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Who Really Benefits From Raising Minimum Wage?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar. They're both with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. From Boston, Neil Minkoff. He's a former primary care physician and contributor to National Review. He's also a health care consultant now. In Southern California, Gustavo Arellano. He's writer of the syndicated "Ask a Mexican" column and also author of "Taco USA."

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

NEIL MINKOFF: What's up, man?

IZRAEL: All right. All right. Well, let's get things started with a pretty serious story. Medical examiners confirmed that rogue cop Christopher Dorner died at the Big Bear Mountain resort town on Tuesday. Authorities believe Dorner killed four people before officers cornered him in a cabin there, but the story gets deeper than that. Michel, could you set this up for us?

MARTIN: Yes. Actually, we started the program by talking about this with NPR correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates, who brought us up to date on what Dorner's specific grievances was. We wanted to get you all to sort of weigh in on this. He says that he was acting out of revenge after being fired by the LAPD. He says that he delivered what authorities believe is an authentic manifesto, reportedly written by him, himself, and it outlines his grievances, including what he says was a culture of racism that was perpetuated, not just by white officers, but by, you know, officers of color, as well. He also does name people who says were supportive of him.

But LA Police Chief Charlie Beck says that he's going to reopen the investigation into the specific event that led to Dorner's dismissal and this is why, according to LAPD spokesman, Commander Andrew Smith. Here it is.

ANDREW SMITH: Well, the chief was very clear when he spoke about that and he's not opening it because of the accusations or because of the musings of someone who's a multiple murderer now. He's doing it because he wants to ensure that the public knows that the Los Angeles Police Department is fair and transparent.

IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks for that, Michel. Now, you know, I don't know about you guys, but I've been hearing some strange responses from people I've talked to all over the Twitterverse and on Facebook. Gustavo, before we get to that, this all started in Irvine, California, which is right by you. What was it like being there while everything was going down?

GUSTAVO ARELLANO: Oh, man, this whole case has been absolutely insane. First, you had the murder of two basketball coaches, one from Cal State Fullerton, one from Concordia University here in Orange County. They were engaged to be married and everybody was wondering. It just seemed like such a random death. Then, a couple of days later, this manifesto starts popping up and then you have, like, one of the biggest manhunts in Southern California history and this guy who - you know, Dorner, who seemed to evade all sorts of capture.

And what a lot of people are getting upset about, though - of course, you know, the murders, the senseless murders of not just police officers, but innocent people.

IZRAEL: Right.

ARELLANO: But a lot of people were also upset that he has turned into a folk hero. You know, on the Mexican side of the world, the (foreign language spoken), you know, Mexican ballads. They're being written in his honor. There's rap songs being written in Dorner's honor. You have all these memes, all these Facebook pages and people really can't understand why.

First of all, it's part of American lore to go for the anti-hero. We have songs dedicated to Pretty Boy Floyd and Al Capone in the past and, more importantly, though, what Dorner - I'm not excusing his actions at all, but what he did was criticize a department that, nowadays, you can't criticize anymore. You really can't criticize the LAPD. They're always going to come out and say, hey, we're not like the LAPD of the past, so you should like us. But there's still so many stories of - if not out and out corruption, like in the old days, they're still like the - you know, hey, somebody frisked me just because, you know, I was driving while black or driving while brown. So, in that sense, Dorner tapped into this rage that is still prevalent here in Southern California.

IZRAEL: So - and I appreciate that, Gustavo, but more than that, for me, when I was seeing a lot of the people kind of romanticizing his thing, it spoke to - for a lot of people of color, I think - that helpless feeling you feel when you've lost a job for no cause of your own. You feel like your name, the only thing you truly own, has been smeared and you don't know what to do behind that and I think a lot of people of color identify.

And, before we go much further, I got to express my condolences to the families of the people...

ARELLANO: Of course.

IZRAEL: ...that have been impacted by this - essentially, I mean, he was a murderer, but a lot of people identify with that feeling of helplessness and hopelessness and not having anything to lose by trying to clear the only thing you have or you feel you have of value, which is your name.

Also, this gets back to the first blaxploitation hero, "Sweet Sweetback," - shout out to Mario and Melvin Van Peebles - who famously was on the run after allegedly shooting a cop. So I mean there's all kinds of reasons why Dorner's story got romanticized. But I think a lot of people just identify with that idea of, you know, keep trying to hold onto and save your good name.


IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I understand all of that, but I really have a problem with this growing concept of vigilante justice here in the United States. You know, Michel and I were emailing back and forth this week and, you know, there were Facebook groups that totaled over 7,000 people, you know, saying things like we...

MARTIN: It's up to 24,000 now.



IFTIKHAR: I mean and saying things like, you know, we support Chris Dorner and things like that. And, you know, as Gustavo mentioned, you know, two of the first people that were murdered by Dorner were Monica Kwan and her fiance Keith Lawrence, in their car, in their apartment complex because Dorner didn't like the way that Monica Kwan's father treated him in the police department. And I think that, you know, the more we lionize, you know, vigilante murderers, it really is a slippery slope in terms of, you know, the next time, you know somebody, quote/unquote, "goes postal" in a workplace because of a grievance they might've had. And, you know, people who talk about, you know, they like Dorner because he was quote/unquote, "fighting the power," there are other ways to fight the power than committing murder.

MARTIN: But this isn't limited to the left. I mean the fact is - are people who sort of are the minority community. What about the guy who flew a plane into the IRS...

IFTIKHAR: Right. Joe Stack.

MARTIN: ...into the satellite office...

IFTIKHAR: In Austin.

MARTIN: ...in Austin and, you know, a member of Congress expressed, you know, sympathy for him and said that he understood his, you know, grievances. What about the fact that, you know, another member of Congress invited Ted Nugent, who's, you know, a rocker and whatever, made these comments implying that violence was, you know, an appropriate way to express disagreement with President Obama's...

IFTIKHAR: To deal with it. Ruby Ridge.

MARTIN: ...policies that he didn't like. And he was invited as a guest of this member of Congress to sit in the Congressional Gallery during the State of the Union...


MARTIN: ...even after the Secret Service had had a little chat with him about what he said. So I guess so what I'm saying, maybe we just, you know, forgive me. Dr. Minkoff, maybe want to talk about this. America, maybe just we - there's a certain portion of America that just loves crazy.

MINKOFF: Well, I was going to go a slightly different way and I was going to say that I think that we need to pull the politics as much as possible out of this because it's clear that there is a certain level of person where it doesn't really matter what the provocation is and which direction it's coming from, they're going to have these outside reactions. What I think is fascinating is the fact that Twitter and Facebook and the Internet have given the people who support that anti-heroism a home. I mean back in the day, Charlie Manson used to get fan letters and marriage proposals by mail but they couldn't form a community. Now these people can form a community and once they form one they get more people joining, which is how it jumped from 7,000 to 24,000. And...

MARTIN: That's an interesting point. But can I just ask you this though, does, for the people who have legitimate grievances against the LAPD - and I have no way of knowing how widespread they are, how legitimate they are, does this do more harm than good?

MINKOFF: Well, I think so. I mean I think...

MARTIN: What do you think? No, I asked Neil, what do you think?

MINKOFF: I mean I think it does and I think it gets to what the spokesman said in the clip that you played, which is we're not going to open this to find out what happened. We're going to open this to show that nothing happened. And so...

MARTIN: But that's, but why is that - but how is that justice, though?

MINKOFF: Oh, I'm not saying it is, but I'm saying the opposite.


MINKOFF: I'm saying that what this is doing is giving - is putting the walls up even higher and giving people in power an opportunity to do more to cover up.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: What does Gustavo think about this, since you're out there?

ARELLANO: Yeah, I mean I really think Dorner messed up hugely, not just in the murders, but even in his action. If he wanted to be this vigilante or trying to go against the LAPD, that's the worst possible action he could've done. I wish Dorner, if he had grievances, that he would've gone to the media. He lived in Orange County. You know, we're the editor, we're famous in our community for going after corrupt cops and although that's the LAPD, we would've taken those allegations seriously, just because we know how police institutions run. We know what happens to whistleblowers within police departments. Killing people is not the way to fight the power...


ARELLANO: ...because, you know, if you want to take the really leftist paranoid perspective, then the powers are just going to clamp down even more on you. You have to be up front. Like organizations like Copwatch, you know, that are always exposing police corruption or, you know, police brutality, that's what you need to do, not killing people. That, yeah, that's just horrible.

IZRAEL: I totally absolutely he should of went to the media, Gustavo. But, you know, the media could not have given him back his good name. And again, I'm not justifying what he did. I'm just saying...

MARTIN: Why can't they?


MARTIN: Whistleblower, what are you talking about? All kinds of whistleblowers have...

IFTIKHAR: You can file...

IZRAEL: Nah. It was...

IFTIKHAR: You can file...

ARELLANO: No. I get what Jimi's saying.

IFTIKHAR: You can file defamation lawsuits. You can file false life suits. You can, you know, file civil rights claims. I mean there are a lot of legal recourses that people can take. And I think that in this light, you know, the LAPD is going to have a little bit of political buffer now in the future because of the fact that, you know, this whole, you know, escapade happened.

MARTIN: Well, isn't the media the only thing that does give you back your good name, in essence?

IZRAEL: I would disagree with that.

MARTIN: Well, OK. Well, if you're just joining us, we're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, National Review contributor Neil Minkoff. He's also trained as a primary care physician, and author and columnist Gustavo Arellano.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Well, the Dorner chase kind of, it certainly threatened to overshadow the other big story earlier this week: President Obama's State of the Union speech. He outlined a lot of big plans, as usual, including raising the minimum wage, nine hours - to $9 an hour. But not everybody was clapping.

MARTIN: No. It....

IZRAEL: We got some tape, right?

MARTIN: No, this is actually, it's interesting. This is one of the things I think I'm getting a lot - the most mail about, pro and con, this week even though there are a number of other things in the speech, obviously. He argued that this is necessary to keep up with the cost of living expenses. This is what Republican House Speaker John Boehner had to say about it.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens. You get less of it. At a time when the American people are still asking the question where are the jobs, why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?

MARTIN: I don't know why he didn't just quote my mom, you can't get blood from a turnip.

IZRAEL: Right. Right.

MARTIN: That always works.


IZRAEL: There's that. To me - thank you for that, Michel. And for me, it just occurs to me as a pacifier. I'm sorry, as a Band-Aid and a pacifier. A-Train, I'm sure as the Obama supporter of the group, you feel differently. But does the speaker, does he have a point?

IFTIKHAR: Well, first of all, let me finish awkwardly drinking my water, like my name was Marco Rubio.


IFTIKHAR: You know the...

MINKOFF: I was going to make that joke.

IFTIKHAR: ...there's a...

ARELLANO: I'm the Latino here. I should have done that.

IFTIKHAR: There's a big difference - I think people need to understand, you know, there's a big difference between a minimum wage and a living wage. A living wage, you know, most countries have found is the minimum income that you can make - that you should make in order to be able to pay rent and groceries and things like that.

IZRAEL: Right.

IFTIKHAR: You know, right now the minimum wage worker makes about $14,500 a year, which is below the poverty level. There was a joint letter that was signed onto by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, and Nobel laureate and economist Joseph Stiglitz, which actually said that increasing the minimum wage has little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum wage workers and that actually, it could, you know, raise demand and job growth. And so I think what we're seeing here is a lot of politics being played.

You know, there was a study done in...

MARTIN: I'm shocked.


IFTIKHAR: ...2011 which showed that if Wal-Mart paid all 1.4 million of their employees a living wage of $12 an hour, that would only result in customers - and every penny was passed onto the customer - it would result in only a 46 cents per trip increase for $12 a year. And we all know that people save a lot more than $12 a year at Wal-Mart.


MARTIN: All right, Neil, what do you think?

MINKOFF: Well, I mean this is one of those issues where I think you kind of breakdown to core beliefs and there's, you know, for the study that was just quoted, you know, there's Professor Newmark at the University of California at Irvine, who has spent, you know, years studying this and come to the exact opposite conclusion. And I don't pretend to be enough of an economist to know which one is correct. I know that I kind of have a gut reaction that my, you know, stuff that's more expensive is more expensive and therefore becomes more scarce. You know, I think that what I would prefer, frankly, is if word talking about the cost of living adjustment, what can we do to make the cost of living go down? And the cost of living is up because of a whole bunch of things, and one of them is for example, energy prices that are as high as they've ever been. I'd prefer to reduce the cost of living than to go after the wage.

IZRAEL: Gustavo, your column...

ARELLANO: Yeah. No, that...

IZRAEL: Your column is "Ask a Mexican" So I guess I'm going to have to do that. You know, I mean I know the minimum wage in the county is like eight bucks. You know, is the $1 going to make a whole lot of difference?

ARELLANO: Yeah. I mean us Mexicans, we know how to live frugally and with next to no money. All that said, I think it worries me that Obama, I mean I think it's very telling of where we are as a country right now, that Obama is focusing on raising the minimum wage. That shows that there's a lot of people making the minimum wage, which for me is very worrisome as a nation. We, you know, as Neil was saying, we need something that not only is going to lower the cost of living down, I mean gas - oh God, gas prices right now, they've been on the rise for 25 straight days here in Southern California. We're paying, I think what is it, $4.50 gallon right now. It's impossible. And at the same, yeah, it's horrible. But at the same time, you know, we need better jobs that are going to give instead of minimum wage jobs, we need jobs that are going to be able to get people not $9 an hour or even $8 an hour, but $12, 15 hours, that living wage increase.

Out here the unions, whenever they negotiate with, you know, with their contractors, they're not getting minimum wage. They're saying we need a living wage.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

ARELLANO: We're not, you know, we're not trying to push everyone immediately into the middle class, but we can't have them living in poverty, especially given how high the cost of living is today. So for Obama to focus on that, that's...


ARELLANO: That worries me.

MARTIN: I have a theory and my theory is that this is really about jawboning the business community, which has been doing extremely well over the last couple of years. I mean people call it the Obama bull market. I think he's jawboning the business community to spread some of that money around.

IFTIKHAR: Well, and also...

MARTIN: I don't think he's about - no, that's my theory.

IFTIKHAR: What most people don't realize is that the federal minimum wage has not been raised in three years. And for the first time, President Obama is actually saying that we should also increase the minimum wage for tipped workers, so waiters, waitresses and baristas, which hasn't been changed in 20 years. You know, and so as the standard of living continues to go up, you know, low income wage earners' wages have remained virtually stagnant and not even indexed for inflation, which would be after the $9 increase.

IZRAEL: You know, one thing I'm a big critic of Obama, but I'm happy to see that he's got poor people on the agenda. Now that made his stock go up in the Izrael house as far as I'm concerned.

ARELLANO: Mm-hmm. That's true.

MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, you know, it's been a sad week for wrestlers. Good week for LeBron fans. The International Olympic Committee, or the IOC, announced this week that they're eliminating wrestling beginning of 2020. On the approved list of sports, there was handball, sailing, table tennis and badminton. And I know you're a fan, Jimi, of badminton in particular. How sad are you? But on the upside, LeBron is in the history books now and will be appearing at the NBA All-Star game this weekend. So which of those things is most important to you, Jimi? I'll just ask you this question, the sadness about wrestling or the LeBron victorious, showing that he really is King James?

IZRAEL: Well, I mean he always was King James to the extent that I mean he brings the ability and the demeanor to be a champion. Whatever his personality is is whatever, but I'm certainly happy about that.

MARTIN: I was going to give Arsalan 10 seconds to rep the Celtics, but sorry, we cannot.


IFTIKHAR: That's all right. Go B.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is writer and culture critic. He's an adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. Gustavo Arellano is the author of "Taco USA," and the syndicated column "Ask a Mexican." Neil Minkoff is a contributor to the National Review, and he's also founder of FountainHead HealthCare. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and founder of the themuslimguy.com.

Thank you all so much.


MINKOFF: Thank you everyone.

ARELLANO: Gracias.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.


MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.