Equal Pay? Maybe someday.

Tomorrow, President Obama will  sign a pair of executive orders increasing wage transparency in Federal programs. The orders hope to achieve two things: First, to protect workers’ rights by prohibiting offices to take action against employees who speak out about their pay and treatment. Second, to organize a database of worker salary structures to observe any discrepancies in pay.

Though some may argue that pay discrimination is in the past, it is still quite present in America, and the world at large, today. In the US, on average, men are paid $1.38 for every $1 paid to women. The median African-american worker is paid 74% less, while the median Hispanic worker is paid 63% less. Structural prejudice such as this greatly contributes to greater inequality in American society. After all, if someone can’t even earn the same wage for the same work, their prospects are going to be much dimmer.

Interestingly enough, Minnesota was one of the first states to begin combating unequal pay. In the late 1970s, Minnesota took a look at most of the paid workers in the nation, found large gender discrepancies, and took steps to equalize salaries. During the 80s, state funding was appropriated to begin amending the pay disparities for state employees. In 2005, it was found that the average pay ratio was now 97-100 female-male, making it one of the most equitable states in the nation.

It speaks volumes that, while women are still paid less than men, it’s seen as a leap forward for pay equity. The ambivalence that tends to surround the issue needs to go away, and hopefully President Obama’s upcoming actions will help.

Are Casinos in New York a Good Idea?

There has been a recent controversy in my home city, Rochester, NY, about the proposed construction of a casino. The Seneca Nation of Indians, working through Seneca Gaming Corps., has bought 32 acres of land in the town of Henrietta (a town within the Greater Rochester limits). They intend to use this land to create a full-service casino and will now, as of this purchase, begin to engage the community in discussion about the benefits of such a casino in the community.

Andrew Cuomo, our current governor in New York, this year put a proposal on the ballot that would allow casino gaming in certain areas of the state. The idea is that it will attract tourism, promote job creation and encourage money to be spent within the state, as opposed to all of this money leaving the state when New Yorkers go elsewhere to find casinos.

This issue will be influenced by citizens of the town. Despite a federal law that gives the U.S. Secretary of the Interior the final say on this matter, the community hopes its voice will be heard. One sector of the town of Henrietta has formed the No More Casino Coalition, which includes a petition against construction of the casino.

http://www.nomorecasinoscoalition.org/

Backlash against the construction has mostly fallen into social and economic concerns. Some members of the community are concerned that the community will lose its character with the addition of a casino. They are concerned that it will attract a troublesome crowd and become less family-friendly.

These concerns are not particularly worrisome to me, because studies reveal that casinos mostly attract upper and middle class people to the area. In addition, this town has plenty of things that make it less family-friendly including a lot of strip clubs and bars. The economic issues are more pertinent to discuss.

Many believe that casinos are particularly beneficial to the economic development of communities. One thing that a lot of casinos have going for them are the tax revenues that they can produce. But I think that this casino will be unable to benefit the community in this way because it is almost entirely tax-exempt because it is on Native American lands and run by Native Americans.

Research also suggests that particularly rural areas are most likely to be positively affected by the construction of a casino. It can, yes, increase tourism, and create jobs, stimulating the economy. However, I think we should think about the fact that his town is not particularly rural. The economic success a casino can bring to a community is extremely effected by the exact area is it being built and its surroundings. I think that most people are assuming that statistics from rural successes will apply to our own community, which, to me, is problematic.

I am concerned that local businesses will be unable to compete with a huge project like this. Casinos are often essentially self-sustaining and are basically communities within themselves. I imagine that local businesses in the area could be eaten up by this. For example, nearby hotels and restaurants will not be needed because they are provided within the casino and a lot of labor is not even brought in from within the county.

I think that as we consider the impact a casino might have on the community, it will be very important to consider our county as its own entity that will respond to this in its own unique way. I hope that they also consider that the majority of voters in the county were against the referendum proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. This referendum allows for the construction of casinos in upstate New York, not run by Native American tribes. While that is a slightly different issue, I think that it is important to consider the public’s impression of non-tribal casinos when attempting to make a decision about the impact a casino has in general on a community.

In conclusion, I think that the construction of a casino in Rochester, New York is a risk that we must be prepared for and that might not be necessary to the overall economic success of our city.

http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/politics/2013/11/8535602/win-cuomo-voters-approve-casinos-new-york

http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2014/03/19/henrietta-town-board-vote-casino/6600429/

http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/2014/03/03/senecas-land-casino-clay-road-henrietta/5976147/

The Porn Debate

During the evening of April 3rd, St. Olaf PAC organized a debate on whether violent or extreme pornography should be banned and criminalized within the United States. The St. Olaf Debate Team performed the debate itself, and these members were Raffaele Triggiano, Bayley Flint, Rikaela Greane, and Maureen Palmer. The debate was sponsored by Feminists for Change and SOLAS. Feminists for Changes personal statement about porn dictated a desire to bring gender equality to the productions of pornography as whole, which understandably would require a banning on such pornography that was being debated. SOLAS took a more extreme view, believing all of pornography to be a realm for slavery and human trafficking, while leaving those who participated vulnerable to physical and psychological damage. As a result, their view appeared to favor a banning of all porn. During the debate, Triggiano and Flint were in support of the ban, while Greane and Palmer opposed. While those in favor listed many studies that correlated violent pornography to both violent rape cases and approval of the “rape myth“, those who opposed produced professional studies of their own which said the opposite, while also noting that rape crimes are decreasing in number while the percentage of convictions were rising, a statistic that was unopposed and contrary to previous studies presented by those in favor. Furthermore, the opposition believed that the only thing this act would do would threaten the freedom of speech of such an art form as protected in the Constitution. The pro-side’s response to this was to denounce violent pornography as art while also attacking the legitimacy of the Constitution, arguing that ignoring such a traditionally important document was worth it for the protection of the sensitive minds of the children. According to unopposed studies brought up by Triggiano and Flint, 80% of children were exposed to violent born before they hit eighteen, whilst the average age they were exposed to pornography being eleven. In the end, it was a relatively even clash of Constitutionality versus the children. A public vote was cast however, and the majority favored such a theoretical action, although a respectable number both opposed and abstained. It is important to note that those who debated may not necessarily hold the views for which they were debating.

SB 2k14 – The Spring Break of Civic Engagement

While many students were burning in Florida, I went home with the intention to see friends but entered the realm of something greater.

After coaching a forensics practice, my friend who was running for School Board, Zack Vrana (see past post for details) suggested that I come to the School Board meeting and participate in Citizens Forum.  I gladly obliged and was the first citizen in the new year to speak at this forum.  I commented on my displeasure of the changes to the English curriculum where they were taking Speech out and not making a requirement. I spoke to the board and they responded saying that they were knowledgable of this concern. Then, I spoke with the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning she said if I had any more questions, feel free to contact here. I did exactly that and eventually received a phone call from the Director of Secondary Instruction and he assured me that the Speech skills I learned in my Speech class will be taught throughout the English curriculum.

I was surprised to know that we had a Director of Secondary Instruction for the School district and had no idea what he did. I’m sure very few other people at my high school understand the workings of the bureaucracy.  When we get involved, we begin to understand the system.  We see how the district has to be sectioned up in a plethora of parts to ease the work load. Talking to my school board allowed me to voice my opinion to the person in charge of exactly what I cared about. There weren’t many hurdles to clear or paper work to fill out. I was satisfied that my voice was accounted for.

Elmbrook schools

Along with the school board meeting, I attended a town hall meeting for my Representative from my district, Jim Sensenbrenner. He elderly and very conservative, much like my town. My father and I came in wearing similar pants and striped button downs and joined a total of 8 others at our town’s court room.  There were about 8 workers for him including staff, public security, and U.S. Federal marshals making sure no one wanted to harm the Congressman.  Wefound the turnout depressing but didn’t expect much better for a 9 AM meeting on a Saturday morning. Who does that? Pro Tip: Don’t have meetings on Saturday mornings so early when there is more security than citizen participation.  What made matters worse was that the meeting was set up like a meeting. Perhaps my congressman still thought he was at a session of Congress because he had to gavel us into a meeting. With a real gavel. Then citizens asked about retirement funds and Medicare and Medicaid and things that I cared about but don’t have to deal with until I am older. The pinnacle of the meeting was when a elderly lady asked “Why is Obama able to do all of these illegal things and no one can stop him?” Now everyone’s political taste is different, but it’s hard to find many “illegal things” President Obama has enacted, but this citizen was enraged.  Congressmen Sensenbrenner responded with “He has the best lawyers”.

After the meeting, I left with a Republican taste in my mouth but satisfied that I was able to listen to the Congressman’s valuable and rational decisions.

Stensonbrenner_Science

I’m glad that I was able to talk to local and Federal representatives my Spring Break because getting involved and having your voice heard is important in our society!

Is Livable Wage the way to go in America?

Over Spring Break, I went on a service-esque trip to Milwaukee through St. Olaf Intervarsity Bible Study.

While we were there, we were exposed to the massive segregation and poverty that exists in the city, Milwaukee is actually the most segregated city in the United States (by class and by race).

I was researching Milwaukee further when I got back from break, and read an article by James Causey on the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel called “Another hit on Milwaukee, we can do better than this.”

The article cites a Cities Journal study that named Milwaukee #11 on “top fifteen cities you should move away from.”

The study cites high crime right, property taxes, and a thirty percent poverty rate as support for their claim.

Causey brings in another study from 24/7 WallSt., where Milwaukee was ranked #10 in “Worst run cities in America,” for high poverty, poor education, high crime, and high unemployment.

Causey states that the Mayor of Milwaukee wants to focus on job creation and public safety to get Milwaukee off of these lists.

Causey argues that, in order for these changes to occur, the Milwaukee government should highly consider enacting livable wages as a method for solving these issues; as well as an increase in minimum wage throughout the country.

According to David Cooper from the Economic Policy Institute: “ At the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year yields an annual income of only $15,080…which is below the poverty line for a family of two or more.”

Increasing the minimum wage or, even better enacting a livable wage of approximately $10.10 would bring a minimum-wage income back above the poverty line for a family of three, according to Cooper.

So why not do it?

Well, according to economic theory, an increase in minimum wage or livable wage creates a surplus of jobless workers; there a lot of people out of jobs.

Theoretically, enacting a livable wage would improve the wages of those workers who can find work, but hurt those who cannot do so.

It also might hurt those firms who are supplying the jobs because they must pay the workers more, increase the cost of production, and hurt consumers because higher product prices.

Economists worry that by enacting these wages, there will be an increase in layoffs and a decline in unemployment.

It seems as though the costs outway the benefits, right?

However, in a scholarly article put out by Bill Barclay called “The Economics of a Living Wage,” it seems as though these perceived costs in the world of theoretical economics do not exist.

As of 2012, 125 local governments in the United States had passed living wage laws ranging from $10.29-17.00.

Results show that the empirical effects of raising wages are extremely minimal and—in most cases—have not resulted in layoffs within businesses or relocations of businesses to places where there is not a minimum wage.

Living wage expenses in a company account from 2-3% of total revenues which is not significant enough to generate layoffs.

Businesses have raised prices of their goods produced in some cases, but the prices are not so large that they hugely affect individual taypayers.

Firms have also cited an increase in productivity—both in the organization and efficiency as well as employment morale.

It seems like livable wage might be the way to go for Milwaukee.

If their results are similar to those in the study, Milwaukee’s climate might completely change—and I’m not talking about the weather!

However, this was a very small study and the findings are not representative of the United States as a whole.

What do you all think? Is a livable wage the way to go?

 

http://m.jsonline.com/248581891.htm#continue_reading

http://www.epi.org/publication/minimum-wage-workers-poverty-anymore-raising/

http://www.chicagodsa.org/livingwage.pdf

Water Wars: Western Slope vs. Front Range

I was born and raised in a Rural Colorado Mountain town on the Colorado River with a population less than 10,000 people. Located about three hours from Denver, we affectionately refer to everything west of the Continental Divide as the Western Slope. Everything east of the divide is referred to as the Front Range. Although both sides of the divide harbor a deep and abiding love for the state, we also both engage in a fierce rivalry with each other. This rivalry stems from an unlikely culprit: water.

Now, this may seem a bit odd to some people. How can a state so famous for their snowcapped peaks and eponymous river have issues with water? The problem lies in the fact that despite popular belief, Colorado has an incredibly arid climate. The entire State essentially relies on the Colorado River on the Western Slope for its water supply. To a non-resident, this seems like a fantastic arrangement. If the river starts in Colorado then they can take as much water as they want right? Wrong. Due to the Colorado River Compact of 1922, Colorado only owns a portion of the water rights to the river and therefore can only consume a certain amount.

Therefore, Denver put the western half of the state on edge in September 2013 when it announced its plan to streamline the review process of water conservancies in order to

usher in a new era of cooperation between Denver Water and West Slope water providers…allowing Denver Water to develop future water supplies

Essentially, the Front Range to increase its consumption of water by and extra 100,00 to 250,000 acre-feet to the current consumption of 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet in order to offset suspected water shortages. However, this would mean that the Western Slope would have even more restricted access to its own river water.

The reaction of the organization dedicated to the conservation of water in the Colorado (The Colorado River Basin Roundtable) to this proposal was vehemently negative. The Roundtable reactionary statement dictated that

The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid.

Personally, I don’t see how the Front Range can expect the Western Slope to allocate more water to the Denver Metro area. There are already laws preventing the Colorado citizens from collecting rainwater so as not to hinder the amount of water that gets diverted to the Metro area. They claim that it is “for the good of the state” but I don’t buy it. This proposition simply exploits the Western Slope to benefit the Front Range.

 http://www.aspentimes.com/news/9155202-113/colorado-river-slope-roundtable 

 

Respecting Cultural Diversity in Healthcare

Ebola was unfamiliar to me until not long ago, when a professor described to my class how horrific and gory deaths from the disease are. Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever, which causes bleeding from eyes, ears, and nose, as well as from the mouth and rectum. As of now, there is no known cure for Ebola; in fact, as many as 90% of patients die from the disease.

Ebola
The Ebola virus

After doing a little preliminary research on Ebola, I didn’t think much more about the virus. However, Ebola recently emerged in world headlines due to an outbreak in Guinea. Doctors Without Borders have called the current outbreak “unprecedented” due to its rapid spread throughout the country. Since January, 78 people have died from suspected Ebola, and of these, 22 have been laboratory-confirmed cases of Ebola.

guinea_map30032014_custom-9cffeb7545410f87edcfc475b466fac633fefd55-s6-c30_zps8b6af26d
Affected districts/number of reported cases of Ebola in Guinea and Liberia

Doctors, nurses, and epidemiologists are working to contain the outbreak, but perhaps more interestingly, they are working alongside anthropologists. A recent NPR article noted that before the assistance of anthropologists, medical staff often had a difficult time convincing families to bring their sick loved ones to clinics and isolation wards. Many native people fear international health care workers, and often locals think that “Europeans in control of the isolation units were in a body parts business.”

Anthropologists work to ensure that global health operations are “culturally sensitive and appropriate,” says Barry Hewlett, a medical anthropologist at Washington State University. For instance, healthcare workers formerly closed body bags quickly to prevent further spread of the disease, denying others a chance to see their loved one. Now, workers allow family members to see the body in the bag and escort the body to the burial ground. Another example of cultural respect occurred during a past Ebola outbreak in Uganda in which locals blamed sorcery for rapid deaths. Anthropologists used this knowledge to work with both doctors and locals to isolate patients and contain the outbreak.

Instances such as those in Guinea and Uganda, in which many people are rapidly lost to a mysterious disease, highlight the need for cultural sensitivity in all situations. Although we often disregard cultural boundaries when human lives are in question, it is still important to understand how those who want to help can do so in the most respectful way possible.

 

Drive-Thru Drama

I grew up on the busiest street in Ipswich – 1A/133. That’s not saying much for this small town of about 13,000 people, but it funnels the vast majority of the traffic through our picturesque, rural setting.

Just 5 houses down from my own is an infamous intersection, a mess of a corner known throughout Ipswich as Lord’s Square. The confusing layout and the location of both the Prime gas station and Dunkin Donuts on the corner complicate traffic flow through this part of town.

As the morning commute begins, cars pile up as people pull into the gas station and Dunkin Donuts to fuel their cars and themselves in preparation for their long drive to work. Such congestion doesn’t mix well with the impatient and aggressive nature of Massachusetts drivers, creating a dangerous and unpleasant intersection.

As a pedestrian who frequents the corner, I can attest to its daunting nature. Although the source of only three accidents annually, they are typically multiple car pile-ups, as drivers come careening around the corner to find a stand still of traffic caused by those trying to turn left into Dunkin Donuts.

However, owner Roy Serpas claims to have a solution. Over the past fifteen years, he has been buying up the land around the current Dunkin Donuts and is proposing a design he believes will not only “considerably improve [the] site” with buildings that “will really fit into the character of the town” but also positively effect roadway and traffic flow through renovation of the intersection.

Current Lord Square Rendition

Current Lord’s Square Rendition

Proposed Lord Square Rendition

Proposed Lord’s Square Rendition

 

In order to fund this project, he needs to incorporate a drive thru into the new Dunkin Donuts unit. In 1999, Ipswich established a zoning bylaw prohibiting the establishment of drive thrus, for fear the effect it would have not only traffic but the fast food industry in Ipswich, potentially disrupt the quaint and historic nature of the town. However, the emphasis Serpas is placing on the beautification and aesthetics aspect of his project, creating more colonial-styled buildings on the corner, might help him pass the idea through the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Serpas’ proposal has gained mixed review from Ipswich residents. Those living across from Dunkin Donuts are very interested in seeing the area renovated, as they’d like a better view from their window.

“I think it’s a great idea,” claims Ipswich resident Meghan Olsen. “It doesn’t seem like it will bring any more traffic to the area. I don’t think the number of people visiting the Dunkin Donuts will change.”

While many agree with Olsen and strongly support the aesthetic improvements, others, including Anne Brown, are voicing their concerns that discussion of the project has become strayed too far from its central idea.

I am concerned that the project seems to have become, at least at this point, far too focused on the issue of visual improvement of the space. Has this become a means of securing support for the project prior to full discussion of the actual drive-thru?

In a letter written to the Ipswich Planning Board, Brown questioned whether Serpas’ proposal for the intersection renovation will counter the high cost it will cause not only the immediate neighborhood, but the attempts of the town and Ipswich community to “create a more pedestrian friendly place to live and work.” Brown adds that the introduction of a drive-thru will undoubtedly attract more traffic, which will lead to “increased exhaust fumes, the noise and heat of idling vehicles on blacktop, and the noise from placing orders at the microphone box.”

Although it has yet to pass through both the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals, Serpas’ proposal to push this historic town further into the modern day sure has people talking.

Are We Catching Fire?

Have you ever taken a look at your country and wondered, “How did we as a people allow them to do that?” where you fill in the ‘them’ and ‘that’? Well, recently I have. It happened when I was watching Catching Fire over spring break. I started to wonder how the United States compared the Panem, the country in the movie. For those of you who don’t know (and really, if you don’t know by this point, then where have you been living?), Catching Fire is the second movie based on a series of novels where the rich part of the United States, the Capitol, demands 24 teens, two from each of the outlying districts around the US, to compete for their lives and kill all other competitors in what is called the Hunger Games. After 75 years of this, the districts begin to revolt in Catching Fire.

Peacekeepers arriving to a District to suppress the revolts

In our minds, sending children off to kill or be killed is a terrifying thought, but to the people of the Capitol, it was completely normal. While the current US may not do something as drastic as that, Catching Fire made me question if there was anything going on the US that people didn’t blink an eye over. It made me question whether or not there was a topic in which we were like the people of the Capitol.

The answer, it seems, is yes. When it comes to terrorism, we let the government get away with a lot. They check our emails, calls, texts. They follow our movements on the internet, where, uncovered by Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) used a tracking device specifically for Google to determine if people need to be hacked or not. Satellites can use traffic cams to follow cars. We have known the government has been doing this for a long time, especially after 9/11 and the Patriot Act. However, whether you are for this or against this, there is something related to terrorism protection that almost nobody protested against.

After the Boston Bombing last April, the city of Boston declared a 24 hour curfew on the city to proceed with a manhunt to catch the people responsible for this heinous crime.

Patrolling the streets to look for the Boston Bomber

My question is simple: why did so few protest this curfew? Whether or not you think the curfew was good or bad, I simply wonder why there wasn’t a pushback against this restriction of Bostonian’s rights. Boston, America’s revolutionary city, succumbing to the whims of oppression? It is difficult for me to think about. It is even more difficult for me to think that, even after the bombers were caught and fear subsided, there wasn’t a pushback against this tactic. 

If Boston of all cities allows for restrictions to be imposed during a time of fear, how will the rest of the country stand up to the impositions? The scary thought is, with the news portraying horrifying images and highlighting gruesome stories, almost any time or could be portrayed as a time of fear. What, then, would stop the government from employing around-the-clock restrictions? It’s a slippery slope. In the name of terrorism protection, our US could come to look a lot like the US in the Hunger Games series.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Are we going to be the people of the Capitol or the revolters of the Districts?

Rising College Costs Affect Students Nationwide

Several weeks ago, President David R. Anderson ’74 sent out an email to the student body at St. Olaf College regarding the 2.48 percent rise in tuition for the 2014-15 academic year.

Joining the 51K club was inevitable for St. Olaf (our tuition is linked to the consumer price index, keeping price increases in line with the inflation that our economy is currently experiencing), but it still hurts to think about having to take out and pay back additional loans to earn a college degree.

To our generation, college is a necessary investment. If you don’t earn a college degree, you could be damaging your future earning potential as well as be limiting the careers you could even pursue.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data, college graduates ages 25 to 32 working full time earn $45,500, about $17,500 more than their peers with just a high school diploma.

Of the nearly 20 million Americans who attend college each year, about 12 million borrow. … Estimates show that the average four-year graduate accumulates $26,000 to $29,000 in loans, and some leave college with six figures worth of debt.

Among the Minnesota Private Colleges, St. Olaf has arguably the best financial aid, likely because of it’s endowment fund. Nationwide, efforts to improve college aid are underway, but slow to start.

“We can’t let debt hinder a whole generation of people from beginning to accumulate wealth soon after graduating college” said William Elliott III, director of the Assets and Education Initiative at the University of Kansas.

President Obama proposed In August new changes that would be some of the first updates to federal student aid in decades, linking federal money to new college ratings, reward schools if they help low-income students, keep costs low and have large numbers of students earn degrees.

Other proposals have included allowing graduates with high-interest loans to refinance at lower rates. Organizations such as the National Health Services Corps offer loan forgiveness in exchange for service in underserved areas.

This country needs to re-think college financing options to bring down debt and raise graduation rates. The question is, how? Higher education costs have been a main issue in many recent elections, but change seems far from the future as representatives work against each other and argue over other ways to best allocate the nation’s money.

When total student debt exceeds total credit card debt in the country, lower-income students are getting priced out, and rising college costs are widening the US wealth gap, it is safe to say that we are in a country that does not fully understand the value of a college degree, nor does it support those in pursuit of one.

We know that more and more students are going to be needing help in the future, but where should the money come from?