Bartlett, who's been in PR, is best known as former spokesman for President George W. Bush. His work included pushing reporters to find out who sent Joseph Wilson to Niger (the famous incident that ultimately led to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame) and defending Bush against post-administration charges by a former aide, Scott McClellan, that the administration had been untruthful in the runup to the Iraq war and in the Plame matter.
He did speak bluntly and accurately on at least one occasion, as told in Wikipedia:
At the end of 2007 Bartlett, during an interview with Evan Smith published in the January '08 Texas Monthly, implied some conservative bloggers, such as Hugh Hewitt, were unfiltered mouthpieces for the GOP and Bush White House.I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It’s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we’ve cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on.
Rush Limbaugh, Mr. Bartlett from Walmart is on the line.
He'll be moving to Northwest Arkansas, where he should feel right at home.
One last note before happy hour:
An e-mail from Walmart corporate communications on President Obama's nomination of Walmart Foundation President Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget
“We congratulate Sylvia on her nomination by President Obama to be director of the Office of Management and Budget.
“Sylvia is a strong leader who both masters the details and has a clear vision for making big things happen. She cares deeply about people and has natural personal warmth that enables her to build relationships and drive results that deliver impact. She understands business and the role that business, government and civil society must play to build a strong economy that provides opportunity and strengthens communities across the country.
“Sylvia does a great job leading the Walmart Foundation, and if confirmed by the Senate, will do a tremendous job serving our country.”
Think this might improve the way in which Arkansas members of Congress receive Obama administration budget numbers?
“Well, we just had one of those weeks here at Walmart U.S. Where are all the customers? And where’s their money?”
Not doing so well. (The Washington Post)
On Friday, Bloomberg published a couple of internal e-mails from Wal-Mart executives panicking about the company’s worst sales start in seven years — “a total disaster,” as one put it. The execs attributed Wal-Mart’s slump to the payroll tax hike that kicked in on Jan. 1, cutting the median family’s take-home pay by about $1,000 this year.
So if Wal-Mart is struggling, does that mean everyone else should worry? There are two ways to look at this. The first is that this is a terrible omen. Wal-Mart makes up such a huge chunk of the U.S. economy — 2.3 percent of GDP in 2006 — that many analysts look to it as a key bellwether.
On the other hand, maybe Walmart's troubles are about competition, not the economy.
The theory here is that Wal-Mart is an “inferior good” — when times are tough and incomes are falling, consumers switch to shopping at the cheaper retail giant.
The flip side of that: When the economy rebounds, Wal-Mart’s higher-priced rivals do better. As it happens, Target’s sales rose 3.1 percent in January, part of an overall uptick in merchandise and department store shopping. So it’s very possible that Wal-Mart’s woes are just specific to the company — and not part of a broader trend.
New York Tines reports that Walmart will announce today a plan to hire every veteran who wants a job.
It will apply to anyone who left the military in the previous year and did not receive a dishonorable discharge. The program begins Memorial Day. Walmart estimates it will provide 100,000 jobs in five years.
Walmart and Gov. Mike Beebe have an announcement coming today on the state's effort to move Medicaid and other insurance to move away from fee-for-service reimbursement for health care. The idea is to address "episodes" of care, reward good outcomes and generally promote a continuum of sound health practices that should reduce costs by producing better general care over time.
It is an occasion to say again that single-payer universal health insurance is the most rational approach to health care for a wealthy, developed nation. If our single payment be a pass-through to Walmart, well, why not? The school model is heading that direction under encouragement from Walton billions. They do know how to supply desired goods cheap.
David Ramsey explained the state's Payment Improvent Plan in detail in our Big Ideas issue earlier. Check it out here if you missed it.
UPDATE: Walmart, which self-insures its employees, will contribute $670,000 to underwrite the effort in Arkansas and participate in other ways in development of the state plan. The news release doesn't say so specifically, but the announcement indicates general favor on the part of the giant retailer in moving toward a system like that the state favors. Walmart's use of a similar system isn't a direct benefit to state costs in Medicaid, for example, but it's a powerful addition, along with Blue Cross and Qualchoice, to pressure building to get all elements of the health system to buy into the idea.
Walmart's news release follows:
Thanks to Norma for a link to a report on Walmart's refusal of an invitation to join Vice President Joe Biden's meeting on gun violence. Hell, even the NRA has deigned to attend.
Walmart no longer answers to anyone.
They own the legislatures. Even U.S. Rep. Steve Womack and Dr. No Boozman of Yellow Dog Republican land feel safe carrying Walmart's water on the Internet sales tax in a district where a vote even to put a highway tax issue on the ballot was viewed as toxic for some politicians.
They own the legislature now on education issues, see the coming charter school/voucher enabling session to begin next week.
They own the University of Arkansas. I think Walmart clout, as much as anything, explains the F*** You UAF Chancellor David Gearhart wrote for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette op-ed page about the newspaper's opinions on the UA's $5 million budget-busting, primarily in its fund-raising arm, that came with scant accountability for those responsible. Gearhart, of course, comes from the fund-raising world and he knows from whence the dough flows, particularly the Walmart empire where his brother is a top executive. It was, of course, the source of the UA's biggest gift, in part so that the university would create the Waltons' own "education reform" department to advance their political ideology. (PS: Hey, D-G. Curious. That story today about the UA budget analysis that showed the overspending was even greater than the $3 million bottom line the UA put out earlier, did you perhaps learn that from the numbers the UA compiled at my request and that I wrote about recently? Just curious. If so, you're welcome. If not, good you caught up.)
The nation's giant gun retailer darn sure doesn't intend to listen to any lectures from somebody as lowly as vice president of the United States.
UPDATE: I still don't think Walmart constructively answers to anyone, but it is sensitive to appearances, apparently. It has just announced it will deign to join the Veep after all.
At first, Wal-Mart was not going to send anyone to Biden's meeting, saying its senior leaders could not be in Washington this week and that it spoke in advance with Biden's office to share its perspective, spokesman David Tovar said.
"We underestimated the expectation to attend the meeting on Thursday in person, so we are sending an appropriate representative to participate," Tovar added.
Major new investigative piece by the New York Times on bribes paid in Mexico to aid Walmart expansion.
It reveals a pattern of payments last decade to clear the way for store development and — worse — knowledge of Walmart officials about what had occurred that it failed to report to authorities or fully investigate on its own.
Walmart is ready with statement that says allegations are among those under review in a company internal probe.
Here I sit in Chennai (Madras). I'm 10 hours from a 4:45 am plane to Abu Dhabi. 40 hours from a scheduled arrival in Little Rock for reasons not easy to explain.
An observation: India is still newspaper crazy. Maybe because poverty still holds back Internet access, if not cell phones, which I've seen beep in the hands of rickshaw drivers.
And the 10 or so newspapers I'm perusing today are shouting front page headlines about, what else, Arkansas. Or more specifically our state's gift to corporate skulduggery worldwide, Walmart. The news today is outrage from some Indian politicians about revelations of Walmart lobby spending to get into the billion-person market here. Small shopkeepers are not sanguine. Reporting includes details about powerhouse lobbying firm Patton Boggs and its ties to Indian power brokers, plus its boasts about ability to pierce the bureaucracy. (The Indian government bureaucracy is a story unto itself. Memorably, five uniformed officers inspected a double set of documents issued by other workers before we gained entry to one port. )
But money talks in India, our guides have told us. And prices are low. Almost as low as buying the Arkansas legislature or members of Congress for the likes of Internet sales tax and charter school bills and other pet Walton projects. Undercutting already low prices here will take some doing, however. Not to mention attracting customers able to risk life and limb to motor to wherever Walmart eventually builds.
Don't get me wrong, by the way. I love this country. It is overwhelming. I'll post more this weekend, but I already know my photos don't do it justice.
With another Black Friday (er, Thursday) in the books, the national media has Walmart on the brain, but this year it’s not just stories of deal-seeking grannies elbowing their fellow citizens out of the way. With nationwide protests over Walmart’s labor practices, the talking heads are taking stands — is the retail behemoth an economic force for good or an exploitive villain?
After an interesting discussion on MSNBC’s "Up With Chris Hayes," Reason's Peter Suderman gave a 17-point Twitter defense of Walmart (basically, he argues low prices for low-income folks is good; Walmart’s labor practices ain’t that bad). Kathleen Gier of The Washignton Monthly, meanwhile, counters that because Walmart is so big and its “ideology is so passionately anti-labor, it has been one of the driving forces in our economy that has been disempowering and immiserating American workers and accelerating economic inequality.” The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann is similarly harsh but lays the blame on all of us as consumers. Ezra Klein at the Washington Post takes the middle road:
Whether Wal-Mart has been, on net, “good” or “bad” is a complicated question to frame and a devilishly tough one to answer. Soon, I’m sure, the question will be whether Amazon.com has been good or bad. I wish I had a definitive answer. All I’m certain of is that Wal-Mart has been — and Amazon.com will be — economically transformative.
Were the protests a success? Depends on who you ask. Gier called it a “rousing success” while the Daily Beast’s Megan McArdle labeled it “underwhelming.” Strike organizers claim that protests took place at more than 1000 Walmart stores and hundreds of workers walked off the job; Walmart officials call this “grossly exaggerated” and claim that less than 50 employees took part, about the number that missed their scheduled shift last year.
Matthew Yglesias at Slate suggests that workers and unions have too much at stake to mount an action that would move the needle:
To create a situation in which politicians fear creating a bloody massacre, the workers have to be motivated and prepared to risk a bloody massacre. That's a high bar.
What say y'all?
Organized labor has been singularly unsuccessful at cracking Walmart, though unions might argue that some more benevolent personnel policies developed over the years are a product of pressure and lawsuits (think wage-and-hour violations, among others). Nonetheless, the unions haven't quit.
The New York Times reports that protests are planned at Bentonville today for the company's annual meeting with financial analysts. Also, as part of a national day of action, at least 88 employees at 28 stores in 12 states have missed work as part of an action to pressure the retailer in the runup to the Christmas shopping season. Five dozen employees struck at a Los Angeles store last week. A Black Friday demonstration of some sort also is a possibility, the article says.
Walmart dismisses this as a publicity stunt by a tiny number of its more than 1.4 million employees. True on both counts. But not without benefit to the union. See the Times article.
UPDATE: Here's Walmart's report on what it told analysts about the coming year — try to spend a bit less on capital costs, but make more. And pass the savings on to the customer.
Walmart has been drawing huzzahs and print tributes all over, particularly in Arkansas, on the occasion of its 50th birthday. A host of Arkansas-made millionaires nod along happily, not to mention throngs of devoted Walmart shoppers.
Some believe there is another side to the Walmart story, of course.
For example, there's this from sumofus.org, a global consumer group, which provided the graphic above and commentary:
In half a century, Walmart has led a transformation in retail in the United States and, increasingly, the world. The company, the largest retailer in history, has driven a push towards big-box suburban stores that has decimated smaller retailers, accelerated urban sprawl and siphoned up money both from local communities and the federal government, as many Walmart employees must rely on government assistance to make ends meet.
It also provides these factoids:
* The six Walmart heirs have a net worth equal to the bottom 30% of Americans.
* Walmart costs U.S. taxpayers upwards of $1.5 billion. That is the same amount that was cut from the global poverty alleviation budget in 2012 due to budget shortfalls.
* Walmart’s highest-earning women continue to be paid 67 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn.
* The average Walmart sales associate would have to work for over 21,000 years to equal the amount of money Walmart pays out to the average Walton heir annually.
Walmart has been a primary driver behind many troubling trends in the U. S. economy:
* Some 40,000 U. S. factories closed between 2001 and 2007, eliminating millions of jobs. During these six years, Walmart's imports from China tripled in value from $9 billion to $27 billion.
* Between 1992 and 2007, the number of independent retailers fell by over 60,000, according to the U. S. Census Bureau.
* The percentage of working poor is at the highest its been in more than two decades, according to Census data. The average Walmart employee relies on $943 a year in food stamps, Medicaid, and other public assistance, according to data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
"Whatever we may have saved shopping at Walmart, we've more than paid for in diminished opportunities and declining income."
But ... the poor and unemployed can buy cheaper groceries thanks to Walmart.
... and many moooooorrre!
June 1, at the celebrity-studded Walmart annual stockholders' meeting, heir Rob Walton said, "Acting with integrity is not a negotiable part of this business."
Alas, the business is not a person, despite what the Supreme Court might think. Humans do strange things.
From Gawker on a union organizing effort targeting Walmart in Los Angeles:
And now, one labor group says that an employee of a PR firm working for Wal-Mart actually posed as a reporter in order to infiltrate one of their meetings.
The union has film.
Walmart tells Gawker the action was "unacceptable, misleading and wrong. Our culture of integrity is a constant at Walmart and by not properly identifying herself, this individual's behavior was contrary to our values ..." The employee is gone from the PR firm. A "junior member" who made an "immature decision," says the firm.
With the Walton family in control of the majority of shares, last week's Walmart shareholders' meeting was a formality insofar as business was concerned. Their slate of directors would be re-elected and shareholder proposals they opposed would be defeated.
The company today released the official results of votes — overwhelmingly in the direction I've outlined.
But there were a couple of outliers:
* DIRECTORS: Opposition to director re-election tended to be in the low single-digits, except, notably, for top Walton insiders, such as Rob Walton (12.6 percent opposed); current CEO Michael Duke (13 percent), and former CEO Lee Scott (15.6 percent). Some major stockholders, including big pension plans, had indicated before the meeting they'd vote against some directors because of the Mexican bribery scandal that occurred on the leaders' watch.
* POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS: A proposal to require more disclosure on this spending was defeated, but drew support from 15.8 percent of shareholders.
Walmart's annual big show in Fayetteville is underway and the big news from the stockholders meeting so far seems to be the appearance of Justin Timberlake, photo above from Walmart's own Twitter feed.
Rob Walton has said integrity is non-negotiable at Walmart and the company will be stepping up efforts to comply with federal foreign anti-bribery law (while, presumably, continuing to work in concert with other businesses to weaken the anti-bribery law.)
You can get by-the-second coverage in 140-character Twitter bursts at the link. It's by no means all propaganda or cheerleading from believers, though there's plenty of that. You'll also find cheers for a comment that stores are understaffed, calls for Rob Walton and Mike Duke to resign, complaints about mistreatment of unions and more. Example Tweet:
Livestreaming #WMTShares—they spent $$ for music & pomp, but they fight not to spend any of their billions on taxes or fair wages
Oh, yes, Walmart is broadcasting live on the web. Just caught Lionel Richie. Closing with Celine Dion.
Add Walmart to the growing list of major corporations that have decided to drop financial support of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a thinly veiled corporate lobby that stocks compliant state legislators, usually Republican, with cookie cutter bills to advance the corporate agenda. Anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-health care reform and pro-gun are frequent themes. ALEC is also pushing voter ID laws aimed at suppressing turnout among minority, elderly and youth constituencies that lean Democratic.
Why would Walmart be uncomfortable backing this group, even with the occasional embarrassment of ALEC's support for the likes of "stand your ground" laws that have led to a rise in gun killings in sometimes dubious circumstances.
Think Progress, in reporting the development, cite state efforts in the West (and could they be far behind in Arkansas when the radical Republicans take control) to take control of federal lands for private exploitation and development. This happens to run counter to a Walmart program.
Wal-Mart’s decision to drop ALEC makes sense in the context of their successful “Acres for America” program. Since 2005, Wal-Mart has partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Federation in an effort to conserve an acre of land for every one occupied by a Wal-Mart facility. As of January 2012, the project has protected 687,000 acres.
As Wal-Mart’s corporate website states:That promise reflected a company-wide dedication to sustainability and stewardship of our natural resources. With an initial $35 million commitment, Walmart expected to enroll an estimated 138,000 acres in the program by 2015. But by the end of 2010, it had far surpassed that benchmark, conserving more than 625,000 acres and connecting more than 6.7 million protected acres—an area larger than Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
Walmart made the announcement late Wednesday. It said it wanted to focus on the economy and cited no specific policy disagreement.
"Previously, we expressed our concerns about ALEC's decision to weigh in on issues that stray from its core mission 'to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets,'" Maggie Sans, Wal-Mart vice president of public affairs and government relations, said in a May 30 letter addressed to ALEC's national chairman and executive director.
"We feel that the divide between these activities and our purpose as a business has become too wide. To that end, we are suspending our membership in ALEC."
ALEC is simply a secretly funded cutout for the Republican Party agenda, including social causes that discriminate against millions of people who shop at Walmart. Maybe those are the "unique pressures" ALEC cited in explaining Walmart's decision.
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