Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Walmart-White House Connection, Revisited


Walmart has been getting some well-deserved bad press lately. Squelching union activity, paying abysmal wages, violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing officials in Mexico and elsewhere, neglecting hazardous conditions in its off-shore manufacturing plants.... the list goes on and on. The fact that the Walmart heirs now possess more wealth than the bottom 40% of all Americans combined only adds fuel to the fire.

So what more opportunistic time for Walmart, with the assistance of the Obama Administration, the New York Times and other media giants, to stage another publicity stunt as part of its endless and futile quest to repair its image -- all the while perpetrating historic income inequality by hoarding an outsized share of a nation's wealth. (The Times was getting a negative earful from its readers, and has quickly removed the story from its homepage.)

First Lady Michelle Obama, who in her past corporate life sat on the board for one of Walmart's main suppliers, and has previously shilled for its efforts to infiltrate so-called "food deserts" in poor neighborhoods, waxed enthusiastic over the latest public relations gimmick:
“We all believe that no one who serves our country should have to fight for a job once they return home,” Mrs. Obama said in the statement. “Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow.”       

But in the top-rated NYT reader comment, "Horsedung" of North Carolina trenchantly observed, "As a former Marine Corps infantryman I cannot think of a more frightening future back in the US than working in Walmart."

To be fair to the Times, it does briefly manage to quote a labor historian critical of the Walmart campaign to hire military people:
They like military people because they have a sense of hierarchy and a commitment to the organization they are in,” said Professor Lichtenstein, who has been a critic of Wal-Mart’s management practices. “And that’s important to Wal-Mart.” In recent years, Wal-Mart has been the target of lawsuits by women, accusing the company of discrimination in salaries and promotions.  
The incestuous, neo-fascist, public-private pattern should be all too familiar by now. It repeats itself almost daily.

 Step One: Company is exposed by the Fourth Estate as a lawbreaker. Whether it's robo-signing fraud by banks, bribing Mexican officials by Walmart, money-laundering for drug cartels by HSBC, the vast landscape of white collar crime seems endless.

Step Two: Company joins forces with the United States Government to investigate itself.

Step Three: The Department of Justice signals there will be no prosecutions, but that the offending corporation will become a valued partner of the United States Government by taking steps to make the lives of all the little people better.

Along with the rest of felonious corporate America, Walmart will likely not only remain unpunished for its malfeasance, it will actually continue getting rewarded through various tax breaks, unfettered off-shoring of manufacturing and labor, praise from the first lady, and ever-creative forms of corporate welfare.

 Walmart, of course, has long been bragging about all the veterans it hires. Visit, if you dare, its "Careers With a Mission" webpage for the low-down of how one brand of regimentation can seamlessly morph into another:
The military instilled in you a sense of pride, honed your leadership skills, and drew on the deep sense of purpose you carry throughout everything you do. Continue making the most of those traits without compromise at Walmart. Our daily operations employ them to the fullest, offering a career experience that will feel like a natural fit for how you think, act and live your life.
The site purports to match veterans' skill sets with store positions. For example, if you were engaged in combat operations against peasants in Afghanistan, you'll be just perfect for "managing" wage slaves at Walmart! If you were a psy-ops specialist, disseminating propaganda to win the hearts and minds in occupied territory, Walmart wants you for such marketing campaigns as "We're Hiring 100,000 Veterans!" and "Unions are Un-American!" as well as convincing impoverished people that they can "Live Better!" by shopping at Walmart. If you served in military intelligence, you can either get a gig in store security, or if you're super lucky, become a personal bodyguard for Walmart Board members as they Travel the Globe, bribing corrupt officials. 

 One misleading TV commercial that ran a year or so ago told the story of a returning female vet who, through the magic of low wages, was able to buy a house and put her kids through college! Another Walmart good-will gesture, again garnering much free publicity through the White House's corporate-operated "Joining Forces" initiative, is to allow its minimum wage workers to transfer to another store if a military spouse gets redeployed. How noble can they get?

And to make the latest propaganda campaign even more effective, there are reports that President Obama is considering appointing the female president of the Walmart Foundation as his new Budget Director to replace Treasury nominee Jack Lew. (h/t Robert S.)

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who directs Walmart's various greedwashing endeavors, already serves on the president's newly-created Global Development Council. This is yet another of those in-house corporate lobbies that comprise the Obama Shadow Government, serving to promote private interests at public expense. The revolving door revolves several times each and every day in the wonderful world of Public-Private Partnerships.

Burwell, before revolving toward Walmart, worked on Obama's transition team as a banking expert, having previously served as deputy budget director in the Clinton Administration and chief of staff to bank-deregulating Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. She later headed up a global agricultural initiative for the Gates Foundation. (Walmart, coincidentally, has long been criticized for its role in putting third world subsistence farmers out of business.) Her first job out of college was a stint at the McKinsey and Co. lobbying consulting firm. Coincidentally, one of Chelsea Clinton's many jobs has been at McKinsey. And of course Hillary Clinton once served on the Walmart Board. I think Muckety needs to draw another one of its great maps for this latest web of incestuous intrigue.

And as the sticky threads are wrapped ever more cosily around Walmart and the White House, watch out for falling wages. Watch out for continued anti-union activity by the retail giant as the government looks the other way. Watch out for continued violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as Walmart metasticizes. Watch out for continued sales of weapons and bullets by returning veterans suffering from PTSD as they stand guard behind the Walmart gun display counters. Watch out for continuous corporate welfare for this retail behemoth that not only refuses to supply health insurance for its employees, but actually instructs them in how to efficiently apply for Medicaid and food stamps.

"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do well while a growing number of Americans barely get by—or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules." -- Barack Obama.

Let's face it, people. That settlement has already been reached. And it is patently unfair to 99% of us. The Great Shrinker has spoken.

*Update, 1/16: The recent Fiscal Cliff Aversion Act extended and enhanced the generous tax breaks for companies which hire veterans. So, factoring in the average $8/hour starting salaries,  and the fact that veterans receive government healthcare to begin with, I think it is fair to assume that  Walmart's workforce will be more taxpayer-subsidized than ever, assuming of course that it can attract enough former cannon fodder into its big box labor camps.

12 comments:

Clivus Multrum, Esq. said...

Veterans can get their health care through the VA, so Wal-Mart saves tons of money on their future Obamacare health insurance expenses. Win-win.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Never thought I'd be driven to say this: How I miss that starchy Texan, First Lady Laura Lane Welch, even when accompanied by that Bush guy.

Pearl said...

Walmart also puts small business people out of business who cannot compete with their low prices due to mass imports of goods from sweat shop conditions of third world countries as well as their wage practices here. There have been reports of towns and city areas that have attempted to keep them from moving in to their neighborhoods, but usually fail to do so.
Although one can shop at other establishments like Sears and other department stores, almost all the goods sold there as well come from other countries with questionable manufacturing practices.
We are left with very little choice about how to shop responsibly. This is one area among others that Obama has failed to respond to and we continue to be in debt to outsourced countries while closing off jobs to American workers.

Denis Neville said...

As Lily Tomlin once said, “No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up.”

Michelle Obama calls the Wal-Mart plan “historic,” adding that she planned to urge other corporations to follow suit. “Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow.”

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!!! What’s good for Wal-Mart is good for America?

“Life - the way it really is - is a battle not between good and bad, but between bad and worse.” - Joseph Brodsky

Wal-Mart pledges to hire more than 100,000 vets in the next five years. How patriotic!

Let’s continue to gut the middle class economy!

But, how can it be bad to get a good bargain at Wal-Mart?

Shopping people out of jobs that’s how bad!

"If people were only consumers, buying things at lower prices would be just good. But people also are workers who need to earn a decent standard of living. The dynamics that create lower prices at Wal-Mart and other places are also undercutting the ability of many, many workers to earn decent wages and benefits and have a stable life." - Larry Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute. "

An acquaintance, who works as a supplier for independent food stores, related to me that Wal-Mart has been moving into urban areas. They have driven many of those food stores out of business and wages down with an annual loss of close to five billion dollars in earnings for retail workers.

Wal-Mart employs more people than any other company in the United States outside of the Federal government, yet the majority of its employees with children live below the poverty line. The majority of Wal-Marts employees' children qualify for free lunch at school. Wal-Mart employees are paid so little they often must rely on government programs for assistance. In many states, the largest group of Medicaid recipients is Wal-Mart employees. Wal-Mart employees represent the largest group of food stamp recipients. And under the coming austerity, many of those programs will be slashed, including veterans Tricare health benefits.

The new social contract is the race to the bottom for the 99 percent of American society, lead by Wal-Mart and the plutocrats’ chief poodles – the Obamas.

No wonder that former Marine Corps infantryman can’t think of a more frightening future back in the US than working in Wal-Mart.

4Runner said...

It's probably appropriate that vets be hired to labor for the USA's largest seller of guns & ammo. A few facts beyond what are here: the average starting salary for a new Walmart sales associate is $21,000, as compared to the annual average income of the 6 Walmart heirs: $450 million. Women earn 33% less than males and comprise 15% of top management. For every 2 jobs that Walmart creates, 2.8 existing jobs are lost. These & other tidbits are found at the site SumOfUs.org.

Karen Garcia said...

I will go ahead and post an off-topic response to the latest Maureen Dowd column. Hint: she is still obsessing about Obama's personality issues most recently on display at his press con. The usual commenting choir has done its part and rushed to Barry's defense. I choose not get sucked in to the preordained drama. Here goes....

The most annoying thing about the president's press conference was not so much his performance, but the pitiful performance of the Washington press corps. Where were the questions about the planned cuts to the social safety net? Whatever happened to the catastrophe of climate change and its potential to create not only a world-wide famine, but its potential to destroy the world economy more effectively than any nihilistic Republican or unprosecuted Wall Street felon could ever dream of doing?

What about the JOBS? What about income inequality so severe that Americans are literally dying off faster than in any other "civilized" country?

We are tortured instead with insipid questions about political socializing and equally insipid answers of what a nice fellow the president thinks he is. He vows that he won't be held hostage. But he dog-whistles his intentions to the investor/donor class, eager to appease The Market, negotiate with his GOP frenemies for a grand bargain of deficit reduction that would impose a world of pain and austerity on millions of Americans who are already sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I was waiting for him to issue a full-throated promise to protect the New Deal from the predations of the Republicans. I was waiting in vain. Because this was just a staged partisan skirmish in the latest predictable act of Disaster Capitalism Theater. We are merely the extras, waiting to play our assigned roles as walking collateral damage.

Denis Neville said...

"Rule #1 in journalism: Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." - Finley Peter Dunne

Karen rightfully beats the drum of cynicism: pitiful performance of the Washington press corps; insipid questions and equally insipid answers

Being out of step with the rest of the nation defines the Washington press corps, doesn't it?

Corporate journalism conveniently and obediently forgets Dunne’s directive.

The role of the press is to keep Americans ignorant of the malignancy of our republic.

Stephen Colbert, who refused to play the dutiful, toothless part, put them in their place at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2006, when he expressed his approval of the media's repeated failure to hold the Bush administration accountable:

"Over the last five years, you people were so good, over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew."

“Listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The President makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7FTF4Oz4dI

James F Traynor said...

Was just reading where the batteries, carbon structural material and wings of Boeings latest transport plane are made in Japan. Why can't we compete in these areas? Of course we can, but you can make a lot more profit manufacturing and trading derivatives than actually producing something useful. And you don't have to deal with those nasty working people and their unions.

Anonymous said...

Walmart aka the Walton family are also big funders of the hostile corporate takeover of public education. Scum always floats to the top.

Will said...

@Denis,

Colbert's performance that night is definitely one of the few good memories I have of that dumpster fire of a decade which still doesn't have a name. (I like the "aughties," but that's just me.) And how about the next year when those fraidy cats brought safe-and-oh-so-boring Rich Little back from the dead to bomb the joint? Ahhh, good times.

Annie Oakley, II said...

The Walmart-White House Connection is an example of the overall Corporate-Government Connection, and could soon become a lot more like the Pentagon-Defense Industry Connection.

First, I would like to revisit a previously deleted comment of mine, and I would like to clarify some things. My suggesting that we demand concessions during gun control discussions/negotiations, specifically the repeal of the Patriot Act and 2012 NDAA, is NOT a call to violence or armed rebellion. It is simply using the only leverage we have, and one of the few rights left us - the right to keep and bear arms, and drawing attention to our demand for repeal of unconstitutional, tyrannical laws. No one was harmed when Tea Party members did it to draw media attention to their message about Obamacare. Stop all the hysteria about guns. Most gunowners are very responsible.

So why is all this critical? Because a judge recently ruled (see http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/us/judge-rules-memo-on-targeted-killing-can-remain-secret.html?hpw&_r=0 ) that we have NO STANDING to legally challenge the government fortress of secrecy laws, particularly regarding the government's asserted right to assassinate American citizens by targeted killing. REPEAL of the laws which give them the impenetrable cover of secrecy remains our only legal option.

Not everyone agrees with Obama's negotiating technique of giving away something valuable in exchange for nothing. As many foreign countries have discovered, it pays to have something our government wants to control, and they demand concessions in exchange. I simply stated that we should clearly state that we will not engage in discussion about, nor support, new gun laws until those specific tyrannical laws are repealed. I seriously believe those laws are more of a threat to our lives and freedom than any madman with a gun.

To relate this to the corporate-government connection, I see a direct connection between creating new restrictions on private ownership of firearms and promoting the corporate control of security and protection, particularly hiring weapons-trained veterans of the military and police forces.

Combined with potentially fewer Americans allowed personal defense in the future and shrinking municipal budgets, policing could become a private enterprise of corporate police forces, controlled by those with large amounts of wealth or big investors. Wal-Mart could go that route, or the NRA could restructure itself to become a security/policing corporation, similar to how AARP turned into a health insurance business. After all, there's an increasing amount of wealth and assets in this country that needs protecting. Properly trained corporate police forces would naturally be exempt from weapons laws applying to the common folk.

So there's your investment tip for 2013 - corporate police, the new domestic defense industry. Oh ya, don't forget the drones!

Denis Neville said...

@ James

“Is Boeing's 787 Dreamliner a Triumph or a Folly?” asks Dick Nolan.

“To finance the development of its 787 and secure global orders, Boeing agreed not only to outsource an unprecedented amount of the plane's parts to partners in Europe, Japan, and China, but also to transfer to them unprecedented know-how.... Boeing effectively gave Tier 1 suppliers a large part of its proprietary manual, ‘How to Build a Commercial Airplane,’ a book that its aeronautical engineers have been writing over the last 50 years or so. Instead of ‘build to print,’ Boeing provided suppliers with performance specifications for parts and components and collaboratively worked with them in the design and manufacturing of major components such as the wing, fuselage section, and wing box.”

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2009/12/is_boeings_787_dreamliner_a_tr.html

Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China(Comac) is China’s state-sponsored jetliner. It will launch its first jetliner in 2016 that will compete directly with Boeing. Because China doesn’t have the necessary technology to build this industry, Chinese officials have told Boeing it will have to hand over its intellectual property if it wants to keep selling planes in China. So Boeing caved and will transfer vital technology to its Chinese competitor.

In the very near future, Comac will require Chinese airlines to buy from the domestic manufacturer. China will also pressure other Asian carriers to buy from Comac. So Boeing will have effectively screwed themselves as the price of continued access to China's aviation market.

When will we learn?