For the first time in a long time you don’t have to be an optimist to see the glass as half full

November 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — The storage containers are attractively displayed at the Walmart on Atlantic Boulevard in Canton. The bins are lined up in alternating colors of purple and orange. Some sit on tables covered with golden yellow tablecloths. Others peer out from under the tables.

This isn’t a merchandise display. It’s a food drive – not for the community, but for needy workers.

“Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner,” read signs affixed to the tablecloths.

The food drive tables are tucked away in an employees-only area. They are another element in the backdrop of the public debate about salaries for cashiers, stock clerks and other low-wage positions at Walmart, as workers in Cincinnati and Dayton are scheduled to go on strike Monday.

Is the food drive proof the retailer pays so little that many employees can’t afford Thanksgiving dinner?

Norma Mills of Canton, who lives near the store, saw the photo circulating showing the food drive bins, and felt both “outrage” and “anger.”

“Then I went through the emotion of compassion for the employees, working for the largest food chain in America, making low wages, and who can’t afford to provide their families with a good Thanksgiving holiday,” said Mills, an organizer with Stand Up for Ohio, which is active in foreclosure issues in Canton. “That Walmart would have the audacity to ask low-wage workers to donate food to other low-wage workers — to me, it is a moral outrage.”

Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, said the food drive is proof that employees care about each other.

“It is for associates who have had some hardships come up,” he said. “Maybe their spouse lost a job.

“This is part of the company’s culture to rally around associates and take care of them when they face extreme hardships,” he said.

Lundberg said holding the food drive at the Canton Walmart was decided at the store level. However, the effort could be considered in line with what happens company-wide. The Associates in Critical Need Trust is funded by Walmart employee contributions that can be given through payroll deduction. He said employees can receive grants up to $1,500 to address hardships they may encounter, including homelessness, serious medical illnesses and major repairs to primary vehicles. Since 2001, grants totaling $80 million have been made.

But an employee at the Canton store wasn’t feeling that Walmart was looking out for her when she went to her locker more than two weeks ago and discovered the food drive containers. To her, the gesture was proof the company acknowledged many of its employees were struggling, but also proof it was not willing to substantively address their plight.

The employee said she didn’t want to use her name for fear of being fired. In a dozen years working at the company, she had never seen a food drive for employees, which she described as “demoralizing” and “kind of depressing”.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: One Mile High

“I often experience a kind of fear of the sky after sitting in the observing chair a long time,” he answered

August 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

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The cultural panic over reality programming faded as the genre became a permanent and profitable TV fixture. In the meantime, a relatively small group of intelligent and well-crafted television dramas, from The Sopranos to Breaking Bad, became critical darlings, arguably marking the first time the medium has surpassed mainstream American cinema as an art form.

As a result, more recent developments in reality TV, including some of the most popular cable shows of the last five years, have attracted less attention. Critics have taken note of the rise of so-called blue-collar TV—where “blue collar” means burly fishermen (Deadliest Catch) and loggers (Ax Men) risking their lives to take care of their families—and the related “redneck” subgenre, featuring, for example, Cajuns with thick accents hunting swamp alligators (Swamp People). Repo Games also follows people doing their jobs—the co-hosts are supposedly both actual repo men—but it is part of a different phenomenon: the money-crazed, market-idealizing reality show, immersed in a funhouse version of the culture of debt and credit.

Although consumer debt was holding the American economy together for decades before the recession laid it bare, these shows are a distinctly post-recession phenomenon. They thrive on foreclosed property and unpaid bills; they promote a bargain-basement ethos where everything has a price, and where discovering and comparing those prices is a source of pleasure. These shows are competitive in the way that much reality TV is, but the competitions are embedded in actual economic practice. These shows are the popular idea of the free market, writ small.

Two shows define this subgenre more than any other: Pawn Stars, which premiered on the History Channel in the summer of 2009, and A&E’s Storage Wars, launched in December 2010. These remarkably formulaic programs set viewing records on their respective channels and inspired cable TV execs to run dozens of imitators…

Watched in close succession, these cash-crazed shows reveal a number of common tropes. They portray an unforgiving social landscape, where taking risks at others’ expense is the way to get ahead. They recommend crude psychological techniques for closing the sale: trick your auction competition into dropping too much money on a bad unit, encourage people selling their goods to name a price before you do, leverage their personal problems to encourage a less-than-ideal trade, and never be afraid to get the better deal. They rely on family and childhood friends to provide some centripetal moral force and invoke “the economy” and “the times” to explain why people are willing to do what they do. They express awe in the face of old, undiscovered, and abandoned riches, and nostalgia for a simpler capitalism…

Busted-economy reality TV wouldn’t exist if it weren’t cheap to make, and it may be popular for any number of the scary-seeming reasons that reality TV in general is popular. But it also seems like a coming out for a number of predatory business practices that seem refreshingly frank in the wake of a financial crisis that people are told is too complicated for them to understand. For an audience primed on the language of individual bootstrapping and grave threats to the free market, these shows may seem practically heartwarming.  read more

SCAN: Christopher Phin

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