Thursday, January 17, 2013

Walmart’s private sector economic stimulus package helps no one but Walmart

By Marc Jampole

Walmart is making a big deal about two moves it announced this week, for which it is demanding applause and gratitude.  You could call it the Walmart private sector economic stimulus plan. The trouble is, it’s nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Walmart’s first contribution to the American economy is a pledge to buy an additional $50 billion in goods and services from American companies over the next 10 years. It seems like a lot until you run the numbers, which I am not the first to do. It works out to $5 billion a year, a drop in the bucket of more than $250 billion in goods and services that this modern leviathan buys each year. Walmart is making a big deal about what for them is a minor adjustment that will make but a minor ripple in the U.S. economy.

More odiously self-serving is Walmart’s announcement that it will hire 100,000 veterans, or every veteran who left the service with an honorable discharge this past year. Sounds like a great combination of patriotism and economic growth until you start to think about it. Walmart literally has more than 2.2 million employees. Between growth and turnover, in any given year it is going to be hiring 100,000 people as greeters, cashiers, stockers and other in-store positions. Walmart has not created a single job, it has just said that it would give special consideration to one demographic group—recent veterans.
I’m also not the first to point out that the type of job that virtually all these vets will get at Walmart is low pay and with minimal or no benefits and little chance for advancement. Is this the best that we can do for those who have risked their lives on the frontlines of the wars prosecuted in our names?
The most interesting aspect of the Walmart hiring veterans announcement is what it will do to the demographics of its workforce: In the overall economy, more than 50% of all jobs today are held by women, and yet women are only 20% of the armed forces and therefore about 20% of the veterans in any given year. The disparate impact of hiring veterans is that the Walmart workforce will begin to skewer towards the male. Given the many past and ongoing lawsuits accusing Walmart of discrimination against women, the focus on veterans could make one begin to wonder if Walmart’s motives were less than patriotic.

Like the executives of many large companies, Walmart’s leaders could easily get lost in the internal rhetoric of the company, which lauds itself with the inexorable regularity with which parents laud four year olds for finishing their plates and zipping up their flies after potty.  These guys might actually get themselves to believe that it’s a big deal to bump up domestic purchases by a small amount or to focus hiring on one demographic group. And they probably thought the U.S. news media and public would believe it, too.
But it doesn’t matter how thickly Walmart’s public relations flaks paint the happy face on Walmart’s announcements. The news media and the public are more cynical after decades of seeing Walmart destroy small towns, bankrupt small business owners, squeeze suppliers and pay low wages.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Coke’s heavy-handed try to position itself as committed to good health ignores heavy people

By Marc Jampole

Coke’s two-minute commercial telling us what it’s doing to fight the epidemic of obesity sweeping across America must contain two hundred people—all happy, many engaged with a Coke product, and none of them obese, or even overweight. Okay, okay, maybe two of the hundreds of people in the ad could stand to lose a few pounds, but even these still-happy few were in pretty good shape and shown being active.

Imagine. If instead of getting attractive models to shill their messages about a wider variety of smaller portions and lower calorie drinks, Coke had shown a cross section of the population—or better yet, a cross section of their drinkers—we would have seen a mesmerizing montage of saggy and billowing mid sections, big tushes, thunder thighs and quadruple chins. In short (and in large) one third or more of the happy Coke drinkers (shown or implied) in the commercial would have been obese and another third would have had more pot-gutted waddle than spring in their step.  That’s what all the statistics say: about a third of us are obese and another third are overweight.

Unfortunately for Coke, in the ideal world depicted in its commercial, a world of all healthy and happy people, there is no room for Coke or its products, other than the unscented water. The 100% juices that Coke mongers substitute a less healthy way to consume fruit—drinking it—for the healthier and lower calorie option of eating a real piece of fruit.  The sugared sodas are empty calories and the low-calorie ones have chemical substitutes that make people crave more food, so both lead directly to weight gain.

The ad and Coke’s overall campaign repeat the Big Lie that gets told whenever food companies get involved in an anti-obesity campaign. The big lie is to overstress the importance of exercise in losing weight. Don’t get me wrong: everyone should exercise a lot because it’s good for the brain, the heart and the psyche, and it does work off calories.

But exercise can only go so far. It takes about a half an hour on a treadmill to work off one chocolate chip cookie. So for the two thirds of Americans who already have a problem, exercise is no substitute for eating less…a lot less. If you want to lose weight, you have to eat less. And what better place to start reducing what you eat than to stop consuming the empty calories of Coke products?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Justice Dept should spend more time prosecuting gun liars and no time prosecuting med. pot dispensaries

By Marc Jampole

The absurdly ironic impact of politics on the justice system shines brightly on the front page of today’s New York Times. First we learn that, of the 80,000 Americans who the Justice Department (DOJ) knows committed the federal crime of lying or providing inaccurate information on gun purchase background checks in 2010, only 44 were charged with a crime. And surprise, surprise, those who lie on background checks are more likely to commit violent crimes than the average person.

The 80,000, of course, are only the ones who got caught lying.  Some unmeasured number succeeded and thereby own guns that should legally not be in their possession.

Certainly many of the 80,000 were telling little stretchers and don’t deserve prosecution, but I’m betting that a goodly number were involved in identity theft, had a record or a restraining order or were under the care of a therapist. Prosecuting a large number of people who lie on their gun background applications would certainly send a message. It would lead to fewer people prone to lie on background checks filling them out. If we required background checks for all sales, it would lead to fewer guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

Now that’s a message that the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the rest of the moneyed anti-gun control lobby doesn’t like.  Few lawmakers have the guts to openly support gun control and insist that we go after these lawbreakers. And as with the environment and global warming, Obama talks a good game but has actually done nothing about gun control except commiserate with victims and do a little tough-talking.

While I’m hopeful that the Biden Task Force will lead to some action (finally!) on controlling the proliferation of guns with inadequate regulation, I’m also wondering how in the world the DOJ is going to be able to summon up the resources to investigate those who lie on gun purchase background checks, given shrinking federal budgets.
To our good fortune, the Times provides the answer right there on the very same front page in a story about federal prosecution of a California businessman who has all his state licenses, follows all state laws and regulations to a tee, keeps pristine records, pays all taxes, files his forms on time  and yet faces years in jail because his business is growing and selling medical marijuana.  The prosecution of Matthew R. Davies for being a sharp but law-abiding entrepreneur is only the latest in DOJ efforts to squelch the use of medical marijuana in states in which it’s legal.  Barack Obama and his attorney general Douglas Holder seem to hold a special animus for those who facilitate the legal use of marijuana, as if they have a kind of juvenile envy of people allowed to puff the magic dragon. No study links pot smoking with violent crime or even any increase in crimes (except the crime of buying/selling/using it where it s not legal or under illegal conditions). The DOJ thus does nothing to help make our lives safer and more secure by going after California or Colorado pot entrepreneurs. 
Let’s review: Instead of prosecuting people who are willing to lie to get their hands on a loaded gun, the DOJ goes after a business person who has broken no state law and is supplying a medical service.  
Perhaps the folks at DOJ have been smoking a bit too much of the stuff they’re confiscating.