Historic or horsefeathers?

What should we make of Wal-Mart's decision last week to raise its minimum hourly wage for 500,000 employees? Is this a belated decision to improve the lives of low-paid workers? A white flag to the increasing national labor calls to boost low wages in America?

Perhaps it's an inevitable attempt to remain competitive as the economy gathers steam and workers see more options of where to work. Or is this Wal-Mart blowing smoke, announcing what is in effect a cheap public relations ploy that — for a company approaching a half trillion dollars in annual revenues — won't make much difference?

I'm putting a check mark by "all of the above."

Wal-Mart used to be, hands down, the poster child of low-priced goods and poorly paid workers, or "associates" as the company calls them. But even that brand is fading as consumers find the rise of dollar stores, second-hand thrift stores and the Darwinian pricing of online goods make Walmart store prices seem less rock-bottom than they used to be.

Wal-Mart said Thursday it would raise the base pay for all employees to a minimum of $10 per hour, but only after a yearlong apprenticeship at $9 per hour, or $1.75 above the federal minimum wage.

In the same week, a national survey ranked Walmart last among major retailers in customer satisfaction. Walmart's satisfaction among consumers fell to the lowest level since 2007 on the recent American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

As Tampa Bay Times retail reporter Sean Daly reported Friday, Wal-Mart workers are certainly celebrating a clearly out-of-the norm decision by Wal-Mart management to up the pay of its least-compensated workers. "Everyone at the store is going to be feeling great," Tampa Walmart worker Angelo Escano told Daly, adding that workers often borrow from one another to make it to the next payday.

This is no worker windfall.

The company's average full-time wage will be $13 an hour, up from $12.85 — a 15-cent-per-hour gain. That translates to a $1.20 gain per day, $6 per week and $312 a year. Part-timers will get $10, up from $9.48, a bigger pay hike but for fewer hours.

Even Walmart department managers will get a bump to at least $13 an hour this summer and at least $15 an hour early next year.

This is good news for many, given how Wal-Mart is (at least) the fourth-biggest private employer in the Tampa Bay region. The bottom line is Wal-Mart is giving raises to a good chunk of 12,000 area employees.

But one thing is certain. Wal-Mart never would have contemplated a wage hike if the U.S. economy had not started gathering strength.

When Tampa Bay's unemployment rate topped 10 percent, folks held on to any job they had and were glad to have it. Now Tampa Bay's jobless rate has dropped to 5.5 percent, a signal that businesses are looking to hire and workers are more motivated to seek better-paying opportunities.

Wal-Mart, notorious for high turnover among its vast base of workers, hopes a wage hike will help keep more employees. In 2014, turnover in retail generally averaged about 66 percent for part-time hourly sales associates and 27 percent for full-time workers with benefits, according to the Hay Group consulting firm.

This is the same Wal-Mart ridiculed after one of its stores in Canton, Ohio, held a food drive that asked employees to donate items to fellow associates.

Retail industry observers say that, given its sheer clout, Wal-Mart's action will ripple across other store chains.

"Target will feel the pressure to respond," Burt Flickinger, managing director at New York's Strategic Resource Group, told Bloomberg News. "It's a competitive market for workers." Target pays its cashiers $7.42 to $10.09.

Struggling retailers like Sears will now feel even more pressure to hire and keep workers. And fast-food chains, recently facing a series of protests seeking $15-an-hour pay, will certainly be rethinking their options.

Some businesses already have opted to raise their wages. Stores like the Gap and Ikea recently chose to set hourly wages at or above $9. On the higher end, Costco's pay scale is known to be close to $20 an hour, no doubt a strong contributor to Costco ranking tops in the ACSI ranking among specialty retail stores.

It's not just retailers. St. Petersburg recently agreed to set a $12.50-per-hour minimum wage for city workers, with an eventual goal of $15 per hour. And financial service giant Aetna last month said it will boost the pay of its lowest-paid workers to $16 an hour.

The investor world treated Wal-Mart's wage move with skepticism.

Barclays analysts on Friday downgraded the company to "equal weight" from "overweight" and lowered its price target to $85 from $90.

"Like many other global companies, we faced significant headwinds from currency exchange rate fluctuations, so I'm pleased that we delivered fiscal year revenue of $486 billion," Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon said in reporting earnings.

"But, we're not satisfied," he added.

Wage bump or not, I doubt if Wal-Mart's bottom-rung workers are either.

For a Wal-Mart employee earning $9 per hour, it would take more than 1,360 years to make the $25.6 million in compensation CEO McMillon received in 2014.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

10 reasons why Wal-Mart still matters

1. The 1.2 million jobs Wal-Mart provides in the United States alone roughly equals the number of employed folks in the entire Tampa Bay metro area. Worldwide, Wal-Mart employs 2.2 million.

2. Its market value of $269 billion dwarfs the combined value of every publicly traded company in the Tampa Bay area.

3. It remains the largest retailer on the planet, the largest private employer in the United States.

4. In the grocery business, it is second only in market share to Publix in the state of Florida.

5. Among the 10 richest U.S. billionaires, four are related to Wal-Mart's founding Walton family.

6. In Hernando County, it's the biggest private employer.

7. In Pasco County, it's the fourth-biggest private employer.

8. In Hillsborough County, it's the fourth-biggest private employer.

9. In Pinellas County, it's the fourth-biggest private employer.

10. In the entire Tampa Bay area, it's the fourth-largest private employer, and probably rising.

Will long awaited wage bump by Walmart really make a difference? 02/20/15 [Last modified: Friday, February 20, 2015 5:12pm] 
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  • Washington Post
Saturday, February 21, 2015 2:00am

WASHINGTON — Many Americans are confused about the Common Core State Standards, according to a new poll that finds widespread misperceptions that the academic standards, which cover only math and reading, extend to topics such as sex education, evolution, global warming and the American Revolution.

A 55 percent majority said the Common Core covers at least two subjects that it does not actually cover, according to the survey that Fairleigh Dickinson University conducted and funded. Misperceptions were widespread, including among both supporters and opponents of the program and peaking among those who say they are paying the most attention to the standards.

The Common Core is a set of guidelines that describe what children should learn and be able to do in math and reading from kindergarten through 12th grade. They began as a bipartisan, state-led effort and do not contain classroom curricula: States and school districts decide how to teach the skills and knowledge that the Common Core describes.

The poll findings show that advocates for the Common Core face a major public relations challenge as they seek to bolster support for the national academic standards, which have been adopted in more than 40 states but have become a target for some conservatives and many parents across the country.

"People are receiving bad information," said Blair Mann, a spokeswoman for the Collaborative for Student Success, a pro-Common Core group that is funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the new standards. "There are a million different Web sites that you can go to that have the 'truth' about the Common Core that are just perpetuating these myths."

Mann blamed politicians such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, both Republicans with presidential aspirations, for spreading misinformation for political gain.

Paul's political action committee sent a fundraising email last month criticizing the standards as "anti-American propaganda, revisionist history that ignores the faith of our Founders." Jindal also suggested in a recent speech about the Common Core that the standards address U.S. history lessons.

"What happens when American history is not the American history that you and I learned about, but rather it becomes a history of grievances, of victimhood?" Jindal said.

Asked to explain, Shannon Bates Dirmann, a spokeswoman for Jindal said: "Governor Jindal wasn't talking about current curriculum, but what type of curriculum to expect if the federal government continues to control what our children learn from Washington. President Barack Obama and bureaucrats in D.C. have proven over the last several years that they do not believe in American exceptionalism, and if they continue to garner control over K-12 education that view could be passed to our children."

Paul has said he is a proponent of state and local control when it comes to educational standards.

"Common Core is a prime example of federal overreach into academic standards which have been traditionally set by the states and localities," said Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Paul. "As educators, parents and other experts are finding out, the standards of Common Core are just the tip of the iceberg in a much larger federal education agenda. It would be dishonest to say that the Common Core State Standards do not inform curricula, textbooks, and assessments. A distorted and problematic view of American history is evident in Common Core aligned textbooks and the readings it recommends and omits."

The issue could play a role in the upcoming 2016 presidential primaries, separating candidates like Jindal, Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who recently changed from supporting the Core to saying he has "grave concerns" about it — from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a longtime advocate for the Core who has maintained his support for it.

Previous polls have found mixed support for the standards, with wide-ranging results depending on question wording. In this poll, which described it simply as the "new Common Core Standards initiative," 17 percent approved while 40 percent disapproved.

A significant portion of respondents — 42 percent — offered no opinion. The wide uncertainty is unsurprising for an issue that large swaths of the public, not having children in school, has ignored. Just more than half of respondents said they've heard "just a little" or "nothing at all."

But misperceptions were more common among those who said they were paying more attention. Sixty percent of those who have heard "a lot" about Common Core incorrectly said that the standards cover at least two of the four subjects that it does not cover. Among those who report having heard nothing about the program, only 45 percent said Common Core includes at least two such programs.

Forty-four percent of all respondents incorrectly said that the standards address sex education, and about the same share said that the standards include teachings on evolution, global warming, and the American Revolution.

Fewer than one in five respondents correctly said that any of the items were not included in the Common Core.

The poll found similar levels of confusion about Common Core's content among Democrats and Republicans, supporters and opponents of the program and among people of different education levels.

No matter their level of misperceptions, more people disapprove of Common Core than approve. And even among those who have the most misperceptions, disapproval is not especially steep.

For instance, among poll respondents who incorrectly thought the standards include all four subjects tested in the poll, 36 percent disapproved of the standards, compared to 24 percent who approved.

But the impact of Common Core confusion on the program's popularity differed across political groups. Republicans who incorrectly believed Common Core covers teaching on evolution, sex education and global warming were more apt to disapprove of the program. But among Democrats and independents, support did not grow or fall with greater levels of knowledge.

The Fairleigh Dickinson Public Mind poll was conducted December 8-15 by live interviewers among a random national sample of 964 adults reached on conventional and cellular phones. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points, and is higher for results among subgroups.

Poll finds widespread misperceptions about the Common Core standards 02/21/15 [Last modified: Saturday, February 21, 2015 1:59am] 
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Daily Kos member
Why would anyone vote Republican? Well, here are 10 reasons.

1. You are a bigot

It's true that not all Republicans are bigots. But if you ARE a bigot, the Republican party will be much more your group than the Democratic party. Remember that there are lots of ways to be a bigot: You could be a racist, a homophobe, an Islamophobe, or lots of other things.

2. You like eating, drinking and breathing poison.

Many Republicans are calling for or voting for shrinking or eliminating agencies that protect us against poison. They seem to think that the corporations will do the right thing, without any pressure from the government. Uh huh. Read The Jungle.  Look at the way Monsanto is hiding facts about Round Up. Look at food safety and outbreaks of E. Coli.  

Corporations exist to make money. They will do so any way they can. The government needs to stop them from doing so in ways that hurt people.

3. You think the rich don't have enough money

The idea that giving more money to rich people (via tax breaks) will help poor people is nonsensical and has been shown wrong time and again in history. Huge tax breaks for the rich (a la George Bush) don't work.

4. You don't support our veterans

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran's Association (IAVA) rates every member of congress on how well they support our veterans.  In the Senate, 9 people got A or A+: All were Democrats. 30 got D or F: 29 Republicans and one Democrat.  More on this

5. You like big deficits

Since the end of WW II the ratio of debt to GDP for the nation has gone down in 9 administrations (3 Republican and 6 Democratic) and up in 7 administrations (6 Republican and 1 Democratic).  The largest increases by this measure were GW Bush's 2nd term; GHW Bush, and Reagan's first term. The largest decreases were the three terms right after the end of WWII (Truman and Eisenhower). The last decrease under a Republican was in Eisenhower's 2nd term


6. You don't believe in free speech.

The American Civil Liberties Union is the premier defender of our civil liberties, including the right to free speech.  That's free speech for EVERYONE; from Nazis to Marxists to Fred Phelps to anyone else. They rate politicians, including governors, senators and representatives.  12 people got a 100 rating: All were Democrats. 65 people got a score of less than 10: All were Republicans. Only 6 Democrats got a score under 50 (Joe Donnelly,  Michael Ross, Collin Peterson, Joseph Shuler, Mark Critz and David Boren). Only 2 Republicans got scores over 50 (Olympia Snowe and Mark Kirk)  Full list

7. You like big government

The Republicans like to claim they are against big government. It's a lie. They only object when government helps people. But they are supporters of the Patriot Act; they want the government to say who you can marry; they want the government to forbid abortion; they want the government to be able to spy on you without restraint. Unfortunately, many Democrats agree with them on some of these, but to find opposition to these big government ideas, you have to look to the Democrats.

8. You want government to hurt people, but not help them

This is really just a summation of some other points.

9. You are greedy, short sighted and rich

You really have to be all three for this to work.

If you're rich but not short-sighted, you know that, in the long run, when there is huge income inequality, it leads to things like stock market crashes and revolution, and everyone loses.  In a revolution, it is often the rich who lose most.

If you're rich but not greedy, you recognize that helping others is a good thing, and that the government assuring that people have a safety net is a good thing as well.

10. You like torture

The Democrats don't exactly shine here, but the Republicans are much worse.  It was, after all, Dick Cheney who bragged in his memoir about being a war criminal. It was Don Rumsfeld who opined that a problem in Abu Ghraib was that they weren't torturing prisoners enough.  And it is mostly Democrats who have objected to torture.

Torture is wrong.  It's also stupid. It doesn't work. People who are tortured will say ANYTHING (true or not) that they think their torturers want to hear.

Michelle Goldberg on February 3, 2015 - 12:37 PM ET
It is grotesque that, in the midst of the current measles outbreak, some leading Republicans are humoring vaccine denialists, but it is not surprising. It is, rather, a near-perfect illustration of the craziness gap in American politics. Vaccine skepticism is one of those issues, like 9/11 Trutherism, where parts of the fringe right and fringe left, each driven by their own distinct fears about authority, curve around and meet each other. Yet only the fringe right finds indulgence among mainstream politicians.

There is a popular perception that vaccine refusal is driven by the sort of affluent, vaguely left-wing parents satirized by the Los Feliz Day Care Twitter feed. (“Vax or no vax, none of our kids had measles, and we only went to Disneyland to protest commercialism and the anthropomorphization of animals.”) But susceptibility to misinformation about vaccines is less about politics than about paranoia, and paranoia, whether towards Big Pharma or big government, operates in many different cultural milieus. A recent paper by Yale Law School’s Dan M. Kahan found that perception of “vaccine risks displayed only a small relationship with left-right political outlooks,” though it is slightly more common on the right. “Respondents formed more negative assessments of the risk and benefits of childhood vaccines as they became more conservative and identified more strongly with the Republican Party,” it said.

A minimally responsible Republican Party would not pander to this sort of thing. But that, of course, is not what we have. Instead, we have Chris Christie answering a question about measles immunization by saying that parents “need to have some measure of choice,” and that “not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.” (After an uproar in the media, he backed away from this formulation, calling the scientific support for vaccination “pretty indisputable.”)

Rand Paul, meanwhile, described vaccine rejection as an “issue of freedom.” On CNBC, hepromoted the long-discredited link between vaccines and autism: “I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

Democrats, characteristically, have shown much less fear of enraging the fever swamps. “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork,” tweeted Hillary Clinton. On the Today show, President Obama urged parents to get their kids vaccinated, and, speaking to The New York Times, Howard Dean poured scorn on “entitled people who don’t want to put any poison in their kids and view this as poison, which is ignorance more than anything else.” So while hippie anti-vaxxers exist, they have essentially no political influence. The Democratic Party’s contempt for those it regards as extremists can be a bad thing, a symptom of the fact that left-wing subcultures have far less electoral sway than right-wing ones. But it also means that Democrats don’t cosset demagogues and cranks the way Republicans do.

The craziness gap has real public health consequences. If vaccine denialism becomes subsumed into the culture war—and thus turns into another badge of political identity, like owning a gun, watching Fox News or rejecting evolution—it’s likely to increase. Kahan found that when people are exposed to information linking anti-vax sentiment to a rejection of evolution and climate change, “perceptions of vaccine risks showed signs of dividing along the same cultural lines that inform disputes over highly contested societal issues.” “This is troubling,” he writes, because “group-based conflicts are known to create strong psychological pressures that interfere with the normally reliable capacity that members of the public use to recognize valid decision-relevant science. This very dynamic is thought to have affected acceptance of the HPV vaccine.” When Republicans feel the need to inoculate themselves from the criticism of vaccine rejecters—when they can’t even stand up for something as simple as the easy prevention of deadly diseases—it leaves us all more exposed.