Wal-Mart Says, "Our Brain-Damaged Ex-Employees Whose Children Die in the War Can Go Fuck Themselves":
If you've ever been in a Wal-Mart, you have felt a sense of despair wash over you that must at least approximate the emotions felt by a resident of Berlin in the first couple of years after the Second World War. For within the fluorescent-lit tile and barely insulated aluminum siding, you are witness to nothing less than the wreckage of America. It is the strip mall taken to its logical conclusion: a giant mobile home/barn filled with tons of shit that most of us would not even conceive of needing amid more tons of shit that people do need so that desire, want, and basic human need are conflated into an orgy of acquisition that makes even the lowest paid bastard feel like he's got that middle class glow of material good satiation. In other words, how many people really need a fuckin' coffee grinder?
The moment you enter a Wal-Mart, especially a Wal-Mart Supercenter, like the one in Jackson, Missouri, which has a fuckin' grocery store in it, you are subject to one of those depressingly skeevy moments that's supposed to be heartwarming, where either a severely disabled, mentally or physically, and/or severely elderly person hands you a cart. Oh, look, you're supposed to think, what a wonderful society we are where an old man who oughta be able to afford to retire is forced to supplement his meager Social Security by standing by the sliding glass doors to roll oversized shopping carts to fat fucks who are gonna put their purchases on their credit cards and make up for the low, low prices by having it sucked away by interest and late fees. All the better if it's Wal-Mart's own wallet eater.
And walking through the store is a nightmare out of Brueghel, with its often grimy floors, its shelves stocked for three or four feet over your head, its aisles full of slowly creeping carts pushed by lower middle class or poor people tallying in their heads how much they can afford, if they can buy more scrapbooking supplies, if they can resist the displays of popcorn machines that look like carnival wagons, as their kids, learning that facing the horror of one's own stymied caste position and the inevitability of disease and death, whine for more plastic shit, the spackle of the cracked soul.
When you look into the eyes of many of the employees, you see the chill of our national crepuscule, the moment just prior to our omega time. Whether it's the desperate fear of a supervisor telling them they're spending too much time talking to customers or, even worse, each other, the nearly crack whore-like neediness in the faces of the middle-aged women there, for whom this is one of three jobs, probably after being ditched by their husbands or after their husbands had been downsized, hoping some day to be deemed loyal and worthy enough to be allowed to pay a ludicrous amount of money for Wal-Mart's health care plan, just so that if something particularly terrible happens, they'll be able to afford more than just the $4 prescriptions the store subsidizes, there is a patent awfulness to their work existence.
Like the now-finally-well-reported story of Deborah Shank, the Wal-Mart employee who dared to get severely injured in an accident between her minivan and a semi. Now covered by CNN and on MSNBC by a righteously outraged Keith Olbermann, you can get up to speed pretty quickly at Walmart Watch. The case involves Wal-Mart suing to recoup its health care costs on Shank after Shank won a small settlement from the trucking company whose vehicle hit her. Her health insurance was, of course, entirely inadequate to cover her expenses. The Rude Pundit's favorite morbid detail in the whole sorrowful story is her Memento-like short-term memory loss, so that every time she asks about her son, a soldier, and she's told he was killed in Iraq, it feels to her like she's hearing it for the first time.
Now, here's the thing: the accident was Shank's fault. As her attorney explains, "Mrs. Shank was driving her mini van on a straight and level state highway in clear weather during the day and apparently made the decision to turn around and go back the way she had come. She pulled over and pulled back onto the highway to turn around, and as she did so a transport truck coming down the highway saw her, but did not stop or swerve out of the way. It was our position that the driver had enough time and distance to swerve or stop, but he didn't. He struck her broadside. We established with an accident reconstruction expert that the truck driver had had room enough to stop or swerve even though she had pulled out onto the highway, and also that he had been driving somewhat over the speed limit." Shank's attorney was eventually able to prove some liability on the part of the trucker, but the company had the bare minimum of insurance and was allowed to pay less than what the judgment might have been.
What happened in the courtroom was a shame, it was fucked up, but, because Shank had been at least partially in the wrong, that part of the story isn't worth arguing about much.
But when, three years later, Wal-Mart decided to sue to recover its health plan's outlay for Shank's care, well, that's the point that this becomes as much about our nation's developmentally disabled health care system (in which we can say that Shank shouldn't have even had to be worried about getting health care), and more about Wal-Mart as the vile meatgrinder of a corporate entity it is, as well as the way in which our court system now bows down to fellate its capitalist masters.
Shank's lawyer explains, in simple terms, why Wal-Mart didn't have to be such dicks about it: "Mrs. Shank's true losses due to her injuries were millions of dollars, but because the trucking company had such inadequate liability insurance, we were only able to recover about one million. It's our position that Wal-Mart should share in that loss because of the inadequate liability that the company carried." And every court sided with Wal-Mart because the health plan Shank had agreed to stated that she had to pay it back if she got any settlement.
But Wal-Mart now says they're being cool because they're not trying to recover all the money it put out, since over the course of the years, the Shanks have spent some of the settlement, but just the remaining $277,000 in Shank's trust. Wal-Mart wants the cash and doesn't give a fuck what negative publicity it gets because, well, it knows that in most communities, where the fuck else are poor people gonna shop?
And something needs to be done. Like on an action level. Like civil disobedience against Wal-Mart. What can it be? Remember, stealing $277,000 worth of shit from Wal-Mart won't even nick it.
Let's open this up for suggestions. It's gotta be something that gets at Wal-Mart's bottom line, its stock price. And it's gotta be something that pisses a lot of people off. Send your ideas to rudepundit at yahoo.com.
The best and/or most creative will be posted later this week.