Way back in the 1990s, the First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton, complained that she and her husband, President Bill Clinton, were the targets of a "vast right-wing conspiracy."
During my lifetime, I have come to learn that most conspiracy theories are pure hokum, but, at the time, I was at least open to the possibility. Robert Ludlum was still alive at the time and maybe he was just doing it as research for his next Jason Bourne novel.
Mrs. Clinton better hope that she was wrong back then. Just imagine what that Hate Machine could do after 20 years of unchecked exponential growth of right-wing mendacity, screwball economics, war-mongering, obstructionism, and just a touch of racism thrown in for flavor. That woman would be in deep doo-doo if she ever tried to do something crazy, like run for president.
I was thinking about it the other day and I was about to toss the whole "right-wing conspiracy" thing in the trash heap of silly notions once and for all. But then I saw a report on the supposed movement to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour. It was then that I realized that the aforementioned conspiracy exists. Who else would be crazy enough to convince people who work at fast-food places that they deserve to be paid more than beginning teachers? Only really greedy rich people who believe that there should be no minimum wage whatsoever would try to pull off such a stunt. It's actually quite brilliant in a really sinister way.
A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that 75 percent of all Americans (including a majority of Republicans) support an increase in the minimum wage to around $10 an hour. The most economically sound minimum wage in history—that of $1.60 in 1968—extrapolates to $8.54 in 2014. President Obama has called for $10.10/hour, while The Economist (not exactly a liberal rag) wrote that, given how rich the U.S. is, "One would expect America ... to pay a minimum wage around $12 an hour."
Something about that number 15 causes me to bristle. I've concluded that one of two things (or perhaps a combination of the two) has happened. In somewhat simplistic terms, the meltdown of 2008 happened when banks and corporations took advantage of bad government policies (deregulation, a silly push for low-cost housing) and ran with them as far and as fast as possible before the tsunami of bad credit hit.
After that, while the politicians ducked for cover, the banks and others decided to take advantage of the crappy economy they had helped make by squeezing every penny possible out of those at the bottom. That included making sure that their sycophants in Congress didn't raise the minimum wage. Maybe after years of working for artificially suppressed wages, the guy flipping the burger just snapped and came up with the crazy-ass number of $15.
Or, perhaps the people in the conspiracy decided to use divide-and-conquer tactics. Knowing that the average American supports an increase in the minimum wage, they came up with the idea of throwing out talk of $15 an hour, realizing that even responsible Democrats would blanch at such nonsense.
And nonsense it most certainly is. With all due respect (and I always try to make a point of not insulting the people who are touching my food), many people who work at fast-food places do so for a reason. It's not like they got out of college and said, "What should I do now? Should I go to work at Raytheon or the Burger Barn?"
When I was young, working at a fast-food place was a rite of passage, an entry-level job that helped teach valuable lessons of discipline, hard work, and the management of both time and money. (My entry level job was cleaning the toilets at the local elementary school. I dreamed of moving up to a fast-food job.) These days, a lot of fast-food workers are adults, many stuck there due to bad decisions made earlier in their lives.
I'm sorry, but I visualize some of these people, in younger days, sitting in a classroom, using a pen to etch the words L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E on their knuckles, while other kids in the class were actually learning stuff. And those who learned stuff used that stuff to get into college, where they learned more advanced stuff that, upon completion of their studies, qualified them for jobs that paid $15 or more an hour.
A few months back, there was a $15 rally here in Tucson. I talked to one of the older guys, perchance to get a column out of it. I asked him why he thought he deserved $15 an hour for what he did.
He said, "I've got two kids." Good for him for working, but that didn't answer the question.
"What about your wife?"
"I'm not married."
"What about your kids' mother?"
"There are two of them."
"You realize that you're writing this column for me."
It reminds me of the early days of hip-hop, when rappers would say, "I'm bad! I'm bad! I ain't done sh-t to make me bad. I'm just bad 'cause I say I'm bad."
There's my toned-down rant about the $15 an hour minimum wage. Please note that it doesn't apply to people who work at Popeye's Chicken.