the women are meant to be croc bait, not just their lady bits.


My sister, understandably, was fairly agitated by this comment.  I won't lie; I'd have hulk-raged if one of my friends had said it.  In fact, my fiance and I had a rather tense discussion about the matter, and he is a) pretty well informed and competent of women's issues and b) generally an all around good person.  I digress.  The point of this whole thing is not actually our reactions, but rather this friend.  It's hard to stomach, but it's not necessarily hard to understand.  Let me color.

USAmerican society is a deeply ingrained patriarchy.  We have "founding fathers," we have yet to have a female leader, and men are perceived as the emotionally contained providers and protectors.  Because of all of these things, men in our culture are also lent a certain unearned sympathy, bordering on, and sometimes crossing into, infallibility.  Women are considered relatively the opposite of all of those things.  We are supposed to be frail, submissive, nurturing, and unable to care for ourselves financially or defensively.  The vast majority of institutions in our culture pander to these archetypes, right down to our language.  The term "stay at home Mom" is perfectly familiar to us, but "stay at home Dad"?  Not so much.  What do we say of the head of the household, colloquially?  That they are "the man of the house," or possibly that "they wear the pants," this latter usually being a slight toward both partners, suggesting that masculinity (here meaning power/authority) is "inappropriately" displayed more by the woman than the man.

The list goes on, but let us not belabor the point unnecessarily.  Even those still blind to its more sinister undercurrent can probably agree to my earlier statement that USAmerican society is, in fact, a deeply ingrained patriarchy.  It's that blindness that creates the friction.  Those of us who have awakened to a society that thinks it's acceptable to legislate our bodies while making it increasingly difficult to pay for the larger family we didn't want in the first place are enraged by these continued attempts to strip us of our power over our own lives, but such awakenings aren't an easy transition.  I was angry ALL THE TIME when I first started understanding the depths of the hypocrisy going on around me, most specifically how much of it was targeted AT ME, as a woman.

Some would argue that I'm STILL angry all the time, but that's well beside the point.  The point is that, when presented with information this dissonant with one's existing worldview, one tends to react with anger; the difference is the target of that anger.  Those who go on to be, at the very least, armchair activists, direct their anger at the system that is oppressing them, hoping to funnel that anger into change.  The other target for their anger, however, is at the dissonant information, or the provider thereof.  Things that threaten the status-quo are also threats to those who would fear change.  It's not that these people necessarily like having their lives dictated by self-interested politicians, though it can be, but they are complacent with their lives the way they are.  Change takes effort and adaptation.  Maybe it takes paying more attention to the news to realize that, for all the Republican hate-mongering against him, Obama is the more favorable candidate in terms of women's rights.  Not that Republicans care about women's rights, but some women are bound to be Republican, and for some of them, realizing that *their party's candidate* doesn't give a damn about them might be enough to sway them to look into the candidate that their party has so attempted to demonize.  Or how about the fact that, despite what the GOP would have you think, not all the women who want access to contraceptives are baby-hating sex machines.

Granted, I have, perhaps, taken a bit of an extreme stance to illustrate this issue of cognitive dissonance, but if you're already seeing it my way, the bits that make you shake your head and think I'm taking too much of a swing at the right are the best examples to use.  This is the kind of shakeup one can feel when one is first discovering the dirty secrets of the patriarchy.  EVERYTHING is upside down, and it takes time to adapt.  I will also grant that some adapt much better than others; those who have felt that something is off-kilter their whole lives will likely embrace the knowledge that there IS something wrong, and that there are others out there that see it, too.  We just can't be too harsh on our friends and acquaintances who aren't as quick to embrace it as we are.  There are some who never will, which is sad for all of us, but there are others who, with open conversation over reproach and rebuke, may realize that we're not the lunatic fringe that they've been taught that we are.