Wednesday, August 22, 2007

August 20, 2007

How WalMart

Killed America's Golden Goose

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go;
I owe my soul to the company store.

I do believe we just heard the fat lady warming up in her dressing room.

Walmart misses, cuts outlook
Economic pressure around the world blamed for poor showing
Reuters: August 14, 2007 -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reported a lower-than-expected quarterly profit and cut its full-year earnings forecast on Tuesday, saying its customers remain under economic pressure..."It is no secret that many customers are running out of money toward the end of the month," Scott said on a recorded conference call. (Full)

What? The great American working class, running out of money? How can that be?

Well to begin with they aren't the “American”working class any more. They've become the WalMart working class. Yes, WalMart is a nation. To be precise it's the world's 4th largest economy. Over the last decade or so WalMart has had more impact on the lives of America's working classes – from the working poor to skilled blue collar workers – than Uncle Sam.

The WalMart nation is comprised of roughly 127 million former American workers.

With more than 127 million customers visiting a U.S. Wal-Mart store or a Sam's Club warehouse location in America every week, the company is considered a barometer of the health of the nation's retail sector.

The deal, according to free-trade, free-market conservatives, went like this:
  1. Allow WalMart (and other super-discount stores) to devastate local, small businesses because,
  2. Such large retailers bring economies of scale, lower prices and create more new jobs than the jobs lost in the once locally owned retail sector.
  3. Allow these WalMart-types to import unlimited goods from cheap labor countries like China, even though doing so destroys high-paying US manufacturing jobs, because...
  4. US workers must adjust to compete in the new global economy and, even though their once high-paying manufacturing jobs will be replaced with lower-paying service sector jobs – like those $10/hr. Jobs at WalMart -- they won't feel the pain because.
  5. US workers will be able to buy the imported stuff for so much less at WalMart.
See. A win-win. Right?

No. It was never right and and now we can prove it. WalMart cut the golden goose open figuring it could grab all the gold for itself. Now all they – and we -- have to show for it is goose on life support.

For a while anyway, many displaced American workers bought into WalMart's fairytale economic analysis. In the beginning they flocked to their local WalMarts to scarf up VCRs and TV's and chic furniture, clothing and shoes – all at prices a fraction of what their local mercantile once charged.

Then they shopped WalMart because their local mercantile had been driven out of business. But never mind. Even though they were now earning half what they used to, easy credit and home refi's were keeping them in the black, and those WalMart prices were so low! How could they resist?

Then music slowed. Credit got tighter. Suddenly working folk had to start living within their new low-wage reality. From that point on they shopped at WalMart because they couldn't afford to shop anywhere else.

Which was likely WalMart's plan all along. High fives all around WalMart headquarters.

For a brief moment in time WalMart had created a retailer's paradise -- albeit a fool's paradise. Low wage-slave workers, 127 million of them every week, marching slack-jawed across giant parkinglots into WalMarts from coast to coast. Each little peasant family clutching that week's meager earnings with which they purchased all their basic needs -- made by even lower-paid Chinese peasants -- from WalMart. (No extra charge for lead content.)

Now we see the beginning of the end of that too. The once vibrant American working class – the goose that laid generations of golden eggs for America and Americans – is now under hospice care – one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. And, in what will go down in economic history as a classic comeuppance, WalMart is itself about to get the same marco-economic reality check it handed out to local competitors and American workers.

Andd what about all those American workers WalMart screwed blue and tattooed too? What are they feeling now? Not good. And they have their own way of saying, "up yours" to the folks who helped engineer this meltdown.

"In addition, Schoewe said Wal-Mart was contending with higher levels of "shrink" - inventory that is lost employee theft (and) shoplifting..."If you think about the macro environment, where customers are under pressure, there's generally a correlation between theft and macro economic pressure," Schoewe said. "Unfortunately, that's what we're seeing."


Cartoon of the Day

Candidates, Canidates Everywhere
And Not a One Worthy of My Vote

I spent the last week coming to terms with the fact that not a single candidate running for President is worthy of the job. Not in the Democratic Party, or the GOP. And no worthy third party candidates have emerged yet either.

So I decided to sit down and try to sort out what is is I don't seem to like about any of the current batch of candidates. Forget deep thinking and rational analysis. Because I suspect I, like most other voters, don't caste of our final vote rationally. I believe other motivations are trump rational thinking when it comes to picking the person we hope will become our national savior every four years. Emotions like fear, personal and religious values and our old standby reason, “the lesser of two-evils.” In other words, we don't vote with our heads. We vote with our gut.

So that's what I tried to sort out last week. All the policy blather aside, what's my gut reaction to these candidates. I didn't even try to fair and balanced. And if you are looking for the most penetrating analysis of these candidates, stop reading now, because you sure a hell aren't about to get it from what follows.

The Democrats

Hillary R. Clinton: Hillary is the anti-Christ of Democrats According to polls, 50% percent of registered have been bewitched by this shape-shifter. I figure that if you think you're sick of George W. Bush after 7 years in office, just wait until you get a snoot full of a Hillary Clinton administration. If elected President I fear she may be the last Democrat to see the inside of the Oval office for a generation. And the same goes for the next woman nominated by either party for that office. And she's not even much of an improvement over what we have now. Hillary is at least as big a serial liar as Bush, and just as shameful at it. For example, earlier this month she gang-banged Obama for saying he would take nukes off the table in dealing with Pakistan's unruly, terrorist infested tribal regions. Hillary claimed it proved Obama was too unseasoned and naive to be president. But wait -- just two months before that Hillary herself told reporters she would take nukes off the table in dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions. Holy on-the-record hypocrite, Batman. I don't want four more years of that kind of cynical duplicity, phony baloney, valueless and dangerous crap. And that's what I fear a Hillary Clinton presidency would be. Same old, same old, only this time in a pantsuit.

Barack Obama: I had such hopes for Barack. But, so far, they have been hopes unrealized. To call the Obama campaign uninspiring would be an understatement. It verges on somnolent. I was ready and eager for a young Martin Luther King/JFK hybrid. Instead all I've gotten so far is a nice, smart, mild-mannered, well-spoken, well-meaning, tan version of an upwardly mobile Chicago alderman. I had hoped for more, lots more. Because, if America ever needed a no-nonsense dope-slap-upside- the-head kinda president, it's now. But rather than swinging for knockouts, Barack has turned out to be a cross between Oprah and Dr. Phil.

John Edwards: He's smart enough. He's ambitions enough. He's too pretty by half. I wouldn't hold that against him except that he seems to care way too much about it. Something deep within tells my gut that it says something about a person when they can get a perfectly acceptable $25 haircut anywhere in the US but pays $400 for a stylist instead. Is that petty of me? Probably. But, over my 62-years of rubbing elbows with all kinds of people I've learned more than a bit about character. And somewhere among all that are data that gives me concern about this guy. A rich guy who billing himself a champion of the poor, who spends a year getting himself filmed working with poor people, but stops long enough to get $400 haircuts. Maybe I shouldn't find that kind thing a turnoff, but I do. Bottom line on Edwards – He's too cute by half (physically and politically.) The only thing about him that makes him even passingly creditable is his wife, Elizabeth, who if were running instead of her husband, I would vote for with out hesitation.

Bill Richardson:
A nice guy, but reaching. Sure he's held a lot of high-level jobs in government, but it those were his peak career moments. Richardson just doesn't “feel” like Presidential material. VP, maybe, but not P.

Joe Biden: OMG, imagine four or eight years of having to listen to that windbag. Joe is smart-- just ask and he'll tell you. Don't ask, and he'll tell you – and tell you, and tell you, and tell you... Because all Joe Biden does – besides having his teeth-whitened – is talk. Poor Joe was born a century too late. He would have made a bigger splash back in mid-1800s when senatorial windbags were all the rage. Biden would make a great Secretary of State, but not a good President. Besides, if you think Bush has burned out the US military, Biden would do the same thing to the White House press corps. His entire administration would one long, non-stop extemporaneous news conference. I have visions of Helen Thomas fleeing the White House Press room screaming, “No, no... not another news conference?!!! ... I can't do it.... Let me cover golf or American Idol. Just get me out of the Biden White House....”

Chis Dodd: Don't like him. Every time I see him I expect Madam Tussaud to show up to return him to his place in her Wax Museum.

Mike Gravel: No thanks. We already tried turning the nation over to a raving lunatic, and it hasn't turned out well.

Dennis Kucinich: I like him. But I'm not ready for a socialistic solution to every problem that comes down the pike. While a single-payer health system is a good idea, turning the entire health care industry into not-for-profit enterprises would kill innovation. Whether liberals like to admit it or not, free enterprise is almost always more efficient and dynamic than government. Rather than removing the profit motive from medicine, the answer lays in installing and maintaining a government regulatory system that tempers inevitable free enterprise excesses.


Rudy Giuliani: Oh man, if Republicans think Bill Clinton's “personal habits” were an embarrassment wait until they get a taste of a Giuliani presidency. Ruddy Rudy would wear out the sheets in Lincoln bedroom. Then there's current Mrs. Judith (don't-call-me-Judi) Guiliani Whoa! This is one needy gal. If you think Nancy Reagan was piece of work, wait until you get a gander at Judi. Just spend a few minutes scanning the Vanity Fair profile of her. Then close your eyes and try to imagine all the things that could set Judith off as First Lady. And imagine the soap opera that would ensue when (not if, when) President Rudy decides that Judy is past her “use by” date and tries to toss her out of the White House. Talk about the War of the Roses!

John McCain: Remember the old Mr. Magoo cartoons? I do.

Mitt Romney: This guy is difficult to describe because our lexicon has no words to capture this level of slickness. (My pal, Tony Seton over at QNN suggests oleaginous.) Every time I see this guy on TV I expect him to say something like, “Do you know how much you'd save on your heating bill and maintenance if you installed our aluminum siding on your home?” Then there's the whole Mormon thing. I know it's politically incorrect to dump on person's belief structure, but when it comes to choosing a new Commander-in-Chief I think we need to put some limits on that indulgence. I mean it's unnerving enough that all the candidates running believe it's important to trot out their spiritual creds – mostly the Christian variety. In a time when real weapons can anniliate mankind, I am uneasy that we insist on electing only certified spirit worshipers to the presidency. But Romney's religion, Mormonism, is a bridge too far along that path. Mormons rank right up with Scientologists for unadulterated nonsensical beliefs. Would you put Tom Cruise in the White House? I hope not, (though after two Bush victories it's clear voters are quite capable of doing just that.) Anyway, don't ask Romney if it's “boxers or briefs,” because it's neither. It's worse.

Sam Brownback: When it comes to religious nuts, Brownback is the macadamia of the GOP pack.

Tom Tancredo:
The Southwest's David Duke-lite

Mike Huckabee:
Mild-mannered and nonthreatening. Huckabee is the Mr. Rogers of the GOP candidates. But if you didn't care for your visit to Mr. Bush's neighborhood, you won't care for Huckabee's either. Mike is just George minus the smirk.

Duncan Hunter:
If you're looking for a guy who really would “bomb, bomb, bomb.. bomb bomb Iran,” Slam Duncan is your man.

Ron Paul: I like this guy. His honesty is refreshing. But Ron is to GOP what Kuchinich is to the Dems. Rather than socializing everything in sight Paul would cut everything and everyone loose and let social and economic Darwinism sort out the winners and losers. Ron Paul is right about a lot of things, especially on how the US, and most other nations on earth, manipulate their currencies to create one fool's paradise after another – each of which vaporizes when it's bubble bursts. But Paul's extreme libertarian solutions would have American streets looking like old Calcutta in four years.

So here I am. Fools to the left of me, clowns to the right. Stuck in the middle without a candidate to vote for.