April 06, 2013

Is #Walmart guilty of massive fraud over shoplifting?

So says a wrongful termination suit against the retail giant, alleging racial discrimination in termination, and, beyond that, Walmart playing fast and loose with its "shrinkage" numbers.

This story, written in depth in The Nation, set off an immediate alarm bell, based on my newspaper editorial background.

As I started reading, remembered a few years back, when WallyWorld said it would stop prosecuting shoplifting of under $50 value. The alarm is going off, saying, hmm, could this be related, since the allegations are about faking shrinkage levels?

Sylvester Johnson was fired by WallyWorld in 2009, after allegedly giving orders to 11 Supercenters he oversaw to manipulate inventory counts.

First, Johnson, who is black, is claiming discrimination in his firing.

Second, and even bigger (not that the first isn't big enough), he's saying it was WallyWorld doing the manipulation.
“We're talking about hiding tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in losses here—inflating the profits of a store, a district, a region, a division and ultimately the entire company,” Johnson told The Nation. In theory, such a practice could have artificially inflated the company’s profit margins and stock price, amounting to a form of federal securities fraud.
This wouldn't surprise me one bit.

Remember, this is the same WallyWorld that, as reported just last December by the New York Times, engaged in massive bribery in Mexico.

As that story noted:
The Times’s examination reveals that Wal-Mart de Mexico was not the reluctant victim of a corrupt culture that insisted on bribes as the cost of doing business. Nor did it pay bribes merely to speed up routine approvals. Rather, Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited. It used bribes to subvert democratic governance — public votes, open debates, transparent procedures. It used bribes to circumvent regulatory safeguards that protect Mexican citizens from unsafe construction. It used bribes to outflank rivals. 
So, there's precedent for believing WallyWorld is criminally corrupt.

Here's the nut graf of Johnson's allegations, from The Nation's story:
In June of 2008, a company executive named David Carmon took over as Walmart’s Regional Vice President for North and South Carolina. Johnson claims that, at the time, some stores in his district were losing about a million dollars in shrinkage annually. Carmon instructed him to cut his stores’ shrinkage rates in half—a target that Johnson felt was impossible to hit without resorting to unethical and illegal accounting practices. According to Johnson, Carmon warned of repercussions if Johnson’s shrinkage rate did not fall. “He threatened everybody that if you didn’t get your shrink down, you were going to be terminated,” said Johnson in a court deposition. Speaking to The Nation, Johnson said that Carmon used “tactics of fear and intimidation, and everyone looked the other way.”
So, let's say he did start doing something unethical, Johnson, that is. But, somebody started complaining, WallyWorld worried about it leaking outside of store boundaries, and made him the fal guy. All possible.

Here's some analysis, also from the story:
After reviewing the available documents, Peter Bell, a certified public accountant in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Johnson’s expert witness, stated that “the documents that were produced to me lead me to the conclusion that Walmart may be manipulating its accounting records—the evidence of which, if true, would necessarily mean that Walmart is engaging in a form of accounting fraud."

“These overages appear to be excessive,” wrote Bell in an affidavit filed in the case. “The overages are not explained and appear not to have been investigated in any way. Indeed, left unexamined or unadjusted, these excessive overages distort the financial reporting of these stores such that net profit is artificially inflated, and accounting fraud is strongly suggested.”
And, here's why it's a larger legal issue, if it's true:
Such practices are illegal because a company’s inflated profit margin misleads investors, according to Robert Weisberg, a professor at Stanford Law. “If a publicly traded company issues any kind of official statement that is misleading to the marketplace and the assets of the company are distorted or inflated—maybe something involving inventory—that’s securities fraud.”
Now, per other financial experts in the story, theoretically, it would be hard to do this for a long time. And, since Walmart's been sued over minority promotion issues in the past, it could be an easy lawsuit target by a disgruntled, fired employee, right?

Well, yes.

On the other hand, it was about 2008 or 2009 it announced its plan to not prosecute minor shoplifters any more. And, if district managers pencil-whipped exact dollar amounts of shoplifting case estimates, that would make this easier to pull off, I think.

TX 130 running at 50 percent of projections - thoughts on why

Well, of course Cintra and Zachry didn't want these numbers released, because it could cause "competitive harm" to their parent joint shell company for this, Texas 130 Concession.

"Competitive harm" in this case means their fear that Moody's or others are going to downgrade their debt rating.

Anyway, here's the basics:
Traffic counts on the new section of Texas 130, released Friday by the Texas Department of Transportation based on newspaper open records requests, show that the tollway southeast of Austin in its first couple of months was seeing fewer than 3,000 vehicles a day. ...

The early numbers are about half of what the company predicted in 2008, according to Moody’s Investor Service, which is investigating whether credit ratings on the company’s $1.1 billion in debt on the road should be downgraded.
Well, the real problem is, where the south end of 130 comes out.

The middle of nowhere, in a sense, if you look at the map.

It's not really a very direct bypass for drivers going between Dallas or Waco and San Antonio. It's no bypass at all if you're coming from the north and wanting to go to San Marcos.

If you want to go to Houston from Georgetown, on the other hand, the south end isn't far enough east.

I don't know who argued the most for the routing of the south end of 130. Probably the state, more than Cintra/Zachry. That said, they bought this pig in a poke.

Anyway, somebody's an idiot.

Thanks to Obamacare, you may say goodbye to your employer's health care

And, no, that's not some wingnut think tank saying that.

The very insightful Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer notes that a lot of businesses will opt out of continuing to offer their employees insurance next year.

Why?

The $2,000 per employee penalty is less than half their annual per-employee cost for their share of health insurance, on average.
Ah, vindication. Financial Times has has a front-page piece (“US business hits out at ‘Obamacare’ costs”) confirming the central point of the (2011) McKinsey survey: for many employers, it will be much cheaper to pay the penalties than cover full-time workers, and cut the hours for others so they fall under the definition of full-time and then don’t have to be covered. Retailers and fast-food chains are the most likely to do that, but there’s no reason that many other employers wouldn’t join in.
CEOs of Kroger, Dunkin Donuts and other companies go on the record about this and more. Henwood, though he's not gloating now, predicted this outcome nearly two full years ago.

Beyond retailers and fast-food chains, I'd predict any work field with fairly high turnover rate and fairly low training or skills requirements will consider this.

Call centers, telemarketers, customer service centers, all come to mind.

But, what about the "backlash," you say? After all, the FT story notes the backlash against Darden, owner of Olive Garden, et al, when it broached ideas like this in February.

Ahh, but if businesses implement at least parts of this, i.e., moving full-time work to part-time, by attrition, by hiring part-time replacements for full-time people who leave, it will all be under the radar screen.

Then, many now-unconvered individuals will either pay the individual penalties, or gamble on not being caught, rather than pay what might be more out of their own pocket than before for health insurance. That, in turn, means not just the restaurant worker sneezing in the kitchen at Olive Garden, but the produce stocker sneezing in the lettuce at Kroger rather than stay home sick.

Beyond that, to mount another hobbyhorse of mine again, without a Federal Department of Insurance to regulate the biz, a lot of this flim-flammery will go unchecked.

And, if you're lower middle class and without insurance right now? Obamacare sounds great on paper. But ... paper's going to be part of the problem for people unaccustomed to the paperwork that insurers will snow them with. CJR has the extensive details on what this will probably be like, as America's Health Insurance Plans is surely loving this part of the self-gifting of the Obamacare it helped create.

April 05, 2013

#Douthat: Adoptive parents not "real"

In his pathological drive to shout down calls for gay marriage, via a multi-part blog and column series, Ross Douthat keeps digging the hole deeper.

The latest in his "triptych" (interesting religious word there, Rossty) is the worst.
An hour in a nursery will remind you that the decline of the two-parent family hasn’t eliminated the basic desire of children to know their parents.
Let's repeat that last part ...

"Hasn't eliminated the basic desire of children to know their parents." So, old Rossty, then adoptive parents aren't real parents? Because it's clear that you're insinuating "The basic desire of chlidren to know their (biological) parents."

Actually, you can't be insinuating that, because, due to in vitro fertilzation, gay or lesbian couples can raise their own biological children.

So, you're really insinuating "The basic desire of children to know their (heterosexual, married biological) parents."

A: That's hugely circular reasoning.

B. By indicating those are the only "real" parents, you just keep digging this hole deeper. Especially shooting your conservative Christian self in the foot re adoptive parents.

It's clear you're a pathological homophobe, at least on the issue of marital rights.

Should this be a surprise? Douthat, like his rough coequal, Rod Dreher, could be called some sort of "Crunchy Con." Dreher's shown himself to be a huge homophobe. Guess the mask is slipping off Douthat too.

#Obama, #Obamiacs, crickets and Social Security

"Crickets" is the most likely sound we'll hear from Obamiacs after Dear Leader just "sold out" Social Security. (April 30: Crickets is not the sound from Democratic House members, struggling to distance themselves from Obama before midterm elcctions.)

Those who do feel compelled to speak will offer one of the following options:
A. This is the "best possible deal" he could get to prevent sequester-like problems from recurring.
B. He's actually got some secret political jujitsu planned because he knows the House GOP won't accept it.
C. Social Security actually is in trouble.

Response:
A. Bullshit. Obama is again compromising for compromise's sake because he continued to be in love with the allegedly messianic powers of his mellifluous voice. Once again, Shrub Bush's favorite line about "the soft bigotry of low expectations" exemplifies his successor.
B. I actually heard this in the run-up to the sequester. That's a sequester that Obama helped cause, by the way, in part because he's too dumb to deal with the GOP in the first place.
C. Spoken like a true neoliberal, anybody who says this. Actually, not all neolibs like this, even. Brat Pack op-eder (not a journalist) Matt Yglesias worries that Obama has created a political box for himself.

And, as for longer-term relief from austerity in Europe and austerity lite in the US?

A debt jubilee, or anything close to it, won't happen, to riff on Voltaire, until the last neoliberal politician is strangled with the entrails of the last neoliberal technocrat.

I think again of a Catfood Commission whose members were all appointed by Obama.

Meanwhile, there's lots more fun with Obama and social issues.

The very insightful Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer notes that a lot of businesses will opt out of continuing to offer their employees insurance next year.

Why?

The $2,000 per employee penalty is less than half their annual per-employee cost for their share of health insurance, on average.

And, if you're lower middle class and without insurance right now? Obamacare sounds great on paper. But ... paper's going to be part of the problem for people unaccustomed to the paperwork that insurers will snow them with. CJR has the extensive details on what this will probably be like, as America's Health Insurance Plans is surely loving this part of the self-gifting of the Obamacare it helped create.

Neoliberalism: A political project, not an economic one?

David Graeber, author of "Debt: The First 5,000 Years," gives a strong yes to that rhetorical question in The Baffler.

Here's the centerpiece:
Neoliberalism has always been wracked by a central paradox. It declares that economic imperatives are to take priority over all others. Politics itself is just a matter of creating the conditions for growing the economy by allowing the magic of the marketplace to do its work. ...  But global economic performance over the last thirty years has been decidedly mediocre. ... By its own standards, then, the project was already a colossal failure even before the 2008 collapse. 

If, on the other hand, we stop taking world leaders at their word and instead think of neoliberalism as a political project, it suddenly looks spectacularly effective. The politicians, CEOs, trade bureaucrats, and so forth who regularly meet at summits like Davos or the G20 may have done a miserable job in creating a world capitalist economy that meets the needs of a majority of the world’s inhabitants (let alone produces hope, happiness, security, or meaning), but they have succeeded magnificently in convincing the world that capitalism—and not just capitalism, but exactly the financialized, semifeudal capitalism we happen to have right now—is the only viable economic system. If you think about it, this is a remarkable accomplishment.
Graeber goes on to explain that the 60s, then didn't fail, if they forced neoliberalism to be a political project first and foremost.

He then discusses how to address that, and to bring about the future of labor-social change.

To get to this point, as other labor-social liberals know, we have to re-envision work:
A renegotiated definition of productivity should make it easier to reimagine the very nature of what work is, since, among other things, it will mean that technological development will be redirected less toward creating ever more consumer products and ever more disciplined labor, and more toward eliminating those forms of labor entirely.
There's more where that came from, including critiquing the Protestant work ethic, etc.


And, speaking of debt, this quote is very insightful:
We seem to be facing two insoluble problems. On the one hand, we have witnessed an endless series of global debt crises, which have grown only more and more severe since the seventies, to the point where the overall burden of debt—sovereign, municipal, corporate, personal—is obviously unsustainable. On the other, we have an ecological crisis, a galloping process of climate change that is threatening to throw the entire planet into drought, floods, chaos, starvation, and war. The two might seem unrelated. But ultimately they are the same. What is debt, after all, but the promise of future productivity? Saying that global debt levels keep rising is simply another way of saying that, as a collectivity, human beings are promising each other to produce an even greater volume of goods and services in the future than they are creating now. But even current levels are clearly unsustainable. They are precisely what’s destroying the planet, at an ever-increasing pace.  
Totally agreed. Too bad neoliberals are instead worried about Social Security.

The whole piece is generally good. There's a couple of hiccups. I think Graeber is too naive about the Occupy movement, and wrong on it not making demands of some sort.

He's also naive about the rentier class that continued to impose neoliberalism from above. As shown here:
Even those running the system are reluctantly beginning to conclude that some kind of mass debt cancellation—some kind of jubilee—is inevitable. The real political struggle is going to be over the form that it takes.
Tosh. Most of the upper side of the EU still preaches "austerity." As I write, earlier today, Obama just "sold out" Social Security. A debt jubilee won't happen, to riff on Voltaire, until the last neoliberal politician is strangled with the entrails of the last neoliberal technocrat.

April 04, 2013

Gay marriage "versus" prison labor exploitation, or neolibs vs. liberals

Starbucks may like gay marriage, but it also, via a subsidiary, likes exploiting prison labor. Sure sign of the diff between a latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, Meyer-lemon squeezing neoliberal vs. real liberals is this. In this particular case, I don't think Starbucks is that bad toward its own direct employees, but that's not the full picture.

It's one of a number of U.S. companies that exploit prison labor operations. And, while we normally associate this with private prisons, government-owned prisons in some states also have prison labor operations. 

Maybe that's because the federal government has been in this business for 80 years. Their home page is sickening, looking more business-slick than many actual businesses. Wikipedia has its history. And good old ALEC pushed regulation allowing prison industries much more latitude in competing with free world workers.

I, too, support gay marriage. But, I don't use that as a cover for letting businesses continue to exploit prison labor in what violates at least the spirit of the 13th Amendment.

April 03, 2013

Terrorists - white and well right here in Texas, #Islamophobia #SamHarris

Sam Harris irks me for many reasons.

First, he's a shallow thinker in general who got lucky to hit the initial surge of Gnu Atheist fandom with "The End of Faith."

Second, he's either ignorant of philosophy of religion, psychology of religion and sociology of religion, or else he's a liar. In that book, he claimed Buddhism was just a psychology. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Even atheistic Buddhists still almost to a man or woman believe in two metaphysical principles — karma and reincarnation — and conduct social practices geared toward how they stand in relation to those two principles.

Third is his Islamophobia.

A: Contra fellow Ig-Gnu-rant Atheist Jerry Coyne, Islamophobia exists. It's the Gnu Atheist Christianophobia taken to a further level of stereotyping.

B. Contra Coyne at the same link, Harris has advocated torture in the "War on Terror."
B1: He's done so in cases beyond Alan Dershowitz's stereotypical "ticking time bomb."
B2: Even Dershowitz's stereotypical case doesn't make torture right morally.
B3: Torture doesn't work.
B4: Harris has also discussed the possibility of using nuclear weapons in the "War on Terror."

Now it's true that, contra Al-Jazeera, Islam is not a "race."

But, by wanting to use race along with allegedly Islamic looks in clothing, Sam Harris has touted airport security profiling of Mooslims, even when he's been shown that it won't work.

Why doesn't Sam Harris want to profile theoretically Christian white extremists as much as Moooslims?

After all, in the last couple of years, they've probably killed more Americans than Moooslim terrorists.

A federal assistant DA has withdrawn himself from a case in Houston against Aryan Brotherhood, based on the shooting last week of the Kaufman County state DA, and the ADA for the county earlier this year, confirming, it appears, that Aryan Brotherhood is a prime suspect. More backstory here.

I know that the Aryan Brotherhood doesn't dip into the bible to try to help justify its white supremacist claims, but other militant groups and individuals do.

Tim McVeigh ring a bell?

April 02, 2013

The AP goes PC about #illegal_immigrants

Ahh, the Associated Press has apparently caved in to "PC" instincts as part of the national background for the current debate on how to reform US immigration law. Yes, I want to address the immigration issue, but ... if you're talking about a person who comes into a country not their home nation, they're an immigrant. If they do so illegally, they're an illegal immigrant. Pure and simple. And, should I have occasion to do further news stories or op-eds on the issue, that's what I'll still use.

I can agree with the last paragraph of the story on the AP's website:
People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.
True that minor children should not be identified the same way as adults.

Well, I'm betting a lot of people at AP member dailies, and nonmember non-dailies even more, ignore this bit of nonsense.

That said, legally, one could argue that the word "alleged" should be used in front of the phrase, if they've not been convicted of what is a civil, not a criminal, offense. I'm OK with that, pre-civil conviction. But, after that, drop the alleged. They're illegal immigrants, duly found to be so.

And, nobody elected the Associated Press to be the morals or sociological police, per this statement:
And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to “illegal immigrant” again.
Good fricking doorknob. And, if we're not going to label people in general, have fun writing all sorts of news stories.

Other than that, the AP doubles down on the PC factor by saying we shouldn't use the word "undocumented," either. Here's what it says about that:
(Earlier, they led us to reject descriptions such as “undocumented,” despite ardent support from some quarters, because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.)
In that case, the word "undocumented" shouldn't be used in all sorts of other contexts, either. This is even more stupid than the main "ruling."

Ahh, and here's the real reason why, at least in part.

As always, follow the money:
The updated entry is being added immediately to the AP Stylebook Online and Manual de Estilo Online de la AP, the new Spanish-language Stylebook. 
Geez o fucking pete. If the AP would start charging news aggregators more, it wouldn't have to pander to sell a Spanish stylebook.

Per that end, here's your current AP Board of Directors.

A bit of analysis.

Mary Junck almost ran Lee Enterprises into the ground.

Steve Newhouse is doing everything in the world he can to destroy print newspapers in his chain.

Donna J. Barrett? If the Alabama state pension system weren't a major stakeholder in CNHI (I'm guessing there's legal ramifications), CNHI would and should have been in Chapter 11 years ago.

Jim Monroney finally saw the paywall light, but Belo / The Dallas Morning News still often acts like its shit don't stink. And, how the eff does Belo have a seat on the board separate from the DMN?

Katharine Weymouth? Hey, say no more about the Washington Post, editorially or business-wise.


And how PC is this? Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano is OK with "illegal immigrant."

April 01, 2013

Mark your Texas wingnut calendar for #Obamacare #Medicaid fun!

This baby should be a doozy.

Per a Tricky Ricky Perry press announcement:

John Cornyn, you're no Ted Cruz!
Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz will hold a round table discussion followed by a press conference on the importance of not expanding Medicaid and the need to reform the current program giving states the flexibility to innovate and enact patient-centered, market-driven reforms.

Participants include Congressman Michael Burgess, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, Commissioner Kyle Janek and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

It's Monday at 10:30 at the Capitol.

Given that Perry has proposed bupkis so far as an actual alternative to Obama's expansion of Medicaid, I expect nothing of substance beyond a demand that the current level of Medicaid be allowed to be provided through private insurers.

Otherwise, expect this:

Why isn't Gohmert Pyle invited to this event?
1. Ted Cruz will claim that Obamacare is a part of the UN's Agenda 22, a super-secret follow-up to Agenda 21. It's a plot by the UN to take over health care in the US.
2. John Cornyn will claim that he's always been just as stout a defender of wingnuttery as Cruz, and deny that his middle name is now "Primaried."
3. David Dewhurst will try to muscle in to the wingnut spotlight, adding to rumors that his new middle name is "Primaried-Cornyn."
4. Lois Kolkhorst will prove, once again, that even a blind hog wingnut can find an acorn (Trans-Texas Corridor) about once a decade.
5. Michael Burgess will say, "I think I'm not wingnut enough to be here. Didn't you mean to invite Gohmert Pyle?"
6. And, Louie Gohmert Pyle will probably try to check in via Skype, if he doesn't think that's part of the UN's Agenda 23.
7. Meanwhile, the rest of us will wonder if Greg Abbott's invite got lost in the mail, or if Rick Perry is worried about HIS middle name being "Primaried-Abbott."

Update, March 29: Meanwhile, Cornyn has already jumped the gun, combining nutbar memes by claiming "the French are coming," illegally crossing the border with Mexico. Cornyn has shown he can join Gohmert Pyle in high-road hypocrisy, though, condemning Don Young for using the term "wetbacks" about Mexicans crossing illegally.

Update, April 1: It had April Fool's Day jokesters, even if they were deadly serious. Ted Cruz gives us a sampling of nutbar eclair. A broader coverage of the event is here.