Thursday, January 24, 2013

Walmart Watch

There are already plenty of other sites that have done an enormous amount of work to record the trouble that Wal-Mart has been in but most of them have limited resources and I believe they could use some help with their research and that by providing another one that I could do my part to contribute to this. Some of what some of these researchers have been doing is keeping track of some of the stories that tend to fall down the memory hole and people forget about them so that when time p[asses Wal-Mart manages to repair it’s image without actually addressing many of the problems they have had in the past. By logging some of this I may enable a better record to be kept of it.

Also I have compiled a list of some of the other sites that I have found it could help people to sort through the other researchers that have been reporting on Wal-Mart. It will also include periodical reviews of various subjects that I might go into greater details into including Wal-Marts researching into marketing to children and how this is interfering with their education and being used to suppress creative thinking; their potential antitrust violations; the use of planned obsolescence to increase sales; their impact on the environment; and methods to encourage change at Wal-Mart.

One of the most important misconceptions about Wal-Mart that is often even repeated by their critics is the claim that their prices are "low." For the most part this claim is usually false, at least when you consider the actual value of their products. There have been some exceptions, of course, especially when it comes to price wars that they have been involved in over the years when they have competition that they want to put out of business. When this happens the consumers often do get good prices, for a little while; but as soon as they succeed in wiping out the competition and developing a monopoly in many areas they no longer have the incentive to keep their prices and the consumers lose their temporary advantage; and pay a much higher price. This is often referred to as "predatory pricing" and it has been properly described as a corrupt business practice although whether it is considered illegal may depend on the political environment at the time and whether the companies involve have political connections. As far as I can tell this no longer happens very often any more if it continues to happen at all; now that the biggest corporations have consolidated into a small number of oligarchies they no longer seem to need to do this and it has led to virtual, if not literal, price fixing or gouging by the oligarchies. The lack of sincere competition also means they don't have to try to provide durable merchandise any more to compete since most of these oligarchies don't try very hard to make things last longer than necessary to keep customers from becoming outraged; although most of them aren't as bad as Wal-Mart.

It also often seems cheap in many cases compared to many of the other products on the market; but when taking a closer look at how long these products last it becomes clear that in many cases they have cut so many corners in the manufacturing sector that their products fall apart much quicker than they used to. Some of this can be understood just by considering how much money they have been spending on activities that have little or nothing to do with the production and sales of merchandise that benefits the public.

When they close down local manufacturing plants and replace them with factories half way around the world they lose the advantage of low shipping and distribution expenses. Then they go even further and cut the wages of their workers that are making their merchandise and reducing their safety conditions to save money. This is justified as necessary to stay competitive. The problem is that these expenses that are being cut are those that are related to the quality of their merchandise. Even if you're not concerned with the human rights abuses it should be clear that if these workers aren't living in a reasonably safe environment and getting fair compensation they will be less able or motivated to manufacture quality merchandise.

Which may be exactly what Wal-Mart wants. They may not want quality merchandise that lasts a long time because they can keep selling us more products if they fall apart much quicker.

Then they spend an enormous amount of money on research into marketing to children which often involves hiring child psychologists to research how to manipulate children at a young age. This has been researched and reported in several books on the subject including "Consuming Kids" by Susan Linn and others which I will go into more detail on a future post coming soon. This is the beginning of their activities on activities that have more to do with their political agenda and their objective of increasing profits by studying how to develop more deceptive and effective advertising and how to convince people they're getting their money's worth when they aren't and how to keep it secret (although most of this hasn't been kept completely secret at all). The more they spend on advertising, lobbying, campaign contributions and many other expenses including efforts to influence the education system the less they have available to put into the quality of their merchandise and these expenses have to be passed on to consumers or to some other source which may at times include government subsidies.

One way or another these expenses for activities that are against the best interest of the public are passed on to the public.

These practices aren't limited to Wal-Mart, of course and they wouldn't have happened if not for the corruption of the political system; but Wal-Mart is one of the biggest offender, if not the biggest; and it is easier to focus on this than to keep track of all the oligarchies at the same time. Other efforts can and have been made to keep track of other offenders as well elsewhere.

The bigger problem is that the effectiveness of ant-trust laws have been eliminated and on top of that trade secrecy laws have been implemented instead of disclosure laws that are designed to protect the public from fraud. Also false advertising laws are limited or nonexistent, at least when you consider how they're enforced, or more accurately not enforced. Under the current circumstances false advertising has been protected while the truth is routinely suppressed or downplayed due to trade secrecy laws or the fact that the commercial media has overwhelming control over the press so even when many of these scams are exposed they aren't widely reported so the majority can act on them when they address or choose their elected officials.

A sincere democratic system would enable the public to have access to the information they need to make important decisions.

That isn't the system we currently have; although many people pretend that we do.

The following are a sample of some of the news samples that have been presented about Wal-Mart including recent ones as well as some that are already starting to be forgotten.

Bangladesh garment manufacturing fire

Fatal Fire in Bangladesh Highlights the Dangers Facing Garment Workers

MUMBAI, India — More than 100 people died Saturday and Sunday in a fire at a garment factory outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, in one of the worst industrial tragedies in that country. Complete article

As Walmart Makes Safety Vows, It’s Seen as Obstacle to Change

When Walmart’s chief executive, Michael Duke, appeared at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting in New York this month, a raucous crowd of protesters awaited him. Walmart was confronting reports of bribery in Mexico, a wave of labor demonstrations in the United States and, perhaps most critically, questions about a grisly fire that had killed 112 workers at a Bangladeshi garment factory used by several Walmart suppliers. Complete article

Horrific Fire Revealed a Gap in Safety for Global Brands

ASHULIA, Bangladesh — The fire alarm shattered the monotony of the Tazreen Fashions factory. Hundreds of seamstresses looked up from their machines, startled. On the third floor, Shima Akhter Pakhi had been stitching hoods onto fleece jackets. Now she ran to a staircase. ....

Bangladesh is now a garment manufacturing giant, the world’s second-leading apparel exporter, behind China, which is no longer the cheapest place to make many basic goods. Bangladesh has the lowest garment wages in the world, and many of the Tazreen factory’s victims were young rural women with little education, who earned as little as $45 a month in an industry that now accounts for $19 billion in exports. complete article

Documents Indicate Walmart Blocked Safety Push in Bangladesh

Documents found at the Tazreen apparel factory in Bangladesh, where 112 workers died in a fire nearly two weeks ago, indicate that three American garment companies were using the factory during the past year to supply goods to Walmart and its Sam’s Club subsidiary. Complete article

Massive Fire Kills At Least 118 Factory Workers in Bangladesh at Wal-Mart Supplier

A clothing factory in Bangladesh that has ties to Wal-Mart suffered a massive fire Saturday that left at least 118 factory workers dead and scores injured. Wal-Mart is the largest buyer of garments from Bangladesh, which has a notoriously poor fire-safety record and has long suppressed workers’ attempts to improve their conditions. The building was a factory operated by Tazreen Fashions, a subsidiary of the Tuba Group, which supplies Wal-Mart, IKEA and other major retailers in the United States and Europe. The factory made polo shirts, fleece jackets and T-shirts. We speak to Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, which investigates conditions in factories around the world. Complete article

Bangladeshi Labor Activist Finds Burned Clothes with Wal-Mart Labels at Site of Deadly Factory Fire

The Bangladeshi government has declared a period of national mourning for more than 120 garment workers who died in a fire at a factory that supplied U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart, among others. Joining us from Bangladesh is labor activist Kalpona Akter, who has visited the factory and took pictures of the charred clothing labels she found there — including the Wal-Mart brand, Faded Glory. She started work in garment factories when she was 12 years old. Now she campaigns for better wages, recognition of the right to organize, and higher safety standards. We are also joined by Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, which investigates working conditions in factories around the world. In comparison to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, Nova says, "It really is an extraordinary achievement, in an ironic sense, that the U.S. apparel industry has managed to replicate early 20th century conditions, that were so brutal and cruel to workers, now again here in 2012 in factories in places like Bangladesh. It’s a shameful record for the U.S. apparel industry. ... And hopefully, this horror will finally galvanize a global push for genuine reform of the labor practices of the big apparel brands and retailers." Akter speaks directly to shoppers, saying, "Consumers can play a big role, because they are the most powerful player in the supply chain." Complete article

Exposé Reveals Wal-Mart Blocked Improvements Despite Vows to Improve Safety After Deadly Factory Fire

Wal-Mart has vowed to improve safety problems among suppliers who make clothes for the company after at least 111 workers died in a deadly fire at a Bangladesh garment factory. But inspection reports found inside the facility underscore fundamental problems with how Wal-Mart’s supply chain allows it to avoid improving conditions. "One of the main monitoring companies, inspection companies for Wal-Mart, admitted that 'We don't even check whether factories have emergency exits, whether they have fire escapes or fireproof, smoke-proof enclosed staircases.’ And this factory did not have outdoor fire escapes, did not have enclosed staircases," says Steven Greenhouse, labor and workplace reporter for the New York Times about his latest investigation, "As Walmart Makes Safety Vows, It’s Seen as Obstacle to Change." Complete article

Report: Bangladeshi Factory Billed Wal-Mart Subcontractor on Day of Fatal Fire

Details continue to emerge on the retail giant Wal-Mart’s ties to the Bangladeshi garment factory where 120 workers died in a fire last month. The New York Times has revealed that at least two subcontractors were using the Tazreen factory to make Wal-Mart goods when the fire occurred. Wal-Mart has claimed it cut ties to a lone company that had used the factory before the fire. But documents recovered in the fire’s remains show the factory had billed one of the two Wal-Mart subcontractors on November 24, the very day of the fire. Previously recovered documents have shown that five of the factory’s 14 production lines were devoted to making Wal-Mart apparel. Two people involved in worker safety oversight in Bangladesh have also revealed that Wal-Mart played a key role in blocking the improvement of electrical and fire safety at Bangladeshi factories during a 2011 meeting. Complete article

Protests Continue in Bangladesh as Factory Fire Death Toll Tops 120

Protests are continuing in Bangladesh after more than 120 workers were killed in a factory fire over the weekend. On Monday, thousands of garment workers blocked roads, causing some factories to shut down. As mourners gathered outside the gutted factory, one survivor described the fire. Complete article

Protesters in New Jersey Picket Wal-Mart Cargo from Bangladesh

Dozens of protesters have turned out at a New Jersey port to picket a container ship from Bangladesh carrying goods for the retail giant Wal-Mart. The demonstration was called in the aftermath of last month’s Tazreen factory fire in Bangladesh that killed 112 workers. The factory had been used to make Wal-Mart apparel, and the company allegedly played a role in blocking the improvement of safety conditions there. Homeland Security and port police blocked the demonstrators from approaching the ship as it unloaded its cargo. The action came as the Bangladeshi government recommended criminal charges against the Tazreen factory’s owner for "unpardonable negligence" leading up to the fire. Complete article

Bangladesh: Garment Workers Stage Mass Hunger Strike over Pay, Conditions

Hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers, most of them women, have staged a massive hunger strike in the capital Dhaka to demand safer working conditions and better pay. A factory fire at a Bangladeshi plant that made goods for Wal-Mart killed at least 111 workers in November, marking the country’s worst industrial accident. The head of the National Garment Workers Federation, Amirul Haq Amin, condemned the retail giant. Complete article

Wal-Mart Mexican Bribery Case

Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle

Confronted with evidence of widespread corruption in Mexico, top Wal-Mart executives focused more on damage control than on rooting out wrongdoing, an examination by The New York Times found.

MEXICO CITY — In September 2005, a senior Wal-Mart lawyer received an alarming e-mail from a former executive at the company’s largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico. In the e-mail and follow-up conversations, the former executive described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country.

Complete article

Wal-Mart Vows to Fix Its Controls

Allegations of widespread bribery at Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary continued to reverberate on Tuesday, with the company beginning a campaign to limit the damage as its shares declined further. Complete article

WalMart's Mexican Bribery Scandal Will Sink It Like an Iceberg Sank the Titanic

WalMart’s been accused of bribing officials in Mexico to grow its business. But by and large, few in America seem to care. The stock fell only modestly from its highs of last week, and today the stock recovered from the drop off to the lows of February.

But WalMart is going to fail. WalMart is trying to defend and extend a horribly outdated industrial strategy. Complete article

Mexican Bribery Scandal Could Cost Wal-Mart $4.5 Billion; Shares Down 4.7%

8 Revelations From Walmart’s Mexican Bribery Scandal

The Bribery Aisle: How Wal-Mart Got Its Way in Mexico

Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited, an examination by The New York Times found.

SAN JUAN TEOTIHUACÁN, Mexico — Wal-Mart longed to build in Elda Pineda’s alfalfa field. It was an ideal location, just off this town’s bustling main entrance and barely a mile from its ancient pyramids, which draw tourists from around the world. With its usual precision, Wal-Mart calculated it would attract 250 customers an hour if only it could put a store in Mrs. Pineda’s field. Complete article

Is Anyone Surprised That Walmart Bribes the Mexican Government?

additional reports on Democracy Now!

Wal-Mart Worker Protests

Wal-Mart Workers in 12 States Stage Historic Strikes, Protests Against Workplace Retaliation

Wal-Mart workers have launched historic labor protests and strikes across 28 stores in 12 states, the first retail worker strike in the company’s 50-year history. According to organizers, employees are protesting company attempts to "silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for improvements on the job." We go to Bentonville, Arkansas, to speak with Mike Compton, a Wal-Mart worker protesting outside the company headquarters today just days after taking part in a successful strike at a Wal-Mart supply warehouse in Elwood, Illinois. We’re also joined by Josh Eidelson, a contributing writer for Salon and In These Times who broke the story of the Wal-Mart store strikes last week. Complete article

Additional stories at Democracy Now!

Wal-Mart Seeks to Head Off Worker Protests

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. WMT +0.09% tried to head off worker protests at its stores over the Thanksgiving holiday by filing an unfair-labor-practice complaint against a union the company says is behind the protest plans. Complete article

Walmart Workers Plan Black Friday Protests, So Walmart Will Open on “Black Thursday”

The historic Walmart worker strikes over the past couple months built energy toward an even bigger culmination. Walmart workers, protesting low wages, erratic hours, lack of health benefits, and most importantly disrespect in the workplace, decided to speak their grievances in a series of worker-led actions. Walmart responded with retaliation, including firings, reductions of hours, and intimidation in the workplace. One organizer and former worker was handcuffed in front of his colleagues when he returned to talk to them about upcoming actions.

Complete article

Walmart workers plan Black Friday protest

Wal-Mart walkouts are just the start

A single strike on Black Friday won't dent the retailer's profits, but it could be the first of many

In the last few months, an unprecedented wave of labor unrest has shaken the retail giant Wal-Mart and its far-reaching supply chain. While the number of employees taking part in walkouts has been limited to the low hundreds, workers and labor activists are mounting pressure and threatening to stage a company-wide strike on Black Friday—the busiest shopping day of the year. Complete article

Walmart protests mark important step

For Walmart, this Black Friday--which actually started with store openings at 8 pm on Thanksgiving, disrupting family celebrations --meant not just the kickoff of its lucrative Christmas buying season, but the first truly national challenge to shake its once rock-solid control over its 1.3 million “associates. Rallies by its workers and their supporters took place at an estimated 1,000 of its stores across the nation.

The protests were hugely significant: first, as a sign of the new worker assertiveness at a corporation that had seemingly mastered the art of enforced docility among its workers; and second, because of Walmart’s powerful role in defining down wages and conditions across the globe. Complete article

Walmart workers plan Black Friday protests

Unhappy Walmart workers plan mass protests leading up to Black Friday

Wal-Mart Plays Down Labor Protests at Its Stores

Amid Black Friday crowds, Wal-Mart draws workers’ rights protesters

Walmart Workers Protest For Better Wages And Benefits On Black Friday

Wal-Mart Worker Uprising: Protests Held at 1,000 Stores on Black Friday

A wave of historic protests struck the retail giant Wal-Mart on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Workers and their supporters demonstrated at more than 1,000 stores. The Wal-Mart protests were organized in part by OUR Walmart, an organization backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union. Nine people, including three Wal-Mart workers, were arrested at a protest in Los Angeles after they blocked traffic. We broadcast the voices of protesters in Secaucus, New Jersey, and speak to Josh Eidelson, a contributing writer for The Nation magazine. Complete article

Walmart Worker Protests Spread Globally

MIAMI—US Walmart workers were joined by Walmart workers in nine countries on Friday to call for an end to Walmart’s attempts to silence workers for speaking out for changes at the world’s largest employer. As Walmart workers and community supporters marched in front of a Walmart store in Miami, workers in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Zambia and India held their own rallies, marches, and other actions at Walmart and Walmart subsidiary stores. During the protests, workers cited the negative impacts that the silencing is having on their families, the economy and the company’s bottom-line. Complete article

Walmart Workers Will Rally in Ten Countries Tomorrow

The labor campaign confronting Walmart in the United States is planning an international escalation for tomorrow. In partnership with the global union federation UNI, the union-affiliated group Making Change at Walmart is supporting a “Global Day of Action,” with participation expected from Walmart workers in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, India, Nicaragua, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Zambia. The day’s main US protest will be a Miami demonstration featuring a street theater performance in the tradition of the United Farm Workers’ teatro campesino. Complete article
Wal-Mart workers discrimination suit

Justices Rule for Wal-Mart in Class-Action Bias Case 6/20/2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday threw out an enormous employment discrimination class-action suit against Wal-Mart that had sought billions of dollars on behalf of as many as 1.5 million female workers. Complete article

1.5 Million Female Wal-Mart Employees Lose Historic Sex Discrimination Case Before Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously dismissed the largest class action lawsuit in history filed by 1.5 million current and former female employees of Wal-Mart, who say they were allegedly paid less and promoted less often than their male counterparts. The Court found women who worked at Wal-Mart did not have enough in common to constitute a "class" in a class action lawsuit. It did not address whether Wal-Mart had discriminated against women, but in writing for the minority in part of the court’s ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the “plaintiffs’ evidence, including class members’ tales of their own experiences, suggests that gender bias suffused Wal-Mart’s company culture." We speak with former Wal-Mart employee Stephanie Odle, one of the original plaintiffs in the case. We also discuss the “limits of a courtroom remedy” in this case, and Wal-Mart’s anti-union efforts with Liza Featherstone, author of "Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Worker’s Rights at Wal-Mart." Complete article

Additional stories at Democracy Now!

Tennessee women file sex discrimination lawsuit against Walmart

Female ex-Walmart employees file federal discrimination suit over promotions

WEST PALM BEACH — When Boca Raton resident Christina Going asked her boss at Walmart what she could do to snare a higher-paying position, the answer sounded like it was designed to give her ammunition for a discrimination lawsuit.

“Single mothers like you don’t deserve to make as much. You should be in a two-income household,” Going remembers being told. Complete article

Walmart lawsuit: 11 Florida women sue Walmart for gender discrimination

Walmart worker, one of 11 in Florida lawsuit, tells about discrimination she felt

Meredith Boucher, Former Walmart Employee, Awarded $1.49 Million For Mistreatment

As Walmart workers across the country participate in the company’s first-ever retail worker strike, one former employee’s dispute with the big box store comes to a close.

Meredith Boucher, a former Walmart assistant manager in Canada, was awarded $1.49 million after suing for mistreatment in the workplace, the Calgary Herald reported. Boucher said she was the victim of verbal abuse for six months by her store manager in Windsor, Ontario three years ago. She was awarded more than she had originally sued for, according to the Calgary Herald. Complete article

Wal-Mart Wins Texas Lawsuit Over Gender Discrimination

Lisbon man sues Wal-Mart, alleges racial discrimination, retaliation

Wal-Mart Class: Wal-Mart Case Is Not Over; those interested in joining take notice.

Wal-Mart Vs. Starbucks: In 2006 Fred Jacobs argued that Starbucks did a much better job maintaining a good reputation than Wal-Mart and implied that this was a good business strategy. this seems reasonable, to a point; however I never thought Starbucks had a good reputation either. It seems to me that the more they spend on public relations the less they have to spend on the product or service they provide. This means that if the public recognizes this then public relation campaigns will be recognized as scams and they will stop working.

Starbucks may have done a better job convincing the public that they're more responsible citizens but this will only last until the public wises up to these scams.

The fact that Wal-Mart was in trouble seven years ago for many of the same reasons they're in trouble for now may make it seem hopeless to some. If they still haven't collapsed why should people expect them to change now? there is plenty of good reason; first of all they're in much more trouble now. Second of all since they're so large people shouldn't expect them to change over night. However there are signs that things are starting to turn around \and there might be much more change coming one way or another if people keep pushing for it.

Ironically Wal-Mart has been using some of the same methods that were used over a hundred years ago by many other companies. These were changed in the past when enough people stood up to them and they can be cahnged in the future again; only this time, if precautions are taken and election and education reform is included it could be set up so that the improvements will be much more difficult to over turn by powerful businesses.

Clarence Darrow made a great speech on the subject in 1909; the following are some excerpts; simply by substituting Wal-Mart for the oligarchies of the day it will seem a lot like the tactics that are taking place today.

"Industrial Conspiracies" by Clarence Darrow

I feel very grateful to you for the warmth and earnestness of your reception. It makes me feel sure that I am amongst friends. If I had to be tried again, I would not mind taking a change of venue to Portland (applause); although I think I can get along where I am without much difficulty.

The subject for tonight's talk was not chosen by me but was chosen for me. I don't know who chose it, nor just what they expected me to say, but there is not much in a name, and I suppose what I say tonight would be just about the same under any title that anybody saw fit to give.

I am told that I am going to talk about "Industrial Conspiracies." I ought to know something about them. And I won't tell you all I know tonight, but I will tell you some things that I know tonight.

The conspiracy laws, you know, are very old. As one prominent laboring man said on the witness stand down in Los Angeles a few weeks ago when they asked him if he was not under indictment and what for, he said he was under indictment for the charge they always made against working men when they hadn't done anything—conspiracy. And that is the charge they always make. It is the one they have always made [Pg 4] against everybody when they wanted them, and particularly against working men, because they want them oftener than they do anybody else. (Applause).

When they want a working man for anything excepting work they want him for conspiracy. (Laughter). And the greatest conspiracy that is possible for a working man to be guilty of is not to work—a conspiracy the other fellows are always guilty of. (Applause). The conspiracy laws are very old. They were very much in favor in the Star Chamber days in England. If any king or ruler wanted to get rid of someone, and that someone had not done anything, they indicted him for what he was thinking about; that is, for conspiracy; and under it they could prove anything that he ever said or did, and anything that anybody else ever said or did to prove what he was thinking about; and therefore that he was guilty. And, of course, if anybody was thinking, it was a conspiracy against the king; for you can't think without thinking against a king. (Applause). The trouble is most people don't think. (Laughter and applause). And therefore they are not guilty of conspiracy. (Laughter and applause).

The conspiracy laws in England were especially used against working men, and in the early days, not much more than a hundred years ago, for one working man to go to another and suggest that he ask for higher wages was a conspiracy, punishable by imprisonment. For a few men to come together and form a labor organization in England was a conspiracy. It is not here. Even the employer is willing to let you form labor organizations, if you don't do anything but pass resolutions. (Laughter and applause). The complete speech is well worth reading!

The following are some additional web sites that have covered much more about efforts to expose and reform Wal-Mart:

Making Changeat Walmart

Organization United for Respect at Walmart

Green America Walmart alerts and campaign

Walmart 1%

The Writing on the Wal

Walmart Subsidy Watch

Walmart Employees Speak Out

Wal-Mart Watch Videos

Wal-Mart live growth chart (slow start but then…)

Watch the Growth of Walmart and Sam's Club

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Complacent consumers have few if any rights

Back in the Nineties I was standing in line at the grocery store behind a couple that must have been old enough to remember the depression as young adults. They were attempting to use coupons from the store that they were attending but the cashier, who was probably in her teens, said that they couldn’t do so since the fine print said that they were only redeemable at participating stores and this apparently wasn’t one of them. When the old couple objected she even laughed at them in a condescending manner as if they were daffy. The bag boy was probably about the same age and he chuckled a little too. These two kids were probably making slightly more than the minimum wage and they probably never had to worry about anything more serious than getting money for pizza or beer. The old couple ignored the impolite behavior and started complaining about the corporate manipulation; although they probably didn’t express themselves in a manner that might be considered educated or dignified. The majority of their shopping cart wound up being left at the store un-purchased; the only things they bought were the things that either were redeemable with the coupon or that they didn’t have one for it anyway.

(This was first posted on Open Salon June 6 2011; since then I have followed up on this more in a series of posts under the author tag A small success against planned obsolescence.)

I don’t remember exactly how old my sneakers were on this particular day.

On another occasion that must have been in 1993 or maybe 1994 I dropped something off at a store for the manager and he commented on my sneakers since it was slow and they were in pretty rough shape. I know the year must be accurate because that is the only time that I would have been visiting this particular store. After he pointed it out to me I had to admit that they were in rough shape which was surprising because they couldn’t have been that old. I was able to remember at that time exactly, give or take a couple weeks when I had bought those sneakers and it was about thirteen months earlier. This may seem like a long time for sneakers to last now but I was quite certain at that time that sneakers previously lasted much longer, at least eighteen if not twenty-four months back in the early eighties or late seventies. In fact I remember that after about a year the shoe laces routinely broke and we would just go out and buy a new pair of shoe laces so that the sneakers would last another year instead of replacing the sneakers. I’m still reasonably sure that that estimate is accurate and I’m positive about the thirteen month estimate.

Now sneakers routinely fall apart after no more than six months; and I’m not nearly as active as I was either in 1993 or in the early eighties. Not only that but I’m more likely to wear something else part of the time than I was back then so sneakers should last longer now than they did then yet they don’t.

I didn’t start saving receipts after noticing that sneakers fall apart much faster so the situation got much worse.

This isn’t just happening to me; this is a process called planned obsolescence that couldn’t be an accident at all; even if you doubt that this is a clear sign of gross incompetence. This is fraud! The corporations have been using this process to steal billions of dollars from consumers every year!! In fact if you assume that everyone in the USA has to buy just one extra pair of sneakers per year for twenty dollars then it costs six billion dollars per year for consumers. This is probably an underestimate since most sneakers cost more than that and if not for the fact that I wore something else half the time (I used to wear sneakers all the time all day practically every day) it would have fallen apart sooner and it doesn’t figure in appliances and many other things.

Once other things were figured in it would surely cost hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars a year for consumers for this fraud.

While buying a new pair of sneakers, and saving the receipt, I noticed the customer service department which was a little down the hall away from where people do their shopping. This is just barely out of hearing distance. I’m quite certain that they used to be farther away. My best guess is that consumers could see damn well why they put it so far away and complained so they learned to put it just out of hearing distance without making the consumers walk too far.

I have read a book (“Born to Buy” by Juliet Schor, this is only one out of many books and articles on the subject) that talked about how they were conducting research into how to market to little children as young as six or perhaps as young as three when they are old enough to learn how to talk. This research was considered proprietary, which means that the secrecy of it is protected by law. As indicated in a previous blog Proprietary information is by definition a conspiracy which is designed so that the consumers and workers have no right to access the information they need to make educated decision about their participation in the economy.

And to make matters worse Obama is considering legislation to increase the protection for these proprietary laws (another previous blog); they of course phrase it in a manner which is designed to sound legitimate. They are studying how to manipulate the children and instead of passing laws to protect the children the politicians pass laws to protect the secrecy of the manipulators. It is virtually guaranteed that they also have other people research how complacent consumers have been so that they can increase their profits by increasing the volume of planned obsolescence. The people that make the sneakers don’t make diddly squat, nor do the foolish teens that laughed at the older couple mentioned earlier who accept what the corporations tell them without scrutiny. The people that do the research to increase planned obsolescence almost certainly make much more money and the people in the corporate office are making a killing.

On top of that the workers in this country have to compete with sweat shop labor over seas so wages are being suppressed. Trade is being globalized without globalizing workers rights, consumer’s right, environmental protection or anything else that interferes with the profits of the corporations.

The reason this is happening is because the corporations have gained control of all the most powerful institutions and they are no longer accountable for much if anything. The Mass Media has been consolidated and they receive an enormous amount of money from advertising for these products so they don’t do more than a token amount of reporting on the subject; which enables them to make a lame claim that they are protecting consumers.

The politicians accept millions if not billions of bribes, thinly disguised as  campaign contributions, openly and legally. These campaign contributions are also bossiness expenses which are passed on to the consumer; however just because they pass on the expense to the consumer doesn't mean they pass on any influence with the government. The only reason they can get away with this is because the people who take all these bribes redefined the definition so that they could make a lame claim that it is fair participation in democracy. Some of this bribe money is spent on research on how to manipulate the public during the campaigns and keep them from realizing how corrupt the system is; which I discussed in my previous blog on how Political Psychologists are suppressing democracy.

If the public want to address this problem we’ll have to stop being so complacent, start saving receipts and start electing people that actually represent the public instead of just pretending to do so. In order to do this it will be necessary to pass some form of Election reform or something similar so that the public can control the election process not those that have been corrupting it for decades if not centuries. It would also help if we had an Educational revolution that enables the public to access the information they need to participate in democracy. 

The sneakers I now have WILL last well over a year; either that or the free replacements will! That isn’t in doubt; the only question is how much noise I will have to make or whether I will have to yell and scream and ignore foolish spoiled children who act like I’m daffy.

To read more about Planned Obsolescence see the following sites, the first few are the ones that I thought were the most productive:

The following provides a description of how Planned Obsolescence is used intentionally in a business plan:

The following site even brags about using Planned Obsolescence in their business:

There is very little coverage of this in the traditional corporate press, presumably because there is so mmuch money being made by the people that advertise on the comercial press. However there is plenty of material for those that know where to look, mostly at the grass roots level from people that are old enough to remember how long things used to last or  from whistle blowers and even some old books that were written when this was openly discussed. The following are additional sites that discuss planned obsolescence; they may seem like a lot bu they're only a fraction of the web pages out there from people that are outraged by this:,2933,44583,00.html

Many of the people  that have been expressing outrage over this often feel that there is nothing they can do about this; that assumption is false. Since posting this I have posted several follow up posts and found that at least one retailer is willing to respond and is starting to restore, at least partially the quality of merchandise and without raising prices; in fact they have come back down a little in this case. More on this is posted under the author tag A small success against planned obsolescence assuming you're not already on that page.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Occupy Wall Street and Cash Register Protests

Ever have one of those days where you wind up with a lot to do and everything seems to go wrong?
And things start to happen in an extremely bizarre manner?

(This was first posted on Open Salon September 26 2011; since then I have followed up on this more in a series of posts under the author tag A small sucess against planned obsolescence.)

Yesterday I got up as usual and put on the coffee before taking a shit and shower. I had to use more shampoo because it was getting watery again; presumably they will soon come up with a new improved shampoo that costs more; although it will be advertised at a much lower price than the ridiculously marked up one. When I got out of the shower and went to grab my first cup of coffee I noticed that the pot was only half full; the rest of the water was still in the reservoir and it was no longer brewing; broken….again! So I pulled the pot out and the filter and poured what was left through the filter by hand and nuked it; which is what I learned to do when these damn things break down long ago.

photo source

Then I put some bread in the toaster and sat down to watch TV for a little while; after flipping through several commercials I came to a news story about how they were clamping down on the Occupy Wall Street protestors.

WTF, something’s burning!!

I quickly forgot about whatever was on TV and checked to see what was burning. It was the damn toast which didn’t pop; it was totally burnt on one side and the other side wasn’t toasted at all. I had to watch closely while toasting the morning’s breakfast one side at a time.

Damn two appliances breaking down in one morning!

I’m sick of this and I’m not just going to replace this as usual I’m going to make them fix it. But I don’t want to go through the headaches today so I’ll just get another ready for the week and handle it later. I put the appliances down in the basement, next to the other three broken toasters and four broken coffee makers, and headed out to the department store to get new ones.

photo source

While waiting in line at the cash register things started getting strange. Out of nowhere someone comes up and starts speaking loudly but clearly enough for those in line at the register to hear him. He said something like the following:

Corporations including this department store have been participating in a massive epidemic of consumer fraud and they have also been working with the government and the Mass Media to suppress criticism. The fraudulent activities that this corporation has been involved in include the use of planned obsolescence, the charging of slotting fees to make sure that small startup manufacturers can’t compete and price fixing, among other things.

They have been donating large sums of money to political campaigns; and, coincidently or not, the politicians have remained silent about this and even passed laws to enable corporations to do this in secrecy by passing laws they refer to as protecting the secrecy of proprietary information.

They have increased the interpretation of the first amendment so that corporations can consolidate the Mass Media and obtain complete control over it. They have also passed several laws and arranged for several court cases to rule that protestors don’t have nearly as much protection under the first amendment. Yesterday they arrested dozens of people on Wall Street for using the rights that they’re supposed to have under the first amendment. Clearly the first amendment now only protects the corporations not the victims of corporate crime.

(He looked around quickly at this point and saw the manager approaching with security guards, all with angry looks on their faces.)

This has been a hit and run use of the first amendment which no longer protects most of us; I will now depart before they have a chance to put me in their Gulag just in case that is what they have in mind.

(He then ran out the door and quickly disappeared.)

Everyone stared at each other not knowing what to do. The person in front of me looked nervous and picked up her things which she had just paid for. The cashier looked nervous and rang up my items; while I thought about what he said a minute.

Damn, he was right for the most part! I was sick of my appliances breaking down all the time but didn’t want to go through the hassle of arguing but now I feel as if I should at least ask about it. Before paying for the appliances I asked if they would replace them if they broke in less than five or six years. I then proceeded to tell her about the fact that I now have four broken toasters and five broken coffee makers counting the new ones and none of them could be more than nine years old since that is when I moved last and I didn’t start collecting these damn things until after that.

This means that they aren’t lasting much if any more than two years each; maybe less if I actually threw out some of the past broken appliances instead of putting them in the basement; which I probably did. She said she didn’t know anything about that she was just a cashier.

At this point the manager was walking back in the door; presumably the security guards were still out chasing the evil protestor that was illegally using the first amendment. I waved at him and asked him if they would replace it if it broke. He said that I shouldn’t pay any attention to that protestor who was a lunatic or something and that the store had an impeachable reputation despite the slander from that “hippie.” He then said that the store would honor any warrantee as written on the box by the manufacturer; and that I should just forget about it.

I asked again what the manufacturer offered for a warrantee then.

He looked annoyed then proceeded to pick up the box and peer at it, pushing his glasses down on his nose and squinting to read something that took him a while to find. Then he said something about the manufacturer being willing to handle the warrantee directly; so I wouldn’t have to deal with the store at all I could just write to the manufacturer, who was quite reputable and I really shouldn’t worry about it. He said that I shouldn’t worry about the fact that they no longer offer warrantees nearly as long as they used to because they were really quite good companies.

“So I should just trust you?”

To make a long story short that was enough for me I wound up leaving without the appliances and I think the manager was mumbling something about how I was just another lunatic like that other guy who they were never able to catch. Perhaps they caught him on the security cameras, hunted him down and threw him in the Gulag for all I knew.

I decided to worry about this later and pick up some groceries. After picking up my groceries and loading them in the cart while waiting in line it happened again! This time a girl ran in and said something like the following loud enough, but clearly for all of us waiting in line:

Grocery stores have been using price fixing practices for years to nickel and dime the consumers and they have been gradually reducing the amount in any given container so that you get lees each time you buy something without realizing it unless you watch closely.

They have been using other practices to suppress wages and reduce the quality and selection of products available to the consumer, including the use of slotting fees to keep small manufacturers from competing, and this has been getting worse since the corporations have gone through a massive consolidation.

Politicians collect a lot of money from these same corporations in campaign contributions, which they don’t like to call bribes, and they spend a lot of time discussing polies with the high paid lobbyists from supermarkets and other corporations without spending much if any time listening to consumers and their complaints or those that use scarce research to study this.

The Mass Media collects an enormous amount of advertising money from these same corporations and, coincidently or not, they do little if any reporting on this. On the rare times where they do discuss this it is on boring times at obscure time slots which receive little or no promotions and they do so in a manner that seems benign and puts the listener to sleep or makes them change the channel.

The politicians who collected the money which they don’t call bribes pass laws that enable the corporations and the Mass Media to have total control over the press and to boycott any discussion about these activities on national TV. They just arrested dozens of people yesterday on Wall Street proving that the first amendment now only protects corporations; it no longer protects the rights of those that have been victimized by white collar crimes committed by campaign contributors.

(At this point she started moving closer to the door as she began speaking louder and with more urgency)

This has been a hit and run use of the first amendment that may now be considered a thought crime since it may no longer be legal to protest against the corrupt white collar crimes of the corporations.

(At this point she ran out the door just barely before the manager caught up to her.)

Weird, that is the second time I have heard this term “slotting fees” in one day; I’ll have to look that up on Google and find out what they were talking about.

After thinking about this I started looking at the items in my grocery cart and thinking about the shampoo I used this morning. I wasn’t buying shampoo but I’m quite certain that the amounts are smaller than they used to be; some of the cans don’t even feel as big as I remember they used to be.

I’m quite certain I haven’t grown any in the last couple of decades so it isn’t that I am getting bigger making them seem smaller. I asked the cashier about this and to make a long story short after the manager of this store came over and started acting like both me and that girl were idiots I wound up walking out of the store without buying anything.

I had one more stop that I had to make for the day. I had to pick up a prescription for some medication that treats a disease that I wouldn’t be caught dead admitting that I have. This time while handing the prescription to the pharmacist, you guessed it a protestor came in and said something like the following:

Pharmaceutical companies and other corporations have been taking government subsidies to research how to create more drugs and instead of making these new drugs available in the public domain so that they could be manufactured by any one they have been obtaining patents for them so that they could charge excessive prices for them even though the government was the ones paying for the research and they risked nothing. This is blatant corporate welfare for the benefit of the corporations at the expense of consumers…..


(At this point I just put my head in my hands and stopped paying attention but I’m quite certain he said something about the crackdown on Occupy Wall Street protestors and the accurate fact that the first amendment clearly provides much more protection for corrupt corporations than it does for the victims of these corporations.)

(When he was done he ran out the door at the last minute just like the others but this time just as the manager and the security guard went out the door following the manager had to put his arm up to stop the guard from aiming his gun which he had pulled out and tell him not to shoot.

I walked out without discussing my prescription any further; I’ll go to Canada to get it and save a lot of money.

Skeptical? Well, yea I made it up; but it seems to be the insane direction this country is heading into and there are some good points in there anyway, if you ask me, or even if you don’t.

The corporations really have consolidated and eliminated the competition that they used to argue will keep them competitive and make the Capitalist system more efficient than the version of Communism that they routinely demonize. The current version of Capitalism has become almost as corrupt and inefficient as the system that has been demonized in the old USSR and it is worse than many other systems that are being ignored around the world. A very good description of how both consumers and workers have been “Nickel and Dimed” was written by Barbara Ehrenreich (free online copy) ten years ago. Joining a protest organization can help to act more efficiently but it isn’t absolutely necessary. By discussing this with family and friends at the grass roots level this can be grown into a much larger movement.

As I began to consider in my previous post about Complacent Consumers have few if any rights one way to increase awareness of this problem could be to save receipts and return products when they fall apart much sooner than they should, which has become standard procedure; and instead of going quietly to the return department out of ear shot of the majority of the customers discuss this at the register in a loud and clear manner, in front of other customers, preferably when it is busy, assuming you’re not too bashful. If people plan what they say ahead of time they can discuss the fact that things used to last at least two or three times as long, in some cases five times as long. The amount of money being lost could be roughly estimated, as I did in the post cited previously, and more people could be made aware of the fact that this is costing the public hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars a year in the US alone. This would run into thousands of dollars for the average consumer. And the fact that they’re using “free trade” to preserve the right to use sweat shop labor and suppress local wages could also be discussed where people could hear it. Additional things that could be discussed could include more details about slotting fees and how corrupt they are, the price fixing scandal that was exposed with the help of Mark Whitacre and many other things. A well prepared protestor could hand out fliers that include web pages for a lot of educational material on many different subjects. In many cases the strongest evidence isn’t even hidden at all; anyone over thirty or anyone who talks to someone over thirty should know that the quality of merchandise is deteriorating rapidly along with the consolidation of the corporations and the escalation of the amount of money required to run for office which enables the corporations to have almost complete veto power over most candidates for public office including all presidential candidates. However in some cases sources better education would be helpful.

Until we have major dramatic reform this will not be a sincere democracy and without it there is good reason to believe that things will get steadily worse judging by the behavior of Washington and the Mass Media.

My bus is going to be leaving for Canada in about an hour now; I can’t afford to pay for my medication here in the US so if I don’t respond I’ll get back to it tomorrow or the day after. That’s right I decided my story was true after all and that I really do need a prescription; if the Mass Media and the corporations can make up a version of the truth and present it as fact without allowing any scrutiny then I can put my own version into the pot. If I wind up on top then I can burn anyone at the stake that challenges my version of the truth or throw them in a Gulag.

photo source

For a couple of follow up posts on the Occupy Wall Street protests see Are Cain, Cantor and Romney campaigning for Obama? and Missteps with Rangel, Lewis or Mass Media misrepresentation?  Or for related web sites on Occupy Wall Street see the following:

About two months after I first posted this the following article appeared and I thought it was worth citing even though I doubt if there is any direct conection.

Wal-Mart invaded by Occupy protesters on Black Friday (Video)

On Black Friday, Wal-Mart shoppers in San Diego got a surprise announcement courtesy of Occupy Wall Street protesters. Rather than an announcement about a special in aisle five, customers heard about the “corporate beasts such as this one [that] bleed our communities dry.”

In a flash mob, protesters entered the store, pretending to shop by filling shopping carts and joining the long lines at the cash registers. As the crowd gathered, one man called a “Mic Check,” the call-and-repeat style of announcements popularized by the Occupy Wall Street protests. As bewildered customers looked on, dozens of protesters implored the shoppers to visit local retailers.

“You, your communities and your workers are being abused. Wal-Mart intentionally underpays employees, forgoing real benefits for social services, costing California taxpayers $86 million annually,” the crowd yelled. complete article
Since then the occupy Wall Street movement hasn't been quite as strong but it hasn't ended and there are many more protest movements that ahve taken it's place; but the corporate media isn't reporting them.

On top of that there are more small complaints like the ones I ahve been describing in my posts about planned obsolescence which are leading to some reaction from some corproations even if they aren't being ackowledged.

The protest continue with or without coverage from the corporate media; and they will bring more results eventually; perhaps sooner than many expect.