business news in context, analysis with attitude

The other day we referenced a story from Common Dreams saying that "a progressive coalition of more than 100 unions and consumer advocacy groups from across the United States has come together to build the 'Stop the Merger' campaign, a national and state-level effort to prevent Kroger from acquiring Albertsons and establishing the country's most powerful grocery cartel … In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the coalition writes that if approved, the merger would likely 'lead to store closures, worsen food deserts, increase prices for consumers, and destroy thousands of unionized grocery jobs … This deal is an antitrust travesty and it must be stopped'."

I commented:

I don't think there is any question that the FTC as it currently is constituted is going to be more sympathetic to these arguments than at other times.  I'm not sure this adds up to a rejection of the merger.  But I think it may be more complicated than some expect.

One MNB reader responded:

I got lost after the “largest cartel” I guess Walmart doesn’t count in the mix? The Bentonville Behemoth would enjoy “higher” prices from the Kroger Cartel, I’m sure.  True, it is likely that some employees are going to lose jobs, but self-checkout is likely more responsible. 

As to Food Deserts, this is really a function of low community support, security and some local government decisions to raise the shoplifting/minor theft thresholds to the thousand dollar or above level.  Instead of government entities mandating the hiring of armed security guards for retailers… let’s see, three more cashiers on the payroll to aid customers and speed the checkout process or several armed guards?  Retailers paying taxes for police protection and prosecutor’s salaries for what exactly?  Close store down and save a ton of money and headaches?  You get what you will accept. Poor community support all around means food deserts.

Over the years Kroger has acquired many local and regional grocery operators, some have kept the original name and some not, but I don’t think anyone can say that the “old” stores were better than under Kroger management.  Dillions, for one, comes to mind; in fact, Dillions' former CEO became the Kroger CEO and did a wonderful job for everyone.

The coalition may gum up the works and add to the cost but it is going to go through and is a good thing in the long run.

I think that for the most part you're right, but I know people in Chicago who would argue that Mariano's there has not improved under Kroger ownership.  

I also am not sure how much of this matters when it comes to what the FTC does and doesn't do.  It may be about drawing a line - as in, "this far, and no further" - and seeing which side of the line the Kroger/Albertsons deal falls.

Yesterday we recommended a New York Times story - I described it as "a really good piece of journalism" - that looks at how homelessness, and the crime that often accompanies it, is overwhelming much of urban America, focusing on a small, family-owned sandwich shop in downtown Phoenix.

Over the past three years, the Times wrote, "an epidemic of unsheltered homelessness began to overwhelm Phoenix and many other major American downtowns. Cities across the West had been transformed by a housing crisis, a mental health crisis and an opioid epidemic, all of which landed at the doorsteps of small businesses already reaching a breaking point because of the pandemic."

In Phoenix, "where the number of people living on the street had more than tripled since 2016, businesses had begun hiring private security firms to guard their property and lawyers to file a lawsuit against the city for failing to manage 'a great humanitarian crisis'.

You can read the entire story here.

I commented:

This is a heartbreaking story that underlines the degree to which America's cities have to find a public policy solution that is compassionate to people in trouble and in need, but that remembers that people like Joe Faillace also are citizens with rights, and they ought to be able to run their businesses without feeling like they are trying to survive a war zone.

I'm sure this will devolve into a political debate, but we ought to be able to find a way to take politics out of the conversation and come up with approaches that don't hasten the unraveling of the social fabric.

One MNB reader took issue with my observation:

What a ridiculous comment!  “Politics” is people having different opinions.  Maybe we should just go with yours.

Well, in the lack of anything better, I'm happy if the world goes with mine.  But I'm not sure that's what I was suggesting.

When I referred to "politics" in this context, I was referring the blood sport that typifies debate about so many issues, with nuance being replaced by knee-jerk outrage.

Another MNB reader wrote:

It is sickening to see those with mental illness who are homeless with little to no help.  The “system” has failed these individuals with many local and regional facilities closed due to Real Estate property values.  In Raleigh NC, Dorothea Dix Hospital was shuttered due to “FUNDING”. So, in return, the city decides to build a multi-use park, retail, and housing.  DD patients were transferred, those I suspect a threat to society sent to maximum security facility. What about those that checked in for less than violent tendencies.  Those individuals with a need for constant monitoring with help in navigating the valleys. These folks were sent to outpatient clinics.  I’m not an expert but when you turn your back on the those in need and it’s not there they tend to give up.

This shouldn’t be about politics.  However, the incompetencies found within Local and State Controlled government and their health care systems is to blame.  Sending a message to those in need that Real Estate is more important than the wellbeing of men, women, and children is just sickening.  Try to find adolescent mental health programs in your area.  They are slim to nonexistent.  Those specialists’ available drug these poor kids to the point that they have no clue who they are or how to function properly in society. 

I’m not a naïve person and understand some people don’t want the help.  Who are we to make that decision for them.

From another MNB reader:

You are right, It was an amazing piece of journalism on many different levels.

I hope people much smarter than me are pushed into action by reading this story. I sure hope that it gets the attention that it deserves.

And from yet another reader:

It was certainly a heartbreaking read.  Most actions have unintended consequences.  If Phoenix doesn’t have the necessary shelters then people will be forced to live on the street.   Much of this goes back to our immigration policy or lack thereof.  How many of these campers were actually Americans? 

And finally, several MNB readers responded to yesterday's piece about the Western Michigan University students who were so good at speaking in public.  One MNB reader wrote:

Spot on about the ability to speak in public. As a fellow Jesuit alum you may recall that at one time the curriculum included completing a course in public speaking.

And have to give a shout out to Russell Zwanka for all he does with that program !! Outstanding !!

Agreed.  Russell is doing a terrific job with the WMU program.

And from MNB reader Melissa Peterman:

Throughout high school, I was very involved in Junior Achievement.  This was in the late '70s/early '80s, when JA students formed companies, sold stock, produced and sold a product, liquidated the company at the end of the year and wrote an annual report, which we distributed to shareholders, along with a dividend.  I credit JA with leading me toward a career in business, and I could go on and on about  the impact it has had on my life and that of my JA alumni friends.  Professionals from local businesses volunteered to serve as advisors, and I'm still in touch with one of mine.  I urge everyone to volunteer with this great organization.

In addition to the public speaking opportunities within JA, I was offered a scholarship to take the Dale Carnegie Course in public speaking.  Most of the participants were adults, and each week, everyone in the course gave speeches.  The topics were supposed to draw on our life experience, of which, at the age of 17, I didn't have much!  But I came up with a topic each week and it gave me confidence.

Public speaking is an important life skill, and especially for those for whom it doesn't come naturally, confidence goes a long way.  I still have the books authored by Dale Carnegie (one was written in the 1930s - I just looked!) that I was given as part of the course, and have moved them all over the country since then.  I can't seem to let them go -- maybe I should take a look at them and see if the techniques still hold up?

I'm sure a lot of them do.

Can I tell you a story?

My dad was a big fan of Dale Carnegie.  He took a couple of the courses, and often suggested that I should take them as well.  I was an acting student when I was young, and spent a lot of time on stage, and so I didn't share his enthusiasm.  But, on reflection, I'm not sure he was wrong.

My dad was an elementary school teacher and principal, and for various reasons he ended up speaking in front of groups of various sizes.  He always enjoyed it, and took pride in being able to do it.

Later in his life, when he was in assisted living and dealing with the early stages of dementia, I'd go to visit him and we'd talk about what I was going.  I remember once saying to him that I wouldn't be by to see him for a few days because I had been hired to give a speech somewhere.

He looked at me and said, "Why do you call it a 'speech'?  When I did it, I always called it a 'talk.'  I think you should call it a 'talk'."

I looked at my dad, leaned toward him and said, "Dad, they pay you more when you call it a speech."

He looked at me and with absolute clarity said, "You go give your speech.  I'll see you when you get back."

I think about that every time I give a speech, and how much pride he took in my being able to make a living doing that.  Several years later, I was in Portland, Oregon, giving a speech.  It was a Friday morning in June, and minutes after stepping offstage I got a call telling me my dad had passed away.  I remember thinking that it was just like my dad to wait until I was finished with my speech before passing away.  That may be fanciful thinking, and may have nothing to do with reality.  But it makes me happy to think of my dad that way.