business news in context, analysis with attitude

Regarding the role of lobbyists in the US and the impact they have on the political system, one MNB user wrote:

My opinion:

Money to buy political favors in foreign countries we call bribery. Money to buy political favors in the USA we call a campaign contribution. Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck...

This subject came up last week when I talked about the new book by Mark Leibovich, "This Town: Two Parties & A Funeral, Plus Plenty Of Valet Parking In America's Gilded Capital." (There were business lessons, too.) Which led MNB reader John Tieszen to write:

I am in the middle of reading "This Town" and I totally agree with your take. It is, as you say, both incredibly sad and incredibly funny, at the same time. I heard an interview with Mark Leibovich and the commentator made the point that the only people truly angry with the author were those people who were not named in the book!

From another reader:

I loved this book, but wish it weren’t true.  Very accurate portrait of the DC snake pit based on my own experience there working with lobbying, law and PR firms, government agencies and political campaigns.  Sadly, it is only getting worse.  More sociopaths and narcissists per capita than anywhere else in the country, hands down.

Regarding the passing of auto salesman Cal Worthington, MNB reader Kevin Bamford wrote:

I used to visit my father on the west coast for 2 weeks every summer in the 70’s and the one thing I always remembered was the “come see Cal” jingle.  In fact, I was singing it on my riding lawn mower last Sunday – must be synchronicity.

And from another reader:

I missed that Cal passed away.  What a character.
One thing that an English major told me in college is that his ads were always in iambic pentameter.  His jingle, which you printed yesterday, appears to be in that format, but I haven't had to recognize that in decades. (Sorry, Mrs. Pratt - my High school teacher.)

Another reader chimed in:

I just had to respond about the RIP for Cal Worthington.  I grew up in So Cal and his commercials were a great source of hilarity in our house.  You missed the part of the jingle where he would “stand upon his head until his ears were turning red,” complete with Cal in his ever-present cowboy hat, standing on his head.
When my husband and I left So Cal, everywhere we lived we found the “Cal Worthington” of the area.  There never seems to be a shortage of retailers, in all lines of work, who will do wacky things in their commercials.  Oddly enough, most of them are truly honest, trustworthy, and nice people.
Rest in peace, Cal.  Even though your commercials made me wince, I still read the posting with a big smile!


MNB the other day took note of an Associated Press report that a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that Abercrombie & Fitch was wrong when it fired a Muslim employee for wearing a head scarf. The retailer had said that the scarf violated its dress code and would negatively impact sales, but the judge said the firing violated anti-discrimination laws and that there was no "credible evidence" that the scarf would hurt sales.

I commented:

Interesting story, and one that suggests so many questions. I'm curious, for example, if the employee only started wearing the scarf after being hired, or whether the scarf was work during the job interview and, if so, why the employee was hired to begin with. Not that I'm agreeing with A&F on this one ... I think that an argument can be made that not only would the scarf-clad employee not hurt sales, but might even signal something important about inclusivity at the retailer. But the big message here is how the demographic world is changing, and how businesses have to think hard, act wisely, and be careful.

MNB reader Andy Casey wrote:

Your comment about a move to “signal inclusivity” at A&F made me laugh … wasn’t this the CEO who said they didn’t want to appeal to ugly people or something similarly stupid?  I’m thinking inclusivity isn’t even in his vocabulary much less his stores.

Good point. I was being kind.

And from another reader:

We’ve already heard much about how A&F only wants “certain people” as its customers, trying to create an air of exclusivity…’s not surprising to me that it would attempt to apply that same thinking to its hiring practices.

Regarding questions about food safety practices and the meat industry, MNB reader Mike Franklin wrote:

I remember reading, in your newsletter, about the move by USDA to privatize inspectors and to begin inspecting meat plants off-shore. My comment to you then, after reading the pros and cons of the issue, was, “good luck meat-eaters.” While I may be a little smug, because I source all of my meat locally from small farmers that I have a direct relationship with, I still am amazed at the confidence citizens have in the performance of the USDA and FDA.

One MNB user had some thoughts about the acquisition of United by Albertsons:

United runs well merchandised stores with great customer service.  Two areas that Albertson’s has not been known for for many years.  If United is actually left alone as an independent business unit, there is hope for them.  But…if Albertson’s applies their operational muscle on the organization, cutting store labor (as is often the case), United will become another mediocre chain.  Remember, Albertson’s just pulled the plug on their loyalty programs because they couldn’t figure out how to leverage what their customers are telling them, to provide more relevant pricing, promotions and merchandise.  Their focus on “one size fits all” is completely counter to what is needed to thrive with today’s demanding and empowered consumer. 
Time will tell on this acquisition, but if I were to place a bet, it would be a $2 win ticket on Kroger, with possibly a long-shot bet of $2 to show on United.

I was whining the other day that a new Christmas ad by Kmart strikes me as way too soon.

One MNB user responded:

And the downside of this early for Kmart is?
Note that it’s Kmart’s consumers voicing their opinion on the Kmart Facebook page.
They will be some of the first to use it. Especially on hard to find toys etc..
Same people will complain about how early Christmas items are on the shelves as they put those cute ornaments in their shopping carts in September.

MNB user Will Weller wrote:

I'm going to petition the powers that be for a new word in the dictionary.  The word is Hallowgivingmas.  The definition is the ability to walk into a major retailer and purchase either Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas merchandise in August.  No judgements here, it's just the way it is.  Think ahead, adapt to rapid change, or find another strategy.

From another reader:

I agree with you ... it is way, way too soon.  I hate the commercialism of Christmas.  With the ease of shopping (online, pre-ordering, brick & mortar) there isn't any reason that Holiday ads should be aired before Thanksgiving.  I'd like to get back to the days where we celebrated each holiday before we moved on to the next one.  Celebrate Halloween, then Thanksgiving and only then start into the holiday season.  For example, when you walk into a Home Depot, you shouldn't see fake Christmas trees for sale until the day after Thanksgiving.  What happened to us?  We've become so entrenched into the all mighty dollar and the need to 'get out there early and get as much money as you can'.  I know many businesses make the bulk of their money in the last quarter of the year, but that doesn't make it right to advertise before its time!

And another:

I didn't see the Kmart ad, but I did receive an email from Walmart on Monday September 9th highlighting their holiday layaway program. I agree-way too early when the temperature reads 95...

And still another:

I stopped in Costco Sunday. It was fully merchandised with Christmas trees at the entrance and 3 aisles of paper, bows and other Christmas items. I won't be back there until January...

MNB reader Laura Price wrote:

I hate that we rush the Christmas holiday in the US, however, I think there is probably some good shopper insight behind Kmart's move… their target customer for the layaway program has few paychecks arriving between now and 12/25.  Maybe now IS the time to engage them?  Good marketing means knowing the difference between your own habits and those of the shopper.  Usually I think you see that very clearly, Kevin, so I felt compelled to weigh in!

And another:

I am getting old and curmudgeonly.  Remember when the Christmas season started with Santa arriving  AT THE END of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?   And Black Friday actually WAS Black Friday?  Then Thanksgiving sorta got pushed out of the way and the season started right after Halloween  (buying leftover Halloween candy AND candy canes).  Well, at least they waited until after Labor Day and shoppers didn’t have to decide between school supplies and the latest toy offerings.

Next thing you know, there will be overlapping seasons of baseball, football, basketball and hockey!

We had an email last week in which a reader challenged my policy of only having moderated emails, as opposed to a message board that allows people to say anything they want.

Which prompted MNB reader Jeff Gartner to write:

Kevin, please NEVER allow all comments from your readers to be posted without your editorial acceptance. NEVER.

Forums that don't limit their comments, especially sites who don't prevent anonymity, are painful to read … they have way too many trolling and disrespectful comments. 

If someone wants the unlimited ability to comment, let them create and distribute their own blog.

I love Seth Godin's daily blog, and he doesn't have comments at all.

There were a few people who felt that my comment that "this is the way I always have done it" actually was at odds with my usual attitude, which is that sacred cows make the best hamburger (as Mark Twain once said). That's a fair criticism ... I would only respond that I moderate the "Your Views" section not because I always have done it that way, but because I believe it is the right thing to do, and what most of MNB readers want.

Finally ... I got a lot of email from folks who really enjoyed the discussion we had last week about the use of cell phones and the impact on some people's dating habits. (This, despite the fact that they were dismayed by the opinions expressed by one person who struck many as being a Neanderthal. And yes, to those of you who asked ... this person is exactly who you thought it was.)

All I can say is that I thought it was an interesting conversation that ran its course. And I'm glad I could give you value for your entertainment dollar.
KC's View: