Thursday, August 10, 2006

Looking at Justice via the scope of some local news, pt. 1

Like most of the post-Watergate generation, I'm not a big fan of the political game. I consider myself neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal, conservative nor moderate. I suppose I do fit somewhere in there, closer to one side than another in general. But, I tend to think of myself as an advocate of social justice, which, despite their claims of compassion, caring or service, neither party gives a rip about.

And the issues are usually more difficult than polarizing political polemics can more than conjure. I'll give two issues that were addressed in the Chicago news yesterday.

1) The Big-Box Ordinance. The mayor is fighting with city council about this proposal that he may or may not veto. So are big box companies (such mega-area outlets as Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes, etc.), many of which are planning on moving proposed - and even already functioning and thriving - stores from Chicago proper to the suburbs. The ordinance will force such big-box companies (with 90,000 sq. ft and annual sales of over a billion dollars, according to my regular news source, Red Eye) to pay employees at least $10 an hour plus $3 in benefits (health, et. al.). The mayor, some business bureaus and certain aldermen are concerned because the advent of Wal-Mart into blighted areas of the city means jobs right on the front. People with little to no experience and training can get full or nearly full time jobs. Construction would also be in an upswing.

But, much like building prisons, the long-term downturn is worse than the immediate upturn would have us believe. Wal-Mart, especially, is parasitic. (Click here for the "JibJab Big Box-Mart" video. Note: You need to open in crappy IE window.) It already receives gobs of tax relief for opening new locations, and is quite good at squashing the competition. For instance, my parents live in a town in north-eastern Oklahoma. For the first ten or so years they lived there, they would do their regular shopping at the local supermarkets. And then the local Wal-Mart shut-down upon completion of its Super Wal-Mart neighbor. Complete with a grocer's area. It only took a couple of years before all of the other supermarkets shut down.

Could this happen in super-blighted places like Englewood or Austin? (Blighted, btw, being just a comparison to more middle-class and affluent neighborhoods, spec. in Chicago. Not to, say, Haiti.) Sure. But the jobs coming in could make it worth it. Could. If they pay well enough. Wal-Mart is notorious for paying near minimum-wage sans benefits. The ordinance calls for them to raise their pay to a living-wage rate. It says, in effect, that the city and county shouldn't have to burden the whole cost of health and welfare of its working citizens (when I was working for near minimum-wage w/o health benefits, it was understandable. I could deal with a couple years - being single, young, male and healthy - without such health care. But when you're raising a family in the city, it's a different animal altogether). Wal-Mart is the biggest retail company/corporation in the world. They can't afford to pay their workers $13/hour? That's like BP saying that they have to raise gas prices again. Huh! What a crazy world.

I used to hate the strong-arm tactics of the unions. But now I see an anti-union powerhouse putting a stranglehold on the city of broad shoulders. I think the reason that I haven't heard Home Depot raise a stink about this is because they already pay their workers at least ten an hour (this from an old roommate who worked for them part-time in the late '90s. I would assume they've raised their wages since then). So, it's not that big a deal. And their workers aren't necessarily that experienced either.

2) A fourteen year old got shot by police the other day in the quickly closing Cabrini Green projects near downtown. The kid was brandishing a bb gun that looks remarkably like a real pistol, according to police reports and the picture they posted in the news yesterday. Police said that they told the young man to drop his weapon but he refused, steadily aiming at them. They shot and severely injured him. Residents are protesting and marching.

The question I would ask is why they are marching. Not that it's not justified. Distrust between low-income blacks and police in big cities like Chicago is well-grounded and deeply scary. Just because the police say that they told the youth to drop his weapon doesn't mean they actually told him to before they shot him. Regardless, I think that most people in such a situation would be justified in firing. Especially in the high-fear climate in such an area.

It's the climate, however, that's prompting the response. Much as in the case of O.J. (Nobody believes that Simpson didn't do it. Please! He killed 'em and he liked it. But the obvious racism parlayed by the arresting officers and the racist and covering trends of the LAPD made a hero of The Juice, despite obvious class and guilt issues.) Residents of the Greens are being evacuated from the only homes many of them know - largely by a confluence of wealth and politics - and many of the remaining have yet to find a new residence. Or, rather, the powers that be have yet to find residence for them, despite their earlier promises. And those who remain are finding that, in general, the police are more responsive to their affluent neighbors' needs than they have been to them. The residents of the Greens have every right to rally and protest, for up to this point, they were looked at as if they lived in Fort Apache: The Bronx, or on the set of Escape from New York.


  1. It's funny to hear companies say they can't pay their workers more without having to raise prices, yada yada yada. CostCo is just one example of a company that has low prices while still paying its workers a fair wage. And because they are a better company to work for, they have very low turnover, which in turn saves the company a lot of money (they also, if I remember correctly, don't do any advertising).

    Wal-Mart is bad news all around. Besides the crap wages, they force other companies to keep lowering prices on their products, which has very bad economic implications. And Wal-Mart workers are something like the biggest percentage of people on state healthcare programs. I'd highly recommend watching the documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, if you haven't seen it already.

    On another note, where's this soup kitchen you volunteer with? I've been looking for a soup kitchen or food pantry to work with. Email me details if you want...

  2. funny? like HaHa funny? funny, like a clown funny? do i AMUSE you, wasp jerky?

    i gotta stop saying that EVERY TIME someone says something's funny.

    yeah, i know. i was looking for that jib-jab video on the big-crap-box to put in here.

    the soup kitchen's at my church. 1137 N. Leavitt - in chicago near division and western. every saturday for several hours around noon. see if i can find your email on your site.


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