Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What Gets Protected

We've all seen the cop movie where the line between the law and the lawless is practically indistinguishable. The kind which illuminate just how thin the veneer of civilization can be. 

Former Chicago police commander John Burge, if he didn't inspire such movies, certainly lived them.

Burge was a detective who repeatedly crossed that line when he employed torture as a means of extracting confessions from suspects, padding his district's statistics and speeding his presumed ascent to the top of the tree. 

Burge and his henchmen weren't picky: electrical cords, phone books, rubber hoses, guns. Anything would do. Machiavelli would have been proud. 

But a funny thing happened in the midst of Burge's two decade reign of blood-soaked lawlessness. He got caught. He got convicted. And eventually he went to jail.

Mind you, it wasn't a regular jail full of regular bad guys. It was a minimum security one in beautiful North Carolina, full of white-collar guys who cooked books and wrote bad checks. It seems the powers that be just couldn't bear the thought of John running into some former acquaintances.

And despite the prosecution demanding a sentence of thirty years, John received just four and-a-half (of which he served three and-a-half) for his wholesale and violent abuse of authority.

If that isn't offensive enough, know that Johnny Burge is currently living the good life in Florida, courtesy of a $36,000 dollar a year pension despite costing the cash-strapped City of Chicago one-hundred million-dollars in reparations, legal fees and court costs, with many millions more to come.

Despite the cruelty and lawlessness Burge showered his victims with, the Illinois Supreme Court declared it illegal to withhold Burge's pension, saying that to do so would constitute a “fundamental change” of the state's pension code.

And who wants that?

Chicago is desperately seeking revenue enhancements, and has closed four-dozen public schools to cut costs. Aid for the mentally ill, the poor, the elderly, kids with autism and public transportation subsidies—among other things—have been terminated in Illinois.

But John Burge's pension? God forbid.

It's good to know that something is sacrosanct in Illinois.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Punishing the Poor

Who among us hasn't boarded a cruise ship bound for a leisurely two-week crawl around the Mediterranean only to find the ship overbooked and stuffed with—horror of horrors—poor people?

Kansas governor Sam Brownback and the Kansas state legislature evidently have, and being in a position to do something about it, have. People receiving public aid in Kansas may no longer use those monies to take two-week cruises around the Mediterranean. Or the Caribbean. Or South America. Or even to Alaska.

Yes, poor people of Kansas, your globe-trotting days are over.

If not for the fact Republicans are involved, you, the informed and highly intelligent reader of the Square Peg, might think I was heading off on yet-another excursion of mirth. Or that I had pilfered this story from the good people at the Onion.

Sadly, the answer is no.

This is true. This is real. This is what constitutes an urgent and critical issue for the elected representation of the Great State of Kansas. On the ever-increasing list of crimes the citizens of the United States can be accused of, poverty is the newest entry.

It isn't enough that you suffer a sub-standard education, or endure insufficient housing, wide-spread discrimination and the insidious effects of growing up in a place as bereft of hope as the ghetto.

No.

Every cent you spend will now be subject to approval by wealthy white guys (i.e. the Kansas state government) who are in a snit because the money earmarked for your selfish and inconsiderate need of food and shelter might have been used to purchase another share of Google stock.

The great irony is that small-government adherents are somehow going to monitor each and every purchase each and every poor person in the state of Kansas makes to ensure no forbidden camisoles or illicit Snickers bars are purchased.

Never mind cruise ship tickets.

Perhaps I'm a libtard after all, because this doesn't make any sense to me on any level. In a state as strapped for cash as Kansas, how is this even going to be enforced?

Is Brownback is going to ask cashiers to deny these purchases? 

You will kindly ignore that most of them are a paycheck away from being on public aid themselves, and aren't likely to be sympathetic with the governor's punish-the-poor agenda.

Is Kansas going to demand that small business owners and retailers purchase and install the technology necessary to ban the sale of blacklisted items once a public aid debit card is swiped?

Neither sounds very business-friendly or small government-y, Governor. In fact, they sound remarkably similar to the invasive, business-choking regulation you regularly blame Democrats for.

Perhaps Kansas taxpayers will be on the hook for it.

Brownback claims this will make people self-reliant at the same time it makes Kansas more business-friendly. 

But like the poor trapped in Brownbackistan, I'm not buying it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lifted by Gravity

It's as far-fetched as hearing the words “traffic shortage” during the evening rush hour report, but yes, there is a CEO with a conscience in the United States of America. 

Really.

Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price takes income disparity seriously. As he does the oft-repeated fact that the average American CEO makes three-hundred times what their employees do.

So Price decided to do something that would make a real and tangible difference. Instead of making a tax-deductible donation to the local art museum, he gave his employees (even those who don't sit on the company board) a raise.

A great, big, fucking raise.

The minimum wage at Gravity Payments is now seventy-thousand dollars a year.

Shockingly, Gravity has neither gone out of business nor has Price declared bankruptcy.

It is obvious Price is hoping to foster employee loyalty and some off-the-charts PR for his firm. Of course, only time will tell if Price's self-administered pay cut will pay off in increased productivity and allegiance to his company.

But it's hard to believe in these days of Fight for 15 that employees won't take a salary which more than doubles that to heart (if not to mortgage lenders, car dealerships and big ticket appliance stores).

You wonder if the remaining captains of industry see the benefit.

Gravity's web site is still accepting applications. Seattle suddenly seems like a very sunny place, indeed.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Looking for the Next Best Thing

So it begins again. Hillary Clinton has announced another run for president. I wish her well. 

I admire her persistence. Knowing the torrent of abuse she will face not only from her opponent, but from the party backing him leads me to question if not her sanity, the forces driving her to attempt this.

After her husband's participation in the wholesale transfer of our nation's economy to the venal ghouls of Wall Street and the putrid souls manning our corporate banks, I can't quite call myself a fan.

But when the alternatives are named Bush, Cruz, Huckabee, Paul and Rubio, I don't have to be. Anyone for nominating the Warren Zevon number mentioned above as the campaign's official song?

She is saying and doing all the right things; making an effort to touch base with what remains of the middle class and ditching the approach that assumed the nomination was hers in 2008.

But without a viable Democratic challenger, you wonder how long she will feel the need to pay lip service to these things.

Still, it would be awfully fun to rub Republican noses in it, and watch them struggle with the twin realities of A.) a female president and B.) one with the name of Hillary Clinton.

Their expressions of contempt for Obama would be rendered mere dress rehearsals next to the howling derision they hold for anything named Clinton.

Here's hoping a multitude of GOP strokes and coronary episodes are the happy result.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Hard Left to the Middle of the Road

It's always a big deal when you find yourself cheering Wal-Mart and Apple, and discover that NASCAR is capable of representing something other than mindless flag-wavers and corporate sponsors.

How uplifting it is to see some of the most-powerful entities in America strike a blow for humanity in the face of odious and toxic legislation.

Yes, the conservative Christian wet dream of government-sanctioned discrimination for anyone who doesn't look and act exactly like you was waylaid by entities traditionally better at exploiting humanity than enabling it.

But how is it that conservative Christians, supposedly immersed in tolerance and love, can't show either? How is it that this seething and petulant minority obtains the political wherewithal to enact such legislation?

I wonder what it says about our government and our elected representation when big business is required to step in and do the right thing. 

Methinks we are in a very bad way.

Let me say that posts to the contrary, I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I am not PC. I'll even admit to suffering occasionally from gay fatigue. On planet La Piazza Gancio, there are several more-pressing issues tearing at the fabric of civilization than whether gays can legally cohabitate.

But hate-based legislation masquerading as religious freedom? That's a big no-no. A great big, ginormous ugh-ugh.

I want the put-upon Christian conservatives of Indiana and Arkansas to experience a real lack of religious freedom. I'd like them to go to Kenya and announce their religious preferences to al-Shabob.

That is a lack of religious freedom. 

Being denied the ability to effectively spit on gays and lesbians is not.

Ignorance is real estate with plenty of room for knowledge. I have the number of a builder if you're interested.