Thursday, January 24, 2013
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
Wal-Mart Mexican Bribery Case
Wal-Mart Worker Protests
Wal-Mart workers discrimination suit
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.
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
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
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:
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
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.