Saturday, July 15, 2006

Wal-Mart Gives the Small Shoplifter a Break

Wal-Mart's new shoplifting policy will give the 'little guy' (someone who steals less than $25 worth of merchandise) a break. Read about it HERE.

This helps Wal-Mart because it's not really worth prosecuting the 'little guy' even though Sam Walton wanted every shoplifter prosecuted.
J. P. Suarez, who is in charge of asset protection at Wal-Mart, said it was no longer efficient to prosecute petty shoplifters. “If I have somebody being paid $12 an hour processing a $5 theft, I have just lost money,” he said. “I have also lost the time to catch somebody stealing $100 or an organized group stealing $3,000.”
It will also help small town police departments. Would Saranac Lake need to hire another police officer just to cover a Wal-Mart Supercenter?
It may also serve to placate small-town police departments across the country who have protested what the company has called its zero-tolerance policy on shoplifting. Employees summoned officers whether a customer stole a $5 toy or a $5,000 television set — anything over $3, the company said.
At some of the chain’s giant 24-hour stores, the police make up to six arrests a day prompting a handful of departments to hire an additional officer just to deal with the extra workload.

"I had one guy tied up at Wal-Mart every day,” said Don Zofchak, chief of police in South Strabane Township, Pa., which has 9,000 residents and 16 officers. He said the higher threshold for prosecution “would help every community to deal with this.”

Maybe the SL Village Board or Village Manager should give Chief Zofchak a phone call and find out about his experiences with Wal-Mart and what it's cost his police department.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Wal-Mart YES or Wal-Mart NO Signs

Call Wal-Mart and they will send you a cool free "WalMart Yes" sign for your lawn. You can also get them if you don't support WalMart and the Yes is easy enough to change to anything else you want it to say. But it's almost not worth it. Looking within the Saranac Lake Village limits, the French Hill area, the Lake St/Petrova area, the Baker St/Lower Park Av. area and the Shepard/Franklin Av. areas you only see pockets of these signs. I was expecting to see at least 20% of the lawns sporting "WalMart Yes" signs but I doubt it's even 10%. This isn't too surprising. If WalMart supporters were a majority within the SL Village limits, Tom Michael wouldn't be mayor nor would be have two new Democrat trustees.

Now the Save Saranac Lake Coalition is also going to make signs. They are having a sign making get-together this Sunday, July 16th from 6PM to 9PM in the park in Gabrial's. Your kids are invited also as there is a playground in the park. Bring plywood, paint, brushes, tools etc although there will be extra material there.
SSLC points out:
We know that a battle of the signs can get ugly. But, please remember, IF Wal-Mart gets in, the ugliness is here to stay...........signs are temporary.
It will be interesting to see what slogans appear on these signs.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Walmart Protest

Wal-Mart, the Government and TOTT

A caller this morning on TOTT pointed out "It's not Wal-Mart's fault U.S. manufacturing jobs are going overseas, it's the Federal Government. Definitely true because the Federal Government gave China 'most favored nation status' among passing many other 'business friendly' trade laws. However, as many people understand, our congress does not pass laws independent of money and lobbyists. Look at this article from the Washington Post.

Wal-Mart, the retailer many experts consider the most-sued company in America, stands to benefit from the new class-action law, which is designed to cut down on lawsuits and big verdicts by steering some cases into federal courts, away from state courts with track records of siding with plaintiffs and awarding multimillion-dollar verdicts, according to policy experts.

The company, which expressed disdain for Washington politics in the 1990s, changed its tune dramatically after then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) sat down with the company's managers in Bentonville, Ark., in the late 1990s and warned them of the perils of sitting on the sidelines.

Soon after, Wal-Mart became a major player in GOP politics, funneling money to groups such as the U.S. Chamber to lobby on its behalf and creating a political action committee. In the elections last year, the company's $2.4 million PAC was the third-largest corporate PAC in the country, with nearly 80 percent of its money going to Republicans. Wal-Mart officials contributed more than $30,000 to Bush last election, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that prepared the fundraising data for this article.

In many cases, companies such as Wal-Mart spend significantly more money hiring Republican lobbyists and helping fund groups such as the U.S. Chamber and other GOP-dominated trade associations that are not required to disclose their donors than they devote to political candidates. Wal-Mart, for instance, has contributed at least $1 million to the Chamber of Commerce, according to chamber documents.

Marty Heires, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the company did not want to comment for this report. "They want to play it low-key on this," he said.

And it's not just Republicans:
The Clintons also benefited financially from Wal-Mart. Hillary Clinton was paid $18,000 each year she served on the board, plus $1,500 for each meeting she attended. By 1993 she had accumulated at least $100,000 in Wal-Mart stock, according to Bill Clinton's federal financial disclosure that year. The Clintons also flew for free on Wal-Mart corporate planes 14 times in 1990 and 1991 in preparation for Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential bid.

And it's not just WalMart, Inc., it's also the Waltons:
Wal-Mart (WMT) drew broad scrutiny last year as its political spending soared in nationwide battles over health care, labor and other hot-button issues threatening the giant retailer's growth.

The late Sam Walton, founder of retail giant Wal-Mart.
AP file

Now, in a little-noticed move, the company's founding family has plunged into a fight to pass income tax changes and other legislation that could preserve its grip on the USA's biggest business and the family's $84 billion fortune.

Led by Sam Walton's only daughter, Alice, the family spent $3.2 million on lobbying, conservative causes and candidates for last year's federal elections. That's more than double what it spent in the previous two elections combined, public documents show.

And this:
Noble says the Bush administration monitors gifts to groups such as Progress for America, so the Walton donation puts the family on the White House speed dial.
Go here for more on the Waltons lobbying activities.

You can go here to see how much WalMart and the Waltons pay Patton Boggs, LLP to lobby on their behalf.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Wal-Mart and China and TOTT

This morning a Wal-Mart critic called TOTT and pointed out that 28 cents out of every dollar spent at Wal-Mart goes to China, a communist country. Four callers were obviously ready at the phones to point out the error-of-his-ways of this poor Wal-Mart critic. I don't know if the 28 cent figure is correct or not, but the Wal-Mart critic certainly had a point. He just didn't take it to the next step.

Wal-Mart supporters will immediately scream "but everybody sells Chinese made products". That's true. But most everybody doesn't have a choice but to sell Chinese or other foreign-made consumer goods. Wal-Mart is one of the major reasons that so many retail goods are now made overseas. Wal-Mart forces it's suppliers to cut prices to the bone such that they eventually have no choice but to go overseas. One example out of many, many, many.
Take the L.R. Nelson lawn sprinklers, which used to be made in Peoria, Ill., before Wal-Mart pressured Nelson to make them in China instead. Before the move, one laid-off Peoria worker told the reporter, Chinese managers were "walking around the plant and videotaping us working. That was horrible, horrendous. Right in our faces. They are taking our jobs." More HERE and HERE.
I can understand people wanting good bargains and thus supporting Wal-Mart. I don't understand the blind, uneducated support however. You want cheap prices and you don't care what Wal-Mart is doing to our country (and the World), fine. But at least make an attempt to understand exactly what you are supporting. After all, it's not your job that's being exported overseas. Yet. Remember, you can't buy all that stuff you want if you don't have a job.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Village Board Meeting - July 10 (and a rant)

Yes I attended the Village Board Meeting last night. The topic of rezoning the village sandpit area came up after 2.5 hrs of unrelenting and uninteresting reports, discussion and repartee (ok so there wasn't really any repartee). There is an article in todays ADE and at the WNBZ news site concerning the rezoning discussion. Here is what I took home.

It's not really clear to me where the Village is in the SEQR process. If a positive declaration has been made, a draft environmental impact statement must be prepared and made available to the public. 'Scoping', a process that identifies topics the EIS should include is recommended but not required. If scoping is done, there is a requirement for community participation. After a 30 day public comment period on the draft EIS, a public hearing may be held. "All substantive comments become part of the permanent record and must be responded to by the lead agency in the final EIS. The DEC suggests that the lead agency disregard speculative comments and statements that cannot be supported. Read a two page summary of the SEQR process here.

Trustees Olsen and McEneany want to continue the SEQR process and go for a vote to rezone the sandpit area. The problem is that the public hearing is meant to discuss the various impacts the rezone will have on the community and environment. No one knows what the impacts will be without expert consultation, so how can you discuss them?

I can guess what some of the speculative comments will be already because we hear them everyday:

Wal-Mart won't hurt the environment. Yes they will and have done so. Many times. Many times.

Wal-Mart will increase the number of good jobs in the area. This and this study claims otherwise. Oh yeah, while you are at it read this too. They also seem to have a small problem with their female employees. Oh yeah, and don't gripe when they don't pay you for the hours you work.

Wal-Mart will bring in new business to the area. Sorry, this as well as this study says that is unlikely.

Wal-Mart will donate lot's of money to our community. Read this about Wal-Mart Philanthropy. And more here.

Wal-Mart will have no effect on social programs. Wrong again. Read this.

Wal-Mart will bring in badly needed tax revenues. Maybe, but read this first. Better think about increased law enforcement costs while you are at it.

No, none of the above suggested readings address Saranac Lake specifically. But they are a lot better than the truthiness speculation that you hear every day from Wal-Mart supporters.

On the other hand, you don't work there, and you didn't ship the manufacturing jobs overseas, and you weren't responsible for the low wage jobs. Nope, you just spend your money there and provide Wal-Mart with the incentive to continue doing business their way. But "Wal-Mart helps poor people"! That's one way to look at it I guess, but I think "Wal-Mart sells to poor people is much more accurate. And, the more poor people there are, the better Wal-Mart does.

NLRB Helps Wal-Mart Remain Union Free

Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly has some interesting observations about the decline of unions in the United States and its effects on wages.
Successive NLRB rulings, however, have steadily chipped away at labor rights and helped companies like Wal-Mart remain happily union free. That's good for big corporations who contribute to the Republican Party, but not so good for middle class workers who no longer have anyone to fight for pay raises and better working conditions. The result is the three-decade wage stagnation illustrated in the chart above.
No more well paying, secure manufacturing jobs in the USA, so no more Unions either. But there are plenty of 'good' jobs at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart supporters will argue that Union mediated high salaries drove manufacturers out of business and this is just a result of free trade. However, anyone that has done even a bit of reading will realize there is no such thing as free trade or we wouldn't have a Federal Trade Commission or National Labor Relations Board. Many manufacturers had little choice in the matter of exporting jobs overseas. Wal-Mart all but required that they do so. Charles Fishman explains it all in "The Wal-Mart Effect". Of course no one expects a rabid Wal-Mart supporter to read such a book because they automatically assume it was written by a "Wal-Mart hater". Nothing could be further from the truth. Fishman is a reporter and he tried to get Wal-Mart and it's suppliers to provide input into the book. Obviously they were not interested.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Carl E. Person

"I'm surprised that the thousands of reporters dealing with Wal-Mart and its staggering growth never (and I repeat never)explain that Wal-Mart could not survive in business if its paid the same per-unit price for its inventory that its competitors pay. By obtaining lower per-unit prices (in alleged violation of the Robinson-Patman Act, which prohibits price discrimination), Wal-Mart is able to maintain lower retail prices and drive its competitors out of business. This is not "efficiency", but a failure of the government to enforce the antitrust statute designed to prohibit the evils resulting from this kind of prohibited business conduct".

Mr. Person is a Harvard trained antitrust attorney who wrote a book called SAVING MAIN STREET AND ITS RETAILERS. His website has quite a bit of advice on how to fight Wal-Mart.
APPENDIX C – Representations and Warranties Which a Community Should Require a Major Retailer to Sign as a Condition to Obtaining Requested Approval(s).
Here he lists a number of interrogatories that a village or town board should require when dealing with a major retailer.
you might ask for a description of the controls to ensure that the applicant is not purchasing its goods at discriminatory or, worse, below-cost prices in violation of the Robinson-Patman Act or Sherman Act. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (2002) requires each public corporation to have an Audit Committee made up of independent individuals which committee makes sure the corporation is in compliance with various laws (where the violation of which could be materially adverse to the company’s financial interests), including the Robinson-Patman Act. It seems clear to me that none of the major retailers will be able to pass an audit of the issue of whether the manufacturers are selling to the major retailer at discriminatory, unlawful prices, and at prices which are below the manufacturers’ direct cost.

The Antitrust Case Against Wal-Mart

Breaking the Chain by Barry C. Lynn is the title of an article published in this months Harper's Magazine. You can read it at the Saranac Lake Free Library. It's a difficult article to read because although it makes a case for antitrust action against Wal-Mart it also makes you realized that it's not going to happen in the near future. The reason? One word - politics. Ever since Saint Reagan was president the concept of antitrust lawsuits by the government has basically been thrown out the window. To Reagan, "only one action could be regarded as truly unacceptable - to gouge the consumer"(B.C. Lynn, Harpers, July 2006).

Well what about the Robinson-Patman Act of 1936, also known as the Anti-Price Discrimination Act or the "Anti-A&P Act? Wright Patman, the Texas Democrat who was the main force behind the bill, made sure everyone understood Congress's intent. "The express purpose of the Act is to protect the independent merchant" B.C. Lynn, Harpers, July 2006).

See the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company was putting small family owned grocery stores out of business. They did this by undercutting them in their pricing. Back in the day, the US Federal Government was relentless against the A&P, hauling them repeatedly into court. The A&P was also a monopsony. This is when a company has the power to dictate pricing to its suppliers (remind you of anyone?).

There is another older article by Robert Reich entitled "Wal-Mart is too big: But not according to America's antitrust laws".
Is Wal-Mart too big? Not according to America's antitrust laws, which consider only one thing - whether a company is so big it drives competitors out, thereby forcing consumers to pay more. Wal-Mart is huge but it still represents only 8 percent of retail sales in America. That's not nearly enough to reduce competition.
Nope, you probably need to control 30% of the market before the government will take notice. But Reich tells us that antitrust laws had another purpose that might give us hope:
Yet there's another tradition of American antitrust that may be relevant here. We don't hear much about it any longer, but a century ago antitrust was also concerned about companies becoming so large they distorted the political process. In fact, the danger to democracy posed by large corporations was the primary reason for antitrust laws being enacted in the first place.
Indeed, even at the local level you can see Wal-Mart spending money to influence the political process. But I don't hold out much hope for antitrust actions on political grounds either. Republicans just aren't interested in regulating big corporations anymore and one has to wonder about Democrats as well. After all, our own Senator Hillary Clinton once served on Wal-Mart's Board of Directors. Maybe someday Wal-Mart supporters and corrupt politicians will wake up and see the effects of Wal-Mart not just on our own economy, but the entire world's economy. The question then is will it be soon enough to do something about it.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Mia Masten: Wal-Mart Eastern Region Liar-in-Chief?

Have you seen this woman around? This is Mia Masten and she works for Wal-Mart. The press gives her several 'titles' but she seems to be the Eastern Region Community Relations person (at least as of 2005). Ms. Masten is a former Clinton administration staffer (her post was special assistant to the senior adviser to the president for policy development). From some of the quotes attributed to her it seems her job at Wal-Mart may be Liar-in-Chief for the East Coast. This is the 'outsider' (or someone just like her)whose job it is to convince Saranac Lakers that their future is dependent on a Wal-Mart store. I bet you anything she makes more than $10.40 an hour (the average Wal-Mart wage, how about telling us the median Wal-Mart wage?).
"I think most reasonable people would say zoning will probably be more difficult in 5 years or 10 years than it is today," he said in a presentation to analysts. "And so every store we get today over what we normally would have planned might be the store that would have really been delayed in the future as zoning got tougher and tougher." H. Lee Scott
That's right. Build now, even if the store is a business risk, because it's only going to be harder to build in the future. To get these stores built in communities that don't want them, sometimes you need to bring in the liar-in-chief, Mia Masten.
"As these big-box bills come up, all retailers will just have to be flexible," she said. "In this case, we developed a model that allowed us to reach our customers."Mia Masten, Wal-Mart Eastern Region Community Relations
This quote was in response to Wal-Mart's idea of building two 75,000 sq ft stores next to each other in Dunkirk, MD to get around zoning regulations.
Masten responded to Salzman. "We don't force people to work overtime. It's not unusual to have 1,000 people apply for 300 jobs, so we must be doing something right," she said as the room erupted with deafening cheers and applause. Masten at a Wal-Mart supporter meeting in St. Albans, VT
Of course, Wal-Mart workers in Massachusetts disagree with Ms. Masten. This is a lie from almost everything I've read. I guess we will see if the MA courts agree.
Mia Masten, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, told the Times that Wal-Mart often tries to work with communities and is not "just coming in and bulldozing our way in."
This is just pure, unadulturated bullshit. Dare I even say a lie?
''I hope we'll be given a fair chance,'' said the Wal- Mart spokeswoman, Mia Masten, corporate affairs director for the eastern region. ''We are interested in New York City.
Yes, Wal-Mart only wants a "fair chance", you know they are a company that truly believes in fair play.
"It sounds as if we're trying to go and push our way in," Masten said. "But we are asking for and getting local input. We want a project that everyone likes at the end of the day."Here
How does Ms. Masten define "everyone"?