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Wrestling Wal-Mart for Data... Sad but True

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With its detumescent stock price and less than Gremlin-like growth in same store sales, it might seem like Wal-Mart, the world's largest whatever, is on the ropes. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the retailer is even hitting the bottle, literally. In an effort to boost sales Wal-Mart is investing harder in hard liquor, despite complex state regulations on alcohol sales and a corporate culture wheredrinks at business meals are not reimbursed.

On other fronts, Wal-Mart has hired away Target's marketing guru and, as Advertising Age magazine has noted, the similarity between some of Wal-Mart's new ads are shockingly similar to the discount chic competitor.

Then again, Wal-Mart turned $10 billion in profits last year.

Meanwhile, the latest quietly brewing Wal-Mart battle is all about numbers. It's no secret that Wal-Mart receives taxpayer funded welfare in the form of state health care services. In states where such information has been tallied it clearly shows that of all the working folks signing up for services, more call Wal-Mart boss than any other employer. States reporting this information include: Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Washington. And it's important to note that these numbers are not coming out of a think tank or any other institution with an easily smearable poltical agenda. Nope. This is raw data crunched by state health departments.

However, access to this information has become a political struggle unto itself. Here in Colorado, governor Bill Owens killed a bill that proposed to collect and tally the names of employers whose workers use the state health care system. In Minnesota, Wal-Mart dispatched two executives to lobby against a similar piece of legislation.

Wal-Mart's flacks and political brethren deploy curious victimologies in their struggle for greater evasiveness. These bills are not about transparency for taxpayers, they whine, they're anti-Wal-Mart! It's unfair, you see, because Wal-Mart is the largest employer in so many states that it's only logical that its "associates" require such services.

Really? When did being big become an excuse for social irresponsibility? Wal-Mart has long bragged that it passes its savings on to the consumer but when it comes to its own flock, it's more than happy to shift the cost back to us, whether we shop there or not. And then it whines when people want to do the math publicly. The gall!

Why should taxpayers subsidize a company whose controlling interest is the province of Sam Walton's billionaire widow and three members of his Very Lucky Sperm Club? And why are so many conservatives rallying around the embattled company?

I thought victim politics was an exclusively liberal pastime, but what do I know? For now, however, tallying and disclosing Wal-Mart's social costs is one more front in the struggle to get the imperial corporation to treat its "associates" with something that resembles dignity.