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I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time ... The wait is simply too long.

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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 12/9/2018

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Posts - 2537
Comments - 2589
Hits - 2,102,480

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Entries/day - 0.45
Comments/entry - 1.02
Hits/day - 372

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 6:31 PM Pacific


  01:18 PM

Last night we attended one of the premiere screenings of the documentary Wal-Mart: The High Price of Low Cost. This was made by Robert Greenwald, director of Outfoxed. It's reminiscent of Michael Moore's Roger & Me -- not so much a political movie as an anti-corporate philippic.

The premise is, of course, that Wal-Mart is ruining America. The evidence that Greenwald presents is dismaying and at times heartbreaking. On the one hand is the exploitation of the poor as employees; as supplier factory workers in China, Bangladesh, and Honduras; and even as customers. On the other is the ruthlessness with which the corporation mistreats workers, bankrupts competition, busts unions, siphons civic dollars, and leverages welfare and Medicaid to effectively substitute for decent corporate benefits.

I'll note here that this is if one assumes at face value all of the points made in the film.

Most of the film is interviews. He interviews ex-employees, including at least one VP-level guy. He also interviews business owners who have been run out of business by Wal-Mart (or let's say that that's the strong suggestion), one or two Wal-Mart mouthpieces, and at the end, a number of activists who have been successful in preventing a Wal-Mart from opening in their community.

The film relies on a lot of heavy-handed irony to underscore its points. Somehow Greenwald got hold of film clips of Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's CEO. (A lot of it looks like a shareholder meeting.)[1] Greenwald lets Scott lead the movie -- for every claim that Scott makes in his speech, Greenwald has interviews and statistics that suggest quite a different story.

Not everything that Greenwald says is equally effective. The segment on Wal-Mart's indifference to environmental regulations depends on a single interview concerning some runoff of fertilizer stacked in a parking lot. Not the most compelling scenario, perhaps, although a major point was in hearing what a run-around the environmental person got when attempting to get the problem addressed. The real meat is in the follow-up statistics. The film lists all the environmental sanctions against Wal-Mart, which is plenty. It's too bad that Greenwald didn't have a stronger interview to hang that segment on.

Conversely, there's a segment on crime in Wal-Mart parking lots. My initial reaction was "oh, c'mon," but as the story unfolds, Greenwald shows the magnitude of the problem -- thousands of violent crimes occur in Wal-Mart parking lots every year. More to the point, the corporation seems uninterested in preventing these crimes, even though their own study shows that security patrols in the sprawling parking lots can cut crime to "as low as zero," to quote them. In another little stab of irony, they note that one crime was caught on security videos that had been installed as part of the store's union-busting tactics.

In another segment, Greenwald contrasts the lavish lifestyle of Lee Scott and of the Walton heirs against the lives of Wal-Mart employees and suppliers. He underscores his point by listing how much employees have collectively contributed to a fund for needy coworkers, versus what Scott and the Walton kids have. Guess how that story comes out.[2]

Anyway, it's an eye-opener. I read that Wal-Mart is on the offensive against this movie, no surprise. I'll be interested to hear what they say in response. I'm also interested to see whether the reaction to this movie will follow political lines. Certainly it's a film that appeals to classic bleeding-heart liberals. But a fair number of the people Greenwald interviews are in hard-core red states, and in the first set interviews in Ohio, people on camera are conservative -- they say so -- and have their own reasons to be pissed off at Wal-Mart.

Certainly Greenwald gives everyone, no matter what their politics, lots of things to think about. Not least of which is the plight of people all over the world who must rely on Wal-Mart for a living.

Update I forgot to mention that we watched the film at the Central Cinema at 21st & Union in Seattle. Cool premise -- it's a cinema, it's a restaurant! You can order off a menu and they'll bring your food while you watch the movie. About dang time someone did this around here. :-)


[1] In "Roger & Me," Roger Smith's conspicuous absence on camera was played to full dramatic effect.

[2] Interestingly, he contrasts the charitable contributions of Scott and the Waltons against those of Bill Gates, who has given billions to philanthropic causes.

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