Over the past 40 years, the field of behavioral economics has emerged to explain why humans make irrational decisions. We talk with one of the pioneers of the field to find out what’s behind the choices we make, and how we can use this knowledge for good.
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address, saying he wants to improve the fortunes of the middle class. Pope Benedict XVI says he will resign at the end of the month because his age is making it hard to carry out his duties. And the International Olympic Committee axes one of the oldest sports in the modern games — wrestling — so it can add something new. It’s your turn to share your views on the news.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Your Turn. Start calling, 800-433-8850. It's Your Turn. I'm just the traffic cop, 800-433-8850. You set the agenda with your calls, or you can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, discussing recent events in the new, recent segments of this broadcast or anything else on your mind. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. You drive the conversation. It is Your Turn.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJust a few suggestions. Many of you may have seen President Obama's State of the Union Address this past Tuesday night, first one of his second term. He delivered a message with a strong economic theme calling on Congress to help boost the fortunes of America's middle class. He'd like to see the minimum wage go up to $9 an hour. He said a growing economy that creates good middle class jobs must be the North Star that guides our efforts.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhat do you think? 800-433-8850. That appeal coming in the same week the Washington Post reported on census data showing this region being one of the richest in the country. One in seven households here has an income above $190,000. The question, I guess, it raises, is, what does it mean to be middle class in today's environment? Who is in the middle class and who isn't? 800-433-8850.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe president in his State of the Union speech also talked about improving education at several levels, wants to work with the states to make high quality preschool available to every child in America, wants to redesign the nation's high schools so they teach more science, technology, engineering and math, better equip students for a high-tech economy. What do you think? What do you think about those education priorities? Do you agree that we need to make a bigger push to get children into preschool? 800-433-8850.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe president also talked about making sure that we get immigration reform. And he did, in his most emotional part of the speech, called for a vote on gun control issues, making sure that those issues come to the House of the -- come to the floor of the House of the Senate and that people get the opportunity to see what the vote is. What do you think? You can also send us email to email@example.com.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIA lot of conversation, of course, the night the president spoke because that was the night that, just before the president came on TV, there was the siege taking place in California that involved the former police officer Christopher Dorner that seems to have resulted in his death, he, of course, being accused of killing several people before that occurred. And he has a manifesto that is apparently being widely read and people attempting to make a relationship between that manifesto and his actions and whether or not that manifesto somehow justified his actions. What do you think? 800-433-8850.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd then, of course, the Pope resigned. Eighty-five-year-old Pope Benedict shocking the Catholic Church and the world by abruptly announcing his resignation. It'll be at the end of this month. He says his age and declining strength make him unable to carry out the responsibilities of his position. First time in 600 years that that has happened, the Pope resigning. Some say it sets a precedent that could change the tradition of popes serving for life. What do you think? 800-433-8850.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHis eight-year papacy was not without scandal. His butler was convicted recently of stealing confidential documents that showed up in a tell-all book about corruption inside the Vatican. Victims of sexual abuse by priests say the Pope could and should have done more to stop it. What say you? It's Your Turn. We will start with Bill in Burke, Va. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLGood afternoon. I'll try to keep it very brief. Two things: number one, Mr. Rubio's response. No wonder the Republican Party is in trouble.
BILLI didn't find anything of value in that.
BILLThe other thing is I'd like to hear somebody define what is an assault weapon? Everybody wants to control it or eliminate it, but nobody has defined it.
NNAMDIWhat would be your definition, Bill?
BILLAn assault weapon, I think, is one which is military used, has high rates of fire and therefore a large magazine. And I don't disagree that controlling magazine size is important, but a semiautomatic rifle -- or weapon if you want to call it that -- it has got a legitimate hunting use if the capacity of the magazine is moderate, two, three, four rounds max maybe.
NNAMDII suspect that what I hear you saying is precisely what those who favor gun control, certainly on the Democratic side of the partisan divide, are likely to propose.
BILLWell, can't disagree with them.
NNAMDIAll right. We'll see what happens...
BILLI'm not opting for a machine gun to be out in everybody's hands. That was controlled back, what, in the early '30s?
NNAMDIYeah, but you're looking to see exactly how people define what is considered an assault weapon today.
BILLYeah, I'd like to hear that defined publicly rather than just this generic assault weapon.
NNAMDIRather than just throwing the term around. I completely understand what you're saying, Bill, and maybe some of our callers will be able to provide a more specific and adequate response to that question. Bill, thank you very much for your call. We move on to John in Silver Spring, Md. John, your turn.
JOHNHi there. Yeah, I just wanted to comment on a editorial that Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times this week in which he was talking about Sen. Cantor making statement in Texas about trying to discourage schools in Texas from teaching critical thinking, as that would be bad for children. And I'm trying to understand what possible rationale there could be, at least amongst conservatives, against critical thinking, one of the probably -- to my mind, one of the things that keeps us free and democratic.
NNAMDIWell, I am afraid that I have not yet seen the Krugman opinion piece -- op-ed piece, even though I suspect before the end of this broadcast it will be in my hands and I'd be able to say a little bit more about it. But...
JOHNYeah, it was about two days ago. It was about two days ago, and I wish I had it in front of me. I'm actually away from my house, but -- I mean, it goes on and on, but in effect he was making a comment about Sen. Cantor's opposition to the idea of teaching critical thinking, which I think is an extremely valuable thing for people to have.
NNAMDIWell, I need to see -- I guess then that would be Congressman Cantor, I think. I need to see...
JOHNYeah, Congressman, yes, Eric Cantor.
NNAMDIRight. I need to see what his statement was word for word, so to speak, so that...
JOHNOK. Should I call you back?
NNAMDIWell, no. By the time you call me back, someone will have both Paul Krugman's editorial op-ed piece and that statement in my hands, and I'd probably be able to expand on it. So you know what I'm going to do, John? I'm going to put you on hold so that when we get back to this issue, you will still be available to have this conversation.
NNAMDIWhat I do have in front of me right now is a piece in the New York Times by Erica Goode talking about even defining assault rifles is complicated. And it says, second amendment groups and many firearm owners heatedly object to the use of assault weapon to describe guns that they say are routinely used in target shooting and hunting. The term, they argue, should be used only for firearms capable of full automatic fire, like those employed by law enforcement and the military, which is what our caller Bill seemed to be saying.
NNAMDIThey prefer the term tactical rifle or modern sporting rifle for the semiautomatic civilian versions. They argue that any attempt to ban assault weapons is misguided because the guns under discussion differ from many of the firearms only in their styling. Back to the telephones now. Here is Philip in Washington, D.C. Philip, your turn.
PHILIPHello. Thanks for taking my call.
PHILIPI want to make one quick comment and then ask a question, picking up on your introductory comments about the president's emphasis on middle class advancement...
PHILIP...in the State of the Union and other venues. The first point is that I wish folks would talk about middle income. I think we all probably know families that have modest or low incomes but exhibit much better class than people of much greater incomes. And it also, I think, picks up on the point that family wealth is quite important. You know, people inherit money and the amount you make from work, I think, feeds into a lot of the tax questions. So just a point about semantics that I think is not unimportant...
NNAMDIWell, the other point about semantics, Philip, that I'd like to raise with you is what numerical -- what numbers would you characterize middle income by?
PHILIPWell, I don't know. It's a hard question, but the same question would apply to the middle class. So, I mean, I think it doesn't go directly to the point. But, you know, it might vary by area. We've got other metrics we use in, you know, percent of median income and an area for tax purposes and benefit programs. So it's certainly hard, but, you know, we talk about policies generically, you know, as a pretty loose description. But, you know, the only point there is that it's not about class. It's about income and wealth.
PHILIPAnd then the second point, I was just curious what other people think and would invite comment on is, you know, whether the focus on, you know, middle income advancement, you know, crowds out other really important goals for the government, such as safety nets and helping lower income families to advance. And correcting market failures that, you know, benefit higher income people, those kinds of goals that I think are really quite important.
NNAMDIWell, on this occasion, it has been pointed out that the president in his State of the Union Address did talk about communities in which people find it difficult, using his words, if not impossible to climb out of poverty. And people who have been critical of the president in the past for not addressing that issue found some glimmer of hope for themselves in those remarks. What do you think?
PHILIPOh, I think that's a fair observation. It's correct. And I admire the president for that, too. But, you know, the North Star -- and maybe the North Star metaphor is a really good one because there's lots of stars out there. It's just the brightest one. But I do hope we don't just talk about it.
NNAMDIOK. Philip, thank you very much for your call. Here now is Hal in Columbia, Md. Hal, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HALHi. Talking about the minimum wage...
HAL...once upon a time I was paid $.50 an hour when I was a young man. And I was worth, at that time, $.50 an hour, probably less. As my history has shown on the minimum wage, as it has grown, the people who are being paid the minimum have not benefited because of inflation. It's an artificial wage. So Obama is proposing $9.
HALWhy not $15? Why not $20 an hour? The problem as I see it, especially for small business, it's going to put a lot of people out of work. It's going to put a lot of businessmen out of work, especially since we've gone through a recession, which has been suffocating, absolutely suffocating. And I find it…
HALI just want to make one other comment. I find this easy when you never invested your own money, let's say $100,000, into a business to tell an entrepreneur, a small business person why he should pay what he could afford to pay. And you have no idea what's it like to meet a payroll.
NNAMDIWell, I think I've heard House Speaker John Boehner essentially making those same remarks, and he comes from a small business background himself. But I guess the opposing side, Hal, would say, what then do you say to the person who is trying to raise a family making $7.25 an hour? Do you feel that the entrepreneur in the final analysis, the person who is paying that person, is more important to the economy than the person who is actually doing that work?
HALWell, I'll answer this way. If that entrepreneur has to pay that gentleman $9 an hour and he goes out of business, that gentleman is worse off.
NNAMDIYeah, but the people who...
HALSo you haven't accomplished anything. I'll give you an example...
NNAMDIWell, wait a minute. Let me make the opposing side of the argument again.
NNAMDIYou say that the people who are making the opposing side of the argument will say, so you're saying that in order for the entrepreneur to stay in business, it's OK for somebody to make a wage that's not a living wage.
HALFirst of all, most people who are being paid minimum wage are not head of family or head of household. I have a small business. My average wage is above $9 an hour. Why? Because of market. All right?
HALBecause of market. The people who work for me are not head of household. And if young people come in and work for us, we pay them starting wage minimum. They're not worth $9 an hour. It's just not. If a person wants to get ahead in this world, it comes down to education. It comes down to drive. All right?
HALIt is personal responsibility, and it seems to me we seem to forget what personal responsibility is. Most people are not being paid minimum wage who are head of household, and if they are, I can't help it. That's how the economy is. To put people out of business to help people who, in my opinion, many times can't help themselves, I have no sympathy for them.
NNAMDIWell, finally before we take a break -- and, of course, you'll have the opportunity to respond to this -- for those people who say that, OK, so the majority of people are not necessarily heads of households. But what you seem to be saying is that you have no problem with the people who own businesses, such as yourself, or the people who happen to be in executive positions in corporations making outrageously large sums of money, while people who are going to work every day, working eight hours a day, make a wage that cannot even fully support themselves.
HALFirst of all, I have drawn no salary for four years, so I resent you even insinuating that. That's, one, because of how the business economy is. Number two, if I had a company that I'm generating a million-dollar salary for myself, I certainly could pay more than minimum wage. So I think you're making a fairytale of what the real world is really like.
HALThe real world is a guy who owns a 7-Eleven who's working 14, 15 hours a day. And when he has to hire someone, he can't afford to pay $15, $16 an hour. So if you're going to go into a utopia, why $9 an hour? That's not enough. Why not make it $20 an hour? Why not make it $30 an hour?
NNAMDIIs there any way, in your view, to accommodate both the entrepreneur, the small business owner, and the person who is making...
HALYes. If the small business owner makes a reasonable and good profit, he can afford to pay more money. But the minimum wage -- as I said, the history has not helped the people on minimum wage.
NNAMDIBut wait a minute. I'm curious about this. You say that your -- the people who work for you make $9 an hour as it is but that you haven't paid yourself in four years.
HALNo, I haven't.
NNAMDIIf your business is doing that well, why not?
HALIt's not. It's not doing well. My business is horrible.
NNAMDIWell, how come you're paying your employees more than minimum wage?
HALBecause if I don't, the business goes out of business. My goal was to keep the business, OK, and hopefully things would get better.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for sharing that story with us, Hal, and for offering your opinion. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, it is Your Turn. If you are on the line, hang in there. We'll get to your call. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Your Turn. If you've called 800-433-8850, stay on the line. We will get to your call. If the lines are busy, shoot us an email to email@example.com. Let's move on now to Wayne in Westminster, Md. Wayne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WAYNEYes, sir. I'd like to build on the assault weapons. I think gas-operated weapons, which are, you know, the handguns that are called automatics or gas-operated, the assault weapons, they're gas operated. The military weapons that are fully automatic are gas-operated. This technology is a military technology, does not belong in the hands of the public. It's too dangerous.
WAYNEAnd the only limitation to these weapons is the number of rounds in the magazine, which could be infinite, and the physical ability of the gun to hold together after you've fired 100 or 200 rounds. So I think these -- this technology is much too dangerous to be left in the hands of the public. If you can't cock the weapon between each round, it should not be available to the general public. That's the way I look at it.
NNAMDIWell, Wayne, Janice sent us an email with the Wikipedia entry on assault weapons. It says, "An assault weapon is most commonly defined as a semiautomatic firearm possessing certain ergonomic or construction features similar to those of military firearms. Semiautomatic firearms fire one bullet, round, each time the trigger is pulled.
NNAMDI"The spent cartridge case is ejected, and another cartridge is loaded into the chamber without requiring the manual operation of a bolt handler, a lever or a sliding handgrip. An assault weapon has a detachable magazine. Most assault weapons are rifles, but pistols or shotguns may also fall under the definitions or be specified by name." You'd like to see them all banned, right?
WAYNEAbsolutely. If you can't -- I mean, if you can't defend yourself with six rounds, you know, in a revolver for -- you know, if you can't take that deer down with three or four rounds, you know, in a rifle, then you probably shouldn't be operating the weapon in the first place because you're essentially dealing, you know, bullets all over the place wildly, which is what most people do with those assault weapons, those automatic weapons, those gas-operated military technology weapons. That's what they're doing.
NNAMDIWell, you know, there are people -- Wayne, there are people who oppose your argument who would say, you know, the military and the police have those kinds of weapons. And one of the things that the constitution apparently allows us to do under the Second Amendment, in their view, is to protect ourselves from the incursions of the state. And if the state has those kinds of weapons, those were the kinds of weapons that both the state and the people had at the time when the Second Amendment was written. And so those are the kinds of weapons we need to protect ourselves from those people.
WAYNEYeah, well, the West was won with single-shot weapons and lever-action weapons. The West was won. We annihilated an entire people virtually, you know, with those weapons. We could probably do it with our own population with those types of weapons as well, if that were what we wanted to do.
NNAMDIOK, Wayne. Thank you very much for your call. We move on now to -- hey, John, in Silver Spring, Md.
NNAMDIJohn, I did get the Paul Krugman's piece, but he didn't make any lengthy references to what exactly Congressman Eric Cantor has to say. And when we looked at the Cantor speech, it's very long. Specifically what in that speech were you objecting to?
JOHNOK. Krugman actually mentions that last year the Texas GOP explicitly condemned efforts to teach critical thinking skills because it said such efforts have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
NNAMDIYes, I saw that.
JOHNYes. Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give the caucus a shout-out calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research and also climate change, which it staggers the mind. And what I guess I'm asking is, what kind of -- it's hard to fathom where the GOP and Mr. Cantor are coming from in terms of not only trying to stifle the scientific kind of research, but also to stifle critical thinking itself in students.
NNAMDII do not know -- and hopefully there's someone in our listening audience who can defend the position that Eric Cantor took. As I said, there's -- it's a very long speech. I haven't had the time to go over it all, but hopefully before the end of this broadcast, either by email or by call, someone will provide the argument in support of Mr. Cantor -- Congressman Cantor. John, thank you very much for presenting yours. Here's Rob in Chantilly, Va. Rob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBYes. Hello, Kojo. I wanted to talk about Pope Benedict's resignation. And I think that it's very, very brave of him and also very good of him to decide to resign. Going back a little bit -- two popes back actually, when Pope John Paul I died, there was an emergency kind of reaction because we just had a year of three popes. And John Paul II was selected because he was so young. And unfortunately for him, as he got older and sicker, he -- it looked like he really struggled to do his job as he suffered from Parkinson's.
ROBAnd Benedict was selected because he was Pope John Paul II's right-hand man. And it's kind of an extension of the same kind of fear. And it's really -- he saw his friend -- one of his good friends suffer so much, and he couldn't resign because of his immense popularity. And I think that if this winds up setting a precedent, it will be a very good precedent. I'll take any responses off the air.
NNAMDIWell, before you go, you say you think it will be a very good precedent, by which you mean that it will encourage future popes, if they feel themselves not in an adequate state of health to perform, that they'll be able to step down without significant controversy?
ROBThat, and it will also give the College of Cardinals more time to really select a pope that they feel will be good for the whole of the church, and not to have any kind of knee-jerk reaction as well.
NNAMDIWell, speaking of knee-jerk reactions, have you seen any significant knee-jerk reaction indicating opposition to the pope resigning?
ROBI have seen many, many article and opinion pieces about the pope's resignation, to speak, all over the board. But one of the most poignant ones I saw was comparing it to how only Nixon could go to China. Only a pope as conservative as Benedict could really do this and have no one in the church really argue against it in terms of validity, and to whether it does set a precedence or not.
NNAMDIOK. So you're saying that there is no significant pushback, no significant argument against it because of who this pope is.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. It's Your Turn. You can send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org, try to find an open line at 800-433-8850. Here is Robert in Gaithersburg, Md. Robert, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBERTYes. Thank you. I live up here in Gaithersburg, and I'm very concerned about the president's speech regarding new home construction, improvement of the economy and easing of mortgage loans and how that will affect the environment. New home building does a lot of destruction and deforestation and building on farms, runoff erosion.
ROBERTIf you drive up 270, you'll see all the way up to Fredrick from Gaithersburg, land for sale, farms being sold. And as the construction market improves and the economy improves, we're going to start seeing building and building and building. And I'm very concerned about wildlife habitat destruction. I wanted to throw that out there to the public.
NNAMDIWhat would you consider smart growth?
ROBERTHaving buffers where you've got a development, but you've got a buffer, maybe a, you know, three-by-three mile buffer for wildlife to, you know, live in harmony with people. But not one farm and another farm and another farm, and it goes and goes and goes on a -- you know, with no buffers in between. That's what developers don't concern themselves with. They don't make money unless they develop. And they have no -- seem to have no concern for having a balance to retain wildlife buffers.
NNAMDIOK, Robert. Thank you very much for your call. Last week on this program, we talked about the Justice Department white paper that offers a legal rationale for targeted killings of Al-Qaida operators who are also -- operatives who are also American citizens. The document also talks about high-level officials and imminent threat but doesn't seem to specify who and what those are, or offer any system for reviewing decisions.
NNAMDIA lot of people have complained that the memo does not offer a clear explanation of what's a targetable offense, which leads one to wonder how the U.S. government is deciding when the threat is so serious that it warrants preemptive killing. Is every radical in every organization that says it hates Americans a potential target? Where does it stop?
NNAMDIThe New York Times, in an editorial today, calling for a court for targeted killings or endorsing the call for a court for targeted killings. Last week it says at the confirmation hearing of John Brennan to be the director of the CIA, several senators said they were considering the establishment of a special court similar to the one that now decides whether to approve wiretapping for intelligence.
NNAMDIThe New York Times editorial goes on to say that the establishment of a court would have to be accompanies by clear and public standards for how a suspect can be named an enemy combatant, and a detailed explanation of the process used by the White House and opportunity for the president to demonstrate the transparency that he says he supports.
NNAMDIThe court's work would in turn have to be overseen by Congress as the surveillance court is now. The court would not be expected to approve individual drone strikes. And the executive branch would still be empowered to take emergency actions to prevent an impending attack. What do you think? Shoot us an email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or if you can get through call us at 800-433-8850. It is Your Turn. We move on to Susie in Hagerstown, Md. Susie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SUSIEYes. My comment has to do with the discussion of minimum wage.
SUSIEAll of these Congress people that are against minimum wage, I would like to see them take a pledge to themselves live on minimum wage for six months and then come back and start talking about it again.
NNAMDIWell, you know, there have been legislators here in the Washington area, both in the District and in Montgomery County, along with several other people joining them, attempting to live on $5 a day, which is what they say is available to people who are living with the SNAP program, which used to be known as food stamps.
NNAMDIAnd we had a few of those legislators on the broadcast -- at least one legislator on the broadcast. And they talked about how it gives you an understanding of what those people go through and provide a certain momentum, if you will, for legislation to not only maybe increase the allotment to those people, but also to put programs in place that support those people more. So you think if members of Congress were to live on $7 or so an hour, it would teach them the same lesson?
SUSIEI think it would. I think if they, you know, had to find housing and food and support themselves on, you know, that and they couldn't fall back on their existing homes or anything like that, just go out and find a place to live and life for six months on minimum wage. And then come back to the table and let's discuss it again.
NNAMDIWhat do you think are the chances of that experiment...
SUSIESnowball. Snowball's chance in you know where.
NNAMDIAt least two chances, says Susie, slim and none, right?
SUSIERight. Right. But, you know, the people that are against minimum wage for the majority have never lived...
NNAMDIWell -- well, listen to this...
SUSIE...you know, in minimum wage households.
NNAMDISusie, listen to this email we got from Phillip. "The minimum wage was never intend to be a living wage. It is intended to be a starting wage for a young person or a single important, not a family of four. Not being able to support a family of four on a minimum wage is a ridiculous argument," says Phillip. What do you say?
SUSIEWell, I have a member of my family that has the argument that minimum wage was never meant for service jobs. It was always meant for, you know, like technical jobs.
SUSIEAnd the fact that -- whatever. And it's like I personally have not gone back and read up on the historical implementation of minimum wage, but the reality is we should have a threshold where, you know, people should be able to make -- if they're working, they should be able to make enough that they don't qualify for food stamps, you know?
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your call. If not, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. It's Your Turn.
NNAMDIWelcome back, it's Your Turn. You set the agenda here by calling 800-433-8850. If the lines are busy, shoot us an email to email@example.com or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe was on Capitol Hill yesterday asking Congress for permission to make some changes, the biggest one, ending Saturday mail services. Donahoe says dropping Saturday delivery would save the Postal Service $2 billion a year, much needed savings after the agency lost $15 billion last year.
NNAMDIAccording to a Gallup Poll, two-thirds of Americans do not mind losing Saturday service or seeing post offices close on Saturdays, but the poll did note that the support came more from wealthy and well-educated Americans than from poorer people and minorities. Do you think the Postal Service should stop delivering mail on Saturday even though it would continue to deliver packages?
NNAMDIWhen's the last time you went into a post office? Do you pay your bills and do most of your correspondence online? When's the last time you actually mailed a letter? Shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't send a letter. It will take too long. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. We move on now to Paula in Arlington, Va. Paula, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULAHi, Kojo. Thank you so much. I love your show, and I really wanted to call in and kind of echo the gentleman before that was a small business (unintelligible) wage.
NNAMDIYou are a small business owner yourself, right? Paula, are you there?
PAULAYes, I'm sorry. I'm in a -- on a cell phone. I apologize. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can. Go ahead, please.
PAULAOK. So I wanted to echo the small business owner that was earlier. I have a little more empathy maybe than he did with people that are struggling on minimum wage, but I don't think anyone in the press is really publicizing at all the plight of small business owners. And so I was so happy to have -- hear him, and I can echo his comments exactly.
PAULAI haven't been able to pay myself since the end of 2009 out of my business, and I'm struggling just to not lose it and not have to file bankruptcy and not have to lose my house. But I do. I have to pay my employees more than minimum wage to just get anyone to even accept the job.
NNAMDIAnd so if the minimum wage goes up, your employees, you're saying, will probably want more or not necessarily that your employees will want more, but if the minimum wage goes up, the marketplace will virtually demand that you pay your employees more?
PAULANot necessarily that I have to pay more, because I already pay more, but I think the point is, is that small businesses -- genuinely small business owners cannot afford to pay more, and it won't affect me because I'm already paying more because in the D.C. area people expect to get at least $12 to $15 per hour to even accept a job. I don't know anyone who would work for $7.25 or whatever the wage is to live in this city.
PAULABut my point is, in general, small business strugglers are broken and those of us that even are still in business have nothing left. We have no savings, we can't pay ourselves, and yet we work -- I work seven days a day. I work 16- to 20-hour days. I haven't had a vacation in four years, and all I do is work so I can pay my employees and the bank. That's it. There's nothing for me.
PAULAAnd so I don't think the president, and I don't think anyone in government, and I don't think even many journalists are given any publicity to what it's like to be a small business owner. So my suggestion -- there's ways to fix it. I think it if they want to raise the minimum wage, I'm sort of for it because, since I've been impoverished myself, I know what it's like to be living on nothing. And I do think the minimum wage should be higher.
PAULABut they need to give assistance to small business so they could, for instance, make an exemption if you're below a certain size or if you're below a certain profit, that you're exempt from that. Because I think what's going to happen, they're wanting people to make more, but I think the reality is that most small business that can't afford that difference between $7 and $9, they'll just hire less people, and the owners will take more and more on themselves as I've had to do. So I think the reality is, it's not going to create jobs. It's going to make less jobs.
NNAMDIWell, you know, what's interesting, Paula, is that if such legislation gets passed at all, it will be the result of a process of negotiation. And one can rest assured in that process of negotiation there are those who will be strongly expressing sentiments of small business owners such as you, and so it's entirely possible that if a higher minimum wage becomes a reality, it will be conditional, I guess, observing the same kinds of conditions that you just mentioned under which small business -- under which it would not necessarily apply to some small business owners.
PAULAWell, you'd think so, but you -- that would be common sense, but I don't see any common sense helping -- happening. For instance, in my knowledge in this whole six years of the recession, the only package that I know that came out to assist small business was one federal program, and it was so ridiculous, I thought, who came up with this idea?
PAULABecause it was a thing to let you refinance your loan, but to qualify for it, you had to have not missed a payment in the last 12 months. And so if a small business hasn't missed any loan payments in the last 12 months, they didn't need that assistance. And so those of us that need the help -- and that's the only program I'm aware of that the federal, or even state, and my business is in Maryland -- has come out with to help small businesses.
NNAMDIWell, it seems to me that people like you have to be communicating a lot with their members of Congress, both in the House and in the Senate, to make sure that your voices are heard, that your situation is clarified, and that they take it into account when they get involved with this discussion. I do understand you saying that not a great deal that seems to make sense has been coming out of Congress. And that generally reflects the American opinion about Congress these days. But we can always hope, can't we, Paula?
PAULAWell, also -- but Kojo, I don't think I appreciate you even having this topic on today because I've been waiting and wanting for somebody to do a show and have small business people as guests and talk about the reality of what it's like because...
NNAMDII think you just gave us a show suggestion.
PAULAI'd love to be on. I'll be happy to be a guest on it. I can tell you all about it because I'm going to ...
NNAMDIYou know what I'm going to do, Paula? Because there are other callers waiting, I'm going to put you on hold so that someone can take your information. And when we talk about planning such a show, you will be getting a call from somebody from this show. So thank you very much for your call. It allows me to move onto Jeff in Baltimore, Md. Jeff, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JEFFThis is so great. Thank you so much, Kojo. My question is for anyone to respond to is, how is it not NPR-type news -- and I haven't heard of it, and I want to sic "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" onto NPR. Go get them. How is not news that Dr. James Hansen, who's director for Goddard, NASA and Bill McKibben and the Sierra Club -- and I think Julian Bond might have...
NNAMDIYeah. Well, I've certainly been seeing it and hearing it on the news. The Washington Post reporting today that shortly after noon, D.C. police began arresting the protestors who included actress Daryl Hannah as well as prominent climate scientist James E. Hansen, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, and civil rights veteran Julian Bond.
NNAMDISome of the actors tied themselves to the gates with plastic handcuffs. Others sat and refused to budge despite officers repeated arrests. The headline "Activists Arrested at White House Protesting Keystone Pipeline." That's clearly what you're talking about Jeff, right?
JEFFYeah. We Americans are ready to see Canada turn itself into a tar pit and leak inevitable tar, their fine tar, into our aquifers down here in Nebraska or wherever the pipeline. I mean, there's going to be a rupture somewhere.
NNAMDIWell, you should know that the report in the Washington Post also said the State Department, which has jurisdiction over the permitting decision, will release a draft environmental impact assessment of the project within weeks. The Department issues a final environmental review of Keystone in Fall 2011, but President Obama rejected TransCanada's permit application a year ago on the grounds that a congressionally mandated deadline did not afford the administration sufficient time to weigh the costs and benefits of the project.
NNAMDIResponding to objections that the original pipeline route would jeopardize Nebraska's environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region, TransCanada has rerouted the proposed extension through Nebraska. The state's governor has approved the new route, and that is part of what is under review at the State Department. So what do you say, Jeff?
JEFFKojo? Kojo, thank you so much. My interest is how even NPR -- I'm glad to hear it was in the paper. I haven't seen it. But I did listen to a lot of news this morning on NPR, and I didn't hear mention of those guys. I heard it on Democracy Now -- God bless, Amy Goodman. I just -- I am in a state of shock that we could all be in such denial and not really taking a look at it. It's just not...
NNAMDII'm pretty sure it was on NPR today, whether you heard it or not, because it has been widely covered, I think, in much of the mainstream news media. So you may have just have missed it.
JEFFI must have. But when James Hansen and Bill McKibben and Julian Bond and Robert Kennedy get arrested, somebody should hear about it.
NNAMDIOK. And I think people have been hearing about it. You may have just missed a little bit of it, Jeff, but they just heard about it some more thanks to your call. Jeff, thank you for your call. Here now is Mike in Dunkirk, Md. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEHi, Kojo. Listen, thanks for -- excuse me. Thanks for taking my call. I'm a small business owner, too, and at the beginning of the year, my employees were surprised to see their salaries go -- or their take-home pay go down because of the reversal of the 2 percent break that they got on their Social Security tax.
MIKEAnd they were really kind of shocked by that. Now, what I would suggest -- and I've never heard this idea floated. But as an employer, I pay -- I match their -- well, for the last two years, I've been paying 6.2 percent, while they've been paying 4.2 percent. And -- but there's a limit to what we pay. It goes up to $110,000. Now, most small businesses don't pay their employees up to $110,000.
MIKESo what would be wrong with the idea of continuing to pay everybody -- everybody pays 4.2 percent, and the employers continue to pay 6.2 percent, but remove the cap for only the employees? That would remove the burden of the small business from having any additional increase in the amount of tax burden they may ever have to pay. But it would capture more Social Security income from those who are higher earners and go up, you know, well above $100,000. I had an economist one time who was visiting with us. She was a GW economist visiting. She was a friend of my son's.
MIKEAnd I asked her at the time, you know, when they were talking about privatizing Social Security, and I said, what do you think the fix is to Social Security? And she said at that time -- and this was about 2000. She said, you could probably fix it forever if you raise the income level up to $125,000 today. Now, I wouldn't suggest necessarily doing that, but what I would suggest doing is a freeze on what the employers pay. Keep it at 6.2 percent. They would see no additional burden. But raise it to infinity if need be for the employee.
MIKEMost employees would not see -- would actually see a reduction back to what they were seeing the last two years, and hirers, like I, you know, as opposed to your other small business people you've had on, I actually am taking home a salary. And I would actually see my, you know, go above that $110,000. I would actually continue to pay a burden, you know, based on my income, and I don't see any problem with that.
NNAMDIClearly, this is something that you have given some significant thought to, Mike, and worthy of serious consideration. You know what I'm going to do? Put you on hold, too, because we may need to at least talk with you so that we can get details of your suggestion if we're going to have a discussion on topic. So thank you very much for raising it. On now to Raymond in Woodbridge, Va. Raymond, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RAYMONDHi, Kojo. I was perplexed by the president's second inaugural -- the statement where he says -- I don't have it right in front of me, but not to confuse absolutism with principle. I thought that was an odd thing to say because a principle that isn't based on an absolute is an opinion. And what is...
RAYMONDWhat is the president saying when he says not to confuse absolutism with principle? I think -- he says right after that not to engage in name calling and to use reason, but I don't think the president's being reasonable there. I think he's engaging in some sort of name calling.
NNAMDIAnd what kind of name calling would that be in your view, Raymond?
RAYMONDWell, in my view, he's -- when he's talking about principle, he's talking about his principles or his ideas about how things ought to be or the ideas of the -- if we can use the word liberal aspect of our society. For instance, same-sex marriage rights, he thinks that's a principle. Equality for same sex people is a principle and that -- I get that he's taking a hit at, for instance, the absolutism that you might find in the Roman Catholic church which says that same-sex is a disorder. That's the kind of absolutism he is rejecting in favor of this principle which he says is equality. Another example is...
NNAMDIWell, we're running out of time, but it is clear from what you say, that the president's remarks were open to interpretation. And I think that's what most people do, interpret it in a way that they can best understand. Whether or not that's exactly what he meant, I guess, is a discussion for another time. But, Raymond, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us. Thanks to all of those of you who have participated in this conversation.
NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show," it's produced by Michael Martinez, Tayla Burney, Kathy Goldgeier, and Elizabeth Weinstein, and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff with help with Stephanie Stokes. Brendan Sweeney is the managing producer. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. The man can fix anything. Natalie Yuravlivker has been on the phones. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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