Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Day in the Life of Kirill I, Putin, Rubio and Portman

The Beatles "A Day in the Life"  is a mixture of news stories presented as a dream sequence:  imagery, melody, beat, and meter are gloriously jumbled up.   

I read the news today oh boy
about a lucky man who made the grade

and though the news was rather sad

well i just had to laugh

The song popped in my head, for no particular reason, as I was reading about Putin's meeting with Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church.  

The Russians and Ukranians are latecomers to Christianity.  The Primary Chronicle, a history of the Kievan Rus, reports that in the year 987 Vladimir sent envoys to the surrounding lands to figure out what religion he should adopt.  The envoys reported back that the Muslims of the Volga were an unhappy lot, they considered Judaism and felt that since the Jews lost Jerusalem God must have abandoned them,  but they were smitten with what they saw at the Sophia Hagia in Constantinople :  "'We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth,' they reported, describing a majestic Divine Liturgy in Hagia Sophia, 'nor such beauty, and we know not how to tell of it.'"  The clinching consideration was the strategic marriage with 27 year old princess Ann, daughter of Byzantine Emperor  Basil II.  

Here is Sophia Kishkosvky on Putin's meeting with Kirill I on Saturday in Moscow: 
Patriarch Kirill invoked the concept of the Holy Rus, referencing Russia, Ukraine and Belarus as a unified spiritual expanse united under the faith.  .... 
The patriarch has sought to unify the faithful with warnings of the encroachment of secular values.  He recently warned that legislative efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe posed a grave threat to Russia. 
 "This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything so that sin is never validated by the laws of the state in the lands of Holy Rus, because this would mean that the people are starting on the path of self-destruction," he said at a Moscow cathedral, according to the Web site of the Moscow Patriarchate   He previously said that such "blasphemous laws" could prove as dangerous to believers as the executioners of the Great Terror during the government of Stalin.
The church's views have increasing resonance in the political debate in Russia, where Parliament adopted laws in June banning "gay propaganda" and the adoption of children by foreign same sex couples.  
In a film called "The Second Baptism of Rus," shown recently on Russian state television, Mr. Putin credited Prince Vladimir's choice of religion with 'building a centralized Russian state,' something he sees as a cornerstone of his leadership.  ...He described Communism as 'just a simplified version of the religious principles shared by practically all the world's traditional religions."  
In the meantime, Republican party leaders, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Robert Portman are demagoguing religious doctrine by introducing a bill in the Senate to ban abortion 20 weeks after conception.  Ted Cruz is looking for votes beyond his home state of Texas.  Rubio and Portman are appeasing their base  who did not like their support of immigration legislation (Rubio), and gay marriage (Portman).  

I read the news today oh, boy 
Four thousand holes in blackburn, lancashire 
And though the holes were rather small 
They had to count them all 
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the albert hall 
I'd love to turn you on

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The McDonalds Budget, or Why we Should Restore the Federal Minimum Wage to 1968 Levels

In 1968 the Federal minimum wage was $1.60/hr, which is equivalent to $10.71/hr in today's dollars according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic's inflation calculator.  Even in San Francisco, the living wage ordinance hasn't managed to keep pace.  It provides for a minimum of $10.24/hr,  47 cents less than the federal minimum wage equivalent in 1968.

Jordan Weissman has an article in The Atlantic reporting on how McDonalds Corporation teamed up with Visa to create  a financial planning tool for their minimum wage work force.  The punch line is the second job:  they assume right up front and out of the gate that their workforce can't survive on working 2,000 hour/year at McDonalds.   Here is the sample budget assuming two full time jobs yielding $2,060/month ($24,720 take home/year--no benefits, no vacation):

Earning the $2060/month outlined in this budget would require an hourly wage of $12.36/hr, assuming full time employment at 40 hours per week.  In other words, the current federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr will get you less than 60% of what is needed for this budget.  Even in expensive San Francisco, the "living wage" level only gets you 85% of the way there.

Let's take a look at this budget;  it's our kids' budget.  The $20 for health insurance may be adequate while they are 20 years old and healthy?  The $800 "spending" money ($27/day) has to cover food and clothing, gas, parking,  car maintenance, pet food, vet bills, and entertainment.  Not too many beers in that budget.  It's about equivalent to what we pay to cover our daughter's expenses, and she is in college and supplements her expenses with a part time job.  It's often not enough.  This McDonald's budget is also approximately equal to the poverty level for a family of 4 in the U.S.  Perhaps that's what they had in mind with their two incomes.  But, as they say ... don't try this at home!

Weissman followed up his article  with a response to some criticism pointing out that, duh, McDonalds jobs are meant to be entry level, and short term...students flipping burgers after school, and all that.  But how rare are they?

There are about 104 million full time workers in the U.S.   The median wage is $19.40/hr ($775/week divided by 40), which means that 57 million workers earn less than that.   About 20 million full time workers earn less than what is needed to cover the McDonald's budget.

Why is it not high time to restore the minimum wage to its 1968 level?  Why is it not high time to raise the minimum wage to cover the McDonald's budget?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Glorious Treason

We hold these truths to be self-evident: 
  • That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.
  • That among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
  • That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
  • That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare:
  • That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States;
  • That they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and
  • That as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My First Twitter Adventure: the No Fly List

Last week I joined Twitter.  Oh boy!  So far I’m following a go-slow strategy—don’t follow many people, try for quality.  I hear it’s a medium for jokes, but I’ve not run into any yet. 

As last week was a big Supreme Court week, I started with Adam Liptak, the New York Times legal reporter.  He linked to some Atlantic articles and I started following The Atlantic.  Finally, I added the young superstar Washington Post columnist, blogger, and twitterer Ezra Klein. 

Klein follows 646 people.  How does he manage?  He wonders also.  He says the time-suck/benefit ratio can get out of whack. 

So here is tonight’s thread in and out of Twitter.  Klein follows Kevin Drum, a writer for Mother Jones.  On June 29, 2013 Drum had a piece about the No Fly List, and how U.S. citizen Rehan Motiwala suffered abuse because he landed on that list.  The point of the article is to shed light on the lack of due process surrounding the No Fly List. 

Rehan Motiwala, was born in Anaheim to Pakistani parents.  He was a stellar student and graduated magna cum laude from UC Irvine with a degree in neurology.  He enrolled in medical school at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.   According to a Los Angeles Times article, after two years he began to lose interest and he traveled to Karachi where he joined with Tablighi Jamaat, a conservative Muslim missionary movement based in South Asia.   Tablighi Jamaat is widely seen as peaceful and apolitical, but John Walker Lindh (convicted for aiding the Taliban against U.S. interests in Afghanistan) and some of the London subway bombers had connections with it.  Motiwala went on a proselytizing mission to Indonesia, adopted traditional garb, and grew a long beard so he looks like Anwar Al-Awlaki.  Then he tried to come home. 

In Bankok airport airline officials refused to grant him a boarding pass.  They would not tell him why.  He wandered the airport for four days and slept on benches waiting for U.S. officials to arrive.  When he refused to speak with them without a lawyer present, he was handed over to Thai officials and placed in a squalid and crowded holding cell at the airport for 10 days.  "Do what you want with him," they said.   Finally, after intervention by a Muslim American organization, he was allowed to board a flight for LAX.  Upon landing in Los Angeles he was detained for another three hours of questioning.  I don’t imagine anyone apologized.

What to make of this? 

Motiwala’s story raises enough red flags;  he seems like someone who should be watched.  We think we’ve seen this movie before.  And there was clearly some very close watching going on.  Somehow between enrolling in medical school and traveling to Pakistan, and adopting traditional garb, he came to the attention of the U.S. authorities and he was placed on the No Fly list.  Since he was able to travel to Pakistan, it seems he  was placed on the No Fly list only after he left the country.  How was this connection made?  Did the NSA intercept his communications back home?  Based on the Snowden revelations, that seems likely. 

Here’s a creepy thing.  If you google Rehan Motiwala, on the first page of hits is a You Tube video by Gilad Atzmon “a proud self-hating Jew” elaborating his conspiracy theories on Jewish identity politics and how Israel and AIPAC are the “biggest threat to  world peace.”  Right under the video it says “Rehan Motiwala liked 1 year ago.” 

Be careful what you click on … you might land on a No Fly list. 

This story, of course, nicely captures both the benefits and risks of all this electronic snooping our government is doing.  On the one hand, it allowed them to take note of this young man, who should be watched because he seems to fit a pattern we think we’ve observed.  On the other hand, the Tsarnaev brothers didn’t grow beards or don traditional garb.  When someone performs missionary work with a conservative Muslim organization and adopts traditional garb, our prejudices are bound to lead us to be tremendously over inclusive in our profiling. 

Surely Kevin Drum is right.  Whatever we do about all this snooping business, we had better insist on lots of due process.  And we should err on being accommodating and not more intrusive than necessary.

The TSA may offer a lesson.  For a while, they made us feel like criminals even though their over-inclusiveness approximates 100%.  They’ve learned to be friendly because their job depends on it.  The No Fly list inconveniences fewer people and it’s a lot less over-inclusive.  Yet, the list contains more than 10,000 people and is certainly way over inclusive.  For example, Laura Poitras (one of the reporters who broke the Snowden leak) claims she is on the list.  So that list better come with lots of due process protections attached.  And the accommodations should be in an airport Hilton at government expense, not in a flea infested holding cell.  And our government officials should bloody well show respect, or lose their jobs.  Tweet that!