Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wal-mart is the new Nazi party

Say what you will about free market competition, and the right of big box stores like Wal-Mart to raze thousands of the world’s acres (totaling in a space larger than Manhattan) in order to erect these monstrous warehouses, completely kill small business owners, lock employees in stock rooms overnight without emergency services, and institutionalize a base level of gender and race discrimination continually challenged by lawsuit after lawsuit…today I am taking issue with Wal-Mart and its health care policies, and the ways in which their totalitarian administrators execute truly evil deeds. I'm taking issue with the way in which Deborah Shank was treated when the corporate monster successfully sued Shank for all she's worth.

Eight years ago Shank worked as a stock person for a Wal-Mart in Missouri until a big rig collided with her vehicle on the freeway, leading to irreparable neurological damage and a new home--a nursing home--bound to a wheelchair. While Shank was able to win $417,000 for her expenses out of a $700,000 settlement, Wal-Mart was able to retrieve "extraneous" medical costs not covered by the company due to a fine print clause that allows the behemoth to take back all money employees receive in lawsuits that award medical compensation. Originally they wanted $470,000.

Six days after Wal-Mart's legal victory, Deborah Shank's son was killed serving his country in Iraq. Due to the loss of her short-term memory, Shank often asks how her son is doing, and grieves repeatedly. Her husband, currently recovering from prostrate cancer, is working two jobs to take care of her and to send their remaining son to college.

Meanwhile, the company made $11 billion last year, and is one of the largest private employers in the world, fourth only to th Chinese army, the British National Health Service, and the Indian Railways.

After reading the quotes from Wal-Mart spokespersons, I can't help but see them all as Nazis. You see I’ve been reading about Adolf Eichmann lately, one of the chief architects of the Holocaust, and the trial in Israel that led to his hanging. I can't help but see parallels in the groupthink that led to a genocide.

Eichmann in Jerusalem, written in the 60s by political theorist/ethicist Hannah Arendt, explores the systemic route of institutionalized evil. Her argument is that evil acts, when institutionalized, can become a function of administrative banality rather than an act of revolutionary immorality. Somewhere down the line of bureaucracy, administrators find themselves in complete disconnect to the evil acts carried out by their own leaders in command, and humanity is lost. I see that in these Wal-Mart administrators and it is beyond deplorable:

Sharon Weber, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, declined to discuss the details of the Shanks' case, but she said the company was obliged to act in the interest of the health benefits of its employees as a whole. "While the case involves a tragic situation, our responsibility is to follow the provisions of the (company health) plan which governs the health benefits of our associates," she said.

Daphne Moore, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said, “It’s a very sad case, and we understand that people have a very emotional and sympathetic reaction.” But the plan, she said, is obligated to act in the interest of the health benefits of its employees as a whole. The benefits are designed so that when an employee does have an accident, “the plan steps in and covers those medical expenses so our associates don’t have to worry about them being covered,” and then later to reimburse the plan if and when they receive funds for the accident from a third party, she said.

Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley, who called Debbie Shank's case "unbelievably sad," replied in a statement: "Wal-Mart's plan is bound by very specific rules. ... We wish it could be more flexible in Mrs. Shank's case since her circumstances are clearly extraordinary, but this is done out of fairness to all associates who contribute to, and benefit from, the plan."

I am disgusted with all of the administrators, not just those working for Wal-Mart's PR arm, who took part in cheating this woman out of her family's livelihood. I am disgusted with the lawyers that took such a huge cut out of Shank's big rig settlement, the lawyers representing Wal-Mart that went after her, the Supreme Court for refusing to hear her case, and the policymakers in this country who allow corporate interests to trump basic human rights. Let us not forget that Nazi generals were also bound to "specific rules" in the best interests of their f├╝hrer's "policy."

That is all.

P.S. What's up with this?

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