Walmart has gotten a lot of bad press this week over news of an Ohio store holding a food drive for its own workers, who were unable to buy Thanksgiving groceries on the retail giant's paltry wages. The store managers deserve credit for their thoughtfulness, but wouldn't it be better if Walmart simply paid its workers enough to feed themselves? A new report from Demos, a liberal think tank, suggests that doing so wouldn't be as hard as you might think.
Walmart could continue spending $7.6 billion to buy back its own stock, or it could pay every worker $14.89 an hour.
According to the report, "A Higher Wage Is Possible," Walmart spends $7.6 billion a year buying back stock. Those purchases drive up the company's share price, further enriching the Walton family, which controls more than half of Walmart stock (and for that matter, more wealth than 42 percent of Americans combined.) If Walmart instead spent that money on wages, it could give each of its 1.3 million low-paid US employees a $5.83 per hour raise—enough to ensure that all of its 1.3 million workers are paid a wage equivalent to $25,000 a year for full-time work.
Walmart and its defenders like to argue that raising wages would require it to raise prices, which would in turn hurt its low-income shoppers. But Demos disagrees: "Curtailing share buybacks would not harm the company's retail competitiveness or raise prices for consumers," the report says. "In fact...higher pay could be expected to improve employee productivity and morale while reducing Walmart's expenses related to employee turnover."
A spokesperson for Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In 2011, Walmart pledged to offer healthier grocery options by reducing the sugar and sodium content of packaged foods, rolling out a "Great for You" food label, and making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable. It has done that to an extent, but those are not typically the products that it markets to its "low income" shoppers.
A November 13 advertising circular specifically aimed at low-income customers included discount coupons for a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola, a 10-pack of Kool-Aid Jammers drinks, and a 9.5-ounce bag of Cheetos. Only 3 of the 36 discounted items in the ad were labeled "Great for You," while 10 of them touted high-sugar, high-sodium, or high-fat junk foods. The ad did not include any coupons for fresh fruits or vegetables.
By contrast, coupons appearing at the same time in a separate, more broadly targeted "Grocery" advertising page included yellow onions, whole carrots, and Bartlett pears.
At some point after November 13, Walmart changed the name of its "Low Income" coupon page to "Stretch & Save." Walmart did not respond to questions about why it changed the name and why its Stretch & Save customers don't deserve healthier options.
Early this year, Michele Obama appeared at a Walmart store in Springfield, Missouri, to tout the retail giant's move toward healthier offerings. "For years, the conventional wisdom said that healthy products just didn't sell," she said from a podium set up in the produce section. "Thanks to Walmart and other companies, we are proving the conventional wisdom wrong."
Either way, one would hope Walmart, as a corporate citizen, could see value in marketing healthy foods to low-income shoppers, given that those shoppers are also its workers. Then again, controlling its employees' health care costs typically hasn't been a big part of Walmart's business plan.
Last month, Dick Metcalf published a column in Guns & Ammo cautiously explaining that gun enthusiasts should not necessarily oppose all limits on firearms ownership. "I don't think that requiring 16 hours of training to qualify for a concealed carry license is infringement [of the Second Amendment] in and of itself," Metcalf wrote. "But that's just me…"
The veteran firearms writer and his editor, Jim Bequette, thought that the article would "generate a healthy exchange of ideas on gun rights," as Bequette later put it. Instead, it "aroused unprecedented controversy" among the gun rights crowd, Bequette acknowledged last week in a groveling apology to his readers. He went on to announce his resignation and Metcalf's firing.
Over the next few days, Metcalf received a torrent of calls from reporters but refused to talk to any of them. Major media outlets were seizing upon his termination as the latest example of how intolerance and extremism runs rampant among today's firearms enthusiasts, and that was not a story that Metcalf wanted to tell.
On Friday, Metcalf finally spoke out, choosing to publish a letter in Outdoor Wire, a pro-gun newsletter that covers "the outdoor industry." Its editor handled the letter as if it was radioactive: "For the record I disagree totally with what he suggested," he wrote in an introduction, "but believe Metcalf deserves the opportunity to respond."
While coverage of Metcalf's firing focused on the outrage of Guns & Ammo readers, Metcalf's account in Outdoor Wire suggested that another force ultimately was responsible for his ouster. Initially, Guns & Ammo and its parent company, IMO, asked Metcalf to lay low and "wait and see how the situation developed," he wrote. But a few days later the magazine's advertising revenues were in jeopardy: "IMO was contacted by two major firearms industry manufacturers, stating that they would do no further business with IMO if it continued with its present personnel structure. Within hours, Jim Bequette resigned as editor of Guns & Ammo, and my relationship with all IMO publications and TV shows was terminated." (It remains unclear which gun companies drew a bead on IMO.)
In an interview on Sunday with Tom Gresham's Gun Talk radio show, Metcalf pointed out that similar columns he'd penned in the 1970s and 1980s for Shooting Times hadn't sparked anything close to such a controversy. "We expected we would generate a conversation," he said. "We didn't think we were going to incite a riot."
To be sure, a lot has changed in the pro-gun movement since the '70s and '80s, as those who've covered firearms well know. In 2007, Jim Zumbo, a writer, gun rights activist, and Outdoor Channel TV personality, saw his career destroyed after he referred to assault rifles as "terrorist rifles," saying: "Maybe I am a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity." And last year, Jerry Tsai, the editor of Recoil Magazine, was forced to concede that he was "truly sorry" for writing that the MP7A1—a submachine gun that's designed to penetrate body armor—should not be made available to civilians.
As of last year, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 3,200 people were serving life in prison without parole for nonviolent crimes. A close examination of these cases by the ACLU reveals just how petty some of these offenses are. People got life for, among other things…
Possessing a crack pipe
Possessing a bottle cap containing a trace amount of heroin (too minute to be weighed)
Having traces of cocaine in clothes pockets that were invisible to the naked eye but detected in lab tests
Having a single crack rock at home
Possessing 32 grams of marijuana (worth about $380 in California) with intent to distribute
Passing out several grams of LSD at a Grateful Dead show
Acting as a go-between in the sale of $10 worth of marijuana to an undercover cop
Selling a single crack rock
Verbally negotiating another man's sale of two small pieces of fake crack to an undercover cop
Taking a television, circular saw, and power converter from a vacant house
Breaking into a closed liquor store in the middle of the night
Making a drunken threat to a police officer while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car
Being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm
Taking an abusive stepfather's gun from their shared home
These are not typically first offenses, but nor are they isolated cases. The vast majority (83 percent) of life sentences examined by the ACLU were mandatory, meaning that the presiding judge had no choice but to sentence the defendant to a life behind bars. Mandatory sentences often result from repeat offender laws and draconian sentencing rules such as these federal standards for drug convictions:
Families Against Mandatory Minimums
The data examined by the ACLU comes from the federal prison system and nine state penal systems that responded to open-records requests. This means the true number of nonviolent offenders serving life without parole is higher.
What's clear, based on the ACLU's data, is that many nonviolent criminals have been caught up in a dramatic spike in life-without-parole sentences.
Among the cases reviewed, the vast majority were drug-related:
And most of the nonviolent offenders sentenced to life without parole were racial minorities.
All graphics by Associate Interactive Producer Jaeah Lee
Obviously, housing all of these nonviolent offenders isn't cheap. On average, for example a single Louisiana inmate serving life without parole costs the state about $500,000. The ACLU estimates reducing existing lifetime sentences of nonviolent offenders to terms commensurate with their crimes would save taxpayers at least $1.8 billion.
In August, Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a reform package aimed at scaling back the use of mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders. As Dana Liebelson noted:
[U]nder Holder's new policy, mandatory minimums as they apply to specific quantities of drugs will no longer be used against offenders whose cases do not involve violence, a weapon, and selling to a minor, and they will also not be used against offenders that do not have a "significant criminal history" and ties to a "large-scale" criminal organization.
Yes on 522 logos on Dr. Bronner's soap bottles: "Totally unprecedented in the world of product labeling."
It's midmorning at the hive of cheap buildings that serves as the global HQ of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, and, as usual, David Bronner isn't working on anything to do with soap. Sure, his phone is ringing off the hook with business calls and a rep from Trader Joe's is visiting tomorrow, but the 40-year-old CEO—who looks like a 6-foot-5 raver version of Captain Jack Sparrow—could care less. A Burning Man amulet dangles on a hemp necklace over his tie-dye shirt as he leans in toward his computer screen, staring at what really matters to him: the latest internal poll results for Washington Initiative 522, a ballot measure that would require the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.
The initiative, which Washingtonians will vote on tomorrow, is one of the costliest in state history: Its proponents have spent a little more than $7 million, while their opponents in biotech and agribusiness have poured in $22 million.* Dr. Bronner's has donated a whopping $1.8 million to the Yes on 522 campaign. (That's on top of $620,000 it gave in support of a similar California ballot measure last year.) At stake, Bronner says, is consumers' right to decide what they put in their bodies. "If we don't win the right to label and enable people to choose non-GMO, then everything is going to be GMO."