The hottest new toy this holiday season is a punching bag – named Wal-Mart.

Hollywood Reporter described the recent documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, as “a damning indictment of the corporate practices of America’s retailing behemoth and largest private employer.” The nonprofit Co-op America urged people to take a pledge to shun the store as a way of “telling Wal-Mart that it’s time to start paying workers fair wages, providing adequate healthcare, valuing local communities, and treating the planet with respect like many other companies do.” Canada-based Adbusters declared Nov. 25 a “Buy Nothing Day” and urged shoppers to push carts up and down Wal-Mart aisles without spending a penny. The pro-union organization vowed to distribute a million fliers warning customers about getting cheated at the cash registers.

Well, for all that, it still sounds like the metaphorical fly on an elephant’s ass, like Superman eating a power bar – who really notices? Sure enough, last Friday, the holiday shopping season got off to a lukewarm start everywhere except at Wal-Mart, where 2 million shoppers flocked to stores in the first hour, sales exceeded expectations, and a brawl erupted in an Orlando store as customers frothed over laptops. This is ridiculous! This is capitalism gone awry! This is … holy cow … incredible – a 52-inch wide-screen tv selling for under $1,000!

Co-op America spokesman Todd Larsen doesn’t feel like a tiny winged insect on a giant hairy rump. He is proud that almost 5,000 people signed the group’s pledge and is certain that all these little protests by different people will add up to big problems for the retail giant in the end, so to speak. “Whenever you are trying to encourage a corporation to change its conduct, it’s a long-term thing,” he said.

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Onward the Reaper

Death penalty abolitionists have long hoped that they might deliver a lethal verdict of their own to capital punishment if only they could prove that an innocent prisoner had been executed. Earlier this month, Lise Olsen of the Houston Chronicle unearthed evidence that Texas, which leads the nation in executions, may well have done just that in 1993 with the execution of Ruben Cantu. A teen-ager involved in that crime now says Cantu killed no one. And a key witness, who identified Cantu as the gunman, says police pressured him to wrongly implicate Cantu as the gunman in a 1984 San Antonio robbery. Whether or not Olsen’s reporting eventually clears Cantu, the nation’s executioners continue their grim business.

On Friday, barring a last-minute glitch, North Carolina will carry out the nation’s 1000th execution in the modern era of capital punishment. Kenneth Boyd, convicted in the deaths of his estranged wife and her father more than a decade ago, is set to die with that dubious honor.

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