Friday, May 29, 2009

Sotomayor Just Another Latin Bigot

Like many Americans, I'm deeply offended by the assertion of Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, that race and gender are central to the quality of one's jurisprudence. And as an American of Mexican ancestry, I am embarrassed that yet another member of "La Raza" has demonstrated such narrow-minded ethnic chauvinism. Of course, this most cynical of administrations will downplay Sotomayor's bigotry as empathy and compassion for underrepresented, historically oppressed people. Nonsense.

I'm sad to say that a lot of leading Hispanics seem to be stuck in some bygone era when it comes to issues of race and gender. Their mestizo race gives some Hispanics an inflated sense of pride and uniqueness, and encourages a powerful feeling of "us" versus all the various "thems" of this multi-ethnic society. Predictably, ethnic demagogues exploit this sentiment to devastating effect, undermining assimilation, subverting effective education, and encouraging caustic identity politics.

As a centrist Democrat in college, I constantly had to defend myself against attacks from other members of Hermanos Unidos when I'd stand up for America's right to defend itself against terrorism, or took exception to another member's hate-filled celebration of the death of Ronald Reagan. Rejecting arguments that the U.S. was responsible for the perpetual dysfunction of Latin American governments, I was accused of "white washing." At every turn, my fellow Hispanics took me to task for defending "gringos" and showing too little respect for La Raza.

Hermanos Unidos quickly lost its initial appeal.

Ethnic identity is a tricky thing. On the one hand, it gives us so much to savor, and provides a space for us to exist as members of a whole instead of as atomized individuals in an impersonal society. On the other hand, too much emphasis on identity leads to exactly the kind of intolerance and arrogance Sotomayor has demonstrated -- a dismissive insolence that belittles or even writes off other people altogether. Hardly commendable examples of the empathy and compassion Obama claims to expect from his nominee.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Union Killing Jobs

The San Francisco Examiner carried an article this morning about the budget problems for two of the Bay Area's largest mass transit agencies, BART and Muni. Not surprisingly, the agencies are burdened with bloated union contracts that make their unskilled workers very highly paid even while shielding those workers from too much actual work.

Two union rules are especially dumb. One restricts the number of BART's track maintenance workers who can be brought in on weekends to no more than 50 percent. Because the lines are so busy during the week, though, and trains run from 4 a.m. until 1 a.m., that leaves only three hours each weekday for actual track maintenance and many hours of idle time. The weekends, with less traffic and shorter operating hours, are a more suitable time to perform maintenance, so BART pays dearly to hire additional workers at overtime rates to come in and do it.

The other really dumb union rule involves forced regression from paperless pay stubs to old fashioned paper ones. The union actually filed a grievance when BART tried to implement a paperless system that would have saved two cents per employee pay stub, not to mention reducing paper and ink waste and preserving carbon-dioxide ingesting trees. The union's stubborn pig-headedness in this case isn't costing the agency much money -- just $64 per pay period based on BART's 3,200-employee workforce. But it is adding a silly cost, and it's out of step with contemporary technology and environmental mores in the Bay Area.

But that's what unions do these days -- add costs without adding value and subvert innovation and efficiency. In this time of local budget cuts, job losses and global recession, it's hard to feel much sympathy for unionized workers who seem intent on killing the goose laying all the golden eggs.