Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Whither Wal*Mart?

Recently the business pages noted that Wal*Mart's profits didn't increase, or increased at a slower rate, for the first time in 10 years.

Of course the press obediantly reported the Wal*Mart party line: The higher cost of gas led to a shifting of consumer spending. That was the main thrust of the news reports. I haven't seen any comparisions as to how other retailers are doing. The only other "excuse," outside of the high cost of gasoline, is the pull-out by Wal*Mart from the German and Korean markets.

Kohl's department stores, meanwhile, reported an increase in sales and profits. So while gas prices went up, a store known more for mid-level pricing outperforms a store known for "every day low prices." What gives?

Let's add some anecdotal incredients to the stew, shall we?

In mid-July I was in Appleton, WI, staying with my parents so my son could go to Vacation Bible School at grandma and grandpa's church. Mom was leafing through the flyers when an item caught her eye. She saw an ad for 70-count notebooks. Wal*Mart advertized them at $0.40 (40 cents) each. ShopKo (based in Green Bay, WI) had them 10 for $1 (or 10 cents each). Where do you think mom stocked up on notebooks?

Last week we bought Matthew's school supplies. We went to Wal*Mart because they are the lowest in cost, right? And since my wife looks at the flyers (some call them "circulars") I assumed she did her due diligence price comparisions. We bought the items at Wal*Mart.

Later in the day we were at a Target store. Walking past the school supplies I looked at the prices--most considerably lower than what we paid at Wal*Mart!

So is it possible that Wal*Mart, riding its cachet of low prices, is being undersold? It's quite possible that other retailers are starting to beat Wal*Mart at its own game!

I'm not here to dump on Wal*Mart. After the fire that left me without a home March 1st. I needed to replace lost items. Did you know you can buy new clothes on clearance at a lower price than buying used clothes at a resale shop or thrift store?

Friday, August 11, 2006

What does Lieberman's loss really mean?

By now much ink has been spilled and electrons manipulated on what exactly the Joe Lieberman loss in Connecticut means.

And what does it really mean?

To hear the anti-war peaceniks tell it, this one election is a referendum on the war in Iraq. If you'll recall, Senator Joseph Lieberman, who was on the Democratic ticket for VP against George W. Bush in 2000, had expressed support for the war in Iraq and that the task be finished. Not that he gave W. carte blanc. He had vociferously expressed opposition to policies and tactics in carrying out this war.

His opponent, Ned Lamont, ran a one-issue campaign (or he was only able to elucidate one issue). That issue was the war in Iraq, in which he aligned himself with Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin).

Thus what the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal calls the "loony left" have sunk their teeth into this primary election outcome and feel vindicated in their anti-war, pro-terrorist stance. Ned Lamont's narrow victory, they believe, means the nation wants out of Iraq.

Now, the nation may well want out of Iraq. But the nation as a whole doesn't want to leave Iraq with an unfinished infrastructure and a continuing breeding ground for terrorists. Many people don't want war; many people also don't want threats to run unchecked, either.

But to believe that this one primary election is an omen or harbinger of a national trend and an indicator of how elections in November will go is a stretch. And the main-stream media has not answered several questions germaine to the debate:

1. Was the primary in Connecticut "open" or "closed?" If open, then Independants and Republicans could have "crossed over" if the Republican slate had no major races. In this case, Mr. Lamont's support is dubious. If "closed," then Mr. Lamont had a narrow margin of victory among Dems, who make up less than 1/3 of Connecticut voters. Mr. Lamont has to convince a huge array of people that he is worthy of their vote come November.

2. With Mr. Lieberman running as an Independant, what are the poll numbers now among likely voters? Will Mr. Lieberman's split from his party split the Democratic vote and propel a Republican to represent Connecticut in the Senate?

3. Will Mr. Lieberman prove that, while the radicals in his party seem to control the party, the majority of people aren't buying that message? Will this hurt the Democrats in the long run?

George McGovern ran as a "dove" in 1972, railing against the Vietnam War. While Americans may have believed Vietnam was a "quagmire" (thanks in large part to Walter Cronkite), they overwhelmingly re-elected Richard Nixon (yes, Nixon) to a second term.

Thus I will withhold any judgment on what the Lieberman-Lamont primary in Connecticut portends. There are too many unanswered questions and this particular primary race is one small slice of the American electoral populace as a whole.