Sunday, October 4, 2009

11 Things Wal-Mart Has Banned

by Ethan Trex


Retail giant Wal-Mart is the world’s largest public company, and whether or not you’re a fan of shopping at the House that Sam Walton Built, you’ve got to admit that the store stocks just about everything. But not quite, though. There are a number of things that Wal-Mart has banned from its stores at some point. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

1. Barbie’s Pregnant Pal

In 2002 Wal-Mart cleared its shelves of Barbie’s pregnant friend, Midge. The doll, which featured a removable stomach complete with deliverable baby, was part of Mattel’s “Happy Family” set that also included her husband and son. However, customers complained about seeing pregnancy enter into Barbie’s universe, and Wal-Mart pulled all of the Happy Family sets from its stores.

2. This Underwear:


That’s right: panties that say, “Who needs credit cards…” on the front and “When you have Santa” on the rear. The undergarments started showing up in Wal-Mart’s juniors departments in December 2007 and quickly started an Internet firestorm over the perceived message of using Kris Kringle as a sugar daddy. While the same joke would be fairly harmless on, say, a t-shirt, many women felt that its placement on underwear added a sinister sexual undertone aimed at adolescent girls. In response to the public outcry, Wal-Mart pulled the offending underthings from its shelves.

3. Confederate-Themed Barbecue Sauce

You may remember the raucous debate about whether the Confederate flag should be flown over the South Carolina State House in 2000, but you probably didn’t know the battle spilled over into Wal-Mart’s grocery aisles. At the time, 90 Southern Wal-Marts were marketing a mustard-based sauce created by Maurice Bessinger, an outspoken advocate of flying the Rebel flag over the State House and owner of eight Piggie Park restaurants.

During the flag debate, Bessinger replaced all American flags at his eateries with Confederate flags, a move that Wal-Mart saw as objectionable and needlessly provocative, so the company yanked his sauces from its stores. (Don’t feel too bad for Bessinger, though; it took nothing less than a 1976 Supreme Court intervention to force him to serve African Americans in his restaurants.)

4. A Shirt That Read “Someday a Woman Will Be President”

In 1995 a Miami-area Wal-Mart pulled this shirt from its racks after consumer complaints. The shirt, which featured the character Margaret from Dennis the Menace, ran afoul of “the company’s family values,” so it went back to the stock rooms. Eventually more reasonable, non-Stone-Age heads prevailed, and the shirt made it back onto the shelves after three months in limbo.

5. Workplace Romance

In November 2005, German courts ruled that Wal-Mart could not ban all workplace romance at its German stores. The retailer had unsuccessfully tried to force all employees to sign off on a 28-page code of ethics that included prohibitions on “lustful glances and ambiguous jokes” and “sexually meaningful communication of any type.”

6. An Al Snow Action Figure

In 1999 Wal-Mart put the brakes on selling an action figure featuring WWE hardcore wrestler Al Snow. Snow’s wrestling gimmick at the time involved walking to the ring while carrying and talking to a mannequin head. Naturally, his action figure came with the head as an accessory, but two professors at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University saw the inclusion of the head as a problem. They told the press that by selling the action figure society was “normalizing violent treatment of women. We are telling little boys that this is acceptable behavior.” (Please, parents: don’t ever give your sons the impression that carrying and talking to part of a mannequin is acceptable.) Following this high-profile outcry, Wal-Mart quit stocking the Al Snow action figure.

7. Megan Fox

The Wal-Mart in the starlet’s hometown supposedly banned her for life following a teenage shoplifting bust. A 2008 report on alleged that Fox got the heave-ho after being caught swiping a $7 tube of lip gloss during a rebellious shoplifting spree, which earned her the lifetime ban.

8. Lad Mags

If you’re a frisky 17-year-old looking for the latest Maxim, Stuff, or FHM, don’t head to Wal-Mart. Since 2003 the store has banned the so-called “lad mags” due to their racy photo spreads and bawdy editorial content.

It’s actually not all the uncommon for Wal-Mart to give a single issue of a magazine an ax, too. In the past, the store has refused to stock issues of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition and a 2001 issue of InStyle that featured an artistic nude shot of Kate Hudson.

9. Music

Wal-Mart has long declined to stock any music bearing a parental advisory warning for explicit lyrical content, but the company’s fastidiousness with regards to music doesn’t stop there. When the store carried Nirvana’s album In Utero, it changed the song title “Rape Me” to the less offensive (and less coherent) “Waif Me.” Similarly, the store declined to carry Prince’s 1988 album Lovesexy because of a fairly tame cover that featured a nude photo of the artist.

10. Superbad DVDs

mclovinWhen the comedy Superbad hit store shelves in 2007, it came with a little extra: a replica of the fake Hawaii driver’s license used by the self-dubbed “McLovin’.” Most movie fans would simply see this freebie as a little reminder of one of the movie’s funniest scenes, but Hawaiian authorities simply felt it was a fake ID. Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann requested that Wal-Mart pull the DVD from store shelves across the state, and the retailer quickly complied.

11. Cuban Pajamas

Wal-Mart’s Canadian stores found themselves in a pickle in 1997. The Canadian subsidiary had begun selling Cuban-made pajamas at eight bucks a pop across our neighbor to the North, which enraged both the company’s home office and the U.S. Treasury Department.

The stores quickly pulled the offending PJ’s, which led to a second problem: this action may have violated a Canadian law that forbids abiding by the American embargo of Cuba. After the Ottawa government pointed out that Wal-Mart could face a million-dollar fine for pulling the sleepwear from its shelves, the Canadian Wal-Marts reversed the ban after one week. [Underwear & T-shirt images courtesy of]

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Why the September Jobs Report Is So Brutal

By Liz Wolgemuth

Employers in the United States continue to be more interested in cutting their payrolls than in keeping their existing employees, let alone adding new ones. Employers slashed another 263,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department reported today. That brings nonfarm employment down to the level of 2004, when there were about 7 million fewer U.S. workers.

Workers are dropping out: The unemployment rate edged up only slightly, to 9.8 percent, but the number of workers in the labor force fell by 571,000, suggesting the unemployment rate could have been much worse. The ranks of the marginally attached--workers who have dropped out of the workforce because they believe they won't find jobs or because they have other responsibilities, such as school--have grown by 615,000 over the year.

There are not enough jobs: A bill that would provide another 13 weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits to hard-hit states sailed through the House last week but may be complicated by some senators' efforts to get benefit extensions for all states. In some states, eligible workers have already received as many as 79 weeks of benefits. Historically, spells of unemployment that lasted a year or more were very rare, says Harvard economist Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist. These trends are the sorts that haven't been seen since the Great Depression.

Indeed, the number of workers who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more--called "long-term unemployed"--rose by 450,000, to 5.4 million. Last month, 36 percent of the unemployed had been out of work for at least six months. The unemployed face a market in which job seekers outnumber job openings by a ratio of 6 to 1.

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Governments are now feeling the heat: While most other industries slashed jobs throughout the recession, the government sector held up pretty well, helping cushion capital cities from the roughest economic patches. Last month, however, strains on local governments started to show. Government employment fell by 53,000, with the largest drop--24,000 jobs--in the noneducation component of local governments.

Progress has slowed: September job losses were much worse than most economists expected--the median estimate was a loss of 175,000. The government also revised the prior data to show 201,000 jobs were lost in August, rather than the 216,000 originally reported, meaning the trend of narrowing job losses really shifted last month. "Today's report suggests that the progress toward a recovery in labor market conditions has stalled," Ted Weiseman and David Greenlaw, economists at Morgan Stanley, said in a morning note. "We continue to expect to see some eventual follow through on the hiring side, given the recent improvement in production and demand, but the September data reinforce the fact that some important headwinds remain."

Hours fell back down: Along with payroll cuts, many employers have slashed their workers' hours to help lower expenses, and there are now 9.2 million "involuntary" part-time workers (those who would prefer full-time work). The average workweek edged up in August, but September erased the gain, and the workweek is again at a record low 33.0 hours.

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Construction and manufacturing are still hurting: Since the start of the recession, 1.5 million jobs have been erased in the construction industry. Employers in construction slashed 64,000 jobs last month, which, at least, was fewer than they were cutting late last year and earlier this year. The pain was greatest in nonresidential components, where 39,000 jobs were cut. Manufacturing lost 51,000 jobs. That's also fewer than were being cut earlier in the recession, but manufacturing payrolls have shrunk by 2.1 million since the start of the downturn.

The future is unclear: One of the most difficult things to understand about September's jobs report is how far the job market reality was from the government's stimulus forecast. The White House estimated that with the stimulus, the unemployment rate would peak at 8 percent. Without a clear plan to stimulate future job growth, it's unclear how long it will take for the 15.1 million unemployed to gain re-employment in any significant volume. Employers tend to shy away from the risk of new hires until they are confident of the state of the economy. Even for the long-term unemployed, "when the economy is chugging along, firms are willing to take a chance" on hiring and training, says Katz.

Still, the market is improving, as job losses are much less than they were last winter. "What is still very much open to question is how fast the move will be to stabilization of payrolls and eventually to job growth," says Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR. "We continue to believe that the process will be a slow one and that households will be contending with weak income growth and balance sheet issues for some time."

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GM To Pull Plug On Saturn After Deal Fails

General Motors Co. said Wednesday it would shut down its Saturn division after an agreement to sell it to Penske Automotive Group Inc. fell apart. The Bloomfield, Mich. dealership headed by auto racing magnate Roger Penske walked away after it was unable to find a manufacturer to supply vehicles to it after a contract with GM runs out in 2011. A tentative deal for Saturn was announced on June 5. Penske was to get Saturn's 371 dealers and promised to retain the 13,000 Saturn employees. The proposed price was never disclosed. This marks an ignominious end for the brand that was supposed to revolutionize the way small cars were built and sold in America. GM Chairman Roger Smith first unveiled Saturn in November 1983, but the project was slow to develop and the brand did not officially launch until 1990. GM put more effort into making higher-profit SUVs and Saturn languished, never making money. Sales did spring up in 2006 and 2007 when gas prices rose, but then plunged along with other segments of the market last year. GM put the unit on the block this year as it battled the financial crisis that caused it to eventually file Chapter 11. GM CEO Fritz Henderson said in statement that Saturn and its dealership network will be phased out. "This is very disappointing news and comes after months of hard work by hundreds of dedicated employees and Saturn retailers who tried to make the new Saturn a reality," Henderson said in a written statement. Penske's announcement "explained that their decision was not based on interactions with GM or Saturn retailers." Shares of Penske fell $1.92 or 10 percent to $17.26 in after hours trading. They rose $1.32, or 7.4 percent to $19.18 in regular trading Wednesday. Penske said it negotiated with another manufacturer to make Saturn cars, but that company's board of directors rejected the agreement. Penske spokesman Anthony Pordon would not identify the other manufacturer. GM had agreed to keep building the Saturn Aura, Outlook and Vue models through 2011. After that Saturn would have to come up with its own products. Without another supplier in place before the deal was signed, Penske couldn't run the risk of taking on Saturn, Pordon said. It takes several years to design new vehicles or engineer foreign vehicles to meet U.S. standards. Penske would risk having no products to sell once the GM contract expired. "There's a pretty long lead time," Pordon said. "You've got to try to time this so as the supply of one ends and the other one comes on board." Pordon said there is little if any chance that the talks could be reopened. GM said Saturn vehicle owners can still go to their Saturn dealer for service and would be able to go to a certified GM dealer for service once Saturn dealerships are closed. It had been expected that GM would announce the completion of Saturn's sale to Penske in the coming days. The news left many of the 371 Saturn dealers across the country stunned and fearful of being left with nothing to sell. "I find this hard to believe," said Carl Galeana, owner of two Saturn dealerships in suburban Detroit. "Everyone's been saying we're right at the goal line." Galeana said he's heard nothing yet from GM or Saturn, but if the plan is to phase out the brand and cut the products, he'll have to come up with another options. "I assumed if you're at the goal line, those things would have been figured out," he said Wednesday. "We're going to try to put some plan Bs in place at this point." Galeana said he's concerned for his employees and still hopes the deal can be resurrected. "It's tough out there, but we'll keep fighting. That's all we can do." Saturn featured the iconic tag-line "a different kind of car company." GM's hope was that Saturn would attract younger buyers with smaller, hipper cars to better compete with Japanese imports. It built a new plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., devoted to Saturn production. Despite a cult-like following that drew thousands to annual reunions in Spring Hill, the brand never made money for GM. The factory stopped making Saturns in 2007 and currently builds only the Chevrolet Traverse crossover. Today, Saturn production is scattered at plants across North America. In the late 1990s, Saturn took a back seat as GM focused more on high-profit pickup trucks and SUVs. Then in 2006, car buyers began to find Saturn's new models more appealing. But after a good year in 2007, sales dropped 22 percent last year as the U.S. car market withered. GM has been trying to sell Saturn since earlier this year as part of its turnaround plan.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.