We pulled in to the crowded gas station, and the pumps that weren’t yellow-bagged had people already pumping gas, so we pulled in behind a soccer grandmom in a white Toyota SUV to wait our turn for a pump. Presently, my oldest son—who is 10 years old–said, “Y’know, I feel bad for people like that.” I turned to look at him and saw that he was looking out the window at a woman sitting on the tailgate of her dilapidated pickup truck, holding a sign that said:
“OUT OF GAS
I hadn’t noticed her until that point, and as my wife got out of the car, headed into the store to get a few last-minute items, she gave the woman a few dollars. Before I could reply, the white SUV in front of of us pulled out and it was our turn at the pump. I noticed the price of the gas as I was pumping: $3.85. Not as high as I’ve seen it here in Southern California, but not cheap. I began to wonder how much gas the woman needed and thought that she wouldn’t be able to get very much with just the amount we had given her. I wondered how far she had to go to get home.
I finished pumping and pulled ahead for the next person in line behind me to get access to the pump I had just used. There was an open area by the curb just ahead of the broke pickup truck woman, so we pulled in there to wait for my wife to come out of the store. I handed my son a few more dollars to give to the woman, and he was glad to go give her the money. When he got back in, he made this simple yet profound pronouncement:
“Y’know the problem with today’s society? Too many broke people.”
I told him that he was absolutely correct and was about to start pontificating when he continued:
“And y’know what happens when people are broke? They might have to turn to crime.”
He was on a roll, and he continued:
“When I was in Mississippi, I saw at least 4 broke people. At least. They were all broke and out of gas and couldn’t go anywhere.”
He had recently visited his grandparents in Mississippi over summer vacation, but this was the first time he had mentioned seeing these people.
The Powwow awaits
At this point, my wife came out of the store and got back in the car. As we drove away, I asked my son to repeat his observations to her. We were heading east down the 76, toward Pala, on our way to the 7th Annual Honoring Traditions Powwow, with a lively discussion about my son’s observations helping us pass the time.
He wondered if the broke woman couldn’t get a job for some reason and that her lack of employment might be why she was broke. I told him being broke doesn’t necessarily mean one doesn’t have a job, that there is a phenomenon known as being “working poor.” I told him that the fact that there are in fact too many broke people is not an accident—that as Stanley Druckenmiller and Dylan Ratigan–among others–have pointed out, we are witnessing (in Druckenmiller’s words):
“…the biggest redistribution of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the rich ever.”
We pointed out that my son’s observation about broke people having to turn to crime is also apparently part of the overall scheme, because in many states private prisons are guaranteed a high level of occupancy, as pointed out here in the Washington Post:
“The report from In The Public Interest, a transparency watchdog group, finds many state, county and local governments that outsource prisons to private corporations frequently sign contracts that guarantee a certain occupancy rate in prison beds. If governments don’t meet those quotas, the contracts require them to pay the firms for unoccupied beds.
Almost two-thirds of the agreements between county and local governments and private prison contractors have occupancy rate clauses, the study found. And in several states, those rates are sky-high: Three Arizona contracts require 100 percent occupancy; three Oklahoma contracts guarantee 98 percent occupancy. Two contracts in Louisiana guarantee that 96 percent of prison beds will be filled.”
And of course the whole point of this is that once the broke person has turned to so-called crime due to broke-ness and been put in one of these private—or public–gulags, that broke person then becomes super-cheap labor for those that rendered the inmate broke in the first place, as pointed out in this Fortune story (you really must read the whole thing—it’s frightening) called “Prison Labor’s New Frontier: Artisanal Foods”:
“’States like Colorado and California are at the forefront of a growing trend,’ says Genevieve LeBaron, who has studied the issue as a politics professor at the University of Sheffield in England. CCI, a self-funded state agency, is leading the charge with a burgeoning $65 million business that employs 2,000 convicts at 17 facilities. The idea: Offer small businesses a flexible workforce and give prisoners the chance to stockpile earnings and skills needed for life outside prison bars.
Says John Scaggs, Haystack’s marketing and sales director, referring to CCI: ‘They have land. They have human capital, the equipment. If you can think it up, they can do it, and do it fast.’
The practice has long been controversial. Prisoners earn meager wages and have no recourse if they’re mistreated, LeBaron argues. Plus, they can take jobs from law-abiding citizens. “It’s hugely concerning in the face of economic instability and unemployment,” she says.
Counters Smith: “These are coveted jobs.” Base pay starts at 60¢ a day, but most prisoners earn $300 to $400 a month with incentives, he says. To be hired, inmates must get a GED and maintain good behavior for six months.”
One of the great things about driving the 76 is the preponderance of fruit stands on the side of the road, particularly those that sell bags of 25 avocados for $5. They’re small, of course, but they’re locally-grown—nearby Fallbrook calls itself “The Avocado Capital of the World” and the freeway that we took to get to the 76 has signs posted billing that section of it as “The Avocado Highway.” We stopped to get a bag of 25/$5, and the seller had merely pulled up his truck onto the shoulder (which was almost a turnout-type of area) and set up a couple of folding tables in a L-shape underneath an EZ Up with his wares displayed beneath it. A few yards away, another vendor had done the same thing with some different produce.
We pulled up to the avocado guy, who was selling every bag for $5—bags with 25 small ones, or bags with 4-5 big ones. Quickly got my 25/$5, paid him and was back on the 76. I pointed out to my son that vendors like that one were facing extinction, even though that is one of the oldest ways to make money (if not the oldest, wink wink), i.e., sell products on the side of the road. For example, here is a story from Forbes (“The Inexplicable War on Lemonade Stands”):
“In Coralville, Iowa police shut down 4-year-old Abigail Krstinger’s lemonade stand after it had been up for half an hour. Dustin Krustinger told reporters that his daughter was selling lemonade at 25 cents a cup during the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Race Across Iowa (or RAGBRAI), and couldn’t have made more than five dollars, adding “If the line is drawn to the point where a four-year-old eight blocks away can’t sell a couple glasses of lemonade for 25 cents, than I think the line has been drawn at the wrong spot.”
Nearby, mother Bobbie Nelson had her kids’ lemonade stand shutdown as well. Police informed her that a permit would cost $400.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, police shutdown a lemonade stand run by three girls who were saving money to go to a water park. Police said the girls needed a business license, a peddler’s permit, and a food permit to operate the stand, which cost $50 per day or $180 per year each, sums that would quickly cut into any possible profit-margin.
In Appleton, Wisconsin the city council recently passed an ordinance preventing vendors from selling products within two blocks of local events – including kids who want to sell lemonade or cookies.”
Or how about this story from 2009, regarding the very place where we were:
“A similar effort to investigate roadside produce vendors has taken shape in San Diego County.
‘We long had suspicions that illegal roadside vendors were a source for selling stolen product, but they are also undercutting the legitimate price of the product for legitimate growers,’ said San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Elisabeth Silva. ‘We’ve got a long tradition in this state for roadside stands, for farmers putting their product available directly to the consumer at a roadside stand and I don’t think the general public has any idea that they are contributing to a major theft problem’ by patronizing illegal roadside vendors.
In the Valley Center area of San Diego County, Silva and the Sheriff’s Department have cracked down on roadside vendors who sell avocados, citrus fruit, tomatoes, cut flowers and decorative plants. Like their counterparts in other counties, they first educated vendors about licensing and vending permit requirements and then checked back to see if those rules were followed.
‘What has happened is so far everybody who has received a warning and some education has left. It’s been real cost effective,’ Silva said.”
Turns out the state will get its cut one way or the other—either through the required permits or through locking people up.
Arriving at the Powwow
We began to see signs for the powwow, and began to wind down the conversation because we would soon be getting out of the car. We did point out that we were entering a reservation, which is where the Indians were made to live after having their land stolen, which of course fit into the overall theme of the conversation we were having. Indeed, the history of these particular Indians on the tribe’s website puts it this way:
“The land they had lived on for countless generations…now is controlled and used to the exclusion of the [Indians] by Americans who displaced them. As the Spanish, Mexicans and, later, the American trailblazers grew in number in the region, the [Indians] began to work in serf-like relations to the newcomers.”
Interestingly, the “eviction” of the Kuupangaxwichem (what the Indians who now live in the area referred to themselves as) wasn’t until the twentieth century—1903, to be exact. The Indians had lost a quiet title case and fought it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower court’s decision, meaning that the Indians had to go. The case, Barker v. Harvey, basically stands for the absurd principle that there is no more aboriginal title in California because Indians did not file to have their claim to their land approved by a 3-member board set up for that purpose under the federal Land Claims Act of 1851. There was a two-year period to do so, and no Indians in California filed, so courts thereafter uniformly ruled that Indians in California had lost their aboriginal title. Here are the relevant sections of the law as quoted in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Botiller v. Dominguez (1889):
“’SEC. 1. That for the purpose of ascertaining and settling private land claims in the State of California, a commission shall be, and is hereby, constituted, which shall consist of three commissioners, to be appointed by the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, which commission shall continue for three years from the date of this act, unless sooner discontinued by the President of the United States’
Section 13 declares:
‘That all lands, the claims to which have been finally rejected by the commissioners in manner herein provided, or which shall be finally decided to be invalid by the District or Supreme Court, and all lands the claims to which shall not have been presented to the said commissioners within two years after the date of this act, shall be deemed, held and considered as part of the public domain of the United States…’”
So having decided that the Kuupangaxwichem had to go, they were forcibly evicted from their ancestral home, as described on the website of the Pala Indians:
“President Rutherford Hayes, prompted by the Supreme Court holding, declared the Indians ‘trespassers’ and ordered the tribe relocated to Pala, California, just beyond the Palomar Mountains where a 10,000-acre reservation had been established. Pala was a Luiseno reservation then, not Cupa. This act marked the first time in U.S. history that two distinct Indian tribes were herded together in one reservation. This was a blemish upon a nation that prided itself on leading the world into the 20th Century and the cultural and political renaissance that accompanied such a transition.
On the morning of May 12, 1903, Indian Bureau agent James Jenkins arrived with 44 armed teamsters to carry out the eviction. Rosinda Nolasquez — the last survivor of the expulsion — later testified that ‘Many carts stood there by the doors. People came from La Mesa, from Santa Ysabel, fromWilakal, from San Ignacio to see their relatives. They cried a lot. And they just threw our belongings, our clothes, into carts.’
The 40-mile journey from Cupa to Pala took three days. The Cupeños call it their ‘Trail of Tears.’”
And so we see that the people being broke, imprisoned, reduced to serfdom, and foreclosed and evicted is a longstanding American tradition. It’s just that now it’s finally having that Niemoller effect—first they came for the Indians…and now they’re coming for the rest of us.
Too many broke people. If a 10-year-old can figure that out, why do so many other people have such difficulty with the concept? Hopefully they won’t, after seeing the evidence presented here.