Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lonely Rebels in Rural America

“Red State Rebels – Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland,” Edited by Joshua Frank and Jeffrey St. Clair, 2008.

What is disappointing about this book is that the examples of rebellion in the ‘red states’ are mostly of individuals or small groups fighting against various environmental, ethnic or political crimes. It not really an optimistic book, though I’m sure it was intended to be one. Only two involve class directly – and one of those is an interview with and article by Joe Bageant, the ‘red-neck’ writer and left commentator. A good part of this book echoes St. Clair’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” about big Green and Democratic Party collaboration with environmental destruction. (Reviewed in the pages below.) The chapter on the racist railroading of the Jena 6 (Jena, Louisiana) involves the largest mass movement – 50,000 descended on that small town to protest the heavy charges and trials of 6 black teenagers accused of getting into a fist fight with some bigots. A rebellion of farmers in North Dakota against Monsanto seed policies involves a large group of farmers who echoed the Non-Partisan League, and beat Monsanto’s police-state approach to seeds. So does the community organizing in New Orleans after Katrina. But other than that, small groups and heroic individuals or pairs tell the tale. This echoes the somewhat anarchist slant of the authors, no doubt. The back of the book makes a point of saying “Marx would be confused” about what is happening in the ‘red states.’ I think not. Rebellion in rural and small-town America is really what this book is about. One story about pro-pot hippie libertarians even comes from Michigan, not traditionally seen as a ‘red state.’

The very phrase ‘red state’ plays into the Fox News narrative about whole states being right-wing…which of course the authors don’t believe.

Nearly all the stories set in the old south involve minorities, and minorities fighting against racism in its various forms, which figures. There are no white people except some peace activists in Alabama and Kentucky. So if you are looking for optimism in the south spreading beyond some black people, you will not find it here.

The best story is a deep history of Butte, Montana, and the vicious extractive economy run by Anaconda Copper for many years, crushing labor and environmentally destroying Butte. It is brutal in its clarity. A chapter on the rape of Western Shoshone lands by various gold mining companies, while the federal government stands by and demands the Native American’s sell their land for pennies an acre – in 2010 – is again shocking. The government refuses to pay the tribes money they were contractually obligated to pay. Nothing has changed as far as broken treaties are concerned, folks. The FBI blood circus at Ruby Ridge is detailed for all to see – the dead are incidental and the FBI killers free to shoot again. A story on a feminist and environmentalist shrimp-boat captain in Texas is surprising in its toughness, and contrasts well with the typical views of bourgeois feminism.

The book ends with a section on secessionist movements, irrespective of political intent. The right-wing Alaska independistas around the Palins, and various conservative or libertarian secessionist southerners (like Republicans in Texas), are lumped in with progressive secessionists like those in Vermont. I have favored the secession of Minnesota from the United States for many years. If Minnesota would see fit to join Canada, I'd be in favor of that. I'd be in favor of a socialist Minnesota, unlikely as that would be. But I would NOT favor secession if it resulted in a MORE reactionary state.

This is again a hard book to read. Too much has gone desperately wrong. Reading this, it is ever more evident that only a link-up of most of these forces in a nationwide, mass oppositional party can have a hope of beating the capitalist steamroller. The authors do detail the efforts of the western Green Party and other independent political formations, which unfortunately have not been successful. Lawsuits, civil disobedience and community organizing are the main tools being used here. The big gun - a progressive party - is still on the shelf.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, 11/28/2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Audiences Will Sleep

“Wall Street – Money Never Sleeps,” by Oliver Stone, 2010

If you were expecting a sequel to the original film, 1987’s “Wall Street,” you’ll be disappointed. Yes, mentions are made of credit default swaps, derivatives, the real-estate bubble, short-selling, self-dealing, ‘too-big-to-fail’ and ‘moral hazard’ – but only briefly, and only to give the film an air of reality. Yes, a firm paralleling Goldman Sachs is the villain of the story, and a firm that looks like Lehman Brothers is the ‘tragic’ heroes of insolvency. But what this story really is, is the story of a sad daughter who hates Daddy Gekko. And the potential son-in-law who tries to bring them together. Gag.

The film is littered with unrealities. The daughter is a leftie blogger who takes up with a guy who works as an investment banker on Wall Street. Right. The rat-like investment banker seems to be only stuck on one investment and one product – fusion energy. Yet he’s considered some kind of investing genius since he was 12-years old. OK. Somehow grey-haired but charming Gordon figures out a way to get his potential son-in-law to wire him a $100,000,000. Right. Gekko spends 8 years in jail, instead of the actual 2 years that Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky really spent in jail. Right. The latter was the one who really said that ‘greed is healthy.’ Gordon Gekko gives speeches that sound more like Paul Krugman than Milken or Boesky. (Voicing Stone, no doubt.) The potential son-in-law gives up a lucrative job with Goldman’s stand-in because he thinks the head of the company is a nasty brute. Right. The head of the ersatz Lehman Brothers nobly commits suicide after the company goes belly-up. Right. It never happened. At the end, the leftie blogger, potential son-in-law and Gordon all agree to back the scientific oddity of fusion power, which brings this happy trio together. Right.

Michael Douglas plays Gekko in all the creepy vanity that Douglas can conjure. And yet ends up trying to be the good Dad by giving $100M to ‘fusion’ energy, which Gekko calls part of “the next bubble, right?” (The green bubble…) All just because he sees an ultrasound of his daughter’s baby. Gag.

The film does show the ridiculous amounts of money that investment bankers earn for their ‘pitches’ and hunches. Son-In-Law is given a 1.4M bonus by ersatz Lehman. They drink expensive champagne and party with models/hookers/gold-diggers. They buy expensive rings. They buy expensive cars and motorcycles. They live in expensive apartments and houses. They go to expensive fund-raisers and hob-nob with the rest of the ruling class. This should not be news to anyone except the intentionally dense.

The best scenes are the ones where an ersatz Hank Paulson summons the “Rockerfellerian” rulers of Wall Street to a long-table meeting in some ancient oak-paneled club hall. The ambiance of 'robber baron' hovers over it like a bad smell. Here the bankers and the government decide to save the banking system with a bail-out, and yet let Lehman go under. Truly a small peek at who rules America. The bigger the criminal, the more access they have to the government. And there is no real vote, except at this table. The rest is just details.

Skip this film unless you are a glutton for trivia.

Red Frog,
11/22/2010, the day the CIA and FBI killed John Kennedy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Duh! We Shuda Knowed!

Clintonites, Republicans, Friedmanites, Reaganites, one progressive and a couple of innocuous clucks. Take a look at the Initial Obama Cabinet and Staff:

  1. Rahm Emmanuel - Managed fight for NAFTA, Likudnik, Goldman Sachs, Clintonista. Gone, but not forgotten.
  2. Robert Gibbs - Press Secretary. Was unknown, but now identified as a neo-liberal. Attacked ‘professional leftists.’
  3. John Podesta - Head of Transition Team (was Clinton chief of staff).
  4. Sam Nunn & Warren Christopher - State/Defense Transition, Clintonistas.
  5. Madeleine Albright, Economic Envoy to G20, a Clintonista.
  6. Eric Holder - Attorney General - Deputy Atty General, Clinton administration. Has now endorsed all Bush legal policies on Guantanamo, spying, detentions, etc.
  7. Tom Daschle - Health & Human Services - long term senator. Lobbyist of health care companies at his law firm.
  8. Hillary Clinton - Sec of State - Clinton's wife. ‘Nuff said.
  9. Dana Pelligrino - Dept of Homeland Security, recommended sending national guard troops to border – and did! AZ governor.
  10. Bill Richardson - Commerce Secretary, Clinton UN Ambassador, Energy Secretary, withdrew due to ‘conflicts of interest.’
  11. Judd Gregg, Republican #1, became Commerce Secretary
  12. Joe Liberman - Kept as head of key Senate Committee. VP on Gore Liberman ticket. Gore was Clinton's VP.
  13. Tim Geithner - Treasury Department, former Summers protege/Clinton period. Federal Reserve / Goldman insider.
  14. Larry Summers - Head of Financial Policy Board in cabinet, Clintonista and pro-deregulation.
  15. Christina Romer - Head of Counsel of Economic Advisors. A Friedmanite.
  16. Robert Gates - Secretary of Defense, was Bush Secretary of Defense. Republican, #2. Pro-surge in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  17. Susan Rice - UN Ambassador, Supported Invasion of Iraq. Former Clinton Sec of State officer.
  18. Arne Duncan - Sec of Education. Obama friend. Supports "No child left behind" , supported by the professional Republican centrist David Broder of NYT. Endorses charter schools and privatization.
  19. Lisa Jackson - EPA, career EPA official. And we know how the EPA has been doing.
  20. Carol Browner - Environmental coordinator, Clintonista.
  21. Ken Salazar - Dept of Interior - (Clintonista) Supported Republican Alberto Gonzalez. Did not close the Bureau of Mines Management as he promised, then changed it a bit after the BP oil spill. Timber/Mining/Ranchers like him. Clinton-like politics on environmentalism. Which means nice talk, pro-corporate acts.
  22. Tom Vilsack - Agriculture - Supporter of industrial agriculture, bio-tech, agribusiness, pro-ethanol, friend of Monsanto.
  23. Steven Chu - Energy Secretary. Scientist. However, got $500M from British Petroleum for bio-fuels research. Supports nuclear power.
  24. Hilda Solis - Dept of Labor, very pro-labor. Best pick of bunch. Totally quiet. Did not push “Free Choice Act.” Heard she is quietly strengthening OSHA.
  25. Mary Shapiro - SEC, former head of NASD/FINRA. A proponent of industry self-regulation. SEC appointee, by Reagan initially.
  26. James Jones - National Security Advisor - Hardline, Pro Vietnam War. Clintonite/McCainite. NATO and Afghan war-monger.
  27. Dennis Blair - Director of National Intelligence - 4 star admiral. Hmmmm.
  28. Roy Lahood, Transportation Secretary. Republican #3. 'Nuff said.
  29. Shaun Donovon- HUD, Clintonista.
  30. Ron Kirk - US Trade Representative - Attorney at Vinson & Elkins, African American. Dallas Mayor. Chamber of Commerce likes him. Supports 'free trade' and NAFTA.
  31. Dawn Johnsen - Office of Legal Counsel (former Clintonista) but hard critic of presidential overreaching. Was denied nomination, of course.
  32. Virginia Seitz – Office of Legal Counsel. Appreciated by Republicans. Hmmmm.
  33. Leon Panetta - CIA, Clintonista Chief of Staff, but not a prior spy.
  34. Jennifer Granholm - Called Free Choice Act - "Divisive." Obama Economic adviser.
  35. Steven Rattner - Car "Czar" - former Investment banker, knew nothing about the auto industry. Got bailout for GM/Chrysler, which resulted in plant closings and more off-shoring. Recently fined $$$ by SEC.
  36. Ben Bernanke - Chair of the Federal Reserve. Former head of the Fed under Bush too. Head of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. Republican #4.
  37. Barack Obama – President. Initially was thought to be to the left of Hillary Clinton, but revealed to be solidly in the Clinton/neo-liberal camp. Obama won the election but Clinton and the Republicans won the war.
Red Frog

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Overworked Readers Department:

Progressive Fiction – 1 Line Reviews:

In order to respond to the massive interest in shorter reviews, I give you a fiction roundup that might help pick a book for Solstice:

“The Road – Short Stories” – by Vasily Grossman. The Soviet Tolstoy proves that not everyone in the USSR spent every day in a labor camp.

“The White Tiger” – by Aravind Adiga. Killing your Indian boss is easier and more profitable if you plan it well.

“The Given Day” – Dennis Lehane. In 1919, abused Boston policeman decide to strike instead of breaking strikes.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo” – Stieg Larsson. Rich Swedes enjoy torturing women – but women who know computers and aren’t afraid of violence make it less enjoyable.

“Rage and Reason” – Michael Tobias. Will turn any man into a raging 'kill humans' vegetarian after one read.

“City of Thieves” – David Benioff. Getting eggs in Leningrad during the siege is hilarious hard work.

“Inherent Vice” – Thomas Pynchon. The Dude goes LA noir.

“The Left Left Behind” – Terry Bisson. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the born-again Christians would just get Raptured, and leave us alone?

“The Grass is Singing” – Doris Lessing. South African apartheid even ruins whites.

“Children of Men” – P.D. James. Welcome to the remarkably familiar future prison camps of Britain.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Witty Lightweight attacks Marxism -

“… or the Marxists, working to undermine our Constitution.” – Jon Stewart, Saturday, October 30 at the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/of Fear” in Washington, D.C.

This was part of Stewart’s speech about the people we should REALLY be afraid of – not the normal, everyday people, of course. If this sounds like something from a Republican Tea Party member, its not. Seems to Stewart the Marxists are outside the ‘big tent’ of reason in ‘America.’ Quelle surprise. Of course, this was after a song who’s chorus about the United States was, “The greatest, strongest country in the world.” And this was not irony.

Let’s look at the Constitution, Jon. There are several problems – maybe even many problems. I’ll just name some obvious ones:

#1 – The Senate. It is undemocratic. Large sparsely-populated states have as many votes as populous states. And because of this, thinly-settled states full of conservatives can block any real change - and they have. This was the way it was designed – to prevent the ‘rabble’ from ruling.
#2 – The Supreme Court. These people are in ‘for life.’ It was designed as the most conservative part of the government. Again, to insulate the law from the rabble. Enjoy your corporate Supreme Court until you die, Jon!
#3 – Personhood for corporations – The 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 14th amendments are now applied to corporations. And most recently, corporations gained the ‘right to free speech’ through the 1st amendment. A corporation, which never dies, now has eternal rights, and is no different than a human being. Except it cannot be thrown in jail, fired, executed or otherwise terminated – only fined piddling amounts. Do you have a problem with the Constitution, Jon?
#4 – Representative Democracy – Marxists are for the direct political AND economic rule of the majority of people, the working class, through work-site and geographic counsels. The Russians called them Soviets. We’d like to reduce the use of representative ‘democracy,’ mediated by millionaires and their media. Actually, the Marxist schema is MORE democratic than the bought-and-paid-for ‘representative’ democracy we have now.
#5 – The Electoral College. I don’t think even I have to explain this one. Undemocratic and built to be that way. You don’t actually elect the president. They do.
#6 – Lack of an “economic bill of rights.” Roosevelt wanted one. He wasn’t a Marxist, but he was to the left of Jon Stewart, who must think he was busily undermining the Constitution. A right to housing, food, a job and health care. Not really so radical, and a Marxist would agree. But we are outside the big tent of reason.
#7 - The anti-Federalists, like Jefferson, found many problems with the Constitution as written – mainly giving too much power to the federal government. Fear well-founded. As we see now, our federal government is now all powerful – it has the largest military, arms industry, spy force, prison system, intelligence technology and mercenary army in the world. States cannot secede from the United States legally, even for justified reasons. And the president, who was at one time one of 3 equal branches of government, now declares war on his own. He has become a ‘soft’ dictator if he wants to be.

Jon, these are just a few of the problems of the U.S. Constitution. I think I hit the ‘low’ points. I won’t talk about property relations, but that goes without saying. If you think allowing private corporations to own and control our water, oil, housing, land, health care and food supply, then you should not complain when the corporations exercise their RIGHTS to control these things.

In short, the Constitution undermines itself - or at least the majority of Americans. Sometimes keeping grandma's well-built but shaky parlor chair around for another 100 years might not make sense. It might just be time for a new chair.

Red Frog, 11/2/10

Monday, November 1, 2010

Know Your Enemy

“To Serve God and Wal-Mart – the Making of Christian Free-Enterprise,” by Bethany Moreton, 2009

Bethany Moreton, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, avoids the typical narrative about Wal-Mart, as depicted in the excellent documentary “The High Cost of Low Prices” or the damning “The Wal-Mart Effect – How the World’s Most Powerful Company Really Works.” She focuses instead on how Wal-Mart used regionalism, working-class feminism and Christianity to become the Bensonville Beast it is today. There is not a word about cheap Chinese labor, excessively cheap prices or cheaply-made products in the whole book.

In the process, Moreton reveals what was going on during the Reagan ‘80s in the Ozark triangle of Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma – and how it shaped wider corporate America and the “new” Right. Essentially, the dynamics of local money and a rural culture produced an ideology that won over some working class people to ally with corporate America. It tries to answer Thomas Frank’s question, “What is the Matter with Kansas?” … by saying something other than - ‘they’re stupid.’

Homeland of Populism?

Moreton oddly compares Wal-Mart’s rise in the Tri-State Ozark area to the inspiration from the populist traditions in the late 1880s. Indeed, Woody Guthrie was born in Oklahoma, and the socialist “Appeal to Reason” newspaper was published in Girard, Kansas. However, a casual look at WikiPedia shows the populists were strong among “hard-pressed wheat farmers in the plains states, especially Kansas and Nebraska” and “among poor white cotton farmers in the South (especially North Carolina, Alabama and Texas.” The Populist Party was formed in an alliance of small farmers and the Knights of Labor, and was not exclusively a farmer’s party. The Populists carried Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas and pieces of North Dakota and Oregon in the 1892 election. The Ozark area was carried by the Democrats in 1892. In 1896, a partial fusion with the Democrats in the South under William Jennings Bryan for all intents and purposes destroyed the Populist Party. (The Populists had success blocking with some Republicans in the South and some Democrats in the North prior to this.) Bryan’s big issue in 1896 was “free silver” – which would make it easier for debtors to pay their debts to the north-east bankers. Bryan did directly center his attacks on the big banks and Trusts in the 1908 election, long after the Populists were in their grave, jibing with Teddy Roosevelt and ‘progressivism.’ In that election, however, Bryan lost Missouri. Moreton focuses on the ‘anti-chain-store’ movement during the 1920s and 1930s, especially in the Ozarks, which represented a strand of progressivism. This movement supported local businesses, and opposed the large retail chains, mostly from the east, that were shuttering stores in the area. However, the anti-chain store movement was geographically wide - not limited to the Ozarks.

So Moreton’s evidence of the special strength of ‘populism’ as a political movement in the Tri-Ozarks is weak. Most of the South and parts of the West also voted for Bryan. Kansas always had special progressive history, given its role in the fight against slavery. But this is not Ozark territory. “Progressivism,” which became strong in the teens and 20s in the upper-Midwest, is a far more recent phenomenon and should naturally have influenced the alleged populism of the Ozark area. It lead to the rise of the Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota, William LaFollette in Wisconsin, the Progressive Party of Vermont, the Non-Partisan League in the Dakotas, etc. However, there is very little evidence that ‘progressivism’ was actually strong on the ground in the Ozarks, except in a few areas like mining. Even the leading populist of the 30s in the South, Huey Long, hailed from Louisiana. Nor did the union strike wave of the 30s and 40s affect this mostly rural area, full of small farms and small businesses. Nor was this area a center of activism in the 50s-60s – except among the black population, especially in … Little Rock. And for entirely different reasons - civil rights.

Most small businessmen have a built-in hostility to big banking and big corporations and their government IF they have felt the latter’s financial power. This is not unique to the Ozarks. I think Moreton confuses political ‘populism’ with a natural cultural form of small-town inclusiveness and solidarity, common among farmers and small towners, and a hostility to ‘outsiders’ – like black people and foreigners. This culture is also built upon rural frugality and hard work, both necessary to survive farm or small town life. From the beginning in 1962, Wal-Mart cultivated a regional, “localist” approach, which won them customers in a cultural sense, as customers viewed the store as growing from people like them. This is no different than the ‘buy local’ movement now. It also connects to the anti-chain store movement. In the 1970s it intentionally got funding to expand, not from Wall Street, but from investment bank Stephens Inc., centered in Little Rock, Arkansas. Wal-Mart was not hostile to ‘government’ at the time. Walton took advantage of many government projects and programs, even planning his stores in county seats because government employment brought in steady customers.

Various other Ozark-connected corporations make their appearance in this book – Tyson Foods, Wendys, Sun, Humble and Getty Oil, J.B. Hunt Transport, Halliburton, Am-Way and Holiday Inn, based in Memphis. People like Ross Perot, Sig Sigler, Milton Friedman, Fredrick Hayek, Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton (Wal-Mart board member) and of course, Sam Walton himself put in an appearance.

A Bit of Working-class Feminism / Reproductive Labor

In the process of developing his chain, Walton learned lessons from the legions of working-class white women employed by the firm to check items, stock shelves and sell. The stores were clean, spartan, stocked with useful, inexpensive goods, and the staff was polite. However, to this basic mix, the women hired by Walton, according to Moreton, taught the managers a thing or two about loyalty and sales. These were mostly either farm wives looking for part-time income, or small town women with families, also looking for part-time income. The key here is that the most important thing to them were hours, not wages or benefits – not that the latter were irrelevant, of course. And hours were most important because the category of ‘reproductive labor’ – i.e. having and raising children – was the key issue to these women. Wal-Mart gradually understood this, and made sure schedules were tailored to the family issues that arose.

People who have yet to have children, or who have never had or taken care of children, might not understand this, but reproductive labor is uncompensated. Yet it is key to the survival of the class. The government does little for the reproductive labor issue until children enter the full-time school system in first grade. 6 years go by without any support except tax breaks for children. This small bit of compensation is not sufficient, of course, so families have to create schedules that will make sure someone is always with their kids. And since most families have more than one child, that 6 years can stretch into 15 or more. Daycare in the 60s and on was probably almost non-existent in the Ozarks, so Wal-Mart aided these women with more flexible hours. And of course, they were flexible for profit-reasons, but that is not what the workers saw.

“We don’t get paid much but we sure have a lot of fun.” One older guy I worked with told me this while I worked at Mail-Ex in Chicago (and it was very true – we had a freaking blast!). But this is a window into how a business can get by without paying on the bottom line. At first, Walton treated his workers like cogs, as most businessmen did at that time. But then the managers started to learn from their staff, as Morton puts it, in this new area of ‘retail white collar’ work. The women workers at Wal-Mart began to be recognized by management. Their personal issues, like family graduations or accomplishments, family sickness or deaths, were made important within the stores. The women were allowed a lot of leeway in how they did things – displays, ideas, etc. Some even contributed products. The stores were all in rural communities, and because of this, the women and customers knew each other well – unlike the big city. Because the stores became larger than most local stores, they gradually became the largest group of working people in some towns, and this social comraderie made for more pleasant working conditions. Absent local manufacturing or offices, or retail, “Wal-Mart” became the town’s ‘company store.’ Walmart’s practice - “the customer is always right’ - could be seen as an outgrowth of the attitude of the women working there, not just as a clever profit strategy.

The “Servant Leader” and Masculinity

Moreton links this method of staffing with a concept from evangelical Christianity and later business manuals, called the ‘servant leader.’ This concept, developed in the late 1970s, linked being a male Christian with being both the ‘boss’ and also the ‘servant’ to those who work for you, or who are in your family. Moreton explains that the retail ‘nation of clerks’ which was developing upon the industrial economy ‘emasculated’ men, forcing them into ugly ties, black pants and white shirts, and stuffing them behind desks at low-skilled jobs. And all the while their male contemporaries might be doing physical, assembly or skilled trades work. To counter the loss felt by the overwhelmingly male managers at these new retail establishments, the ‘servant leader’ role saw to it that they served their families, children and wife – while still being the ‘titular’ head of the family. This was later applied to retail management theory, with the staff as the ‘family.’ And this theory was adopted by Wal-Mart, through individuals like Jack Shewmaker, their second-in-command. Male Wal-Mart store managers worked extremely long hours, had to pay supportive attention to their female staff, and were moved from store to store, almost like members of the Socialist Workers Party! This particular Christian faith made serving as a Wal-Mart manager (or cashier) part of your religious life, ‘serving’ customers. “Soft” female relationship skills became valuable in this context, even to men.

Moreton ends the book with a paen to ‘servant leaders’ who fight for progressive causes, like fighting for a living wage in Athens, Georgia. Of course, I wonder how many white Pentecostal ministers have signed on to that campaign.

Christian Colleges / The “Entrepreneur”

As Wal-Mart grew, it realized it needed to recruit staff for its management teams. It looked around the Ozark area and found 3 small Christian/conservative schools that would create business departments concentrating on free enterprise, and partner with Wal-Mart in the process. At this time in the 1970s, conservatives and Christians began promoting or starting business schools in schools all over the country to counter the anti-corporate sentiment on most university campuses. Business became the number one major for many students in the early 80s, though these were not always the best students. Wal-Mart partnered with the College/University of the Ozarks; John E Brown College/University; and Harding College/University. Later they expanded into business ties with the University of Arkansas, Texas A&M, Brigham Young, James Madison, the University of South Carolina, Florida State and Purdue. This aggressive pursuit of academic ties was a precursor to many other corporations increasing their links with higher education, to the point where corporations have more influence than ever before in academic affairs and the pursuit of ‘truth.’

In the process, student organizations like the “Students in Free Enterprise” (SIFE) developed out of the anti-socialist, pro-free enterprise business schools. Wal-Mart adopted SIFE in the Reagan 1980s, and many other corporations followed. It is now in 40 countries. It disguised itself as an ‘educational’ program for elementary, junior and senior high school students, for college students, even for adults. It promoted education that was actually indoctrination, starting with a “Mr. Pencil” that visited children’s class-rooms, who proved that a free market was the best (and only) way to produce products.

SIFE lionized the entrepreneur – even the entrepreneur that was now a billionaire. SIFE ignored the difference between small business and corporations – instead uniting all under the flag of free enterprise and the market. Never noting that ‘free’ enterprise leads to the rule of large enterprises, or that the ‘market’ is controlled by those same enterprises after awhile. Like Wal-Mart, which dictates price and quality to its suppliers, and regularly runs little Sam Walton’s out of business every day. The entrepreneur ends up a monopolist.

International Expansion

After the orgy of patriotism that was the First Gulf War, the regionalist Wal-Mart started to look outside the United States regarding educational programs. Their first international penetration into Latin America was to be through Mexico. Initially, they started an international student program in Panama, bringing ‘all classes’ of students to the campuses in the Ozarks for international exchange programs in business education. This program was meant to give them the same education that conservative and Christian American students were getting, providing an educated elite to combat the Marxists on many public Latin American campuses. Later they used these students to work as managers at Wal-Marts to be opened in Mexico and Central America.

The first large Wal-Mart Supercenter to open outside the United States was in Mexico City, in the suburb of Xtapalapa. This was exactly during the 1993 fight for ratification of the NAFTA treaty. At the time, most Americans and most congressman were against NAFTA, even in spite of Clinton and the Republican leadership’s support. The opening of this Wal-Mart was a propaganda gold mine because it showed Mexicans buying American products. Congressman and the press fell over themselves in praise. According to Moreton, this event turned the tide in the debate over NAFTA. Al Gore went on Larry King and debated Ross Perot, and used the Wal-Mart opening to hammer Perot, who was against NAFTA. And, as they say, the rest is history.

The 'folksie' Sam Walton is dead. The Walton family are now some of the richest individuals in the world. Wal-Mart is no longer a regional corporation. The homey, country-music store is now ensconsed in big cities, northern cities and areas, and now all across the globe, where 'homey' and 'country' means something quite different. Barbara Ehrenreich has reported that the Minnesota Wal-Mart she worked at was anything but friendly. Wal-Mart has been the target of the largest lawsuit over job discrimination against women in history. Wal-Mart is a big board stock quoted on the NASDAQ. The fundamentalist Christian movement, of which Wal-Mart is part, has become an influential pillar of the Republican Party. Today, Target donates to Republicans like Tom Emmer too.

Hopefully, reading Moreton’s book will illustrate just how smart that Arkansas ‘entrepreneur’ was. Because Wal-Mart conquered America.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, 11/1/2010

Historical perspective

Some historical perspective from Doug Henwood: