Friday, May 13, 2005


Best News I've Heard All Day

Wal-Mart's sins against America are catching up with them, big time:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT.N: Quote, Profile, Research) shares are in a rut as a confluence of events including a weak profit forecast, a federal investigation into a former top executive and a stream of lawsuits have scared off investors. Now, some analysts think the stock won't recover for years, and the bad news may rub off on employee morale. "If there was one thing Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton was good at, it was motivating the work force," said Robert Buchanan, retail analyst with A.G. Edwards. "Today, the bond between management and employees is at risk because of the ongoing controversy surrounding (former Vice Chairman) Tom Coughlin and poor stock performance." For years, Wal-Mart was seen as a sure-thing. With double-digit sales and profit growth and a seemingly smooth and unstoppable future, it was the poster child for American entrepreneurial spirit. But lately, the world's biggest retailer has become a lightning rod for critics who contend that it mistreats workers and that the company's low wages force employees to seek government aid in the form of Medicaid health insurance for the poor, food stamps and housing assistance. Wal-Mart also faces the largest ever U.S. class-action lawsuit on charges that it discriminates against women in pay and promotions. Last month, Wal-Mart said it was cooperating with a grand jury investigating whether Coughlin misused company funds. Wal-Mart in March said that Coughlin resigned at the company's request over its probe into unauthorized use of corporate gift cards and personal reimbursements. The Wall Street Journal said Coughlin may have used undocumented expense payments to finance anti-union activities.
Wal-Mart's having a tough time cracking urban areas north of the Mason-Dixon line. The civic leaders have seen the devastation that Wal-Marts cause to rural and Southern communities. Once-thriving Main Streets have had the guts ripped out of them by a joint that sells products made by people paid a pittance, even as the Walton family becomes the world's richest. There's no way in hell that they want that to happen to their towns. New York City, a solid union town, just told Wal-Mart to stay the hell out. Now if only some of the Walton heirs might make the connection and repent -- say, by pulling a David Brock and deciding to devote their lives and fortunes to fixing what they've broken... [UPDATE: The Left Coaster has a good summary of the evils of Wal-Mart. Worth passing on to your friends and family.]

One thing that's really working against Wal-Mart is the price of gas. Recently they have been trying to reconfigure store locations and sizes, but $5/gallon gas would crush them.
James Howard Kunstler's brought that up in his book The Long Emergency. In fact, Wal-Mart gets hit both by the end of suburbia/exurbia as we know it, and by the inability to maintain the ten-thousand-plus-mile supply lines it's used to succeed. Taking advantage of cheap labor in the Orient doesn't make sense when shipping the fruits of their labor becomes prohibitively expensive. (Also, this could mean the end of racism everywhere but the Deep South, which might want to reestablish a feudal antebellum order upheld by white sheets and shotguns.)

We could learn a lot from Cuba and how they've managed to get by without US petroleum-based fertilizers. Organic farming will soon be a way of life out of sheer necessity.
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