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    Published on: August 16, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Los Angeles Times reports this morning on a new study suggesting that the nation's obesity-related death toll "may be close to four times higher than has been widely believed, and all that excess weight could reverse the steady trend of lengthening life spans for a generation of younger Americans."

    The study indicates that upon close examination, more than 18 percent of premature deaths in the US between 1986 and 2006 "were associated with excess body mass," as opposed to the five percent that s usually cited by researchers.

    The story says that "the study makes clear that as obesity has become more widespread across successive waves of American generations, it has the momentum to reduce the average life expectancy of an entire population for many years to come."

    And, the Times continues, "The study found that weight-related early mortality had struck American women harder than men, and that African American women had suffered the most. The premature deaths of 21.7% of white women between 1986 and 2006 could be attributed in part to excess weight, as could 26.8% of early deaths among African American women.

    Among white men, 15.6% of premature deaths in that period were linked to excess weight. Among black men, the figure was only 5%. Though African American men have high rates of obesity, they are also more likely than all other groups to die prematurely of other causes, such as injury or violence.

    Finally, the story says that "the latest calculation also calls into question the emerging belief that obesity in old age confers some protection against premature death — the so-called obesity paradox that has given comfort to many older adults struggling to shed weight. In fact, the study concluded, the probability of death among those carrying excess weight continued to rise after age 60, and did so steeply."

    These numbers won't convince those who have railed against the "nanny state" to change their minds, and while I would describe myself as ambivalent about efforts to legislate against obesity, it seems to me that there could be and perhaps should be a public policy approach to any trend that is causing close to one out of five premature deaths in this country. At the very least, it underlines why transparency is so important when it comes to calorie and other nutritional information - when people are standing in line at a fast food restaurant, it should be evident to them on the menu boards how many calories those french fries, or taco, or double bacon cheeseburger, or sugary soft drink represent. I'm not sure an outright ban on jumbo-sized sugary soft drinks is the way to go, but it certainly suggests that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg was taking aim at a problem that requires greater and more vigilant attention.

    It is an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 16, 2013

    Walmart said yesterday that its second quarter results were softer than anticipated, with revenue up 2.3 percent to $116.9 billion, less than projected by analysts. Sales at Wal-Mart U.S. stores open at least 12 months excluding fuel fell 0.3 percent, while Q2 net income rose 1.3 percent to $4.07 billion from $4.02 billion a year earlier.

    The company said that its growth has been slowed by an increase in Social Security taxes that has reduced the amount of money people have to spend in stores; it also said that an increase in gas prices didn't have the anticipated impact.
    KC's View:
    Are these reasons for a disappointing performance? Or just excuses?

    Here's what always amuses me. When a retailer has a bad quarter, management says that it was so cold that people didn't go shopping, or so hot that people didn't go shopping, or that the weather was so nice that people went to the beach instead of going shopping. But it's never because the competition did a better job, or the retailer itself didn't do a good enough job, or didn't have the right products or the right promotions. There's always a reason. Or, more accurately, an excuse.

    Under normal circumstances, you'd think that consumers having less money to spend would be a good thing for Walmart. That it would be a reason for people to go to Walmart rather than to other retailers. But that doesn't seem to be what is happening. Rather, they're going to Aldi, or to WinCo, or to Kroger, or to

    Walmart's current solution? Bigger beer selection. That'll fix things.

    Sure it will.

    Walmart's got a ton of real challenges. The ongoing bribery scandal in Mexico and elsewhere. Questions about how it compensates its employees. Continuing court cases alleging that it discriminates against women. And a general image problem that creates doubt about the sustainability of its business model.

    Though let's be clear. Walmart is enormous. It makes a ton of money. It has a ton of stores. It won't be going away anytime soon.

    But Walmart has serious problems to address, and the question has to be asked: Is the current regime the right one to put Walmart back on the right path? And, as is suggested in our next story, the new Sam Walton may be working somewhere else.

    Published on: August 16, 2013 postulates in a story this morning that Dave Dillon, the CEO of Kroger, could be "the next Sam Walton."

    The argument is that Dillon, a fourth-generation grocer with degrees in both accounting and business administration, seems to be making all the right moves at Kroger while Walmart, the company that Walton founded, seems more focused on finding reasons to explain its performance issues.

    Good piece. You can read it by clicking here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 16, 2013

    The Wall Street Journal reports that a US District Court Judge "threatened to further crimp a once-lucrative profit center for banks and credit-card companies, saying they may need to reimburse retailers potentially billions of dollars in debit-card transaction fees he previously ruled were set too high."

    Judge Richard Leon ruled earlier this month that the Federal Reserve exceeded its authority when it set a 24 cent-per-transaction cap on debit card usage, Including the improper use of data that made the cap too high. The Fed had capped fees at 21 cents per transaction, much higher than the initial 12 cent cap it proposed, though half the average of 44 cents per transaction that traditionally has been charged.

    But the judge said that the Fed ruling was completely at odds with "the text, design and purpose" of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation. Now, in addition to saying that the fed must lower the rate cap immediately, Judge Leon is suggesting that banks may have to rebate too-high fees - to the tune of millions of dollars - that already have been charged.

    It is unknown whether the Fed will appeal the ruling, though the financial services industry is expected to do so.
    KC's View:
    It would be great if the banks/card companies were forced to cut a big check to retailers for overcharged swipe fees. Poetic justice.

    But here's what I think retailers ought to do if it happens. The smart ones will immediately turn around and tell their customers that they are somehow passing on those rebates to shoppers, and explain precisely how., and how lower swipe fees will impact prices in the broader sense.

    This will do two things. It will allow them to lower prices in a demonstrable way. And, it will allow them to establish themselves as being advocates for the shopper, which always is a good place to be.

    Published on: August 16, 2013

    The Toronto Star reports that Canadian grocer Sobeys Inc. has announced a partnership celebrity chef Jamie Oliver that will result in a program "aimed at curbing obesity by improving nutritional knowledge and cooking skills ... The partnership will focus on educating Canadians about the best ingredients and how to cook them."

    Details have not been released, but Oliver - through a number of venues - has been at the forefront of the anti-obesity movement.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 16, 2013

    All Things D reports that "Facebook plans to test a new payments product that would allow online shoppers to make purchases on mobile apps using their Facebook login information, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans.

    "The product, sources said, would allow any shopper who has previously provided Facebook with their credit card details to make purchases on partnering e-commerce mobile apps without entering billing information."

    The product is seen as a potential competitor to PayPal.

    Facebook says that the test is scheduled to begin this fall.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 16, 2013

    OnlineMediaDaily reports that Groupon, the daily deals website, has acquired Plumfare, a website that "encourages users to take pictures of their dishes and then share them with the world."

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    The move is seen as part of Groupon's broader mobile-oriented strategy, though the company is being closed-mouthed about how it sees it being integrated into the daily deals business.
    KC's View:
    I've been intrigued to see Groupon Reserve being promoted lately, which allows users to get up to 40 percent off their restaurant bills with no pre-payment required ... something that is very different from its traditional business model. I'll be fascinated to see how these models work together...

    Published on: August 16, 2013

    • The Kroger Co. has been named one of the nation's 2013 "Best of the Best" by Hispanic Network Magazine for Top Supplier Diversity Programs for Hispanics. Hispanic Network Magazine surveyed hundreds of Fortune 1000 companies for its 2013 evaluations. This is Kroger's first time making the "Best of the Best" list.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 16, 2013

    We've been having an ongoing discussion here on MNB about the issue of the minimum wage, living wages, how corporations value people on the front lines vs. people in the executive suite, and whether there should be a public policy response to what is generally acknowledged to be a growing wage disparity in the US.

    We've had some long emails on the subject, including one yesterday from a self-described Libertarian who didn't seem to trust anyone. You can, if you wish, read it here

    Well, there was a message posted yesterday on MNB's Facebook page that sort of troubled me. It was from MNB reader Peter Marotta, who wrote:

    Some of those posted comments attacking Christian beliefs and fiscal responsibility made me consider unsubscribing. Really petty and beneath our industry.

    I was troubled for several reasons. Let's take the "attacking Christian beliefs" comment first.

    When I saw that phrase, my first reaction was mild panic. Had I misread the email when I posted it? Had I allowed anti-Christian invective to make it onto MNB without catching it?

    So I went back to the site and re-read the email. And best I can tell, here's the passage that referenced religion:

    One side is all about Big Brother, and Big Government, and the other has Abortion and Christianity as it’s litmus test for admittance.  True Conservatism would embrace all religions, but Right wingers would call that Liberalism?  Our country was founded on religious liberty not Christianity.   The fact that the Republican party has been co-opted by the Religious Right saddens me.  Which party is a fiscally conservative Jew or Hindu going to feel most welcome?  Or maybe a Mormon for that matter!

    Now, I have trouble seeing where those sentences are anti-Christianity in any way. I think the writer is more focused on people who are anti-tolerance, and people who use religious beliefs to justify intolerance and who try to codify intolerance into public policy. That strikes me as at least a reasonable observation to make, even if one disagrees with it. Though I can understand why some folks might take issue with the observation.

    Let me move on to the other charge, which is that MNB allowed comments that were anti-fiscal responsibility.

    I was troubled by the charge, but a re-reading of all the emails from yesterday persuades me that no such comments were being made.

    Different people have differing views of how public policy should deal with issues of fiscal responsibility. Just this week, we've had a perfect example - one person's view of socially responsible economic policy is seen by someone else as preaching in favor of a Socialist Utopia. But I don't think that anyone is arguing in favor of fiscal irresponsibility.

    Now, if people want to unsubscribe to MNB because of the way ideas are shared and exchanged, there isn't much I can do about it. Hell, I think it is much more likely that someone will unsubscribe because of some of the things that I write ... though the good news is that it doesn't happen every often, and in fact MNB's subscription list generally grows by 50-75 people each week.

    But I want to take this opportunity to say something that I want you to know.

    The thing that probably takes the most time each day when writing MNB is reading and choosing from all the emails I get. There are dozens each day, and sometimes a lot more than that. I read every one, and then try to decide which ones I should use, whether they should be edited for space, and which ones should be posted without attribution. (My rule on this has been the same from the beginning, but may be worth restating. If you ask to be anonymous, you get anonymity. If you don't ask to be anonymous, but I think that somehow the use of your name on MNB could create career problems for you because of the expressed views, I'll call you an "MNB reader." It doesn't help you or me if you get called on the carpet for saying something honest and/or provocative here on MNB. That's what I do for a living, not you.)

    While I'm doing all this, I am very conscious about not allowing people to use MNB for what I think is hate speech of any kind, or to promote their own careers, or for what I think is gratuitous cruelty. I also try to be thoughtful about not wasting your time - sometimes I get emails that would qualify as manifestos, and while I find them to be instructive, I'm aware that you only have so much time in the morning to read MNB. I want to be responsible about not abusing your good nature.

    I just want you to know that I am paying attention. I am always thinking about these issues. And I'm doing my best to be fair.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 16, 2013

    One of the byproducts of an age in which there is so much product out there competing for consumer eyeballs is that even best-selling authors like Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series of novels, feels the need to generate content to fill the gaps between his books, or do more promotion than might ordinarily be the case. This means that a month before his next Reacher novel, "Never Go Back," is published, Child has just posted an e-novella, "High Heat," that is available for Kindle, iBooks and the Nook.

    That's good news for Child and Reacher fans. "High Heat" is a tightly written story that has a 16-year-old Reacher stopping briefly in New York City while on the way to visit his brother at West Point. But as readers of the series know, there's no such thing as an uneventful stop for Reacher. And this visit to New York City takes place in July 1977. The temperature is in the high nineties. The Son of Sam is on the loose. And New York is about to suffer an enormous blackout.

    Sounds like Reacher time. Guy buy it, download it, and enjoy.

    Mrs. Content Guy and I disagreed mightily about Elysium the new Matt Damon movie. I liked it a lot. And she hated it. This is what we call truth in commentary.

    Elysium is, in my view, a very good movie by director/writer Neill Blomkamp, who gave us the excellent District 9, a terrific science fiction film that served as an allegory for apartheid. Elysium, while it takes place in the future, has some very serious things on its mind - it depicts the year 2154, a time during which the richest and most privileged people live on a space station called Elysium that is free from hunger, want and illness; think of them as the one percent. The other 99 percent still live on Earth, which has devolved into a place of poverty, squalor and over-population.

    The plot concerns how a desperately ill man, played by Damon, tries to get to Elysium so he can be cured of radiation poisoning, and how the bureaucracy of Elysium, as personified by an icy Jodie Foster, works to prevent him from doing so. But the movie is really all about such contemporary issues as poverty, health care, and even immigration ... though for me, the philosophizing is never laid on so thick that it becomes unpalatable.

    Mrs. Content Guy thought there was a lot of senseless violence and that the movie was fairly predictable. I'd disagree with that ... while there was a lot of violence, I thought it was organic to the story, and I was carried along for a ride that I thought was pretty interesting, populated by excellent actors and offering a view of the world that I don't find that far-fetched.

    Let me just say that John Oliver has done an amazing job hosting "The Daily Show" this summer while Jon Stewart has been off directing a movie. I think a lot of people thought "The Daily Show" might go off the rails during Stewart's absence, but Oliver has proven himself to be a funny and engaging host - perhaps a little sillier than Stewart, who can be a little cynical, but also capable of justifiable righteous indignation at the appropriate moment. He's also been lucky - it has been a terrific summer for news, and so there's been lots to talk about.

    Well done, sir!

    The weather has cooled off in the northeast, red wine has once again seemed like an appropriate choice ... and so, I have a couple of excellent red wines to recommend to you:

    • Halter Ranch 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, great with a steak.

    Villa Puccini 2009 Toscana (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot), perfect with lasagne.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Fins Up!
    KC's View: