SIGNS OF THE TIMES: Ukiah Unified, beginning in January, will offer dinner and take home snacks “to provide increased food security to children in at-risk schools.” Of which Ukiah qualifies as one. The school district isn't entirely disinterested here; they'll make a few bucks on the program but, like the food stamp program that is crucial to the 40 million Americans who are “food insecure,” the late afternoon meals will feed “food insecure” young people a third daily meal.
THE AVA has been looking all over Ukiah for a room or affordable apartment to rent for our ace reporter, Bruce McEwen. Nothing out there. Even the most flea-ridden fleabags demand upwards of $200 a week, and simple rooms in extremely oppressive homes — “No smoking, no drinking, no visitors, no nothing” — go for more than $500 a month. We thought of Willits, where fleabag motels are even more common than Ukiah, but even these dumps run about $200 a week. Used to be there were cheap rooms, bathroom down the hall accommodations everywhere in the land. Remember downtown Ukiah a few years back? I knew a guy who lived for years above the old Paul's Rice Bowl on North State. Paul owned the whole show, including his and his wife's restaurant on the ground floor. Drove an old Cadillac and undoubtedly died a multi-millionaire. Call him a slumlord, but I'll call him a one-man poverty program. He housed people who no one else would — drinking people mostly — and often received only partial rents from tenants whose first priority was the bottle. Fed them, too, at cut rates in his restaurant. Then there was a fire and that was that. We all know that homelessness is a large and growing problem in every community of any size in the country, and a big part of the reason is the absence of affordable shelter, especially for difficult persons. Here in the bucolic Anderson Valley, for instance, as in every area of Mendocino County, whole families occupy one-bedroom, done-over motel rooms, and that's the high end of the rental market for families whose income hovers about $10,000 short of the official poverty line. Single people are likely to remain shelter-free. Circa 1970, there were still permanent residents living in the old Boonville Hotel, as Eddie Carsey can tell you. He tended bar downstairs and, as I recall, owned the place. Anyway, if you have a rental for one of the best writers in the country, please call 895-3016.
THOMAS E. CROAK (1955-2013) A community memorial service for Thomas E. Croak will be held on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, at 2 p.m. at Town Hall, 363 N. Main St., Fort Bragg. Mr. Croak was Ten Mile Court's long-time Public Defender. A consensus good guy, and a very good attorney, Croak always did his best for the hapless souls he was assigned to represent.
ON DECEMBER 2, 2013, at about 6:45am, Raymond Crevier, 74, of Ukiah was crossing North State Street at Bricarelli Lane when an unknown vehicle struck him and fled the scene causing major injuries to Mr. Crevier who was rushed to Ukiah Valley Medical Center. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the Highway Patrol at 707/467-4040. Ask for Officer Pohl.
RICH WHITE was hired as the County’s Pension Administrator in April of 2012. Formerly an Orange County Sheriff’s Sergeant, and then head of the California Retirement Administrators Association, White got into a tussle with the Board of Supes right after coming to Mendo when he asked the County's Retirement Board to hire an expensive consultant to do his work for him. Initially denied at the instigation of Supervisor John Pinches, White eventually got someone, effectively doubling the cost of his position. Now, according to the agenda for the December 4 Retirement Board meeting, White is leaving after only about 19 months on the (non-)job. Another “executive search” will be initiated after an hour of alloted “discussion” time at the Dec. 4 board meeting.
AS ONE WAG noted: “Oh no! Not Rich White (now richer but not whiter). Now the County will be forced to hire the consultant he hired to replace him! What's his name? Al B. Seeinya? Costa Lotta Moola? Mo B. Spentonmi? Bjord B. Dammed? Ineeda Mo Staphers? But none of those are really as good as Rich White.
BUT THE SUPES won’t be hiring the consultant White hired either. According to the agenda, he’s quitting too.
WE WON'T be surprised to see the Retirement Board bring back Jim Andersen as an expensive fill-in until they can find another “permanent” replacement, who may or may not last for another year and a half.
BANK ROBBERY IN ARCATA
On 12-2-13 at 4:47 PM, the Arcata Police Department responded to Bank of America (697 8th St) on the report of a robbery.
Upon the officer’s arrival, they learned that a white male adult in his mid to late 50’s entered the bank and approached a teller. The man presented a note demanding money. The teller complied with the order and gave the suspect an undisclosed amount of cash. The suspect then exited the business through the west doors. The suspect was last seen wearing a dark colored jacket. He was wearing silver colored headphones around his neck and was clean shaven. The suspect had gray hair that was cut close on the sides and longer on top.
The Arcata Police Department is requesting anyone that may have witnessed the robbery, or have information on the identity of the suspect, to please called the Arcata Police Department at 822-2428
* * *
ON LINE COMMENT: Well, it's nice to see that one of the biggest BANKSTERS in the country is getting some of their own medicine. BofA rips off people every single day! I bet what has happened, is this man has been banking with them since he was a kid, and now that he is older and more vulnerable, BofA has probably steadily taken advantage of him.... Many times! it is well known that as they get older, BofA cares less and less about the years of loyalty they have shown the bank, and often times their loyalty is what the BANKSTERS are counting on. Who would question the bank right?
Basically, Bank of America in this county is a fricken JOKE. We moved our accounts, and I encourage you, the reader, to switch to Coast Central as it is truly local, they are staffed appropriately and you don't feel like you're in a morgue waiting to die... literally, you stand in line so long, you could actually calculate how much of your life you wasted standing there to only get screwed for everything!
Another fact is that they say today, your available balance is xxxx dollars, but then you wake up in the morning to see that you have an overdrawn account, then you call because you are certain you had enough money, and if your available balance was $1000, and they are processing checks you can't see, then that money is already gone and you're screwed, but then they can only force pay your check for a small fee of $35 dollars right?
There is no manager at BofA, the people there can do NOTHING to help you unless you want to put your money in their hands. They do not loan to this community unless you have AAA credit. They will not loan on commercial buildings unless your building is worth 5 million dollars or more.
The one sad irony about this community and BofA, is that a local rich guy has had serious problems paying off his bundled loans of over 150 million dollars, They have a federal case pending against him, and they have his name on the loans and he cant sell his big 7.5 million dollar mansion, and they are additionally trying to unravel several transfers he made to his wife while they were falling behind on the large balloon payments.
STATEMENT OF THE DAY: By the way, one reason for the vulgar orgy of “consumerism” that, in recent years, has turned the Thanksgiving holiday into a sort of grotesque sporting event, is to mount a crude demonstration that our “money” is a viable medium of exchange. The dumbest people in the land are induced to swarm through the merchandise warehouse stores and fight to exchange their “money” for hard goods offered at false “bargains.” I wonder how much of it is a dress rehearsal for what happens in a hyper-inflation? The big mystery in all this remains: where are the people with some institutional power who might stand up and denounce all this perfidy? What has made us such a culture of cowards and cravens that the best we can do is produce a couple of comedians who speak truth to power in the form of jokes. Most of this is not that funny. (James Kunstler)
A 65 YEAR OLD WOMAN had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she had a near death experience. Seeing God she asked “Is my time up?” God said, “No, you have another 33 years, 2 months and 8 days to live.” Upon recovery, the woman decided to stay in the hospital and have a face-lift, liposuction, breast implants and a tummy tuck. She even had someone come in and change her hair color and brighten her teeth! Since she had so much more time to live, she figured she might as well make the most of it. After her last operation, she was released from the hospital. While crossing the street on her way home, she was killed by an ambulance. Arriving in front of God, she demanded, “I thought you said I had another 33 years? Why didn't you pull me from out of the path of that ambulance?” God replied: “I didn't recognize you!”
JEFF COSTELLO comments on half-time shows: Re football fans and halftime shows, I think a lot of research goes into fan demographics, and that determines the nature of the halftime shows. In other words, the shows are tailored to the taste of the fans. I recall in my drugged-out days sitting in a room full of dope fiends - a bunch of scumbags — waiting their turn to score, and thinking desperately, “I am not one of these people.” But there I was. Here in Denver, I see fanatic Broncos fans everywhere. Tough guys, with big pickup trucks and nasty expressions. All wearing the colors, the whole bit. Isn't it odd to see a guy wearing a shirt with someone else's name on it? Manning, or whoever. Don't they have a self? Finally, I can truthfully say, “I am not one of these people.” Check out George Carlin's bit comparing the subtleties of baseball with the militaristic brutality of football.
A READER WRITES: “Regarding the KZYX Board and upcoming elections: I'll never forget the phrase used by a former Fort Bragg Senior Center manager from Sonoma I knew who was ousted by the Senior Center Board for trying to do her job back in the 1990s. (Kinda like the last one, but without the public backlash). After her ouster, she was refreshingly forthcoming. She observed that in these outback areas, most of the allegedly democratic (and frequently ‘liberal’) ‘boards’ (like KZYX) are dominated by ‘incestuous little groups of friends who see the organization as their own’ and who, along with senior staff, operate the organization as their own sandbox. And once they're entrenched, it's very hard to remove them — even if they're exposed or scandal ridden. I also recall when Bruce Anderson ran for the KZYX Board once back in the mid-90s. They immediately recruited Guy Rowe who won then hated one four-year term on the Board. During the on-air debate between Guy Rowe and Bruce Anderson, Rowe said Bruce Anderson represented ‘revolutionary change, but I represent evolutionary change.’ Rowe won handily. But, of course, there was no change at all.”
YOGA FOR GEEZERS
Dear Editor -
Good article last week from Greg Ludwig on the merits of yoga and what it has done for him. Anderson Valley is fortunate to have a variety of yoga teachers who can accommodate everyone who is interested. I teach a yoga class for those folks who don't want to get up and down from the floor. I guess you'd call it yoga for geezers. The class is Easy Stretch Chair Yoga and is held at the AV Senior Center on Thursdays from 11am to noon. The best lunch deal in town is available at the Center after the class. For more information contact the AV Senior Center at 895-3609.
Kathy MacDonald, Elk
THE FANTASY WORLD OF COSTCO
To The Ukiah City Council
Our City Manager fantasizes that a Big CostCo Box will bring in great sales tax receipts and that the city will be able to pay off its indebtedness from the RDA fiasco, as well as new loans to build $6.2 million worth of access roads to CostCo. This, they hope, will put the City on a sound financial footing. But there are a few problems with living in such a fantasy world:
There Is No Need For Costco: Ukiah people are not under-dressed nor poorly fed for lack of another big box discount store. We already have plenty of clothing stores, food emporiums, gasoline stations, and drug stores to meet our needs.
There Is No Money To Build The New Highway 101 Interchange: The State Finance Department has said that the City Council cannot use revenue from the 2011 RDA bond nor from the expected sale of 15 acres to CostCo to develop roads and interchanges needed to funnel shoppers into Big Box parking lots. Show us your money!
There Is No Adequate Plan For The Proposed Interchange: The traffic engineers from Smith Engineering consider the traffic impact study conjured up by the City with GHD Inc. to be merely a "cartoon", not a real design. CalTrans has not yet approved this undersized traffic circle.
Walmart Is Expected To Re-Apply For Their Superstore: This will make any interchange intended only for CostCo traffic to be a fraction the needed capacity for shoppers converging on two Big Boxes. Thus the Traffic Plan will have to be done all over again and another tooth fairy found to pay for it.
No Debt Repayment Plan: The City Council has not produced a Cash Flow analysis. It is highly unlikely that the revenues expected from sales taxes at CostCo will be enough to pay off the old RDA bonds and the new loans the City hopes to get from "I-Bank" or other sources. If City Staff already has the funds, why don't they tell us about their good fortune?
No New Jobs Will Be Forthcoming: Many studies of big box impacts have shown that every new job in a Big Box merely reduces employment in the existing smaller local enterprises. CostCo is notorious for having no sales help and no signs to direct you around their huge warehouse. In our local stores we do get personal attention.
Impact Upon Existing Businesses Will Be Devistating: The City Council's staff appear to have an irrational faith that more sale taxes can be sucked out of our local citizens at a time when the whole economy is slouching towards another major recession. After all, we have only so many shoppers in the area and they're not getting any richer.
James Houle, Redwood Valley
KZYX-ERS FOR CHANGE
To Whom It May Concern:
For all those interested in local radio here in Mendocino County I would like to update you as to the current status of both my personal grievance with KZYX, the Open Lines program, as well as actions taken by members of our community advocating for the liberalization of current KZYX policies regarding membership control over the station's "programming and operational philosophy" as stipulated by its Mission Statement.
I would like to thank Stuart Campbell, the programmer-elected representative to the Board of Directors of Mendocino County Public Broadcasting, for facilitating the Grievance Process and ensuring that all perspectives were respected during the meeting. General Manager John Coate expressed concern about the stations vulnerability to on-air obscenity but seemed satisfied that installation of the already purchased audio delay would solve the problem. From my perspective, I felt clarification of the FCC rules about how programmers are to deal with such situations on-air would be helpful, and Stuart Campbell has agreed to work with Program Director Mary Aigner on updating the Station Handbook in order to do just that, among other improvements. In the end, Open Lines will be back on the airwaves once the new equipment gets installed, which is great news for those who appreciate the type of community conversation and expression of our freedom of speech that the open lines format provides.
The new show will be revamped, featuring rotating hosts providing a greater diversity of perspectives in moderation. While I will get less air time personally, I think it will be beneficial to the program to provide a variety of hosting styles and points-of-view and am happy that station management has agreed to continue to include Open LInes in its programming as I believe it provides a valuable service to our community. There was talk about providing hosts with some education and updates about station politics so they could be more capable of reporting factually to our community about the current state of station policies. I hope this idea comes to fruition as I have always believed that Open Lines was a great venue for conversations and clarifications about station politics as well as a great way for the station to connect with its voting membership in an open and transparent fashion.
In the interest of sticking to the facts, I would like to retract some statements made in my last article. First, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant given to MCPB last year was split unevenly between the Fall and the Spring, but was included in its entirety by the end of the fiscal year ending June 31, 2013. Basically, the stations finances are better than I thought, which is good news. GM Coate did let me know that the CPB grant will be significantly less next year so pledge drive revenues continue to be important. Also, the board did vote to increase the membership fee to $50, no chicanery there. The $25 dollar Simple Living membership is still available upon request.
KZYX Members for Change, advocating for a radio station more responsive to the needs of our community, would like to remind everyone that the deadline for a voting membership ensuring full participation in this years election is December 31st so sign up if you want your voice heard. Also, we will be holding two organizational meetings, one on December 7th, at the MendocintoTV studios in Ft. Bragg (behind The Company Store) and in Ukaih upstairs at the Ukaih Brewing Company on December 8th, both between 4-6pm. Currently, the group is seeking people who may be interested in running for the board of MCPB who will advocate for membership control over the stations operational philosophy as well as facilitate some control over the programming that ensures access to all points of view. The FT. Bragg and Willits districts, as well as one at-large seat are available this election cycle. We will also be presenting some ideas for a petition regarding a by-law change requiring future Directors a greater level of accountability for their actions to the membership at large. Other topics for this brainstorming session include the possibility of calling a membership meeting to discuss these issues as well as developing a network of like minded KZYX members in order to communicate more effectively. Please attend if you are interested in the future of local radio in Mendocino County.
For more information please email me at mckentytheshift.com or see our Facebook page, KZYX Members for Change.
Thank You, Doug McKenty, Mendocino
To the Editor:
Intergenerational Transfer of Farm and Ranch Lands
Anderson Valley Land Trust would like to give sincere thanks to the nine presenters who kept an active audience of 66 in their chairs all day on November 22nd to share pivotal information on ranch and farm succession in a clear format: Reggie Knox, Executive Director of CA FarmLink on What is Succession Planning and Why Do It?; Olivia Boyce-Abel of Family Lands Consulting with Meet Your Peers and Successful Communication at Family Meetings; Rod Carter of Northern California Farm Credit Business Consulting on Transferring the Business; Steven Johnson of Mannon, King and Johnson on Estate Planning Nuts and Bolts; Michael Delbar from California Rangeland Trust on How a Conservation Easement Could Fit the Estate Plan, and the Magruder family sharing the challenge of holding on to their ranch for five generations.
The Farm and Ranch Succession workshop was the third in a five-part series called A Legacy of Working Lands—Preserving Anderson Valley’s Heritage. We would also like to thank the Community Foundation of Mendocino County for granting us a Community Enrichment Grant to host these workshops at nominal cost to the participants. Additional assistance came from sponsorship from the East Bay Community Foundation, Savings Bank of Mendocino, California Rangeland Trust, Mendocino Land Trust, Navarro River Resource Center, Anderson Valley Solar Grange, The Toll House, and the Boonville General Store. Special thanks and appreciation go to Kendra Johnson, a board member and consultant to California FarmLink, who coached AVLT and Mendocino Land Trust board members, local professionals, and natural resource agency personnel to host the workshop and to Ariana Reguzzoni, California FarmLink’s Northern California Coordinator.
Glynnis Jones & Barbara Goodell, Boonville
by Mark Twain
This talk about Mr. Whittier's seventieth birthday reminds me that my own seventieth arrived recently-that is to say, it arrived on the 30th of November, but Colonel Harvey was not able to celebrate it on that date because that date had been preempted by the President to be used as Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for-annually, not oftener-if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man's side, consequently on the Lord's side, consequently it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments. The original reason for a Thanksgiving Day has long ago ceased to exist-the Indians have long ago been comprehensively and satisfactorily exterminated and the account closed with Heaven, with the thanks due. But, from old habit, Thanksgiving Day has remained with us, and every year the President of the United States and the Governors of all the several States and the territories set themselves the task, every November, to advertise for something to be thankful for, and then they put those thanks into a few crisp and reverent phrases, in the form of a Proclamation, and this is read from all the pulpits in the land, the national conscience is wiped clean with one swipe, and sin is resumed at the old stand. The President and the Governors had to have my birthday-the 30th-for Thanksgiving Day, and this was a great inconvenience to Colonel Harvey, who had made much preparation for a banquet to be given to me on that day in celebration of the fact that it marked my seventieth escape from the gallows, according to his idea-a fact which he regarded with favor and contemplated with pleasure, because he is my publisher and commercially interested. He went to Washington to try to get the President to select another day for the national Thanksgiving, and I furnished him with arguments to use which I thought persuasive and convincing, arguments which ought to persuade him even to put off Thanksgiving Day a whole year-on the ground that nothing had happened during the previous twelvemonth except several vicious and inexcusable wars, and King Leopold of Belgium's usual annual slaughters and robberies in the Congo State, together with the Insurance revelations in New York, which seemed to establish the fact that if there was an honest man left in the United States, there was only one, and we wanted to celebrate his seventieth birthday. But the Colonel came back unsuccessful, and put my birthday celebration off to the 5th of December.
2013 REDWOOD CLASSIC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
The 56th annual Redwood Classic Basketball Tournament is set to kick off the new season December 4th,5th,6th & 7th at the Anderson Valley High School gym in Boonville. The Redwood Classic is oldest and largest small school tournament in California. We will once again have an interesting and competitive field. Local teams invited include: Anderson Valley, Mendocino, Point Arena, St. Vincent, Cloverdale, and Laytonville. The traveling teams invited are: Branson, Tulelake, Valley Christian-Roseville, Bentley, Bradshaw Christian, Hoopa, California School for the Deaf, Stuart Hall, Marin Academy & Pinewood. The tournament begins at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 4th ; four days and 25 games later the champion will be crowned. (See bracket & game schedule attached) Single day ticket prices are – adults $5, students and senior citizens $3, and souvenir programs $5. Mayte Guerrero - Student Tournament Director
ROOTS OF MOTIVE POWER HOLIDAY EXPRESS
and Mendocino County Museum Open House make the season bright for children & families
by Roberta Werdinger
Roots of Motive Power will hold its annual Holiday Express on Saturday, December 7th, from 12 noon to 5 pm at the Roots loop track at 420 East Commercial Street in Willits. Santa will arrive in style on a locomotive lovingly restored and operated by Roots volunteers. Free rides are available to all on the Mason County Logging #7 (1910 Baldwin) along with the Long Bell Lumber Company and the Pacific Lumber Company Gibson speeders. Visitors can also take a walk around Roots Restoration Yard to view more of its historical collection of steam-powered logging and railroad machinery.
The Engine House will be decorated by Roots volunteers for the holidays, complete with a special tree festooned with train ornaments and visits with Santa Claus and helpers. The model train will take a scenic route around the turn-of-the-century lumber mill. Refreshments will be available for a small fee.
The Mendocino County Museum will welcome all with an Open House: free admission all day and free family activities from 12 noon on. The Museum will be decorated for the season with lights and garlands throughout. Vintage toys from the Museum’s collections and from local individuals will be on display to showcase memories of holidays past.
First 5 Mendocino staff from VISTA and AmeriCorps will team up with Museum volunteers to offer fun and educational activities for kids, including a reading corner with holiday stories, fitness games and board games, as well as craft projects for both older and younger children.
The Museum Shop features toys, games, books and other special items for holiday gifts and is open when the Museum is open.
Saturday, December 7th presents a perfect time for family, friends and community to enjoy the pleasures of the present holiday season while being reminded of our county’s fascinating past.
The Mendocino County Museum is at 400 East Commercial Street in Willits. The Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 4:30 pm and can be reached by calling (707) 459-2736 or by visiting www.MendocinoMuseum.org.
WITCHES IN THE WILDWOOD
The medical plant lore of the prehistoric peoples of Britain was passed on from one generation to another for millennia. While methods of production changed regularly and sometimes radically over time, diminishing a total dependence on the harvest of wild plants, fruits and nuts to something more partial and occasional, the eternal need for relief from discomfort or a cure for illness remained. Only the wealthy, and generally the urban wealthy at that, could afford what passed for modern medicine. As they had always done, everyone else depended on local healers whose experience and knowledge was often more effective than the newfangled methods of medieval and early modern medical practice. But in 1563 in England and 1591 in Scotland that benign continuum was brutally shattered and the ancient lore all but destroyed. The great witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries began. All over Britain, but with particular enthusiasm in Calvinist Scotland, witches were accused, rounded up, routinely and hideously tortured and thousands burned at the stake. 80% of the victims of the witch-finders were women. And it seems very clear that most of those were local healers who used traditional infusions and detoctions of herbs and plants or poultices and dressings to treat their patients. Some of the women found it impossible to explain to their accusers why a cure worked, they only knew that it had always done so. The pungent whiffs of pagan practice that surrounded some of their methods, the occasional ritual or form of words, can only have increased the sense of diabolical influence the witch-finders were so eager to detect as they did God's holy work.
MY YEARS AT WAL-MART
by Patrick Snipes
(Speech given on November 29, in Raleigh, North Carolina.)
* * *
I’m a former Wal-Mart deli sales associate from store #2137, where I worked for about two and a half years. Firstly, I would like to give thanks to my mother, who is currently a Wal-Mart associate, and to all other Wal-Mart associates who’re working today and were kept from their families yesterday. When I was asked to speak here today, I was a bit taken aback; I haven’t done any public speaking since high school and wasn’t entirely sure what I should talk about.
So, let’s start with a simple fact, nothing more, nothing less. The six Wal-Mart heirs (Christy Walton, Jim Walton, Alice Walton, S. Robson Walton, Nancy Walton Laurie and Ann Walton Kroenke) hold more wealth than the bottom 42% of Americans put together. Now, let’s do some math! The population of the United States is about 314 million. 42 % of that is 131.88 million people. Divide by 6 and you get 21.98 million. What this means is that for every dollar the average person in the lower 42% of the country has, these 6 people have, on average, 21.98 million dollars. As easily as you or I can buy a Kit-Kat, they can buy a custom-made 145 foot yacht and still have 2 million leftover. Please keep this fact in mind as I continue.
And… now I’m unsure again as to what I should talk about. After two years and seven months there are a great many things. I could talk about how my family didn’t have Thanksgiving yesterday because my mother was at work. I could talk about schedules which left me running the deli single-handed from 4 PM to 11, essentially asking me to do 30 man-hours worth of work in 8 as though I were blessed with 7 arms. I could talk about how similar schedules were in no way uncommon, once 4 times in a single week, and how, when I approached management (even going so far as to show them the schedule for a few days out and asking that they fix it), my complaints fell upon deaf ears; the schedules remained unchanged. How the flip-side of this under-staffing was hours-cuts which left me earning the equivalent of 9,000 $/year, for months on end, and forced me to choose between paying my bills on time or having food. How I saw my co-workers, who rode the bus to get to and from work everyday, who have children whom they love and want to spend time with, get off work at 11 o’clock at night just to come back the very next day at 7 in the morning. And how, despite all that, they still had to be on food stamps to feed their kids because we were paid so little. About how one of our cart-pushers came down with a severe case of the flu and, for forgetting to call-out during ONE of the days he spent in the hospital, got fired. How one of my co-worker from the deli was fired on her very last day at Wal-Mart, after they had no more use for her, for having forgotten one day to pay for a meal plate worth 3 dollars and 50 cents three months prior; she’d signed a new lease earlier that day, but termination for theft caused her to lose her new job and forced her to move back in with her family in Florida. Later that night I was required to throw away hundreds of dollars worth of food. About how, at my mothers store, an Assistant Manager, offended that one of his underlings, and a woman no less, had the gall to speak back to him, conspired to get rid of a zone-manager, a diabetic, while she was out on medical leave for her second heart-attack; she was demoted to part-time cashier and lost her medical coverage. He was promoted to co-manager.
But… any single one of these things, perhaps even all of them since they’re drawn from merely 2 stores, might, by the limitation of their scope, play into the very narrative Wal-Mart wants its workers to believe. “These are isolated cases of improper management”, they might say, “which can be dealt with by the open door policy.” The same open door policy which was put forward to us on the very first day of orientation as the reason we do not need a union.
Also, not one of those things really captures how impersonal an experience it is to work at Wal-Mart, a store which tracks its workers comings and goings down to the minute by their barcode. A store so impersonal that, in order to call-in sick, its workers must dial a 1-800 number, identify themselves by their eight-digit birthday, the last four digits of their social security number and their four digit store number followed by the pound key, and then press 1 to indicate they’re calling to report an absence, 1 to indicate that absence is for today, any number 1-5 for reasons ranging from personal illness to natural disaster, only to get a 10 digit confirmation number and be re-routed to their store, where they’re expected speak with a salaried member of management before getting off the line, itself a process that can take upwards of 20 minutes. And a store which, after hiring me on September 11th 2010, thought it a good idea, on September 11th 2011 and September 11th 2012, to display a message on the time clock which read “Happy Anniversary!”.
But again I can hear the corporate response already. They might say something like: “These precautions are necessary for maintaining operations on the scale of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer™, and in no way reflect upon Wal-Mart’s respect and consideration for its associates.” If only I had something which could fuse together the deeply personal grievances I hold against my previous employer with the cold, impersonal way it seemed to regard me. Oh wait… I do! In the back-room at my store, tossed in among a maudlin mix of motivational posters (ya know, the kind they make fun of on the internet), was this one poster which obviously came down from corporate on high. On the top it read “Wal-Mart’s Model for Success,” and below it had this little circular flow-chart surrounding an image of a cashier happily working, grinning the sort of wide, iridescent smile we’ve all come to expect of folks who work part-time for minimum wage, at a job which always charts their productivity according to scans-per-minute but provides no dental coverage. And this little flow-chart, in which this Cheshire-Cashier found herself encased, was broken down into four parts which read: “Buy for Less,” “Sell for Less,” “Grow sales” and, ultimately, “Reduce Operational Costs.” And when I saw that I said to myself: OH. NO. YOU. DID. NOT! Just call me, my mother, and my co-workers, loving mothers to their own children, OPERATIONAL COSTS to be reduced ad infinitum in the endless cycle of YOUR success. And that, right there, posted on the wall for all to see, yet masked with kindly imagery and sanitized corporate phraseology, is the logic at work behind it all. And it is that logic which can never be changed by any “open door policy” however perfectly implemented, but which CAN be changed by an association of associates standing together to say as one: We are human beings, not numbers and we will not stand idly by while you seek to subtract, from us, our livelihoods! And now I’m, briefly, going to go through these steps to demonstrate what they really are: a depraved diminution of the human soul into the mere fuel which drives a great engine of profit.
Step 1: Buy For Less
To see this step, you have to go all the way to the other side of the globe. For only distance is capable of providing a veil thick enough to obfuscate its moral reprehensibility. On November 24th 2012, the Tazreen Fashions factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which was creating goods for Wal-Mart stores, caught fire killing at least 117 people. They were locked inside. The building had no fire exits and the windows were barred. Those who escaped did so by kicking out exhaust fans and leaping onto the roof of an adjacent building. For the injuries they incurred, some of which rendered young, able-bodied people incapable of ever walking again, they have received no compensation, nor have the families of those lost in the fire. Five months later, Rana Plaza, a massive building housing 8 garment factories collapsed, killing 1,129 and injuring 2,515. And it was against practices such as these, that the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, in one of his less publicized quotations, once said: “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, ‘This is not just.’”
Step 2: Sell For Less
I find this step somewhat curious. After all, wouldn’t a business want to sell for more? The key is how this step flows into the next, “Grow Sales.” In this, the step reveals itself as being “Sell Less than the Competition.” Wal-Mart uses its ability and willingness to leverage its foreign producers into producing goods at “everyday low prices,” without regard to the “everyday squalid conditions” of their workers, as a weapon against other domestic businesses which are unwilling or unable to do the same. Thus, it consolidates our commerce into fewer and fewer stores.
Steps 3 & 4: Grow Sales and Reduce Operational Costs
I’m going to tackle these two steps together, because they are seemingly contradictory. A growth in sales would increase the size of the operation, and would thus seem to point toward “Increase Operational Costs” as opposed to its opposite. But, though these two steps may not flow into one another as sensibly as their predecessors, together they point toward an ideal, a dream, a fantasy which seems to motivate Wal-Mart. Namely, the idea of an infinitely productive worker. If they can make one do the work of two, they will. If they can make one do the work of three, they will. Trust me, they made me do the work of three and a half! Hell, if they could get one guy to run the whole store, they’d do it in a heart-beat. And if they could pay that guy minimum wage, they’d do that too! All the while, lobbying our government to let that minimum wage atrophy. These steps, taken together, expose the impetus behind the overwork and under-pay of Wal-Mart’s domestic workers, and it calls into question whether or not this too is a country from which profits are taken with no concern for social betterment. And I would like to wrap this up by posing a question: If the entire economy was made up of such businesses, an economy of businesses all pushing production abroad to wherever people can be maximally exploited, an economy consolidated into as few stores as possible, an economy of stores which pay workers little as they can and which operate with as few as they can, what would that look like? And how long would it take to crash?
Make no mistake, Wal-Mart is not alone in this. Its model serves as a model for a great many others. Wal-Mart is but the largest wave in a rising tide, and, unless we stand together, united and with dignity, as a great levy for justice to hold and push it back, this tide threatens to drown us all. Except, of course, for those among us who can afford custom-made, 145 foot yachts. Thank you.
(Patrick Snipes lives in Durham, North Carolina.)