Moo Cluck Moo – the Right Thing to Doo

Sunflower Cow 2

Who says fast food joints can’t pay their workers more than the minimum wage and still make a decent profit?  Well, for starters, it’s the big fast food joints themselves and Republicans who say LET THE MARKET DECIDE.  DOWN WITH MINIMUM WAGE.  DOWN WITH REGULATIONS unless they benefit BIG business and billionaires.  Maximum profits over people is the message – that’s the capitalist way.  But it is possible to be a caring capitalist.  It is possible to give workers a living wage and still make a profit.  In fact, it can be good for business, perhaps even better for business.  Did you hear that BIG business?  Exhibit A:  Moo Cluck Moo.  I confess that until today, I had never heard of this place.  But this fast food restaurant does something remarkable:  they pay their workers TWICE the federal minimum wage.  The owner says they don’t pass on the costs to patrons.  Their burgers and sandwiches are competitively priced.  The other remarkable thing is that this restaurant serves up some of the healthiest foods in the fast food industry all with a social conscience.  Their beef, pork and poultry products come from farms that humanely raise vegetarian animals that are never fed hormones or antibiotics.  It may not make a big difference to you, but it is said that the vegetarian pigs roam free on the range.  And know that MOO CLUCK MOO uses NOO preservatives in their condiments and their vegetables are fresh and pesticide free.  For the sweet freaks, sodas are made with cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup.  Cheers!

With only two locations in Michigan, their model may not be so persuasive to the big chains yet, but look out Micky Dee, Wendy and Mr. Burger King –  MOO CLUCK MOO is looking to expand and seeks investors.  Soon they may be located right next door to you wherever you are.  They say that paying their workers a living wage is the right thing to do.  And I quite agree and so would many others.

GOP Rage Against Minimum Wage


Who favors a federal minimum wage hike to $10.10/hour?  Oh, just 73% of Americans based on a recent Pew Research Center survey.  Who would be against one?  Not hard to guess.  Yes, those pesky Republicans blocked a new minimum wage bill.  A bill needs 60 votes in the Senate to even be discussed, but the minimum wage bill only received 42 affirmative votes, 41 Democrats and 1 Republican, Bob Corker of Tennessee whose state doesn’t even have a minimum wage law on the books.  The brave senators from Mississippi and Arkansas, whose states have a minimum wage below the federal minimum, did not vote at all.  The bill ultimately fell victim to a 53 vote Republican filibuster.  The Grand Old Party of NO said NO again and likely will continue to say NO to a raise for hard working Americans even as Congress, whose members average $174,000 a year, and whose median net worth is over a million dollars, is set to receive a 1.6% increase in 2015.

But why the hostility toward a minimum wage hike? First, Republicans argue that raising the minimum wage would force businesses to lay off workers as they would not be able to absorb the added labor costs.  As a result, they say unemployment would increase, businesses would shutter and the economy would collapse, even though there is no evidence to support such a claim.  Second, they argue the market, not the government, should set wages as a matter of principle.  Some are actually against the very concept of a minimum wage which they see as the big hand of government shouting orders.  Some of the poorest states in the union like Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee, states that have anti-union “right to work” laws in place, have no state minimum wage laws at all.  This simply means that in the absence of a federal minimum, they would leave the rates up to employers.  Georgia, another “right to work” state, has the lowest minimum wage at $5.15.  Companies still have the pay the federal rate of $7.25, unless they have fewer than 6 employees, or the work is seasonal or covers a training period, in which case they can pay the lower rate and very often do.

Interestingly, there is a considerable variance in the minimum wage paid state by state, from no minimum to $9.32 in the state of Washington.  10 states link their minimum wage to the consumer price index which typically produces a yearly increase.  20 states pay the federal minimum, 21 states including D.C. pay more than the federal minimum. 4 states have rates lower than the minimum and 5 southern states mentioned previously have no minimum wage rates whatsoever.  It’s not too surprising that red states resist federal measures because if they had it their way, they would secede from the Union – arguing that states’ rights (to exploit their own citizens) must prevail.

The proposed new federal rate is $10.10, which won’t make workers rich, but it will make it easier for folks to pay bills and support their families and it should inject more money into the economy.  When FDR championed the first minimum wage law during the depression years, it was to lift people out of poverty and to stimulate the economy.  Some 75 years later, the minimum wage has NOT increased enough to continue to meet its purpose.  A considerable number of working poor cannot make ends meet which never bodes well for the economy.  The Republicans argue that tax breaks are what is needed, not wage increases – tax breaks for the rich who don’t need them and to corporations, who are people thanks to Citizen’s United, who need them only to make MORE profit.  It’s time for the working poor to “profit” for a change.

How to Unite the Country


President Obama’s approval ratings are polling in the low 40’s and that’s not very good for Democrats as the midterm elections approach. It’s hard for me to understand why he isn’t polling better.  Do people really think less of him because he hasn’t agreed to a boxing match with Vladimir Putin?  Come on folks, he’s made good on a lot of promises.  Look, he’s delivered on Health Care reform that a majority of Americans originally supported.  He’s made some progress on Immigration reform (not enough and some of it by executive order), kept the country out of wars and is backing a minimum wage increase. And realize that the administration has taken strong stands on voting rights issues and gun control.  Most of the issues are not controversial or shouldn’t be, although of course, they’ve been politicized and have had the effect of polarizing the country.  But one of the most polarizing topics, and one that should concern everybody is the health of our planet.  However, there are some political “scientists” with an agenda that don’t give a flip about mother earth and most, don’t even believe what they are saying.  They’ve been bought out by “big oil” and are the darlings of the political right who champion them as experts, “experts” who represent the 1% of “scientists” worldwide who profess the view that climate change is a natural occurrence and nothing whatever to do with the actions of men, women, business and governments.  And even conservatives who are vulnerable to this kind of corporate propaganda have begun to see a connection between natural disasters and climate change and accept the fact that the globe is warming.  Some even view it as inevitable and a message from God.  Their idea of action is to pray.  But we may need more than prayer.  Unless we do something about it NOW, it may be too late for the next generation of folks who inhabit our planet.

And this is the issue that the Obama administration ought to be leading on.  This is the stuff of legacy.  Climate change could be the one that defines the Obama administration.  The President was elected on a campaign of hope and optimism for change.  The expectations were high.  He was thought to be a new kind of world leader who could change the world for the better.  And he still can, but first he’s got to do something to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  Now the U.S. isn’t the worst offender in this regard, but we still offend and depend way too much on the burning of fossil fuels.  The government has not done enough to promote alternative clean energies like wind, electric and solar.  Our power grids are still antiquated.  Instead, there’s a stubborn refusal to stop drilling for oil and natural gas.  And of course as long as we continue to rely on fossil fuels, there will be a need for conveyance by pipelines that are not equipped to handle nasty stuff like tar sands from Canada.  Just look at what happened in 2013 in Mayflower, Arkansas.  This small southern town is still reeling from a burst Exxon pipeline that produced a sludge spill that flooded the community.  People are still suffering health problems one year after the leak.  And the cruel irony is that just last week Mayflower was essentially destroyed by a series of tornadoes.  It has become a victim of our nation’s energy policy and attitude toward climate change.

President Obama doesn’t need a PowerPoint to demonstrate the problem.  There’s plenty of proof that a problem exists. And it’s widespread.  Killer tornadoes just ripped through Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi.  Northern Florida is practically underwater, having received 20+inches of rain over the course of a few days.  Hurricane Sandy’s impact was felt all the more because of the rising sea levels.  Severe droughts and wildfires in the West are daily events.  West Virginia and Pennsylvania residents have a unlimited supply of flammable drinking water thanks to hydraulic fracturing.  So what can President Obama do?  For starters, the administration could draft a sensible and sustainable clean energy plan that would restore the reputation of the EPA.  He could put a stop to the Keystone XL pipeline.  He could commit the country to reducing CO2 emissions even more and could put pressure on India and China to do the same.  He could fine energy companies substantially and require them to clean up their mess.  He could also forbid drilling and fracking on federal land.

That climate change is due in part to human activity is no longer debatable.  Preserving the planet ought to be our top priority and were it a higher priority for the Obama administration, his poll numbers might be higher.  By the way, why don’t the pollsters start polling on the preservation of the planet?  And to really put pressure on our political leaders to vote for legislation that seeks to help the environment and to vote against legislation that would do it harm, why not publicize more widely The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) ratings it gives politicians?  Gun loving politicians take pride in their NRA ratings and use it to secure votes.  Why wouldn’t planet loving politicians take pride in their LCV ratings?  Unfortunately, environmental causes are too closely connected to progressives and too often discredited by conservatives who have been purchased by corporate interests who don’t want any regulations that might cut into profits.  In their view, profits are more important than our planet.  Let’s take take politics and profit out of the equation and do what’s best for the planet for a change.

GA Gun Bill Good For Turkeys

Wild Turkey

Georgia, the home state of Ray Charles, President Jimmy Carter, Jasper Johns, Deforest Kelly, Martin Luther King Jr, Alice Walker, Burt Reynolds, Otis Redding, and Hulk Hogan, became the first in the country to allow residents with gun permits to pack heat just about anywhere – in bars, houses of worship, schools, and even airports.  Dubbed the “guns everywhere” bill, it passed the Georgia state legislature by 112-58 in the House and 37-18 in the Senate, despite majority opposition from Georgians.

As outrageous as the law sounds, it does have some restrictions.  A house of worship would have to authorize “armed” services.  I’m not sure how many priests, pastors, imams and rabbis would invite worshipers to bear arms inside their institutions, but no doubt a few would – “praise the lord and pass the ammunition”.  Maybe they would have a shotluck dinner at the conclusion of services.  Do rest assured that pub owners would also have to approve of guns and “shots” before an armed patron could enter the establishment and proceed to get “loaded”.  I am not sure that guns and drinks mix, but if the saloon owner doesn’t mind the place being shot up every Saturday night, I suppose that is his or her own business.  As for armed schools, it would be up to the local school or school board to decide who, if anyone, would be allowed to carry a gun on the premises.  Frankly, I think a “militarized” public school zone with metal detectors, armed security guards, loudspeakers, cameras and microphones would confuse kids into thinking they are in a prison rather than an educational institution.  And the thought of an armed teacher is too much to bear.  I can imagine the principal having to come around on occasion and take away some teachers’ bullets for accidentally discharging the weapons in class, kind of like Sheriff Taylor had to do with Barney from time to time – take away his one bullet.  While it may seem extreme that a licensed gun owner can carry a weapon to a Georgia airport, including Atlanta Hartsfield, the world’s busiest, know that guns would only be permitted in areas outside security checks.  But why would anyone bring a gun to an airport unless they had bad intentions?  From a practical standpoint, I guess it would give him a built in advantage in a long line say at the coffee shop, but it could cause a confrontation and blood to spill rather than coffee.  The law should be amended so that there would be an express line for gun holders.  One piece of advice to cashiers:  if the gun holder says he gave you a $50 dollar bill, HE GAVE YOU A $50 DOLLAR BILL.  According to the new law, airports would need to have signs indicating where guns are and are not permitted.  I can see the sign now – one with a pistol and another with a pistol and a line through it.

I don’t know who wrote the bill, probably some attorney for the NRA, but it is poorly written with gaping holes and inconsistencies.  First, the fine for shooting big game out of season or turkeys with the wrong caliber weapon is now $250, and the gun owner’s license would be revoked for 3 years.  By comparison, the fine for being caught with a weapon at a security checkpoint at an airport would be a misdemeanor with a fine of $100.  Actually, a gun wielding traveler with a permit could say that he “forgot” that he had “packed” a weapon and could simply leave the area to be screened elsewhere and not be charged with a misdemeanor or a fine.  Interestingly, law enforcement personnel cannot ask to see someone’s permit to carry.  One would think to keep everybody honest, police would be allowed to do periodic spot checks.  Lastly, the law appears to make it easier to obtain a permit to carry.  It provides a long section of relief from licensing exceptions including giving the superintendent of a mental institution the power to approve a request for a license made by former patients.  Also, residents who have had their licenses revoked can reapply after 4 years.  And 18 year olds who are in the military can apply for a license.

Any law that promotes gun ownership benefits the NRA and gun manufacturers.  And any candidate running for public office who supports gun “rights” will have the full support of the NRA to help them get elected and stay in power.  And while the NRA and Georgia Republicans argue that the new gun law is a victory for the 2nd amendment (which doesn’t say anything at all about the right of an individual to brandish a loaded gun in the public town square), it appears that the real victors here are big game, including bears, alligators and deer, oh, and the spirited wild turkey.



Gaming the ACT and SAT


I’ve written about this topic before and it’s back in the news.  The SAT.  Remember? Depending on where you live or what schools you applied to in the U.S. you either took the ACT or the SAT.  But as it’s commonly known, to those who care to know, neither test is a very good indicator of aptitude or college success. The tests correlate better with parental income and access to test taking resources.  In some cases, as Mike Krumboltz from Yahoo News points out about a NY Times report on the subject, parents spend thousands of dollars on preparation books and tutors to help their children game the test.  One such strategy is to memorize a generic essay and tweak it to the actual essay prompt.  And some privileged white parents are probably wasting money.  I have read about an experiment where a group of upper middle class kids were given the multiple choice sections of the exam without the questions and they did very well because they implicitly understood the dominant mainstream values the test answers promoted.  As I’ve mentioned before, an increasing number of forward thinking, mostly liberal arts colleges no longer require the SAT for admission, including Connecticut College and Bard; the latter, I believe now accepts a research paper.  The College Board wants to make the SAT more relevant and less easily gamed by making the essay optional and the multiple choice questions more realistic that would require kids to support their answers with evidence.  And in an attempt level the playing field in terms of access to preparatory resources, the SAT has had discussions with Khan Academy to provide free test prep for students.

Despite these encouraging developments, I am against standardized testing.  My own experiences were anything but pleasant having taking both the ACT and the GRE back as a young lad in the 80’s. I bought the exam books, took a bunch of practice exams, learned how to take multiple choice tests – no, choosing C for every answer is not generally productive.  I memorized a bunch of words, brushed up on my math, science, history and English and made just the scores I needed and not a point more.  Believe me, I’m not a very good test taker because I stress out too much.  But I could always make reasonably intelligent comments in class and have spirited, evidence based discussions with my classmates, or at least those who came to class and were awake.  And I’ve never thought an exam captured what I knew, or how deeply I understood anything.  But there is something that could be a game changer in terms of evaluating college readiness and I’m really surprised schools haven’t tapped into this.  Games!

Candy Crush requires the kind of critical thinking skills that colleges look for in a prospect.  To be successful with Candy Crush, one needs to plan a strategy, select some boosters, and activate a social network for support, all valued skills in our modern world.  The more “competitive” colleges and universities could require a minimum Candy Crush score. In the interview, a candidate might have to demonstrate proficiency at a particular level, say 104 or something. The Candy Crush option might be best suited for the sub/urban chic who dwell in Starbuck’s after school for Iced Hazelnut Macchiatos and the Michigan Cherry Oat Bar. The alternative to Candy Crush, could be Angry birds, best suited perhaps for the nature loving birder type who also likes to hunt wild hogs for adventure.  Level 230 and up might be deemed college material.