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Mark Bennett
07/31/2014 11:39 AM

The July 25 Ledger Dispatch ran a Guest Commentary titled, “Declaration against the Dollar General Project in Pine Grove.” The writers charged Dollar General with paying only the minimum wage. What are the wages of the present store clerks and restaurant workers in Pine Grove? Have they done a survey? They also charge Dollar General with selling cheap imported goods. How is this different than any other store in Pine Grove or elsewhere in the United States?

They also state, “Dollar General is obligated to its shareholders, not to our community.” Since almost everyone who has a pension, or an IRA in mutual funds, is a Dollar General shareholder, that must include a significant number of Pine Grove residents. Many of the project opponents are probably uninformed hypocrites. But that hasn’t deterred them from pursuing class warfare style statements such as, “Its investors are some of the wealthiest stockholders in the world.”

They furthered this anti-rich theme when they stated, “The biggest investor in Dollar General is The Vanguard Group, the world’s largest mutual fund company, owning 2.4 trillion dollars in publicly traded stock ... .” The picture they are attempting to paint of trillions of dollars against us ordinary people is simply untrue. The Vanguard Group, as with any mutual fund, does not own the stocks in the fund portfolio. They belong to the fund investors, and if the mutual fund goes bankrupt, the individual shares in companies such as Dollar General revert to the purchasers of the original mutual fund investment. Mutual funds are simply a go-between, an investment trust, to make investing easier and more convenient.

While anyone is certainly free to oppose the Pine Grove Dollar General store, misrepresentations, untruths and phony “them versus us” rhetoric devalues democratic debate and debases our public discourse.

Copyright © 2014 Amador Ledger Dispatch
Jim Snoke & Georgann Wilmot
08/01/2014 10:33 PM
To: Editor of the Amador Ledger-Dispatch -

Thank you for giving us the guest commentary space in your opinion section. We attempted to address only the Dollar General issues. However, a letter writer – whom you also printed – saw fit to attack us, not the Dollar General issue. If you are going to print such a letter that labels our effort to stop Dollar General as misrepresentation, untruth, and phony rhetoric - a slanderous set of accusations that simply amount to “oh yeah?” – I feel that we must respond to this in the same, public forum. The issue here is the important thing – not how I or the letter writer feel about each other. In the interest of fairness, I hope you agree.

Re: Rejoinder to the “Declaration Against Dollar General”

The only misrepresentation, untruth, and phony “them versus us” rhetoric comes from the letter writer who tries to assault the effort to stop Dollar General from coming into Pine Grove by attempting to convince the readers that we apparently are trying to harm good, democratic discourse. Every statement included in our letter to the Ledger-Dispatch is supported by data or it is directly stated to be opinion. We have given opinion and factual information, and we have clearly distinguished between the two. This is truly democratic discourse, and is an expression of our deep concern for the trend toward multi-state and multi-national box stores that continue to destroy local businesses and communities. The only undemocratic debate and discourse can come from someone who violates the “law of argument” and the “law of rationality” by attempting to shout down the facts by labeling them “phony”. Where are the data to support his claim? In modern, issue-based discourse, the emphasis should be on the issue – not on an attempt to hide the issue by attacking the person who raises it.

Here are the points we attempted to make in our original commentary:

1. “We already have good, well-supported community-based stores, including a grocery, banks, pharmacy, restaurants, hardware, convenience, and other retail stores, each of which gives back to our community with their mutual support and community action”.

There is not a shred of “untruth” or “phony them versus us rhetoric” about that statement.

2. “Dollar General has stated that they will not contribute to the support of our community as a matter of company policy, and we know from the experience of other towns and cities that any money spent locally will simply be funneled back to their corporate headquarters in Tennessee.”

This is patently true. In addition to the data from other communities in California and from other states, we have testimony from the management representative of Dollar General that this statement is, indeed, true.

3. “Hiring 4 to 6 workers, at minimum wage, while destroying other, established businesses in our community and putting as many as 40 people out of work, is not only anti-business, it is anti-community and downright immoral.”

This is an estimate of course, but it reads: “as many as”. We can’t know the exact number, but if Claypool’s Market and Pinecone Pharmacy were to close because of the ability of Dollar General to import directly from China, the number of local employees directly affected could easily reach 40. And these are 40 families affected – not simply 40 individuals. Dollar General employees earn minimum wage, and the overwhelming majority of them are part-time cashier/stockers who do not get benefits. Also, Dollar General sells Folgers Coffee for $3.00 discounted from $7.98. Fred Claypool cannot sell it for that and stay in business. Dollar General’s Web site advertises more than 76,000 products for sale. While many of those items have American brand names, the majority are imported, and delivered directly from China to American ports by air, through FedEx and their 35 flights per day, and by sea. Some of those items, such as Gillette razor blades, are actually illegal copies produced in China and sold for less than the authentic product in the United States. Local businesses simply cannot compete with a multi-national corporation that is set up to import goods at one-seventh the cost that local businesses must withstand (importer’s statement of cost savings).

4. “In our opinion, Dollar General is guilty of predatory business practices, and sells cheap imported goods produced by laborers in other countries who work in sweatshop conditions while being paid as little as one or two dollars per day.”

This statement begins with: “In our opinion” – how is this a misrepresentation, untruth, or “phony them versus us rhetoric”? Anyone who doesn’t understand this needs to do some reading. The IMF, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank give loans to struggling and emerging nations. To repay those loans, emerging nations – including China – pay their workers between one and two dollars per day, in sweatshop conditions, to produce the goods that are imported to the United States. For further information on exactly how this process developed and how it works today, see the film: “Life and Debt”. I am tracking more than 100 such loans to African, Asian, Pacific Ocean, Caribbean, and Latin American countries currently. Many of the poorest countries are deliberately defaulting on the loans because of the predatory interest rates and short-term payoff demands.

5. “We believe that our community has been targeted by their company headquarters as an unincorporated area that could easily be exploited, regardless of the consequences to us and to the families of those who would lose their jobs as businesses are forced to close.”

This statement begins: “We believe….”. How is that misleading?

6. “Dollar General is a publically-traded company on the NASDAC stock exchange, not a local, private business. Its investors are some of the wealthiest stockholders in the world. Dollar General is obligated to its shareholders, not to our community. The biggest investor in Dollar General is The Vanguard Group, the world’s largest mutual fund company, owning 2.4 trillion dollars in publically-traded stock.”

Nothing in this statement is false, nor does it suffer from anything “misleading”. The point of this statement is that Claypool’s, Pinecone, Up Country Hardware, and the other businesses in Pine Grove are not publicly held companies. They do not answer to investors. And, they cannot compete with a corporation that deliberately sets out to undersell every other business in the area. This is Dollar General’s stated goal – do some reading.

7. “Efforts on the part of other communities in California and in other states to stop the intrusion of Dollar General have succeeded because of the negative primary and secondary impacts associated with their box stores and their 8am to 10pm, 365 days a year business practices – increased crime, lower property values, noise, and traffic problems.”

This is a direct reference to Joshua Tree’s successful ruling against Dollar General because of the secondary impacts to the general community environment. The current CEQA regulations make this action possible.

8. “We know that many important changes to the immediate Pine Grove area have taken place since the original EIR was proposed in the 1980’s and we are convinced that it is incumbent upon Amador County to reconsider this development on those grounds alone”.

This statement is certainly not misleading, and Amador County agrees. However, Amador County also believes that it is okay to violate its own ordinance against combining parcels with different zoning categories because “we have done it in the past” – a quote from the BOS.

9. “The public then, as well as now, did not have sufficient input into what simply became a negative declaration on the part of the county.”

This is certainly true. Nevertheless, Amador County is pressing ahead with the project.

10. “In 2005, Dollar General was forced by the Securities and Exchange Commission to rectify falsified stock values and dividend reports for the years 1999, 2000, and 2001.”

This is true, and the data are extensive. Look it up.

11. “Last year, in Illinois, the Chicago office of the EEOC filed a nationwide lawsuit against Dollar General based on discrimination charges filed by two rejected applicants. That lawsuit charges that Dollar General conditions all of its job offers based on background checks that unfairly discriminate against applicants on the basis of race. Dollar General operates 10,000 stores in 40 states, plus 11 distribution centers. Ninety percent of all Dollar General employees nationwide are store clerks who are both stockers and cashiers at the stores.”

This is also true – look it up.

12. “The 2008 Vision Plan for Pine Grove is in direct conflict with the Dollar General proposal.”

We can provide a copy of the 2008 Vision Plan. There is nothing misleading here.

13. “We are convinced that there has been sufficient traffic-flow increase since the 2010 traffic study to warrant both an update in 2014 and new, full-scale EIR detailing proposed mitigations to resolve the negative primary and secondary impacts to Pine Grove.”

“We are convinced” – this is a statement of our beliefs only.

We don’t care if some, or even many residents in Amador County disagree with us and our effort to stop Dollar General. In fact, we fully expect it, and that is obvious since there is already a WalMart, Kmart, and other box stores in Amador County and people continue to shop there every day – regardless of the fact that Walmart has the worst employment record of any company in the United States. These stores have had the combined effect of literally destroying local business in cities and towns all over America. Walmart is finally being attacked at the federal level because its low-wage policy costs the American taxpayers more than 62 billion dollars annually due to the fact that Walmart employees must apply for government assistance in order to survive. That assistance comes from you and me as taxpayers. We fully expect that Dollar General, and the other “dollar” type stores will also be attacked at the federal level as well.

The letter writer would have you believe that pensions and investments create a return to the people of Pine Grove, but that is simply a revolving door, and a sad example of supply-side, trickle-down economics. Any money that comes in through the pension or investment is a singular value. The majority of the money that pensioners receive is money they contributed to their own retirements. Any other return goes out at least twice in the form of taxes to pay for assistance to current workers because of substandard wages paid by the box stores, and to, in addition, directly buy the products that companies like Walmart and Dollar General sell. Dollar General lives off of the detritus left over after Walmart takes the biggest bite. Let’s give that to our local businesses instead of to the 533 major investors in Dollar General. If you disagree, then side with the letter writer who feels that we are somehow anti-business, or anti-democratic because we wish to protect our local community from harm. Come to think of it, given the fact that Walmart survives in Jackson, and that Dollar General is not only coming to Pine Grove, but also to Plymouth, Jackson, and Ione, those who place shopping at box stores above supporting and protecting local businesses will have a grand time shopping until they drop while killing – yes, killing – local, home-grown business and turning our communities into strip malls.

Jim Snoke
Volcano, CA
Mark Bennett
08/02/2014 3:26 AM
Your facts, to the extent that they were truthful, were preselected and presented with a definite spin. If you think that multi state stores ruin communities then you are choosing to ignore the historic facts that Woolworth and other chains made small town American retailing possible with Sears and Wards mail orders filling in the gaps.

If Dollar General sells coffee at a much lower price, most people will buy the Dollar General coffee because they are already financially struggling. If it’s important that the local merchant donates to our community, then why not take the savings from buying the less expensive coffee and donate it yourself? Why have some third party make that decision for you?

If you suppose that as many as 40 people may lose their jobs, how did you come up with that figure? History is littered with scare stories of job losses due to greater efficiencies that never worked out to be true: the 10,000 New York City manual elevator operators, the six million would be secretaries word processing eliminated, etc, etc. I would personally like to see all those alleged future unemployed work for much higher wages at lumber mills, gold mines, hydro electric facilities, biomass plants, etc. Protesting Dollar General only contributes to the anti business attitude here and helps preclude future investment.
Mark Bennett
08/02/2014 3:27 AM
Sam Walton realized something that is obvious in retrospect. There were six steps between manufacture and final consumption. This took months of time, tied up capital and trapped people into dead end low wage jobs loading and unloading goods. Wal Mart has reduced those steps and strives for factory to store delivery. This has saved consumers untold amounts of money and perfectly reflects Adam Smith’s concept of the individual hand.

None of us likes cheap imported goods. I will never forget the day I poured hot soup into an East Asian bowl and it cracked wide open from the heat. But you are complaining after the fact of the 20 or so years of American deindustrialization. I find it far more contributory to fight for the reindustrialization of America. We need look no further than the unnecessary controversy over the Newman Ridge project.

If products are illegal copies such as the Gillette razor blades you referred to then that is a criminal offense and they should be prosecuted. If the government refuses to that is probably a reflection of the blackmail power the Chinese have over us because we owe them so much money.
Mark Bennett
08/02/2014 3:28 AM
I certainly agree that the IMF and similar instutions aren’t exactly benign entities. In many cases the best thing we can do for these countries is to leave them alone. During the 1950’s we advised Latin America to inflate to solve their problems and then blamed them for the consequences. A related example is that many African nations don’t have their own teachers and teacher’s colleges because the teachers are almost always short term volunteers from more advanced countries. They need their own teachers’ corps to determine their own destinies.

I believe that Pine Grove was selected by Dollar General due to their accurate assessment of our demographics. Those sad figures are the result of 20+ years of the local no growth movement. The people who are complaining the loudest overlap with those that have worked the hardest to decrease our local economy. I find this to be dishonest and hypocritical. I would also like a higher quality store in Pine Grove, but I don’t deny reality.

The Dollar General stockholders in pensions and IRA mutual funds are the largest group of stockholders and I reminded you that they own the company under the law. Somehow you choose to completely ignore that. What is wrong with a store than has hours convenient to more people than an individually owned shop? I can see many people driving into the Sierras in the evening, shopping at Dollar General and contributing new sales tax revenue to the county.
Mark Bennett
08/02/2014 3:30 AM
As for combining parcels with different zoning, that is the clear intent of the proposed General Plan’s Town Center concept for Pine Grove. The legal land use fine points of our over regulated economy will be apparently determined in the courts.

If Dollar General doesn’t hire people with criminal records I find no fault in that, but I can’t comment on the specific case without more detail. However, you stated that their case was based on race. There is the argument that more black people have criminal records and that this is due to racism. Certainly it is true that if you live in an apartment and play in the street you are more likely to get caught at something than if you are doing the same thing in your private backyard. But that equally affects all people of lower incomes. The black community is clearly suffering from fatherless homes and the ravages of the welfare state. There was far less crime in black neighborhoods when families were intact even during the tragic times of Jim Crow.

What is the legal standing of the 2008 Vision Plan for Pine Grove? According to my recollection it was strictly a private venture by residents of a confined political bent. Traffic in Pine Grove has declined due to population lose since the 2010 Traffic Study. Your assertion that it is otherwise is rather shaky to say the least.
Mark Bennett
08/02/2014 3:30 AM
Wal Mart and other big retailers pay the same wages as small local businesses, but often have better benefits. The problem is not their wages, but that people who would have been working in factories, mines, etc, at much higher wages, are now subsisting on employment in retail and fast food. Like my statement about a cheap store coming here, you are attacking the symptoms and not the problem. The Keystone Pipeline and Alaska’s Pebble Bay mining project would be a good start to getting America back to prosperity.

You stated that most of the pension benefits a retiree receives is due to the cash paid into the pension and not the investment return. Let’s assume that someone works 30 years and that $300 a month is paid into their pension and that it compounds tax deferred at 8% a year. The investment income provides far more than the contributions. In years when market returns are very high no contribution is often made into the plans because it is not necessary.

You appear to hate the success of others and do have a them versus us attitude that your rebuttal reinforced.

Mark Bennett, Pine Grove
Jim Barber
08/03/2014 1:29 AM
I agree with Mark Bennett and disagree with Jim Snoke and Georgann Wilmont!
I have cast my vote for Dollar General and will support them in their efforts to bring lower prices, better selections and more convenient hours to the citizens of Pine Grove by casting my money into their cash drawers and enjoying my foreign made products.
We must stop thinking only about "our little village" and work to better the world. Help those countries that make those inexpensive products that we can afford to buy. If Jim and Georgann are so against these evil corporate giants then they and all their supporters should not buy thing that is not made, grown or run
locally, i.e. all the locally produced cars, trucks, clothes, TV sets, computers, computer games and medicines.
Open the borders and let everyone come to the US of A.
Mark Bennett
08/03/2014 2:14 AM
In my section on Wal Mart and the 6 steps I meant to say Adam Smith’s invisible hand, not individual hand. Mark Bennett
Scott Coleman
08/05/2014 9:31 AM
Here's a link to a Wall Street Journal article listing Dollar General among the worst companies to work for:

http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/07/19/americas-worst-companies-to-work-for-2/2/
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