Has Arkansas Become a Walmart “Company” State?

New Orleans  Hey, I get it. Arkansas is what it is, a smaller, poorer state than many in the statistical match-ups in one category after another.

But, having spent a lot of time there and lived there for more than seven years in the 1970s, I can assure you it has many charms, wonderful people, especially all of my in-and-out-laws, colleagues and co-workers. Arkansas even boasts a former governor who was an occupant in the White House in Bill Clinton, and the first women to serve a full-term in the Senate, Hattie Caraway. I don’t want to even start on Petit Jean hams or the best apple fritters in the world produced by the Donut Palace in Dumas. Arkansas also is the home state of one of the biggest of the big mega-corporations in the world, Walmart, the largest private sector employer globally and in the United States that without a doubt has transformed the Fayetteville-Bentonville corridor in the northwestern part of the state over the last 50 years.

But, I’m not a flack for the state bureau of tourism, so let me work my way around to the point. I know something about company camps and company towns. I spent some of the formative years of my boyhood and youth in such outposts in places like Rangely and Wilson Creek, Colorado. For years my family made a busman’s tour of such camps all over the western states in the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, and New Mexico as well when my father was a bookkeeper and auditor for the California Company before it rebranded itself as Chevron. There are some pros, but there are a lot of cons.

It never really occurs that there was such a thing as a “company state” in the way there are company towns, until reading about the hot-breathed pursuit by cities throughout North America to be considered as the location of the Amazon’s second corporate headquarters and its claim to employ 50,000 workers at such a site. Some yahoos in the Little Rock business community are so Wally-eyed that they even slapped the Amazon bear, as the saying used to go in Arkansas. According to a piece in the New York Times:

A few applicants went in the opposite direction and sought to highlight their decision to not bid on Amazon’s second headquarters. A business group in Little Rock, Arkansas, recently took a newspaper ad (in the Washington Post, owned by Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos) and created an internet video telling Amazon it didn’t want the traffic hassles its new headquarters would bring to town.”

Perhaps needlessly, the reporter than added that, “Arkansas is the home state of Amazon’s arch-rival, Walmart.”

Don’t misunderstand me, Little Rock or anywhere in Arkansas, didn’t have the proverbial snowball’s chance in Hell of winning the second headquarters for reasons too numerous to list, but why prostrate the state to Walmart, I wondered? On second thought though, Arkansans have allowed Walmart to buy a place at the education table for charter schools and privatization throughout the state, and their money seems to have been key in taking over the Little Rock school system. The company and the family, that stacked up billions from its success, have more and more seemed to treat the state as their private playground and testing lab for pet public policies and personal preferences.

Maybe the Little Rock business folks just decided to acknowledge what should have been obvious to all of us: Arkansas is a company state for Walmart. Now that they have proven it, and I’ve said it, it would seem that Walmart should be ashamed at not having done better for the state than it has. You know the old story, if you break it, you own it. If Walmart owns Arkansas, it ought to try to be more accountable for something than its own bottom line and competitive position. Maybe even the Little Rock business community would agree to that?

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These Behemoth Tech Monopolies are Starting to Own Everything!

New Orleans   When Amazon suddenly buys Whole Foods, and some hidden part of your psyche suddenly feels a pang of regret for Walmart, you know you’re in trouble and that something has gone awry in the world. Walmart was an easy target. They were everywhere. Amazon is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, but having them around the corner at a Whole Foods, even though I don’t shop there, makes me uneasy.

Are there any limits? Where are the boundaries?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my Kindle. My neighborhood pet store is so haughty and off-putting that I get my dog food from Amazon as well and save money and time while doing so. I needed a cheap phone for international calls that Google offers, but they are out of them, but Amazon will come through for me.

But, Google is also scary. European regulators are about to levy a record fine on them for privileging their own advertisers in their search algorithms. They are in a blood fight over who will control self-driving vehicles with Uber in a battle of the tech titans, although other techies and even legacy car makers are in this race, too. I use Google. We have channels on YouTube. Their maps are a godsend to the lost wayfarer. But what do they know about cars?

Not that Uber gives any comfort. Their CEO and one of the founders was forced out of the company by his big time investors, largely because he was out of control, but, hey, Uber has been out of control and past the pale in its business practices and disregard for local and national laws and regulations since it began, and they seemed unworried until there were too many headlines.

Facebook and Google are somehow going to manage the news and police internet postings. Maybe we don’t want the government doing that, but are these folks qualified since their priorities are running ad engines. Recently I read a new book, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, and it’s a good one. The author made the point about the arbitrary and capricious rules of both that have endangered – and even jailed – organizers and human rights activists around the world. Their policies have both given voices and taken them away with equal impunity. All of this despite the fact that their business is communication. Did I mention the fact that the head of Amazon now also owns The Washington Post and produces TV and movies?

The disrupters become the establishment, too. AirBnb wants to be more like a hotel. Uber and Lyft want to replace car ownership, buses, and taxis. Amazon wants to automate the grocery business. Despite the branding hype and their own self promotion, all of this is not in the name of public service, but private profit. If you need any proof, look at the destructive impact these tech billionaires are having on public education, where they are clueless, yet leading the way in random directions.

Increasingly, we are finding out who is in charge, but nobody seems to be on watch and those that are seem to be sleeping at the switch.

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