Saturday, February 12, 2005

Wal-Mart Reading List

I got a lovely phone call from home notifying me that, for the second time in three months, someone has broken into my old farmstead and this time broke the locks off the shed. I won't be blogging again until, probably, Monday. So I leave you with a reading list.

Rural petty crime like theft is fueled by the crystal meth epidemic. Cops, of course, are more interested (despite their complaints) in busting meth labs than in nailing thieves because of the higher-profile stature of the former. Also, federal dollars for neato and unnecessary things like assault rifles can be gained from the war on drugs where jailing and prosecuting thieves is a decidedly pedestrian occupation for a lawman.

If I sound bitter it's because when my home was burglarised for the first time, several years ago during the first meth wave, I was told to not press charges because the suspect (who, after he stole a gun from my home, then tried to set another farmer's tractor on fire, stole a farm truck, and went on thieving spree across state lines) was part of a meth investigation.

A few years later, in responding to an anonymous tip and then to an officer's (bad) sense of smell, I was nearly served a warrant myself for manufacturing meth. This was avoided only because I had gone to high school with a superior officer. They knocked on my door, noticed a can of ether on my lawnmower parked next to the front porch (which explains what the cop smelled or thought he smelled), and asked to look around. I told them to look anywhere they wanted. I've never made methamphetamine in my life, nor would I ever want to, or be part of that process, or provide a place for others to make it. (Not that I've never done the drug; I've tried every drug save heroin. The only drugs I'd do again are mushroooms and opiate-derivative painkillers.) They found nothing -- because nothing was there -- and apologised for the trouble. Would that they had the same enthusiasm for busting burglars.

The point of this digression is two-fold. For one, I don't have much hope that anything stolen will be recovered. For another, the crystal methamphetamine epidemic is nasty, underlines human weakness, but is also partly explainable by materialist methods.

People do crystal meth because it makes them feel good. They also do it because they are bored. Some do it because, for a while at least, it can be a tool to use to fight off fatigue, something that comes in handy in a farm area's planting and harvesting seasons when 100 hour weeks are not uncommon. They do it because it is cheap to use, but money can be made from it. They do it because there are no jobs.

In my hometown two of the three main factories have closed in the last three years. Outsourcing. And what outsourcing did to industrial jobs, Wal-Mart did twenty years prior (and still does) to retail. What's left are jobs with farmers, a largely miserly bloc, doing labour that is dangerous and mostly seasonal. And of course these jobs almost never offer benefits, unemployment insurance, and, believe it or not, a guaranteed minimum wage. Or one can work at Wal-Mart.

Some people have turned to e-bay. Most people move. Truck driving is popular. And there are always bottom-level service industry jobs at McDonalds' or at the truck stop. Welfare "reform" has destroyed much of the safety net; unemployment benefits run out. There are some factories remaining from the early-90s trend of "move to the South" in big industry, which was just a harbinger of outsourcing to come: factories moved South not because of a labor glut here, but because so many of these states are "Right To Work", that lovely euphemism for being union-free. So, some people who have the means are able to commute forty or fifty miles and make it. For now.

But for others, when booze (the traditional American method for combating despair) doesn't work, or is prohibitively expensive in relation to the inebriation extracted, there's always crystal meth. Or theft, as Oscar Wilde recommended. Or both. Such is the misery of the new "dynamic" economy which makes white-collar neo-lib/conservative/libertarian technocrats soil themselves with glee.


Wal-Mart agrees to pay child labor fines but the Dept. of Labor scandalously agrees to give Wal-Mart 15 days' notice before conducting future investigations.

Wal-Mart dissected in the NY Review.

Wal-Mart section at Oligopoly Watch. "Wal-Mart As Cultural Gatekeeper" is a post that, one should think, might give Libertarians pause before they unleash their typical "Wal-Mart provides choice" argument. But, no, it's dogma among such people that any business unbridled by democratic-government control "inevitably" provides more choice for consumers. As such arguing with them is like arguing with religious nuts, but then that's never stopped me before.

But then when true choice is exercised by The People, Libertarian nutjobs are the first to squeal.

See also this series on a community's choice to exclude Wal-Mart. (Via The Hegemo.)

Personally, I think these decisions should always be put to a referendum, but if it's done, miraculously (considering that so many are bribed), through proxies then that's okay too, and what democracy is all about. Naturally, this sort of democracy is "evil" to Wal-Mart lovers, who suddenly discover an abiding love of the Constitution when it "protects" the rights of entities like Wal-Mart to wreck local economies with abandon. You see, to them the only vote that is sacrosanct is the vote of the dollar (especially sacrosanct if that vote is coerced, as most "yay" votes for Wal-Mart are when cast by the poor); hence the argument that those who do not want Wal-Mart should not patronise it, a particularly smug viewpoint all in all. Especially coming from people who aren't likely to be caught dead shopping in a Wal-Mart themselves.

Random Outsourcing Link: I can't wait to see the free-market nutjobs trip over themselves defending this crap.

Crystal Meth Links: Reuters and The Oregonian. Take care to look at the "Faces of Meth" slideshow in the latter story. Speed kills and in a most ugly way. "Assistant Crack Whore Trainees" have nothing on a Meth Junkie in the degradation department.

This post is dedicated to my friend the essentially good-hearted but very wrongheaded serial Wal-Mart apologist digamma.