Friday, April 30, 2010

It's not Racial Profiling, we're just harrassing Mexicans

The news has been abuzz lately with talk of the new immigration legislation passed in Arizona. Like many civil and human rights advocates, I heard about the law and went "No, that's a joke right?" except that it wasn't a joke at all. As I listened to more and more reporting in the news about this legislation, I found myself turning to Jason and saying "So, when did this become Nazi Germany? Are we going to have to start requiring all legal immigrants to wear American Flags on all of their clothing so we can tell at a glance who is legal and who isn't?" because, let's face it, this law is very much akin to laws passed to discriminate against Jews in Germany. And, for a group of people who want to call the democrats, particularly the current president, Hitler they are again doing such a good job of mimicking his policies all on their own.

But, being the sort of person I am, I listened to both sides of the debate on this issue despite the fact that I wholehartedly disagree with the other side. I was willing to listen and see if anything made sense and made me say "Ok, I see the value in that". Unfortunately, nothing did. And then a conservative told me that the talk of the law being racist was all propaganda due to Obama not explaining the law properly, and that people can only be asked for their papers if they have already committed a crime. So, I went and looked up the exact write-up of the law. Sadly, I did not find that the racism was propaganda, because the law does not state that someone can only be asked for papers if there is a crime committed. It says that they can be asked for their papers during "any lawful contact" with authorities if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is an illegal immigrant. So, then you have to consider what is lawful contact, but as far as I can tell "lawful contact" is an officer simply stopping you in the street. And, if the officer has "reasonable suspicion" that someone is an illegal immigrant, that automatically makes any contact with that officer lawful. So, no crime has to be committed at all. Unless you count the crime of looking like an illegal immigrant.

Which brings me to the arguement that this law will not result in racial profiling. I have no idea how that can be the case, since reasonable suspicion is most likely going to be based on how someone looks. And what does an illegal immigrant look like as opposed to a legal one? There is no way to tell based on a visual assessment, which means ANYONE who looks like they might be hispanic can be stopped, which means they are racially profiling all hispanic people. And I say hispanic because that's really who they are after. My friend Jeff is an immigrant from the UK, but I somehow doubt he would be stopped on a street in Arizona and asked for his papers because he's a white guy. I don't think anyone cares about the white guys. Heck, I don't think anyone cares about anyone but the Mexicans. So, really this law is simply racism at its finest.

And, what is really eating at me about all of this is that we're not prosecuting some of the real proponents of this problem. We get angry at illegal immigrants, who are often impoverished in their own country, for coming to this country to get jobs and do better for themselves. Basically, we're angry that they're trying to get a slice of the "American Dream" that our forefathers wanted when they immigrated to this country (because you do know we're all immigrants right? Just checking) and I can't really fault them for wanting that. I can fault corporations who bus immigrants in illegally to work for below minimum wage, being paid under the table, at their farms picking our produce, or in their meat packing plants butchering our steaks that those immigrant workers will never be able to afford to put on their own tables. One of the biggest problems with illegal immigrants is that they wouldn't be coming here if no one was hiring them. But many companies are hiring them, knowing full well they are illegal, so that the corporate fat cats can make an extra buck by underpaying the workers. And it's not like no one knows about it. A lot of companies have agreements with the immigration officers that if they allow raids to be done every few months and let a few people be deported, then the officers turn a blind eye to the company practices. But who do we punish in this situation? The immigrant workers. Not the corporate fat cats who are perpetuating the problems. This makes me very angry.

And yes, I understand that if someone wants to live in this country they should do so through the proper channels, but the fact is that they are still human beings and they still have rights as humans even if they don't have them as citizens. And why can't we just create a guest worker visa like Europe has done so that immigration doesn't matter. Someone can work here and live across the border and have no negative consequences. I think that, at the root of it all, is a deeply racist and prejudiced point of view from upper class white Americans who are afraid of becoming the minority in a country where they have held the majority for so long. So, the "Dey took our jobs" group is pissing and moaning about the immigrant workers and working to get them deported for being dirty illegal aliens, but they're not pounding on the doors of the companies who took the jobs in the first place and replaced them with cheap illegal labor. That makes a ton of sense.

So yes, I hate this law. I think it's horrid, and I think that when you give everyone a "common enemy" it makes it ok for them to be persecuted and slandered and hated by the general public because you can blame them for your problems. Then nothing is your fault, it's the fault of the enemy you have created. In this case it's the Mexicans. And that makes me wonder, what's next? Internment camps? I think that this is a case of those who forget the past being doomed to repeat it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Consumers Report

I'm not sure when it happened. I think it might have been at some point in time when I wasn't really paying attention to what was going on in the world of retail and customer service, but at some point the whole "customer service" thing went straight out the window. I've been noticing the issue kind of snowballing for the past few years. At some point, corporate greed and the desire to make a buck outweighed the necessity to keep customers happy so that they would continue shopping with the company.

I think it really started with the shift away from accepting any returns for store credit. That was a pretty nice slap in the face for consumers who, if they're anything like me, lose receipts. Where once we could go to the store we purchased product from and return product without a receipt in exchange for a store credit, we are now left with no options at all. This has become more of a problem for me with gifts than with anything else. The solution, of course, was the gift receipt. But, if the person who purchased the gift didn't have the forethought to get a gift receipt, lost the gift receipt, or attached the wrong gift receipt to the product, then what option are you left with? You have none, and you find yourself literally suck with useless product that you don't want but can't get rid of. For me, more often than not, this happens with people purchasing DVDs for me as gifts and getting duplicates. I have a whole stack of DVDs that are unopened and useless because I got them as duplicates without gift receipts. That's awesome. I'm thinking about using them as coasters. And what I hate more is that when I tried to exchange one of them at the store it was purchased from, which I knew because the "Best Buy" sticker was still on it with just the price bit scratched off, I was told that not only could I not get an exchange for another title because I had no gift receipt, it was because they couldn't be sure I hadn't stolen the DVD in the first place. Yes, they implied that I had stolen the DVD.

So now, companies that once offered customers the ability to do an even exchange, or an exchange for greater value are allowing nothing at all. They claim it's because they were losing too much money, but I am not sure how since research showed that people who received store credits typically spent 10% over the amount of the credit when they redeemed it. I know I always did.

But it hasn't really stopped there. More and more, the customer is always wrong. This is seen in the attitudes of store employees, who want nothing to do with helping anyone unless it's absolutely necessary, and it's seen in the store policies that are now being imposed on consumers. I actually have a list of stores I don't go to because of their poor customer service and poor company policies. And, some of them have actually listened to their customers and changed the way they do business. Others have not. This past weekend, Jason and I went to Lowes to buy some paint for our upstairs bedroom. We found a color we liked, took it to the counter and said we wanted it mixed in a No VOC paint that they carry in the store. We were promptly told that they could not mix that color in anything but their store brand paint, because they had a contract with that company and could get in trouble for mixing it in another paint brand. So I said "But there are no similar colors in other brands of paint, and if you're not going to offer a no VOC option in your brand then you shouldn't limit people to getting colors mixed only in that brand". The employee looked at me like I was the world's biggest nuisance and acted like I was an idiot for wanting the other paint brand and not understanding that their contract was important. He then told me that they would lose revenue if he mixed my color in another brand of paint. I said "Well, I was going to make $100 worth of purchases today and you've just made my decision to leave the store, so you are losing revenue either way". Plus, I know that they color match anything you bring in, and you can walk into the store with a purchased paint chip deck from any paint manufacturing company and get the color mixed in any paint brand you want, so why the sudden problem with giving the customer what they want?

I think the problem is that no one cares about helping the customer or making them happy. No one says "Sure, I can take care of that for you" because store employees are simply there to stock shelves and ring up purchases, not to actually provide any real "customer service" to anyone. There is distain from most of the people I ask for help in stores. A simple question like "Do you carry cake flour?" in a grocery store where I can't find the cake flour is met with a huge sigh from the employee and a tone of incredulity that I would even consider bothering them. And I know it's not entirely the employee's fault, because sometimes the corporate structure puts too much focus on tasks and not enough on helping people, but is it such a crime to help someone when they need it? It could be said that I don't understand, I'm not doing that job, but the fact is that I have done that job. I worked retail for over 5 years, both as a sales associate and as a manager, so I know that it's possible to be nice to someone when helping them find something. I know it's possible to work a job that pays you crap (because my retail jobs certainly did that) and still be cheerful. Yes, there are people who are over the top ridiculous in their expectations, but they are not the majority.

And when it comes to things like "This is our policy" then maybe someone at the store level needs to say "This policy is unfair to the customers". I did. I still do. As a customer, when a policy in a store changes to be more hostile to the average consumer, I e-mail their corporate office and tell them what I think. More people should. And, if you don't like the policy, try not to shop there. If they're not getting your money, they're going to have to start listening.

Maybe I'm just thinking about a time when my patronage is respected instead of seen as a given, and instead of trying to keep me around using rewards programs or coupon cards, the store actually tried to keep me coming back by offering the service that many of them once did. Maybe if I could find an employee to help me in less than 10 minutes of searching, I'd remember and keep coming back. Treating me like a human being does so much more than mailing me a coupon every week. And having employees who actually know something about the store they work in and the product they sell helps too. If I go into Toys R Us and ask for a good educational toy for a 2 year old, I don't want to be taken to the games section and left standing there to fend for myself. I want someone to say "Here's what I would recommend" and actually show me some of the product. I can't remember the last time I was out shopping and had that experience. Maybe it's a thing of the past.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

We The Little People

Tonight as Jason and I were flipping through channels trying to figure out why there is nothing good on tv on Wednesday nights, we saw that PBS was airing the documentary Food Inc. We had both avoided watching this for different reasons. Jason avoided it because the last time he saw anything about how animals were being treated prior to slaughter, he completely gave up eating red meat and switched to free range/barn roaming chicken and he was afraid he'd have to give up half of the food that's left if he saw what it went through. I avoided it because I knew it would make me mad because, let's face it, it doesn't take much to make me mad. But, when faced with the choice of educating ourselves or watching a rerun of House Hunters, we decided to do the responsible thing and raise my blood pressure.

I wish I could say that the documentary was entirely eye opening, but it wasn't. The fact is, I knew some of this stuff was going on before watching the documentary. I knew that animals were grossly mistreated and abused in the factory farming system, and I knew that government regulations on a lot of the food we eat have not been up to snuff. I even knew that there were companies patenting seeds and suing people for harvesting seeds and replanting them. The thing that really got my blood boiling while I watched this documentary was watching how all of these problems and oversights have effected actual people. I'm not really talking about people who eat the food, though they are included, I'm talking about these farmers who now have no control over the one thing they know how to do best: produce food. I heard fear in the voices of the people speaking out against large corporations who basically tell them how to run their farms or raise their livestock. I saw people who work in an industry that has never really been known for its vast profits talk about how they can barely afford to stay afloat while huge corporations are making these massive profits at the expense of both the farmer and the consumer. That's where the anger started. It just continued to build as I watched a mother whose son was killed by e-coli bacteria fight to get legislation passed to allow the government and the FDA to shut down slaughterhouses and factories who repeatedly produce contaminated product, and listened to her talk about how this has been a six year process and still is not getting passed because the consumers might not want to pay more for their food just to ensure its safety. I was appalled, and I was angry.

There was a point in the documentary where they showed how many people who had worked for some of these large corporations are now employed by the FDA, or are in congress with the corporations in their back pockets paying for their reelection campaigns. At this point all of my anger ended up turning into something I did not expect. It became helplessness. I felt completely helpless. Because, as much as the people on the documentary want everyone to believe that they vote every time they make a grocery purchase, I don't think that's enough. Once you count out the people who simply can't afford the healthy foods because they barely make a living wage (another subject for another time), the rest of us are still left with financial choices at the checkout counter. We're also left with limited options in a large portion of the country because not everyone has access to a store that carries a wide variety of produce that is organic, or meat that is humane. So it feels like change has to come from much higher than the grocery store conveyer belt. The problem then becomes an issue of who owns who? If the corporations own the politicians and the politicians want to hold office, then who is doing the right thing for the little people? I am very frustrated by this question. As much as I believe that people should vote, and people should pay attention and make their voices heard, I'm afraid that the corporate involvement in the system has drowned out all of the voices of the constituents and left only the roar of corporate fat cats. I find myself wondering if all of us taking little steps will really matter at all, or if it will just cause someone to say "Make it more expensive to buy the good stuff, then people will buy ours because it's cheaper". It's worked so far for Wal-Mart. And it's cheaper because the government subsidizes things like corn growing, which is a crop we actually have far too much of and it doesn't need to be subsidized. How about this idea, we subsidize all crops? Wow...we could all afford to eat the way we're supposed to if someone decided to do that. But they won't, because I'm sure someone will lose money and then someone else won't get reelected and then I would imagine the world will end from that.

It simply seems wrong that with all of this debate on healthcare, no one has thought to take a good look at what kind of crap we put into our foods, and as a result of that, our bodies every day. We eat crap and then are amazed when we are unhealthy and have to be put onto ten different medications. I'm not saying that I'm about to give up things like drinking soda entirely, because I like soda, and I'm not saying that I'm going to completely stop eating all processed foods, because it's nearly impossible to do that since everything seems to be processed in some way or another. I'm just saying that maybe if we made the stuff that's good for you as affordable as the crap, some people might pick up the good stuff. And I know the simple solution to my problems with factory animal farming is to simply become vegetarian but let's face it, I'm already the pickiest eater alive and I don't want to give up my chicken, especially when it's in fried rice. Plus, it's not a crime to eat meat, but it is a crime to abuse the animal before you turn it into meat. I am not a perfect example of eating the ideal diet, but I do consider myself fortunate enough to be able to afford to take a piece of fruit in my lunch every day. I feel bad that there are so many out there who can't, and I think the system needs to change so that everyone can afford that. I just wish that someone was really fighting for the little people out there instead of the corporate greed. I find myself more and more disgusted with people who allow themselves to be bought by the highest bidder, which means that they have allowed our food production system in this country to be turned into modern day share cropping.

So, while the activist in me says "The system is down. Fight the system!" the realist in me is saying "What now? Is there any hope?" and those two sides of me are arguing about how I feel on this issue. Obviously I'm going to stay angry for a while, because that's what I do best, but I sort of wonder if there comes a point where the fight is just too large and we all feel too small and we are just too tired of pushing against the concrete wall that refuses to move. I will continue to push, but part of me thinks that the little people simply can't do it alone.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Narcissus, your mirror is broken

Yesterday, while spending a lazy Saturday evening sitting around watching movies, Jason and I decided to watch Julie and Julia. We went to see it when it came out in theaters (how I miss free movies from Borders) and upon second viewing I was struck by the same plot event in the movie as I was the first time. There is an entire piece of the film where Julie becomes wholly absorbed in herself and her blog that she forgets there's a world outside of her blog entries and her readers. She defends this by saying that perhaps she is a little narcissistic but that's what a blog is, it's "me me me me me". This got me to thinking about whether that's really the entire point of blogging, to give yourself some sense of self importance. I mean, honestly, when you really think about it, most bloggers probably have about 5 readers. Typically this is a parent or significant other, two friends, and then maybe two people who randomly lurk around reading your site because they stumbled upon it through a friend of a friend, but those people never comment. So, the question becomes, who are we all writing for? I think there's some sort of catharsis that comes from writing up your thoughts and sending them out into the ether, imagining that someone might come across your meager words and find them interesting, witty, or insightful. It seems that simply by writing, we tell the world "Hello, I exist" and then the world gets to choose what it wishes to do with that information. For the vast majority of us bloggers, the world chooses to do nothing more than let us exist. Most of us are not getting picked up for book or film deals simply by sending our thoughts out there for the world. In fact, most of us are so mundane that, if we were to really look back at our own blogging, we would realize how painfully ordinary we all are. But, blogging allows for that. In the world of the blog, there is room for everyone, especially the ordinary.

Years ago I had a blog on the now all-but-defunct, which seemed like a haven for self important whining. I do not exclude myself from this group. When looking back at that blog, I fell to the same trap that the rest of the xanga bloggers fell into, I was utterly and completely narcissistic. For whatever reason, that blog was entirely about "me me me me", and I can't help but think about how utterly pathetic my own whining was. And who the hell was I whining to? The other self important whiners? No one? It's hard to say. But, as I have come to discover, different blogging sites lend themselves to different types of bloggers. For example, I was actually criticized on xanga about how if I wrote shorter posts, people might be more likely to actually finish reading an entry. This is so incredibly amusing, when I think back on it, because it was basically saying that if I wanted the attention of readers, I would have to limit my thoughts to nothing more than a sound byte, and well....I'm an English major folks, if I excel at nothing else in this world, I know that I will always excel at being wordy. I am not exactly well versed in limiting my thoughts to sound bytes. But, then, the question still remains, who was I writing for anyway? So few people were reading that blog that it seems as if there was no real point in cutting down my posts to please the one person who was reading.

However, it seems that blogging becomes completely and truly narcissistic when the blogger starts to get a bit of attention for their thoughts. I have often heard of people falling to this idea that while blogging, if they miss a day or have bad news, they will be disappointing their readers. This gets taken to extreme levels when these anonymous readers start to take precedent over real people who should matter more than the fandom of faceless readers. So, perhaps the motivation to blog is, at its core, narcissistic but I don't think it is fully realized until someone gains that rare phenomenon of attention that the fickle public chooses to bestow on some more readily than others. The rest of us must simply be content to survive our narcissism with cracked mirrors, which do not allow us to reflect too carefully on ourselves and instead let us still maintain some sort of rationality about what our own blogging is really getting us, which is usually carpel tunnel. But, we continue to blog anyway, to feed some need to have our thoughts out in the world uninterrupted by the thoughts and opinions of least until we get to the comments section.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Haters To The Left

Last night, because there was nothing good on tv and possibly because he likes to watch me yell at the screen, Jason decided to turn on Fox News for a little entertainment. Sean Hannity was hosting some sort of discussion panel on his show, and complaining about the Nuclear Arms treaty that was being signed yesterday. It took about 30 seconds before something was said that offended me. He said he would be disappointed in any Republican in Congress who would vote to adopt this new policy. So, to be clear, he wants congress to oppose a treaty that would decrease the number of nuclear weapons in the world, and was scoffing at the Ukrainian government for offering to dispose of any of their nuclear materials. Yes. This is what he was saying. Then he showed a clip of my very favorite idiot, Sarah Palin, talking about what a bad idea this was. This is ironic, considering she claims to be a HUGE fan of Ronald Reagan, who fought to dispose of all nuclear weaponry on a global scale during his presidency. Now she doesn't like it, because it's not Bush or McCain in office working for this cause. Then, when Hannity switched topics, he began talking about how Obama has single handedly destroyed the economy. I'm not entirely sure how things have looked from where Sean is sitting, but the economy has been pretty f*cked for several years now. Obama has been in office for one. I'm just going to go out on a limb here and say it wasn't all him. Call me crazy, but I think I might be right here.

This brings me to my point: Why are Republicans such sore freaking losers? The health care bill passing made way for what appears to me to be a bunch of political temper tantrums. Suddenly there will be "no cooperation from the Right" and they're going to fight to have it repealed etc. Whatever happened to doing what's best for the country? Is absolutely no bi-partisan cooperation really the best thing for your constituents and your country? It doesn't seem like it. It seems as if you lost, and now you're going to stand around and pout until something happens that gives you your way. I find it appalling. And what's more, I find it worrisome to think about what this sort of attitude is doing to the country as a whole. Suddenly we have people claiming to be "patriots" who are calling out to people to smash the windows of Democratic offices, and Democratic leaders in various roles are getting death threats. When did this become ok? Not getting your way in a bill vote gives you free reign to call for open vandalism? For being the party who likes to call everyone else Socialists and compare them to the likes of Hitler, you're sure ordering some very Hitleristic action. At the beginning of his regime, he told the people of Germany to break the windows of Jewish businesses in their towns. How is ordering conservatives to break the windows of Democratic offices any different? And now we have "Oath Keepers" within our own military who are stockpiling weapons in preparation to commit treason by rising up and literally fighting the President should they feel he's "taking over the country". Men who have taken an oath to serve their country, and to honor the President as Commander in Chief of their armed forces are now preparing to attack the very office they swore to honor. This is so upsetting and disturbing that I don't even have words for it. I am appalled at the behavior of some of the supposedly civilized citizens of this country.

In the wake of the Hutaree arrests, many people are beginning to dig up the images of Timothy McVeigh and his rebellion against the government when he bombed Oklahoma City, and I find myself wondering whether that event would still be as tragic in the minds of Americans if it was committed today. The fact is, he was a terrorist. No, he was not Arab, he did not hold a Koran as he committed his crime, and he did not do it in the name of religion. This just goes to show that terrorism is not something done only by Muslim extremists, though so many in our nation would have you believe otherwise, but can be committed by our own citizens in our own back yards. But my concern is that if a group like the Hutaree or some other extremest right wing group were to bomb a government building, I'm afraid that they would be cheered as heroes rebelling against the evil socialists holding political office. I'm afraid that the tragedy would somehow get turned into a cry of patriotism, and somehow those terrorists committing such a crime would be revered as true citizens of America. This is what frightens me the most about our nation as it is today. Extremists come in all forms, not simply Muslim (and for that matter, not all Muslims are extremist terrorists despite what some would have people believe), and extremism is dangerous no matter where its roots are planted, and yet our collective vision as a nation seems to be clouded because we cannot see the road we have begun to pave for ourselves.

And I am sure there are those who would say that I am a liberal, which means that if it were liberals doing these things I would not be sitting here writing this blog entry. I would like to think that if it was liberals committing vandalism and plotting domestic terrorism, I would not remain silent simply because I happen to share some of the beliefs held by that group. But, the fact of the matter is, liberals are not committing these sort of crimes. I would argue that there were liberals who hated George Bush as much as the conservatives currently hate Obama, but they were not calling anyone to arms, and they were not vandalizing buildings or mailing out death threats. That is not the way of the liberal. Perhaps it was in the 60's when it was largely liberals protesting and fighting against Vietnam, but somewhere along the line the liberals got behind gun control and well....that kind tends to quell violence. But if they were, I would not stand behind them either.

This is not to say that anyone, liberal or conservative should blindly accept what they are being fed from a government office without question. On the contrary. This nation was built on the ability to have a disagreement. I think everyone should question and consider and think about what goes on not just in this country, but globally. I'm just saying that there is a distinct difference between civil disobedience and lashing out violently for some sort of revenge.

We now live in a nation divided, not just along political lines but also along religious and socioeconomic lines that are carved so deeply that I'm not sure the scars will ever heal. What worries me most is that this division is not for any real reason, except that there are some who would prefer to gain political power rather than serve those who have elected them, and there are those who would prefer to see their nightly television ratings jump by spoon feeding people lies and propaganda simply to make a buck. I have said it before, and I will say it again. We worship no idol or diety more faithfully than we do the dollar. This may be our downfall.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Happy To Be Here

Now, I'm not normally one to romanticize the commonplace, or get poetic about what I consider to be "the ordinary" but tonight, as I sit here in my living room with the windows open, a breeze blowing through the house, I am struck by how happy to be where I am right now. Every year, I forget how much I enjoy springtime in Michigan. Admittedly, the state doesn't exactly get four seasons a year. Usually we get the world's longest winter, and then a few weeks of "spring" before it immediately jumps to 80+ degrees and summer descends on us, miserable and humid, which lasts until mid-October before we get the worlds shortest autumn and the snows start again. But, for those couple weeks of spring, I am content to be exactly where I am. This year is better than last, because we have a new neighborhood that seems to take landscaping pretty seriously. Our neighbors next door have bulbs planted and they all started blooming last week, and nearly everyone on the street has a flowering tree of some type, which are all in full bloom now. We spent the weekend working in the yard, pulling out some of the old, ugly landscaping stones and mowing the lawn, filling in holes and re-seeding some of the patchy areas of the grass. The progress has made me really want to tackle some of our other landscaping projects, though at this point we have to just do bit by bit as we have time to do it. There is a sense of accomplishment in working on something all day and being able to look at the results and think "That looks better". I've never been one for gardening in the past, but it might be something I find myself enjoying as the summer progresses. All I know is that tonight, as the sun was setting, and the smell of our neighbors cherry blossoms was blowing across my yard, I was really happy to be out in my yard, working on something I knew would end up looking better, and that I did it with my own two hands. I like it here.