Whew. Today, it's all about the Beast of Bentonville. Hard to decide where to start but...how about today's world premiere of Robert Greenwald's film "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price." Yours truly will be at the advance screening tonight here in NYC and I'll report back with a movie review tomorrow. But, in the meantime, you can buy your very own copy of the movie right here.
And what a day for news about the Beast. First, the inspector general of the Labor Department found that there were "serious breakdowns" in the agreement reached in January with Wal-Mart to settle child labor violations. This was really a sweetheart deal between the DOL and the company: After Wal-Mart was found breaking the law on child labor, the government fined the company a measly $135,000 (and change) and signed a deal with Wal-Mart that said "Next time we want to investigate what laws you might be breaking, we’re going to tell you about the investigation before we do it"—just to give you enough time to cover your tracks, shred documents or muddle the trail.
Rep. George Miller (maybe we should start calling him "Tiger" George because he's one of the few Democrats that consistently sinks his teeth into wrongdoing among corporations and the Republican administration--and doesn't seem to be afraid of his shadow) asked for the investigation after the deal hit the news. You can see Miller's press release here. I swear George isn't paying for all the love he gets on this blog but I just can't help but like a fighter for real people and someone who takes on the corporate machine, rather than kisses up to them to get campaign contributions. Can this guy run for president instead of the pathetic field the Democrats seem to be fielding so far?
There are a bunch of stories out there on this but I'm going to confine the accounts to the one in The New York Times (registration required) by Steve Greenhouse, as a tip of the hat to Steve who was the one who really unearthed the crappy deal and forced the investigation. Good journalism can result in good results for people.
Even more fascinating is the front-page story in the Times today by Michael Barbaro who reports from Bentonville on the "war-room" set up by Wal-Mart to defend itself from the increased criticism of its ways. Here's the nut graf that describes the operation: "Wal-Mart is taking a page from the modern political playbook. Under fire from well-organized opponents who have hammered the retailer with criticisms of its wages, health insurance and treatment of workers, Wal-Mart has quietly recruited former presidential advisers, including Michael K. Deaver, who was Ronald Reagan's image-meister, and Leslie Dach, one of Bill Clinton's media consultants, to set up a rapid-response public relations team in Arkansas."
Essentially, Wal-Mart is looking at its campaign precisely as a political campaign: it is explicitly trying to appeal to "swing" customers--people who are neither supporters nor critics of the company but haven't made up there minds.
For those of you who might recoil at the notion that one of Bill Clinton's media consultants (who is described as a Democrat "who is active in environmental and Democratic causes") is working for the Beast, understand that the Clintons have a very tight, historical relationship with Wal-Mart going back many years to the days when Bill Clinton was governor. Hillary Clinton sat on Wal-Mart's board for six years--at a time when the company was deeply engaged in its anti-union activities--and only left the board when her husband was preparing to run for president.
As much as this is a look at Wal-Mart, the article underscores the tight relationship between the corporate world and the political sphere, no matter what party someone belongs to. It is a subtle look at the close connection between money and politics: no matter what party you belong to, the campaign finance system requires that you belly up to the bar and take corporate cash. Beyond the campaign finance problems, though, it shows the easy crossover for Democrats: someone can be a Democrat and say he's pro-environment yet not see any issue with working for a company like Wal-Mart, which has the biggest negative impact of any single company on the environment, not to mention the life of workers.