business news in context, analysis with attitude

  • Sometimes, even the anti-Wal-Mart forces have to say something nice about their sworn enemy.

    In the wake of all the positive publicity that Wal-Mart has gotten because of its rescue and humanitarian efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the folks at – which has pledged to fight the company at every turn – sent out the following email to its subscriber base:

    “We've seen a new side of Wal-Mart in recent weeks. By being first on the scene in many of the places hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina, Wal-Mart and the Walton family have shown how the private sector can and should respond - with haste and generosity. Working closely with federal, state and local authorities, Wal-Mart's fleet of trucks, temporary stores and ruthlessly efficient distribution network has, no doubt, helped saved lives.

    “We applaud Wal-Mart's employees, the Walton family, and CEO Lee Scott for their generosity.”

    Of course, didn’t want to give the company all the credit. It also wrote:

    ”We also take pride in knowing that our campaign to hold Wal-Mart accountable for their business practices has, in part, spurred their hasty and generous response.

    And, because old habits die hard, continued:

    ”…Generosity in time of crisis isn't enough, our campaign must continue…

    “Sam Walton once pronounced at a Wal-Mart rally that "high expectations are the key to everything." We agree. So today, we're proud to reiterate that call by announcing our plans for a nationwide "Higher Expectations Week" November 13-19.”

    This week reportedly will include more than 1,000 public events already being planned by 220 partner organizations, and 3,600 house parties (one for every Wal-Mart stores in the U.S.) that will premiere Robert Greenwald's new documentary, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices."

  • Jeff McAllister, COO of Wal-Mart’s Japanese operations, tells the Financial Times that the company has not yet made a decision whether Seiyu, its affiliate there, will be a long-term endeavor for Wal-Mart…which currently has 42 percent of the company, and has the option to increase its ownership to 50 percent later this year.

    However, Seiyu CEO Nobuyuki Watanabe says that his goal is to perform strongly enough that Wal-Mart will become the majority owner of the company.

  • Wal-Mart Stores has appointed David Wild to be president and managing director of its troubled Wal-Mart Germany operation, replacing Kay Hafner. Wild joined Wal-Mart in 2004 and moved to Germany as the company’s chief merchandising officer there.

    "Our improvement in Germany has been steady, and we are committed to continuing and accelerating that improvement," John Menzer, president and chief executive of Wal-Mart International, said in a prepared statement.

  • The Dallas Morning News featured an interview with Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott. Excerpts:

      On Hurricane Kristina: There's no event that has impacted Wal-Mart, our associates or our customers the way Kristina did. It's the reason we stepped up on Katrina. That's our customer you see on TV. It's impacted us more than 9-11. That was a horrible tragedy, but less from a customer standpoint and more from a business implication of terrorism and keeping our stores safe from whatever else might happen…

      One store manager got to his store and told the sheriff to take whatever he needed…We had store managers open up stores for clean underwear, socks, suntan lotion for emergency responders – with no approval from me. They just did it.”

      On the economy: We're seeing a move to private label vs. premium brands. People are buying smaller packs…On the other hand, anything that's new and unique, say a laundry detergent or satellite radio, we're seeing exceptional sales.

      What that tells me is people are concerned and don't have as much money as they used to have, but unemployment is low and those people are interested in what's new and fashionable what helps them offset some of the conflicts they feel.
KC's View:
What does it say about the economy that even though unemployment is relatively low, people don’t have as much money as they’re used to having?

What it tells us is that we may be living in an era of diminished expectations. We settle…or at least we accept lower standards…because we’ve been trained to.

We don’t usually get this way unless we’ve had a few drinks, but we have to admit that we’ve been feeling this increasingly.

We accept lower standards from our governments and public officials, from our churches and our culture, from our economy and our environment, from our business and our business leaders, from our children and even in ourselves…because we’re in tough and challenging times, and maybe that’s the best we can do.

This is when we feel our inner Howard Beale coming out…

    I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad.

    You’ve got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING…my life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it:


There. We feel better now.