More Opinion by The Springboard

THE UPRISING OF THE AMERICAN PARTY "Clearly the voters are engaged right now, at least for sure on the republican side, and what they have concluded is that the republican party has not done their job. Thus, Donald Trump gets their vote."

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Walmart's Reign As "King of Retail" In Jeopardy

There was a time when I would have thought, hey, Walmart is an unstoppable force. A company that could only go up in value, and that would continue to be the price leader in the retail sector. But what I am thinking now about Walmart is that since Sam Walton died, I think he took his company to the grave with him, and while the company has still grown considerably following his loss, the company now faces a plethora of challenges ahead, and same store sales are abysmal compared to years past.

The truth is that it seems to me that Walmart is failing in every way possible, and I think that makes Walmart not only go down in value eventually, I think it leaves open every single possibility for competing retailers to pick up the slack. And there's a ton of slack to pick up mind you. It's almost as if Walmart thinks its brand is too strong to fail.

I think they're dead wrong.

Besides the fact that most Walmart stores are cluttered and dirty, there is the issue of customer service which is seriously lacking. But rather than place the blame entirely on the employees, I think a large part of the blame should be directed at management. It's no secret that Walmart employees are not necessarily treated well. When it comes to cost cutting, the first order of business is to sock it to employees. Hours are cut, benefits are cut or non-existent, and while Walmart still enjoys nice margins and is still one of the largest—if not the largest—employer in the United States, employee wages are just slightly above the minimum wage.

Normally I don't complain about wages. You get what you earn and companies pay what they feel an employee is worth to the value and profitability of the business. But in a world where the focus has shifted from manufacturing to retail and service sector jobs, with Walmart being the leader in retail, I think that Walmart could have done a lot to prove the point that we could actually move into this kind of an economy and actually survive. But that has not happened. And I'm not sure it's entirely for lack of ability to do so.

I can find no reason why Walmart, being that is the largest employer in the country, could not have found a way to make its business model a powerhouse and take care of its employees as well with liveable wages, strong 401k plans, health benefits, and other fringe benefits similar to what manufacturing jobs may have offered.

And no, I am not suggesting that Walmart should have unionized, or that it needed to follow the path of unionized manufacturing. We see what happened with that.

But one thing that stands true for me is that when you are a company that relies, in large part, on the customer experience, the front line handing over that experience are the people who work in the stores. Friendly faces and helpful presence, and of course happy employees are going to work harder every day to keep the customers, a retailer's and retail employees' bread and butter, as happy and satisfied as possible. With Walmart's current—and really it has never actually been good mind you—state of employee relations, there are a good many employees who are simply punching the clock, collecting their paycheck, and going home. It's a job. There is no connection with the company's needs, and there is no connection with the consumer's needs either. And that's a huge problem.

The bottom line is that if you are a Target, a Dollar Tree, hell even a Kmart for that matter, all they need to do is examine where Walmart is going wrong, and close the gaps. If they do that customers will flock to their stores and Walmart will get trounced. What's more, a small and emerging company would be well positioned to take the reigns—although certainly a smaller company will have difficulty being price competitive.

But speaking about price, fortunately Walmart is making it easier these days for customers to try other places to shop because for a guy like me who knows what things cost, Walmart is no longer the price leader, and more and more items I buy wind up in other store's carts than in Walmart's. Whenever I step into a competitor's store it is their opportunity to win me over on other benefits like customer service. And in some instances, on some items, I may actually also be willing to pay a slight premium for that.

What's more, one day the economy will get better. In fact, I actually believe that we are on the cusp of something big in terms of jobs and median income, especially considering the jobs market has been so bad over the last 30 or so years. Employees are getting restless, that is unquestionable, and I don't think the status quo will be able to remain much longer. Companies are going to have to change their employee relations, and as the jobs market heats up not only is a company like Walmart going to have to ramp up their customer experience, they are going to have to ramp up their employee relations in order to find and retain a workforce that helps them achieve their goals.

Long and short for me here is two-fold. I don't like the future prospects for Walmart as a company and therefore I see no reason to own stock in them. As well, I can find many reasons to also avoid shopping in their stores.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

We MUST Fix The Economy or Die

In business there are two realities; the way things should be, and the way things are. But at the end of the day what business is intended to do is to make as much money as possible, principally for the owners of the company. So you can't blame corporations for going overseas for labor if the balance sheets tell you that it just makes good business sense.

For years I have railed against the imbalances in our free market system, and that's saying something since I happen to be a strong proponent of the free market. But what I have argued is that what we have now is not really a free market at all. It's a market that is rigged and it's not necessarily because of the businesses, but because of policy which has made myriad deals with other nations which have served to suffocate the American worker, kill the middle class, widen the gap between the rich and the poor, and simply make our economy a real sour lemon.

I have long held that the key to the continuity of American progress economically is that we have to make things. Back in the day cheaper was a novelty. It was a convenience. People were making good money, and cheaper goods meant they could make it go farther. Now cheaper is a necessity. Median income has been nearly unchanged for the past 30 years—and that's a problem because inflation has not been stagnant.

You want to do the right thing and keep as much of your operations in the United States as possible. But when there are a multitude of things that hinder the sensibility of doing that, you are forced to rethink things and just "go with the flow."

Taxes, regulations, cheap labor overseas, unruly union leaders...

All of these things make it difficult for a business to operate within the margins and compete, not
only with foreign businesses doing business in the United States, but to compete with companies operating within its own borders.

Who knows this better than anyone? Businessmen. If you leave this sort of thing up to people who have never been in business what you wind up with are good intentions that look good in theory and on paper, but when put into reality it becomes clear to see that it's more than just a mess. It's a fucking disaster.

The simple truth is that both establishment republicans and democrats alike simply don't know what's wrong, and therefore don't really have the right solutions for fixing the problem. The democrats want to point fingers at the rich and big business, and want to tout unions who at one time had their place in the world, but are now corrupt and hugely bad for business, and who have done as much damage—if not more—to the stability of the American workers' wages than even the worst trade deals. And there are, of course, the trade deals, largely supported by the republican party in the interest of the free markets, which again, I argue aren't operating like a true free market at all.

Going with the "status quo" simply is not going to get it done. It's a failing proposition, and I think in part it is a large reason Donald Trump is getting so much traction in this presidential race. On the flip side, it may also be a part of why even a guy like Bernie Sanders at any stage in this race could ever be perceived by anyone to be viable—even for progressive liberal democrats. The signal, which is very clear, is that if guys like Sanders and Trump are resonating with voters it is because the majority of Americans—even if they are unclear exactly why—are finally starting to understand that they are no longer even running in place. They are going backwards. And if and until we address this matter, and right quick, it may be impossible to gain any traction economically.

Anyone who has ever had even a little bit of credit card debt knows that it is much harder to get out of debt the deeper in debt you go. If our economy is not fixed now. If the trade imbalances are not fixed now. If the trade deals are not renegotiated now...

We could lose our standing in the world as an economic power, and we may never get it back. Even if we finally work toward that goal, our country would be a second or third tier nation economically for the next 50-100 years.

Unfortunately, and I am a republican mind you, none of the other guys on the stage—not a single one of them except for Donald Trump—will do a damn thing to address the meat of why the economy is largely in the state that it is in.

Granted, Trump may not be able to get anything done either. I get that. But of all of the other candidates on the stage, he is the only guy stating what I have believed for years when it comes to jobs and business and the stability of the American economy.

Cheap labor has us by the balls and our hands our tied behind our backs so we can't loosen the grip.

But it's not just the cheap labor. It is simply a component. It's those fucking trade deals. The one thing we know of our history is that back in the day we knew there would be differences between one economy and another, and in order to level the playing field we made adjustments—tariffs. We have long gotten ridden of correcting imbalances by opening up Most Favored Nation status with countries like China. We've widened imbalances with deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—George H.W. Bush pushed for it, and Clinton eventually signed it into law—and the most recent Trans-Pacific deal. We have allowed Japan to dictate what we can sell to them, and likewise China. We have allowed China, in fact, to tell us flat out "if you want to sell to us, you have to make it in China."

What America has become, and not just in terms of economics, is a giant sell out, and who has been hurt badly by this is us. The American people. And despite our ability to vote our leaders in or out, we really have not had much control on this issue. We've had to simply do what is necessary. But again, continuing along that path puts us in a very real and dangerous situation. We are at that certain turning point in our nation on this issue among other very important ones. It's do or die. We simply must get it right this time around. If we do not, America as we know it may well be lost forever.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Trump: South Carolina And Beyond

I am not sure I will classify the Trump victory in South Carolina as necessarily a commanding lead. But the fact remains that Trump's win was by a margin of 10% over the second place winner Marco Rubio, and of course one of Trump's biggest critics, Jeb Bush, is no longer in the race. We have the Nevada primary coming up this coming Tuesday, and of course the big tell, Super Tuesday, is on March 1st. Something tells me that even if Trump doesn't win in Nevada, although he is predicted to win—again by a double digit margin—I think he will do very well when all of the numbers are in on Super Tuesday. And of course the field is going to narrow after Nevada's Tuesday primary, and by the time we get to the final call after Super Tuesday I think we'll be down to three candidates.

Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. If Kasich's numbers don't add up in Nevada I think he'll drop out. So, perhaps, will Ben Carson.

In my opinion it is still too early to necessarily predicate on the idea that The Donald is an unstoppable force. But if we are looking at just the margins over the course of the campaigns, Trump at least appears to be the presumed nominee. The thought that crosses my mind is how can Trump have his Howard Dean moment in this race? He's said some fairly nasty things, and he said some things in the CBS debate just before the South Carolina primary that not only did not resonate with me, it rubbed a lot of voters the wrong way.

Yet he still won, and it wasn't really all that close actually.

If Donald J. Trump takes home the prize on Super Tuesday I think we can safely assume the republican voters in the caucuses have chosen who they want to see run against whoever is going to be the nominee on the democratic side—who I still think will be Hillary Clinton when all is said and done, and I am fine with that.

When I talk to most of my fellow republicans and conservatives of course I am chastised every which way but Sunday when I mention that I actually am rooting for Trump. Why do I like the guy?

  •  He holds nothing back and takes no prisoners.
  • He is the ONLY guy I think will actually address immigration reform even if I do not think he will be successful in having Mexico pay for the wall.
  • He is the ONLY guy who I think understands fundamentally that trade is good, free market capitalism is good, but that we also have a rigged system that has stacked the deck in favor of OTHER nations while leaving American workers behind.
  • Therefore Donald Trump is the ONLY one who is actually going to begin the process of renegotiating trade deals and ultimately to bring back jobs to American workers who badly need better than Walmart jobs to feed their families and pursue the dying American dream.
  • He is deeply concerned about the advancement of ISIS, the instability in the Middle East, and takes seriously the very real threat of terrorism in the Homeland.
On the last point, I think all of the candidates left in the race have serious concerns about terrorism as well, and aside from Bush
who I thought was extremely weak on the subject, I think all three top tier candidates—Trump, Rubio, and Cruz—would all take steps to curb the threat from Islamic Jihadists. Trump may take the strongest stance however, and with that said, I do think that while Trump has good intentions, on this issue at least, he is going to have to surround himself with the best military and foreign relations people to get his head wrapped around a strategy that will work, that will circumvent unintended consequences, and that will not cause more damage in an already sticky situation.

The one thing that does sort of twist the knife if you'll let me put it that way is that while Trump is getting all the attention on the republican side, the fact remains that where Trump has missed the mark is on substance. He's missed the how's and the why's and how come's. And I think in a general election this detail is extremely important. When Trump gets to the big stage alongside Hillary Clinton who, love her or hate her, has command of her policy, and is well spoken, Trump cannot rely on personal attacks to get the attention of the American people. He has to shred every single idea and statement that Hillary puts forth. He has to command every single issue. He needs to explain in detail why his policies would work, and why he thinks Hillary's would fail. He has to be tough on Barack Obama and his failed policies, which of course Hillary will tout as grand successes, but not just by saying the president was weak or incompetent, but by explaining in detail why he believes the president's policies were bad, how they affected the American people, and if continued how they will continue to affect the American people.

Substance, at the end of the day, is the one thing Trump has lacked throughout the campaign, and the only thing that gives me pause when deciding whether or not even I—a Trump supporter—can ultimately pull the trigger if I were to vote today. Can Donald Trump have a moment like he had with Jeb Bush in the CBS debate where he called former president Bush a liar in a debate with Clinton? I don't think so. I don't think that kind of an exchange would go over very well at all. Although, I do think he can be tough on the issue of Benghazi—but again the approach as to how you do this needs to be careful and calculated. It can't just be name calling and flame throwing. That won't work in a general election.

So all said I give Trump great props for a job well done up to this point, and frankly because of the bullet point issues I am concerned about personally, would love to see him go all the way and get these important things done like nobody else can or will. But as we draw nearer to the strong likelihood that he actually wins the nomination, he really needs to begin the process now of filling in the blanks, and giving us more than what he has given us in the past—he needs to give us the how's and why's and how come's we've been dying to hear.

Because one thing is certain. Hillary will explain her stuff, and whether it is right or wrong, if Trump can't explain his, hers just sounds more thought out and sometimes reality is not what counts. Perspective is everything, and if Trump is perceived as one who doesn't know his way around things, it will cost him the election without a doubt.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Jeb Bush Coffin Nail?

Jeb Bush likes to call the desk in the Oval Office the Big Boy Desk. It's a term that actually grates me a bit since, in its own way, it simply feels like it's a bit pompous, and serves to belittle not only the other candidates on the stage, but the American people as well.

Granted, all of the candidates have their way of using certain phraseology that serves to belittle under the radar. Donald Trump of course interestingly feels no need to hide it. But considering where Jeb Bush stands in the presidential race, and what I think is a clear sense of entitlement that he should be, if not the nominee, certainly the next president, coming from him it sort of sounds to me more like (choose your favorite crybaby voice), "I'm 'posed to be president, wa-wa-wa. It's my turn! My turn, my turn, wa-wa-wa!"

So this latest little turn of events, which I find absolutely hilarious on it's merits, that Trump bought Jeb's campaign website after Bush failed to renew it—no small detail by the way when you want to be president in the Internet age—says one thing to me. A Big Boy would have paid attention to such an important detail.

Of course, Bush will say it's not his fault. He'll say that he left the management of his website to someone else. And in the grander scheme of things that's probably true of all of the candidates. I am not going to chide Bush for this little tidbit. But at the end of the day while delegation of tasks is the nature of the beast, and a tenet of leadership, delegation does not mean total separation. Part of delegation is monitoring closely to make sure that those who tasks are delegated to are actually getting them done.

As president, with lives and livelihoods at stake through decision making and policy, this would seem to me to be pretty damn important.

Do we want a president to be removed from pieces and parts of the process? Do we want a president who, in the light of a certain turn of events might sit before the American people in a Kenneth Lay/Jeffrey Skilling sort of way, "I'm just the CEO, I have no way of knowing what is going on in my company."

As for Trump buying Bush's website, I think it does tell us one thing. The details. How engaged is Trump in the campaign? He's focused. He's got people in place to really nail down the details he needs to know in order to keep his campaign on focus. Bush might tell you that the campaign trail is grueling and tiring, and it therefore may be easy to miss such a thing as a website renewal. But then how would Trump not miss it?

At the end of the day I think Jeb Bush is simply making it all too clear to the American people that he does not want to be president for the good the country. He does not want to be president because he wants to fix a broken country. He simply wants to be president because he wants to make his daddy and big brother proud of him. Jeb Bush is not a failure by any stretch of the imagination. But it seems to me, in a very childish sort of way, Jeb feels like he's the one Bush in the Big Boy House that hasn't risen to the highest office in the land—and that leaves him, in his own mind, as a failure. The one at the Thanksgiving dinner table in the Bush house that will always be the other Bush.

That's not a reason to be president.

I think Jeb Bush needs to simply concede that even in a legacy family like the Bush's, not everyone can be president. His numbers don't indicate he's got a chance in hell of even winning the nomination. He needs to drop out of the race and let the others have more time to get their message to the American people.

Please clap?