Month: December 1998

ETS! Farmer’s Almanac

One of the things I miss most about leaving the farm and living in the city is not having the animals around all the time.

Cows are big, placid (well, most of the time), and very warm. Their body temperatures are slightly higher than ours. There’s nothing more comforting than leaning against a big, fat, warm cow when you’re feeling depressed –sort of like having a real, live teddy bear (only one that chews its cud and burps a lot).

Whenever I was sad, I would go for a walk through the herd and usually end up leaning against one cow or another, crying. Then a few other cows would do what most herd animals do when one of their own kind is injured or in trouble: they’d form a tight, protective circle around me, then take their turns sniffing me to make sure I was okay.

In spite of all the drool, I miss that a lot.

So I can also understand why a lot of city people want to have animals around them, too. A city can be alienating, dangerous, stressful–one of the best antidotes is to have a dog or cat (or two or three) to come home to.

But there are some people–in fact, a growing number of people–who get pets, but don’t really want to have a relationship with them. These people expect the new dog or cat to instantly express love for their new owner, to make few or no demands, to never get sick or need attention, to stay the hell out of the way unless they’re wanted, and most of all to “behave themselves.”

Which brings me to one of my pet peeves: people who want to train their dogs to be alone. Dogs are not loners; in the wild, they run in packs. It may be a neat trick to tell a dog to sit, then walk away from it and pretend it’s not there (and expect it to stay frozen in one spot, patiently waiting for you), but it’s also cruel.

Some of the most unhappy animals I’ve ever seen are dogs tied to lampposts, parking meters, trees, and bike racks while their owners are off somewhere doing their shopping, standing in line at the post office, or eating in a restaurant. It’s a common occurrence, especially on Capital Hill, where I live. Walking down Broadway, I see it several times a day–dogs unceremoniously “parked” while their owners are off having a good time. One dog may be laying with his head in his paws looking bored and depressed; another dog will be standing, straining against a tight leash. Sometimes the dogs are very well-behaved, showing that they’ve been to “obedience” classes. But there’s one thing they all share: the same, nervous, frightened, depressed stare. Some of them even bark and jump at passersby or whine and bark at their owners through the window of a nearby storefront.

This “parking” of dogs is against the law: it’s called “illegal tethering,” which brings to mind visions of handcuffs and torture devices. It’s illegal in Seattle for several reasons. Even the sweetest dogs can bite people under stressful circumstances (abandonment in a strange place is certainly one of those circumstances). Dogs left alone often break free and wander away. It’s also just plain dangerous for the animal to be left alone in public–a stranger may steal it, poison it, taunt it, maliciously set it loose, or intentionally harm it. But, most of all, what this abandonment tells the dog is this: “You don’t matter. What matters is my own convenience. And if I want to abandon you, I will.”

So I want to tell people who see this to do something about it. If you see a dog barking at the door of a store or staring at someone through the window of a restaurant, go inside that place and tell the manager that a customer has illegally tied their dog to a post outside. If the dog’s not being aggressive, you can get the owner’s name from the dog’s ID tags. Ask the manager to tell that patron to go and take care of his or her pet and not to serve that person until they do. Stress that the store or restaurant may be liable if the dog bites anyone or attacks another dog passing by (it happens–I’ve seen it). It’s best not to confront the owner of the dog directly, but if you can’t avoid it, be polite. The last thing the poor dog needs is to have an angry owner come storming out of the store to jerk his or her leash and scream “bad dog!”

It’ll make me feel better to see people treating their dogs more like living beings, instead of fashion accessories.

By the way, nobody in their right mind would let me tie a cow to a parking meter and then head off to do my grocery shopping. Just remember that, the next time you see somebody “park” a dog somewhere.

Y1.999K: The Most Overrated and Underrated Stories of the Year

In 1998, the consolidation of corporate media, in both ownership and news content, continued to rage unabated. In Seattle and nationally, in TV, radio, newspaper, magazine, and, yes, Internet, editors consensed without even knowing it on the stories we, the news-consuming public, most needed to know. The results were not good.

Most Overrated Stories

With Clinton’s sex scandal, the award for most overrated story can safely be retired for posterity. If the worst imaginable outcome happens (it won’t), and Al Gore becomes president for a year or so, it will bring virtually no change to any policies of consequence. If, as is far more likely, Clinton is merely disgraced, we will have spend millions of dollars and air hours confirming what anyone with an IQ over 14 already knows: anyone with the ambition to hold high elected office in the U.S. is almost certainly a jerk. Including both Bill and his persecuters. Instead, put them all on trial for their very real crimes against the electorate.

In Seattle, the desire for a good sex story resulted in the overcoverage of Mary Kay LeTourneau and her nasty habit of having kids by a former student, still well under age. Oddly enough, media interest in this story started to wane when said boy started asserting himself as a, well, adolescent boy, making it a bit harder to portray LeTourneau as evil incarnate.

Special kudos here go to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer–goodness knows, their editors want awards for it–and its grotesque overhype of the Wenatchee sex ring story. Granted, the overturning of several convictions in the case merits attention–but the P-I gave the story its own cute graphic, literally dozens of editorials, op-eds, and editorial cartoons to back up its months of righteous indignation, and very little coverage of the “other” side: the side that says there were very real reasons for believing abuse occurred.

While the P-I went for sex, the Seattle Times went for something even better: public-private partnerships. Here, the usual blitz of editorials, op- eds, and biased coverage couldn’t make up for the fact that the Schell administration had virtually no support outside the usual downtown suspects (championed by the Times) for the usual array of taxpayer-funded corporate welfare schemes. The death of the 2012 Olympics may have been the most satisfying comeuppance for the Times in years–or at least since the Seattle Commons.

The Times also led the way–barely–in local and national media’s obsession with our need to shop. It’s essential for business success, the health of the economy, and our national vitality, you know. For details, we go live to the mall!

No survey of local media would be complete without mentioning the biased overcoverage of Boeing (especially poor stock performance) and Microsoft (especially anti-trust proceedings). Of course, poor stock performance wasn’t just a local problem. Every day (it seemed) media idiots reported breathlessly on the latest yo-yoing of the Dow Jones, as though it mattered to the audience. And the hourly utterances of Alan Greenspan– -which propelled most of that yo-yoing–can go, too.

Lastly, there’s the perennials: overhyped weather events, sports scores, celebrities, fashion, horoscopes, pet features, or tragedy-stricken children (or tragedy-stricken school superintendents). Obvious, so it has to be said: these are products of a profit-driven entertainment industry. There is nothing wrong with being entertained. But it’s not news.

One More Thing: We’re a year away, and I’m already so fucking sick of the fraud that is Y2K hysteria and general millenial kitsch that I could scream, barf, or maybe even turn the TV off.

The Most Underrated Stories, At Home And Abroad

Planet Continues to Die: Here’s what we wrote in this category the last two years: “For a time in past years, things like ozone holes, global warning, mass species extinctions, and toxic waste attracted headlines and scientific concern. The concern is increasing, and the headlines have disappeared. Not only has the Antarctic ozone hole widened, but a matching Arctic hole extends at times as far south as Seattle. (Vancouver, B.C. media reports local ozone counts; Canada, like the rest of the world, is a bit more worried than we are.) The rainforests, of course, continue to fall as fast as they can be processed into disposable chopsticks. Global warming is now an accepted fact. Cancers and other illnesses based on chemical sensitivities are fast becoming a global epidemic. The U.S. continues to work hard to stall international agreements that might cut into transnational profits in an attempt to save life on Earth.”

Add declining sperm counts, genetic engineering, contaminated food supplies, polluted oceans, and the Al Gore For President Campaign, and it’sclear that our biosphere is in even greater danger 12 months later. The crisis, when mentioned at all, is portrayed as a crisis in potential corporate earnings. May the cockroaches have pity on our souls.

Boeing Goes To War: Boeing, with its acquisition of Rockwell and McDonnell Douglas, became one of the world’s leading arms dealers. You’d never know it from the extensive and fawning coverage of local media–which, between product release puff pieces, asks hard questions about production techniques but never spends any time looking at where the finished products are going, or which dictators are using them to murder which large masses of civilians. That would be bad for business.

Anything to do with Local Politics. The Stranger and the Seattle Weekly, the city’s two alternative weeklies, are the city’s only reliable regular sources of local political news. The dailies, despite tremendous resources, report on it glancingly and then often with the bias that comes with golf dates with the heavy hitters. Television coverage of local politics is an oxymoron. Overall, citizen knowledge of what’s being done in our name with our money is depressingly minimal; you have to be determined to find out.

Specifically, the sea shift in Seattle’s city council was a story that didn’t get much play. That deliberative body, thanks to three new progressive voices and especially the leadership of Nick Licata, was more vibrant and more of a force in city politics in 1998 than our supposedly visionary but in fact curiously hands-off mayor, Paul Schell. His disappearance was another barely-noticed local story, as was that of Republican-in-donkey-drag Governor Gary Locke.–Geov Parrish

Foreign Stories of 1998

In recent years U.S. media, especially TV network news, has devoted less and less space to foreign news. In 1998 the U.S. press did a particularly sad job of covering international news. Here’s a quick summary of the foreign stories that were covered ad nauseam versus the really important stories that were ignored. First, the drek:

Balkan bloodbath and carnage in the Congo. Body counts, burned villages, troop movements–when it was covered, it was all served up in gory detail, without a shred of background information, history, or on-the-spot investigative reporting to make it meaningful.

The Middle East peace process that never was. This was a fiasco from the start. No sooner had the U.S. press shouted that the Wye Accords were Clinton’s big foreign policy coup, than the Israeli government gave the go-ahead to bulldoze more Palestinian homes to make way for even more Israeli settlements. Almost nothing has changed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, yet the U.S. media continues to keep the “peace process” corpse alive, day after day.

International terrorism. Terrorism kills one–sometimes two–dozen U.S. citizens per year. Even when extremists hit a big target (like this year’s attack on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania) the number of total Americans killed in all terrorist attacks is still less than the number of people killed in a single large airplane crash, or are killed each year by bad driving in Third World cities.

Boris Yeltsin’s health. As if we care. Russians all know he’s not running the country anymore, but somehow the U.S. press hasn’t figured it out yet. Russia’s a mess that has a lot bigger problems than Yeltsin’s bad heart and alcoholism. So why do our newspapers devote several column inches to his every sneeze?

Other trivial items: North Korean nukes, Iranian nukes, suitcase bombs, and chemical or biological weapons in Iraq. These stupid stories have been repeated so often that most people believe they’re true, in spite of the lack of hard evidence to support any of them.

Here’s my short list of 1998’s most important international stories not widely covered in the U.S. press:

Major breakthroughs in the enforcement of international human rights laws, including: the establishment of an international court to try war criminals, the release of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, the trial and conviction of several war criminals in Rwanda and Bosnia, and the arrest of Augusto Pinochet.

Meanwhile, human rights continued to be violated all around the globe on the 50th anniversary of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Most of the offenders continue to do it to retain political power, to gain control of natural resources, or to keep the poor marginalized. Some of the worst offenders: Serbia, Indonesia, Colombia, Algeria, Burma, China, troops fighting on both sides in the Congo war, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the U.S. government–just to name a few.

A combination of mal-development and global warming turned Central America into a wasteland. The main culprit: corporate, plantation agriculture, which had pushed most of Central America’s rural poor up into the hills to farm on steep slopes. Denuded of brush and natural vegetation, those slopes quickly turned into massive mudslides during Hurricane Mitch’s heavy rains. The lack of government money for social spending, disaster relief, and disaster planning (casualties of IMF “reforms”) in these countries were no help, either.

Asian economic crisis spreads to Russia and Latin America. Russia defaulted on its domestic debt this year, and won’t be able to pay its foreign debt due at the end of this month. A second default is likely. Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Argentina have all needed help from banks and the IMF to stay afloat. And now Mexico is teetering on the edge …

Collapse of Mexican banks. Sinking under massive debt left over from the 1994 crisis, a number of Mexican banks have gone under. The Mexican government wants to bail them out to the tune of $60 billion, but it doesn’t have the money–primarily because of a huge drop in oil prices. Oil revenue makes up about 30-40% of the Mexican government’s income.

The collapse of commodity prices has turned a world-wide recession into a Depression, and it’s hitting the poorest nations the hardest. As populous nations (Russia, Indonesia, India, Brazil, etc.) succumbed to currency crises in the past year, they couldn’t afford to buy imported foods, fuel, or other commodities. As demand dried up, commodity prices plummeted. Now most Third World countries, whose economies rely heavily on export commodities, are suffering terribly.

And that’s my list–not edited to please investors, boost the Dow, attract advertisers, or sell tennis shoes. Here’s to a happy–and hopefully better–New Year!

Eat The Economy!

Oil Soaked

The big mystery these days is not whether Clinton will survive impeachment hearings, but how the U.S. economy has managed to stay afloat while the rest of the world slowly sinks into a global recession. One of the reasons is that the price of oil has dropped to its lowest level since 1976. This may be great for some Americans, but it’s pure hell for Third World countries that export oil.

Last week, oil prices dipped to $9 per barrel during one afternoon last week, down 40% from last year’s price. Aside from pushing oil companies into bed with one another (see Nature & Politics, ETS! 12/9/98), slumping oil prices have made several oil-dependent countries scream. Russia is one familiar example; the IMF continues to hold back installments of a much-needed loan to pay the back wages of Russian workers (including miners and workers in the energy sector). Work stoppages and strikes continue, with reports of teachers dying from hunger strikes.

Venezuela is another oil-rich country in the throes of upheaval. The drop in oil prices combined with government corruption has turned a nation that was the world’s largest oil exporter in the 1960s (and one of the most affluent nations in South America) into a country with over 80% of its population living in poverty today. Debt consumes about 40% of the government’s budget.

Last week, Venezuelans voted in a new president, Hugo Chavez, who’s widely described as a “dictator-in-waiting” who wants to rewrite the country’s constitution. No sooner was he elected than Chavez announced that he would boost the state oil company’s production quotas to make up for the drop in oil prices. But this production increase will only make matters worse: oil prices are low because of an oil glut and low demand. Increasing the glut will only make things worse. Yet Venezuela needs the steady influx of hard currency to pay the interest on its massive government debt; and oil makes up the bulk of its exports. This vicious cycle is common to most countries that rely heavily on commodity exports (foodstuffs, minerals, natural gas, coal, etc.).

Ecuador, Venezuela’s neighbor, has been pummeled by low oil prices and the ravages of El Nino-related storms. Oil income accounts for 40% of the government’s budget. The severe drop in price means it will take in $500 million less in revenue this year. Storms have also caused about $2.6 billion in damages throughout the country. The combination of these two factors has made Ecuador’s government deficit bloat to an incredible 7% of gross national product this year. Two weeks ago, Ecuador declared an economic state of emergency so it could tap into $311 million from the Latin American Reserves Fund. This new loan won’t bring relief for Ecuador’s population, however; it will all go to cover interest payments on its debt. Which, of course, sounds a lot like the economic disaster that unfolded in southeast Asia last year.

Brazil is in the middle of its own crisis. It’s actually importing oil, because its government-owned company can’t produce enough oil for domestic use. A lot of Brazil’s oil reserves are directly tapped by private, multinational corporations that pay a minimum of taxes and royalty fees to extract, refine, and sell Brazil’s oil and pocket most of the profit themselves (privatization in action!). Having just negotiated a new $41.5 billion loan from the IMF and with a debt burden equal to 7% of its gross national product, Brazil can’t afford to be spending hard currency to buy imported gasoline, so it will also increase the oil output of its state-owned company by 1.2 million barrels next year, thereby further contributing to the world-wide glut.

Nigeria has also suffered because of falling oil prices; about 90% of Nigeria’s export income is from oil. Last year the government brought in a total of $12 billion (much of it stolen out of the treasury by former dictator Sani Abacha and his cronies), but this year is set to make only $7 billion–and a lot of that will go into fixing pipelines, refineries, and other infrastructure that grossly deteriorated under Abacha’s rule. Because of breakdowns, Nigeria, the sixth largest oil producing nation in the world, can’t even refine enough oil for domestic use. It, too, has to import gasoline.

Finally, the relatively-rich countries in the Middle East called a meeting of OPEC member nations last month. Several of them have their own outstanding debts left over from The Gulf War and subsequent military hardware purchases. The effort to get both OPEC nations and non-OPEC nations to cut production of oil were doomed to failure from the start. Because of privatizations pushed by the IMF and the World Bank in the 80s and 90s, few nations control the extraction of oil within their own borders anymore; large oil companies do instead: Exxon, Chevron, Unocal, Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Elf Aquitaine, etc. They can control the global supply. And after the Exxon/Mobil merger, this task will become a little bit easier.

Ironically, two major events caused the current worldwide oil glut in the first place: the global economic recession (which has decreased the demand for fuel, particularly in Asia) and global warming–more specifically, an unusually warm winter on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. (which is probably the world’s biggest consumer of heating oil). As late as the first week in December, New York and New Jersey saw temperatures above 70 degrees Farenheit.

Sources for this article include: “Venezuela, oil-rich but poor” by Tom Ashby, Reuters, Dec. 3; “Ecuador calls national emergency to tap funds” by Gustavo Oviedo, Reuters, Dec. 2; “Brazil Senate Ratifies IMF Aid Plan,” AP, Dec. 10; “Petrobras to Boost Oil Output 200,000 Barrels A Day in 1999,” Bloomberg, Dec. 10; “Oil market gets familiar with $9 crude,” Reuters, Dec. 10; “U.S. envoy Jackson urges Nigerian economic reforms” by Paul Okolo, Reuters, Nov. 11; and “Nigeria Leader Touts Privatization,” AP, Nov. 11.

Cremating Monsanto

On Nov. 28, the farmers of Karnataka State in southern India burned an illegal Monsanto field trial. This action marked the beginning of a campaign of civil disobedience called Operation Cremation Monsanto, which is continuing throughout India.

The field belongs to a man named Basanna, who only learned what was growing in his field when the local Minister of Agriculture listed his land as one of three sites where Monsanto was conducting trials on genetically engineered cotton.

According to Basanna’s testimony, Monsanto officials went to his farm in July and asked him to grow, free of cost, a new variety of cotton seeds, which they claimed would give high yields. He was never told that this was an experiment in genetic engineering that could endanger the future viability of his farm and surrounding land.

Monsanto officials, who have signed a written declaration admitting their illegal behavior, regularly applied manure and pesticides to the cotton, including heavy doses of insecticides. Nevertheless, the plants became infested with bollworm (the pest that the bio-engineered cotton is supposed to control) and other pests like white fly and red-rot. Despite the heavy use of chemical fertilizer, the plants grew miserably–less than half the size of the traditional cotton plants in adjacent fields.

No single bio-safety measure was undertaken by Monsanto. They didn’t set up a buffer zone around the field or even demarcate the field as a biohazard area. To understand how serious this is, read the following from the Sunday, Oct. 25 edition of the British newspaper The Mail:

“One of the worst fears of campaigners against genetically modified crops has almost come true. An experimental crop of oilseed rape that was altered to be resistant to herbicides has had to be destroyed after it pollinated nearby plants. The fear was that, left unchecked, a new breed of superweeds, which normal chemicals could not destroy, might have resulted, with devastating effects for Britain’s agriculture … Monsanto and Perryfields failed to prevent genetically modified winter oilseed rape cross-pollinating with another field of their normal oilseed rape. A pollen barrier, or buffer zone, of only two meters instead of the required six surrounded the test site … Tony Strickland, trials manager for Perryfields Holdings, of Inkberrow, Hereford, and Worcester, said, ‘We expect to be prosecuted.'”

Basanna has only now learned that this inferior cotton has already polluted next year’s cotton harvest in the whole region, rendering it as useless as his field. He shares the anger of farmers from the whole area, and has given his approval to the cremation of the cotton grown by Monsanto on his land.

Monsanto’s criminal character can be seen from the following Canadian government report published April 21, 1998 (available at: www.nfu.ca/nfu/Gapsreport.html). This report, prepared by the Canadian Administration of Health, describes the illegal tactics used by Monsanto to obtain permission to commercialize Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), the first genetically modified product ever commercialized in the world.

The report says: “Evidence from the animal safety reviews were not taken into consideration. These studies indicated numerous adverse effects in cows, including birth defects, reproductive disorders, higher incidence of mastitis [infection leading to inflammation of the udder], which may have an impact on human health.” It explicitly states (pg. 14): “There are reports on file that Monsanto pursued aggressive marketing tactics, compensated farmers whose veterinary bills escalated due to increased side effects associated with the use of rBST [Monsanto’s brand of bovine growth hormone], and covered up negative trial results. All the four U.S. manufacturers [Monsanto, Eli Lilly, Cyanamid and Elanco] refused to disclose the lists of their research grants to U.S. universities.”

The Canadian government scientists concluded: “The usually required long-term toxicology studies to ascertain human safety were not conducted. Hence, such possibilities and potential as sterility, infertility, birth defects, cancer, and immunological derangements were not addressed.” The scientists who wrote the report testified before an inquiry board in October that they were pressured by higher-ups to alter the content of their report. Two of the report’s authors, and four other Canadian government scientists, testified that they were threatened with transfers to other jobs where “they would never be heard of again” if they didn’t speed up approval of Monsanto’s rBGH product in Canada.

Furthermore, Monsanto may never be held responsible for disasters like the one on Basanna’s land, because the company may be near bankruptcy; it could never pay compensation for the mess it leaves behind. Monsanto’s relentless pursuit of genetic engineering has led to a string of losses and a 30% drop in the value of its stock. Consider:

–Business analysts describe the corporation’s $1 billion investment in rBGH an economic failure that, after four years of heavy promotion, is used on only 4% of American dairy cows.

–The Monsanto Calgene Flavr-Saver tomato was taken off the market in 1996 due to consumer resistance and production failures.

–Monsanto’s entire Canadian genetically-engineered rapeseed crop was recalled in 1997 because of “technical difficulties.”

–Half of Monsanto’s genetically engineered cotton crop in the U.S. was attacked by bollworms in 1996, prompting lawsuits by outraged cotton growers.

–In 1997 the company’s Roundup Ready cotton did little better, with boll damage or deformities that led to still more lawsuits.

–Irish authorities made public U.S. EPA documents revealing that Monsanto’s supposedly Roundup-resistant sugar-beets were dying in significant numbers after being sprayed with Roundup.

–Monsanto is suffering from mounting public relations and marketing problems across Europe, as protesters continue to uproot genetically engineered field crops and organize media campaigns against the company. More and more European supermarket chains are purchasing non-genetically engineered products.

–In the U.S. Monsanto is getting a lot of bad press for prosecuting farmers who save seeds from soybean crops grown on their own land; those crops were grown from Monsanto’s patented “Roundup Ready” soybean seeds. According to press reports, Monsanto has hired Pinkerton detectives to harass more than 1,800 farmers and seed dealers across the country, with 475 potential criminal “seed piracy” cases already under investigation. A group of seed-saving farmers in Kentucky, Iowa, and Illinois have already been forced to pay fines to Monsanto of up to $35,000 each. Besides the cost of the seeds, a $6.50 technology fee is charged by Monsanto for each 50 pound bag of Roundup Ready seed. As Monsanto told the Associated Press on Oct. 27, “We say they can pay (either of) two royalties–$6.50 at the store or $600 in court.”

–On Oct. 30, the world’s largest agricultural research institute (the CGIAR) banned “terminator technology” from their crop breeding programs. Their policy statement reads: “The CGIAR will not incorporate into its breeding materials any genetic systems designed to prevent seed germination. This is in recognition of (a) concerns over potential risks of its inadvertent or unintended spread through pollen; (b) the possibilities of sale or exchange of inviable seed for planting; (c) the importance of farm-saved seed, particularly to resource-poor farmers; (d) potential negative impacts on genetic diversity, and (e) the importance of farmer selection and breeding for sustainable agriculture.”

All these reverses have left Monsanto hurting. Recently the company had to back off from an announced $35 billion merger with American Home Products (AHP), which would have provided Monsanto with the capital and sales force to market its genetically engineered products. Monsanto is now laying off workers, and has taken out a loan from Citibank for several billion dollars in cash. The company also announced plans to sell four billion dollars in new stocks, but financial analysts predict that Monsanto may now be close to terminal bankruptcy.

In the face of the Indian government’s collusion with Monsanto, farmers have taken more action to destroy the bio-hazardous substances Monsanto has planted in their midst. A second cremation occurred in the village of Bannikallu, and a third in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Activists have also stormed Monsanto’s office in Hyderabad. As a result, the Andhra Pradesh government has asked Monsanto to halt all its field trials in that state.

Adapted by Maria Tomchick from two press releases written by The Karnataka State Farmers Association (KRRS) in Sindhanoor, India. The KRRS describes itself as a Ghandian movement of 10 million farmers. For more information, you can visit the following web site: http://www.halcyon.com/dante/monsanto.

Appalled at Pacific Place

I resisted as long as I could, but finally had to check out Pacific Place Mall for myself.

The new Nordstrom and Pacific Place malls are part of a whole series of developments to gentrify an old and familiar neighborhood. First the Convention Center, then the bus tunnel, followed by Westlake Mall, Niketown, FAO Schwartz, GameWorks, Planet Hollywood, Old Navy, and a whole slew of other upscale, out-of-town chain stores have driven out affordable housing and mom-and-pop businesses and turned this neighborhood into a retail nightmare.

On 7th Avenue between Pike and Pine Streets is the last block of affordable housing left in the corridor–now boarded up and soon to be demolished to make way for the Convention Center expansion. I realize it’s not PC to complain about this, because Capital Hill residents fought like crazy to push the expansion northward, instead of east, but I can’t help it. Developers always win when the discussion shifts from “no new development” to “which apartments should be torn down.”

On approaching the Pacific Place mall, I decide to walk completely around the block and see the whole outside of it first. The architecture is ugly, no question. It’s designed to draw people in through its main entrances on Pine Street and repel people along its other three sides along 7th, 6th, and Olive Way. In this way, it resembles any suburban shopping mall that turns a forbidding concrete face to the acres of parking lots around it; the message is: “Get your ass inside where you belong, or get the hell out of here.”

On the corner of 7th and Pine is a Barnes & Noble bookstore that proudly displays Anne Rice, Sidney Sheldon, Judith Krantz and other supermarket bestsellers in hardback (Why? Who would pay $30 for such garbage?) side-by-side with remainder-quality coffee table books. Peeking through the windows over piles of Bill Gates’ latest authorized PR bio, I can see the most uncluttered, uninteresting book store I’ve ever seen. So, of course, I don’t go inside, and soon I realize how common that reaction is for more “shoppers” at Pacific Place.

All down 7th Avenue are window displays of expensive, boring clothes in black, white and gray hanging from anorexic, headless mannequins. The main feature, however, is the 7th Avenue entrance to the taxpayer-funded parking garage, and a big display of ugly nock-offs of Victorian and Colonial era furniture and fixtures. Turning the corner onto Olive Way reveals the loading dock. At last, the first sign of real humanity: three guys squatting on the sidewalk in dirty white coveralls, taking a cigarette break. On the 6th Avenue side is the exit from the taxpayer subsidized garage–with an annoying noise maker to warn pedestrians that a BMW will soon be running them over if they don’t get the fuck out of the way. A large Starbucks (another one?) and The Pottery Barn, dominate that side of the building. Interestingly, The Pottery Barn and J Crew–two catalogue retailers–seem to be the anchor stores in this complex, which is probably a very stupid move on the part of the mall ownership. From what I could tell, shoppers are not rushing the doors to get inside these two stores.

Walking inside the main entrance of the mall, my first impression was: “what a vast waste of space.” I think about the tiny, studio apartment I live in on Capital Hill. The mall is four floors of stores organized around a central, D-shaped “well” that’s open all the way to the ceiling of the fourth floor. The wasted space is necessary to entice people upstairs to shop the small stores. Everything on the ground floor is designed to move you on, not make you want to linger. There’s a very cold feeling to everything: stone floors with stainless steel inlay, three, separate stainless steel escalators, yet another coffee bar in the central space, and a few tiny, sterile metal tables for seating.

The ground floor stores are full of “useless items”: jewelry (Tiffany’s and Cartier), unrecognizable gadgets (Brookstone), dull boutique clothes with European names, expensive junk for the home (Pottery Barn), and a blur of other trash. I flee up the escalator to the 2nd floor.

… To find still more Euro-gunk. Fatigue sets in, and I haven’t even seen a full half of the place yet. But I notice something important: there are few or no customers in these pointless stores and lots of people are standing around near the balconies just hanging out, gawking, or waiting to meet someone–which speaks to Seattle’s need for more parks and open spaces. I notice that the salespeople in each store are standing frozen like mannequins, waiting hopefully for someone to come inside and take a look. At least the toilets are well-used. And they’re already falling apart; my stall is missing the coat-hook, and the door already sags on its hinges. Leaving the bathroom, I notice there’s a line to use the pay phones, too. What a rarity in downtown; public toilets and pay phones that work!

Gymboree, the children’s clothing store carefully segregates everything by sex: boys wear belts, girls don’t. Girls wear hats with ruffles, instead. Nauseating.

The fake athletic store has no work-out clothes, only polyester and nylon rapper fashions. I notice only one customer: a graying man in a “distressed” leather jacket nervously buying some spandex shorts.

Helly Hanson is an outdoors clothing chain that specializes in bargain prices. But not here. As soon as I walk inside, the saleswoman immediately pegs me as a slacker with no money, who’s just there to listen to the Neil Young song playing on the store speakers. She hounds me with “Can I help you?” while ignoring a graying man struggling into a parka that’s too small for him. She persists: “Is there anything in particular I can point you to?”

On the third level I find purgatory: a Starbuck’s Cafe. I can always go home and burn my own toast, thank you. Yet there’s a line of people waiting to get in.

The main attraction on the third floor is a store with a European name that’s full of hand-knit sweaters. I want to drool over them, but can’t stop thinking about the sweatshop workers who knit them.

The fourth floor is dominated by an 11-screen Cinema complex (sex-segregation on screen shown by non-union projectionists). The restaurants are a sit-down microcosm of upper-middle-class American tastes: the obligatory singles-bar/brewery, a family-style southwest restaurant, and Stars! (a snobbish, Euro-dining fiasco). Before I get the dry heaves, I rush back down to the third floor to find myself at the foot of a skybridge. At last, an escape from Purgatory!

Crossing over, I enter the ninth circle of Hell: Nordstrom. Hell is just what you would image, though: it resembles a department store in any suburban shopping mall in America–only smaller and more cramped. Clearly Nordstrom didn’t do the move because they needed more space. My first thought is: “Wait! I’m in the Bon–but why isn’t there any elbow room?” >From the white asbestos ceiling tiles and the beige flooring, to cosmetics and accessories on the main floor and menswear in the basement, to the criss-crossing central escalators, nothing–not a stitch–is any different from the same-old dullness. And like most shopping malls, it gave me a headache.

There was nothing at Pacific Place that’s as strange or funny as the Westlake Mall’s third floor food court, where you can sit next to a homeless guy, scarf junk food, and watch the women’s aerobics class across the street…or watch the monorail passengers watch you eating as they come and go. Westlake, in all its shiny, gross consumerism, is actually stimulating next to the blandness of Pacific Place and Nordstrom.

But what I really want is the graffiti and trash back. I want sidewalk trees, band posters on boarded-up buildings, and mom-and-pop stores. I want people hanging out on the sidewalks, lots of grass instead of brick plazas, more buses and fewer cars, and most of all, I want cheap places for people to live. Because that’s what makes a city livable.

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